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Matching the right Contractor to your Remodeling Project

I have often told my clients that you would not go to a foot doctor if you needed brain surgery.

Both are “Doctors” but obviously do totally different things and require very different skills to professionally do their jobs. It is very much the same in remodeling. The most common misconception is that new home builders can be remodelers. Nothing can be further from the truth and the people that choose home builders usually find out the hard way that their decision was a bad one.

Home builders generally subcontract out all aspects of a project. This is historically why home builders have lower profit margins when pricing a remodeling project. They are used to having a client that lives away from the project. When you start with a piece of dirt with nothing to worry about damaging, you can afford to hire people that have no concern for the client’s day to day activity. When you are a home builder you also don’t feel you need the control over your subcontractors so that the job runs smoothly. It is very easy for a home builder to cover his/her mistakes without a client ever being aware of a problem until it is too late to remedy.

Let me give you some scenarios of projects by home builders that my company was called in to be an expert for the client who was suing his home builder:
• One case had the concrete foundation poured in two stages instead of one. This allowed for cracks in the foundation which eventually leaked. The entire finished house had to be redone because no one was there to oversee the concrete subcontractor.
• Another case had no foundation anchors from the house to the foundation. In other words the only thing keeping the house from moving off the foundation in a bad wind storm was gravity.
• In another instance the brick layer subcontractor did not put any wall ties from the brick to the wood exterior wall of the house. You could literally move the 2 story brick wall with your hand and watch it sway.
• Finally, another case had the subcontractor for the piers misread the drawings and put in 3 piers when there should have been 4. The basement floor was poured thus covering up the pier spacing. When the steel columns were installed, the contractor, not knowing that the previous subcontractor had changed the spacing, used the spacing on the plans for his columns. The result was that when the house was built and finished the middle beam that was supported by the columns sunk 2 inches. Again, major repairs had to be incorporated to remedy the problem.

There are a lot more of these scenarios I could cite, but I think you get my point. Without proper supervision of the workers, serious problems can arise. Again, the homeowner is totally unsuspecting of these potential problems because they generally only come in at the end. Even if they are smart enough to take pictures and ask questions, most don’t know the right questions to ask nor do they know the right methodology they should be looking for.

Our business model is totally different. To us, the process is equally as important as the final product. In our business there first needs to be a level of trust that we are truly looking after, not only the project, but the well being of our clients. Unless you have had the pleasure of experiencing one of our renovations, it is very hard for me to describe the process.

First, there needs to be chemistry between us and the client. We achieve this by working architecturally with the client and doing feasibility studies for them (please see Stan’s blog about what an Architectural feasibility study is and how it works). During the feasibility process we gain that trust by guiding the client to make the right decisions for their particular need and desires.

Once a final feasibility study design is reached, we then price out the project. We use a team approach to do this. I tell my clients that I can name the HVAC, electrician, plumber, and other subs ahead of time because we all work together to deliver a package that everyone is on the same page.

We then give transparent pricing. This means that we show our clients the actual cost of items and show them the fee we charge to manage those items. In this way the client can see where elements of the project exceed the budget and where elements are less than or on budget. This approach, rather than saying your bottom line is $158,678.00 and take it or leave it, we afford the client to massage the numbers to get the project on budget.

By the time all this has transpired, we would have had several meetings with the Owner and by then have developed a “trust” for the move from Architecture to Construction.

Another big point that I want to make is once the contract has been committed and the scope established, there are times when unforeseen things come up. For instance, let’s say we remove drywall from a wall and discover that the wood studs supporting the drywall is termite eaten. Most contractors will feel this is a great time to extra the client. We approach these issues with an understanding that this unforeseen problem needs to be addressed, but we feel it is not an opportunity to apply excessive extra cost. We sit the client down and discuss what exact changes need to be made and how to make them.

One final point that greatly distances us from home builders and other contractors is our empathy. We know that living through a major addition or home improvement is stressful for anybody. We try to make this as painless as possible. Here are some of the things we do:
• Put floor protector down before work begins
• Build demising walls to separate construction from the unaffected areas of the house.
• Close HVAC ducts to the affected areas so as to not let dust be distributed throughout the house.
• Move furniture (within reason) from affected areas and reinstall after project is completed.
• Give you a CD containing before, during, and after pictures at the end of the project. This also is very handy when it comes to considering a future project. If the Owner has construction pictures it helps to see what mechanical, electrical, and plumbing lines behind the walls are located.

All in all, the service we provide far exceeds many of our client’s expectations. It is our goal to have every client ultimately be a spokesperson for the company. They are our biggest asset in securing future work.

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