As many would know, Chris and I have spent the last few months planning and overseeing the construction of the large body of water in our back yard in the form of a pool. For the sake of others who may be considering going through this process, and as a reminder should we ever to decide to do this again, here are some tips to survive this process (or at least reduce the tension in your lives).
1. Choose your pool company wisely
This may seem like a no-brainer, but in the days of hot summers and cool(ish) water, our “wants” tend to get in the way of what makes most sense. Don’t just work with the first company you go to, explore others, engage with them, be explicit, ask for things (you’d be surprised what most companies can do) and expect to pay for what you want. For Chris and I, it was the placement of a degree in the cubicle of our initial designer that helped us decide which company was right for us. Gary was a landscape architect (designer), and after meeting with him the first time and seeing his subsequent design, it seemed like he got into our heads and really understood what we wanted. There were others we met with that took more time to get that, or didn’t.
2. Make sure it is in the contract
If you agree with your designer/sales person to have something done, make sure it is on the contract. If it is not on the contract, then it doesn’t exist. Our biggest lesson for this, was the filter covers that are used. As we finalized the contract, we understood that the metal filter covers were the standard for the pool company, but this was only true if you upgraded to the more expensive flagstone decking. Come time to place the filter covers, and because the contract didn’t state these were to be installed, they didn’t get installed. (Side note, it turns out that buying them after market is significantly cheaper, so don’t every pay for these!)
3. Read the Contract
How many times have you heard this and think, yeah, I’ll do that, but when it comes time to sign, you just skim over the document. Not just the front, but ALL the terms and conditions (i.e. the back). Specifically you will want to review (and change if needed) the payment schedule, dispute requirements, the time it takes to build a pool. Here are some observations from our experience that may be useful:
(a) Swimming pool contracts are not regulated or restricted like real estate contracts (in Texas). The contract that a pool company provides you is a document they have created, not something they are required to use (like real estate). It is a standard contract between you and the company. Remember, you can change it.
(b) The duration for the pool to be constructed for our pool was 40 to 80 business days. Reduce this to the promised time from your sales conversations. We were originally that the pool would take 5-6 weeks by the sales team, and then 6-8 weeks by the construction lead, but at one point it could have taken four months (or longer depending on what weather delays you may experience). The contract has weather delay contingencies in it (very much in the pool builders favor), so there is no reason why the company could not build the pool in the “sales promised” time frame.
(c) Most pool companies have a requirement to build your pool “diligently” and without unnecessary delay. Consider adding a penalty clause into your contract that requires the company to reduce your costs for each day they go over the expected time frame.
(d) Change the payment schedule so you have a final payment after the pool is completed and final inspection is done. The percentage does not have to equal 100%, and often there are four payment stages: (i) day of excavation; (ii) day of gunite; (iii) day of deck form; and (iv) day prior to plaster. Consider leaving 5-10% out of these stages as a final payment, and add that completion is when both the pool company and buyer/owner agree.
4. Remember that the sales part is to get you in the door, be warned of the next steps
You can have an amazing designer and be giddy with excitement, but ultimately that person passes it along to the construction side who turns that excitement into a borderline nightmare, and this is where most people don’t spend their time doing their homework (including us). Reading and adjusting your contact will make this step a lot easier.
Get a schedule on when work is anticipated (be aware that these are approximates and may change based on delays caused (e.g. by weather)). Ask for time periods like how many days after excavation will you gunite; how many days after gunite will you form the deck; how many days after forming the deck will you plaster, etc. This helps set the expectations with the builder and you.
5. Keep notes
This – again – should be a no-brainer, but when you talk with your builder, pool representatives, etc. always make notes. I did most of my communication with our pool construction lead by SMS, and used a tool (mySMS) to automatically transfer copies of these SMS messages in Evernote (my main tool for everything). All stored in one place, fully searchable. Having a compiled set of these will save you a lot of issues in the future. Be smart about your communication.
6. Enjoy Your Pool
While the above may not prevent all your issues, they should be minimized somewhat. One of the lessons that I learnt was the need to stay in control with your project. If you’ve read your contract, changed it and have an good idea on the time frame for completion, you will be in a much better position.