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(January 11, 1918 – July 17, 1990) An American aerospace engineer who worked on safety-critical systems for the U.S. Air Force. He is best known for his namesake Murphy’s Law, which states, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Murphy regarded the law as crystallizing a key principle of defensive design, in which one should always assume worst-case scenarios.
Keeping Major Murphy’s principle in mind, what are the critical steps contractors can take to get their projects off on the right foot, and bring them to a successful conclusion – while keeping Murphy’s Law out of the equation?
The first key to having a successful contract is to have a contract. It sounds obvious, but contractors are sometimes induced to start work, or perform change orders / additions to contracts, without an executed document in hand. Maybe the project owner is in a rush, “We need for you to start right away so we can be completed on time. We’ll do the paperwork later.”
The contractor wants to maintain good will. They proceed in the hope that their responsiveness will pay off – and sometimes it does. There are also times when the contractor incurs costs that are never reimbursed because the contract is not executed. There could be engineering problems, governmental interference or lack of funding. There are any number of reasons for things to go wrong (as our hero indicated.) And for the contractor, they are all bad.
On the other hand, let’s say there is no problem with the contract. The paperwork is signed, the work proceeds, is paid for, and the contractor is completed with a profit in hand. So is that the end?
No, not quite. Just like there is paperwork to get into the project, there is more to get out of it. The contractor should obtain written acceptance of the work by the job owner (obligee.)
- This important document establishes a completion date for the contract and concludes a portion of the liability that is attached to all open contracts.
- It will close the Performance and Payment bond if there was one. Closing the file restores the contractors bonding capacity.
- It may also be beneficial with lenders.
- If nothing else, a written acceptance may be a defense when the project owner attempts to call back the contractor at a later date or claim the work was not satisfactory.
These simple procedures are basic, good business practices. Contractors who win work competitively, and are paid under a lump sum contract, already face significant risks. It is important to have the correct paperwork in hand when starting, modifying, and ending construction projects.
Major Murphy learned this important lesson the hard way – but you don’t have to!
Insurance Agents and Contractors: when tough bonding situations arise, we have the markets and the know-how to succeed even when others have failed.
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