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Why One Construction Company Is Getting Rid Of The Dreaded Punch List

The interior of Busboys and Poets, a bookstore and coffee shop chain constructed by HBW, Washington, D.C.

When tenants move into their new office spaces, contractors typically hand them a laundry list of tasks that have not yet been completed, from millwork to caulking to painting. This “punch list” can take weeks if not months to work through, with the tenants at the mercy of their contractor.

That doesn’t sit right with Phil Scott, president of HBW Construction, which is why his company is working to eliminate the punch list not just for their own projects, but across the industry as a whole.

“Construction is the only industry where it’s acceptable to deliver a product you know is incomplete,” Scott said. “Punch lists have been around for over 100 years, but delivering incomplete products is unhealthy for the industry. We made a commitment 10 years ago to change the punch list and commit to having projects completed on time.”

For most office tenants, having a contractor work through a punch list means dealing with paint fumes, sawdust and the whirr of power tools throughout the workday. It can quickly devolve into a litigious or logistical nightmare if a contractor fails to source the materials they need or flat-out refuses to finish the job. Not infrequently, Scott said, tenants are forced to bring another contractor in to finish the work left on the punch list.

By contrast, HBW Construction guarantees that its projects will be complete upon move-in — no punch list needed. Scott said that promise would feel empty without another: a lifetime guarantee on all workmanship.

“The culture is so entrenched that industry veterans are almost in disbelief when we tell them there’s no punch list,” Scott said. “Engineers and architects have been trained that part of their worth is to define a punch list, that’s their value prop. We’re breaking the norm by turning in a completed job.”

Working without a punch list is not something that HBW takes lightly. Clients do avail themselves of the company’s lifetime guarantee on workmanship — Scott cited replacing about $30K worth of millwork for one client — but he said that his company is focused on building long-term business relationships, and strives to build offices that look good not just on day one, but five years down the road.

The firm is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and Scott said that drawing on half a century of projects has lent him and his colleagues a keen eye for construction mistakes and work that still needs to be done.

“I find myself thinking about how to get rid of the punch list even if I’m off the job site,” Scott said. “My wife and I will go to dinner and she’ll tell me to stop punching out the restaurant.”

Eliminating punch lists also takes forecasting and budgeting expertise to ensure that every piece of a project remains on track to be delivered on a client’s first day of business. HBW employs an entire team of estimators that bids over 700 projects per year and completes nearly 400 budgets per year. Scott said this treasure trove of real-world data means that the company is more able to forecast how long a project will take to ensure that the punch list is totally empty.

“There’s not a whole lot that we haven’t seen. No matter what the project is, we’ve probably done hundreds like it,” Scott said. “Quality means attention to details: perfect lines, doors being flush with walls, using the right materials. For every kind of project, we know the thousands of little details that go into building that quality.”

Whether HBW’s innovative approach will catch on remains to be seen. Scott said that since the work of so many construction professionals revolves around the punch list, it will be a difficult habit to break.

“We have to repeat our message every day until it slowly drips into people’s brains that we can do this without a punch list,” Scott said. “In every communication internally and with our subcontractors, we work to get buy-in from every employee. In terms of the industry as a whole, it’s an uphill battle.”

This feature was produced by Bisnow Branded Content in collaboration with HBW Construction. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.