Objectivity in Restoration

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In our industry, there are two constant things we can count on. One is the intent of our standard of care, and the other is the need for communicating the scope of our work. I would like us to focus on the intent behind the standards that have been developed over decades of dedication by the top restoration professionals in our industry. The standards are not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts. Many times, we find ourselves explaining our recommended scope of work to adjusters, property managers, husbands, wives, tenants, third party consultants, agents etc.  Each of these individuals have their own needs and in many instances the needs of each party do not align. The standard of care does not decide what is more convenient, less expensive, or what a certain policy or carrier will or will not pay for. The main goal of the standard of care is to guide inspections and direct restorers to a scope of work that is needed to return buildings to a condition that is safe for human occupation. The standards in reference are specifically, the IICRC S500 water damage restoration standard, the S520 mold remediation standard, and the S540 trauma and crime scene remediation standards.

The intention of this article is to raise awareness for the liability restorers face when cost negotiations on jobs are accomplished by removal of line items from a scope of work that meets industry standards and is presented in a line-item pricing format. My goal is to help educate restorers how to effectively navigate scope communication on projects. When the focus of negotiations is directed towards removal of scope items, I believe there is an unintended outcome from this common use of line-item pricing. The fact that when line items from our scope are removed to reduce the cost of a project or to create more convenience for a property owner, we also begin to deviate from the standard of care that was intended to be delivered. I believe that negotiating the cost of a project solely by reducing a scope of work without communicating clearly what party owns the liability for the imposed limitation to the scope of work is a dangerous game for restorers and it’s not because of profits.

First, we must identify the parties or stakeholders and their responsibilities on a project. Next, we must find what common factors drive decision making on a restoration project. We must also remember that when our clients choose us to provide a service, there is an assumption of our performance level based off how each business represented themselves prior to contract. It is assumed and implied when a contractor who represents themselves as a professional is hired, they will deliver a product that will meet industry standards.

The Parties

Property owners have the most open-ended responsibility when it comes to what happens on their property. In the end it is their investment and their choice what the post-restoration condition of that property will be. Property owners do have an obligation to the carrier as well and they vary by policy.

Carriers have a contractual obligation to fulfill the promise of the policy to the insured, nothing less or more. Each state and carrier have regulations on how policies are written.

Restorers hold the responsibility to inspect a property, identify hazards, and objectively guide all interested parties through a project. It is our duty to clearly communicate the post-restoration condition of a building following completion of our work practices.  

Let’s talk about what factors influence decision making on restoration projects. The main three drivers I have found that influence decision making are health and human safety, convenience, and cost.  

Understanding what the most important drivers are for our client will help us narrow in on what scope of work will likely be the most desirable for the property owner.  I believe it is important for restorers to specifically ask our clients what their needs are to get our clients truly thinking about what they want and need.  

Now that we know what our client’s most important needs are, we can then gauge them against our recommended scope of work identified in our inspection and identify any conflicts to our ability to deliver the standard of care for our clients. These conflicts are referred to as limitations.

Limitations are conditions that are put on the project by other parties that limit our ability to deliver the industry standard of care on the project. Limitations can come from building owners or from the carrier based off the policy or what the carrier will or will not pay for.

With this information regarding how project’s scopes are impacted from influences outside of our control, it is imperative to explicitly communicate when our scopes are reduced for whatever reason. This is the dangerous part I referred to in the beginning. Limitations need to be communicated and documented in writing with the property owner regarding which party chose to limit the delivery of the standard. It’s important that party signs off on accepting the liability for choosing to do so after we have educated them with the why that portion of the scope is necessary. 

A formal sign off document of the refusal of recommendations helps to clarify and document for all interested parties on a restoration project what they as individuals are responsible for in the outcome of the project, and it helps align all parties towards a common goal.

If we want to contract with a client, we must both agree on a scope and a cost to obtain a mutual outcome. In recap of the progression of the project, at this point we have completed a thorough inspection, we have learned the drivers behind our client’s needs, and we have presented a scope of work to our client and agreed upon an associated price to complete that work. As we complete the project, there may be more things that we find on the property that will prompt the need for further communications.

Complexities are conditions that make the project more difficult to execute. However, it does not prevent us from delivering the standard of care. Known complexities should be communicated and agreed upon prior to starting the work with the property owner and it is recommended to discuss them with the carrier as well. 

Another road mine we face while completing a project are complications. Complications are issues that arise after work has begun and necessitate a change in the pre-agreed work plan. Complications should be communicated with the property owner and provided in writing or within a separate contract.

When finishing some projects, it is not unusual to be faced with negotiations post-project completion, especially when there was emergency-type work needed to prevent further damage before a formal price was agreed upon. If pricing concessions are made, I recommend that you do not remove completed scope items when negotiating a final price. Your final bill is a record of the work you completed, and it is an important document for your files. Make notes in your final bill reflecting a price reduction without removal of work that you completed – your written scope should remain intact.  When you close your job files, is your final bill a representation of the work you completed, or a means to a price? I am not saying do not negotiate, as I believe in our industry scope and price negotiations are common and necessary in many cases.  

The takeaway I want you to have from this article is the objective intent behind our standards and that there is assumed liability for restorers regarding the completed scope of work on any restoration project if it falls outside of the standard of care. It is extremely important for you to thoroughly inspect properties, write scopes that follow our objective standard of care, effectively communicate the need for the scope with all parties, and to not assume liability when limitations have been imposed on your projects scope during price negotiations. Always document your projects, contracts, and job files accordingly.  

Thanks for reading and happy contracting out there!


Resource information for the new standards in development.

cc/IICRC S320 Standard for Professional Assessment, Cleaning, and Restoration of Contents

BSR/IICRC S400 Standard for Professional Cleaning, Maintenance, and Restoration of the Commercial Built Environment

BSR/IICRC S410 Standard for Infection Control During Professional Cleaning and Maintenance of the Commercial Built Environment

BSR/IICRC S530 Standard for Indoor Environmental Assessment for Suspected Mold Contaminated Structures

BSR/IICRC S550 Standard for Professional Water Damage Restoration of Commercial Structures

BSR/IICRC S700 Standard for Professional Fire and Smoke Damage Restoration

BSR/IICRC S590 Standard for Assessing HVAC Systems Following a Water, Fire, or Mold

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Chris Yanker

Christopher grew up in Bozeman and decided not to leave because Bozeman and the surrounding areas have so much to offer. Christopher’s personal motto is, “Have fun!” The best piece of advice he has received is change is inevitable. And don’t argue with idiots and the best way to not get bent out of shape is to stay flexible. One thing he has always wanted to do is Heli-Ski 50k vertical feet of thigh-deep powder in one day. A skill you may not know about Christopher is he can play a funky Reggae beat on a chainsaw. Three words that describe him are fun, driven, and caring.

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