Jodi Wallace

Monarch Designs

As painful as a Job Change Order feels like when you are short on time and feeling overwhelmed, it is still our best protection. That ten minutes it takes to write up a Job Change Order and send it to your customer may be the one thing that saves you if there is a problem down the road.As pretty much anyone in the construction business will tell you, most of us have a love/hate relationship with Job Change Orders. Mostly because they are such a PAIN to do!! 

It’s not as if I don’t have enough paperwork that I try to stay ahead of on a daily basis (notice the word is “try!”). 

Now I have to stop what I am doing, write up a Job Change Order, send it to the customer, hope they will remember to sign it and return, and when they don’t, follow up with them and remind them to sign and return it. I need to make sure I get a copy in the folder, make sure my guys actually READ it so when they get to the job site they know what has changed, and can accommodate the necessary change. I then have to remind the customer at the end of the job why there is a cost difference between the original contract and the new balance I am requesting. There are days the mere mention of the word Job Change Order makes me wince!

As anyone who has ever failed to write up a Job Change Order and been burned by a customer can tell you, when the customer looks at you with that feigned, innocent, doe-eyed look and says, “But I thought you were redoing that to be nice,” it can hurt.  

It is important we remember a Job Change Order is protection not only for us, but for our customers as well. I know contractors who go through life on a wing and a prayer, telling me, “I’ve never done a J.C.O. And I’ve never had a problem.” Ah yes, be careful what you brag about because at some point it will come back to bite you.

Over the years we have been burned a time or two. The first time I learned the hard way about why J.C.O. forms are important was just a few years after we started working with stone. We had just finished installing the new kitchen countertops when the contractor came by and asked about adding a full height backsplash. We had worked with the contractor before and my husband didn’t see any issue with it, so he just went ahead and did it – no Job Change Order, no deposit, no signature.  

No J.C.O. meant that when the splash was installed and we tried to collect payment, the customer looked him straight in the eye with a “too bad, prove I asked for that to be added.”  

I was furious with the contractor who I felt owed us the money but he kept saying the customer didn’t pay him for the additional work, so he couldn’t pay us. That was an $800.00 “ouch” at a time we definitely didn’t have it. And a hard lesson to learn.

Job Change Orders are a definite hassle both to those on the writing-it-up side, and those on the receiving side. It’s just one more “thing.” The contractors I know and work with will roll their eyes when I send them one to sign. “But you knowwww me, do we really need to do this?” is a pretty common (and whine-y) answer that I get. 

That is absolutely true – I do know them. And I would like to maintain a good working relationship with them. By both parties being fully aware that there is a J.C.O. in place, there are no “are you sure we discussed this?” or “I don’t remember us talking about that,” or “wow, that sounds like a lot. Are you sure we discussed this price?”

When expectations are written right there in black and white, there is no guessing, no incorrect or forgotten items, no conflicts to be disputed. 

I am the one who issues the Job Change Order for Monarch Designs. If something changes after a contract has been signed, it needs to be acknowledged. Which means my guys need to make me aware of it, which can often become a hassle all of its own. 

The issue I have been running into lately is that my guys will get over to the job site to template, a conversation will take place with the customer, a change will get made and no one will tell me, and all of a sudden I have no clue what is going on when the shop calls saying I haven’t signed off on the new edge / addition of a window sill / missing backsplash, etc.

In response I created a new Job Change Order sheet. This one is put in the folder when folders for all new jobs are created. If it isn’t used, I will pull the copy and put it back in the manila file to be pulled when another new file is created.

I wanted it simple and “child proof.” The template person is to note the change and then have the customer sign the Order, thereby acknowledging the change they are requesting. Short, sweet and to the point. If the change is something small that does not involve a change in the cost of the job, the J.C.O my guys write up is punched and added to the folder paperwork.

If there is a change involving a cost difference, then I will write a more formal J.C.O. and send it over to the customer showing the revised payment schedule.

I actually was feeling pretty proud of myself that I had things under control until I started pulling J.C.O. forms out of folders and discovered — no customer signature! My guys had noted a change, (some pretty significant) and that was all there was on the form. 

How, I asked them, could you have not have had the customer sign the form acknowledging their agreement that what you noted was correct? 

Please note there are only (3) areas to be filled out on this form– it’s not that hard! Answers varied from, “I got busy,” or “The customer left,” to my favorite, “I didn’t want to bother the customer!” Or, they simply just didn’t think it was important. (They would most certainly think it was important enough if it affected their paycheck!).

Although we would like to think of our customers as honest, we also have to be realistic. I was talking to someone last week about my article topic and he mentioned he has a friend who is a general contractor. The contractor was working on a large and expensive home and his customer asked for some changes to be added. The contractor filled out a J.C.O., the customer signed it and the contractor completed the additional items. 

When it came time to pay, the customer argued he hadn’t asked for the upgrades and he was flat out not going to pay. The contractor reminded him he had signed a Job Change Order and the customer told him he had no idea what he was talking about. When the contractor took him to court the judge asked the homeowner one question– “Is this your signature?” 

The customer said, “Yes, but…” and the judge cut him off.  At that point the customer had absolutely not a leg to stand on. He had signed a legal binding document acknowledging his request for the additional work.  

“Is this your signature?” the judge repeated.

And again the homeowner started “Yes, but…”

The judge said, “Case dismissed,” and that was the end of it. 

For anyone who has ever lost money to a customer who either intentionally or semi-intentionally has tried to cheat them out of money (I know “cheat” is a harsh word, but that is what they are doing), we know it hurts. 

We have gone in and done work on good faith and expect to be paid as such. But thinking that just because someone seems nice does not guarantee they will do a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, deciding for whatever reason they no longer should have to pay for the changes requested. Unless you have it in writing, if they balk at paying you, you have nothing to protect yourself. 

It is always important to maintain a good rapport with our customers, to be nice, treat them with respect, laugh and joke with them. But we must never forget they are customers first and foremost. Our priority as business owners is to protect our company, and ourselves, above all. 

As painful as a Job Change Order feels like when you are short on time and feeling overwhelmed, it is still our best protection. That ten minutes it takes to write up a Job Change Order and send it to your customer may be the one thing that saves you if there is a problem down the road.

Jodi Wallace is co-owner of Monarch Solid Surface Designs in San Jose, California. She may be reached at