Work Your Budget Like a Senator

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Work Your Budget Like a Senator

When you set out to plan a complex and expensive project such as a kitchen remodel, you need to have a sense of the process that gets you into action. This is always true for a Professional Remodeler, and it’s one way to tell the good guys from the flakes (the Pros will have a process, the flakes will fake it). It’s also applicable to a homeowner who needs to evaluate contractors (and designers) and decide on finance and calendar questions. Here is a simple framework to use, that has worked for GRC for many years, and it’s as simple (I’m not saying easy) as A-B-C. There are many additional considerations, and things to ask yourself before planning a remodel, but here’s the primer:

Approach

What do you need to accomplish with your project? What are the most important benefits that make it worthwhile to pursue, despite the disruption to home and family it will pose?

Budget

It’s best to think in terms of a range… What have you mentally budgeted for the project? That’s not the same as knowing what you think the project should or will cost, it’s an honest appraisal of the level of investment you’re prepared to make in order to get the benefits you’re after. (Hint: as soon as you trust your remodeler or salesperson, share this range with him or her— it will help get to important decisions more smoothly).

Contract

The agreement between your household and the person you award the work to. There’s a paper version, and a goodwill version that exists in both parties’ minds and is upheld through communication.

Now I’m going to tell you something that every buyer knows instinctively, and you should think about consciously: the space between B and C (Budget and Contract) is where the magic happens. That’s why you need to work that budget like a Senator in order to get the very best package you’re willing to pay for. Now I’ve never been a Senator, never will be one, and probably will never play one on TV… but I think I have a basic grasp on what those guys and gals are doing when they put their deals together. They’re trying to set the stage for short term rewards and long term success.

Well… let’s pretend that’s what they’re doing. I’m confident in saying that’s what they’re supposed to do. Once again, the Budget is where the fruit ripens on the vine. If you spend too much time working on the Approach, you’ll arrive at a place where you can’t make any actionable plans because you lack information about what things cost. If you speed into the Contract negotiations, you risk overlooking some aspect of the plans that might otherwise have been flushed out into the open by thoroughly putting together the line-item pricing. Dwell in that middle aisle, keep your constituents’ wishes front-and-center, build an alliance with a contractor who’ll be loyal to you, and bring home the bacon!

Ten Questions Before Remodeling

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Ten Questions Before Remodeling

Over the years, we have successfully worked with many different clients who have varying levels of first hand experience with remodeling. Some clients have done many projects prior to meeting GRC, but haven’t been happy enough with their prior contractors to hire them a second time. Others have never done a major project, but may have been happy with a handyman job performed recently. Even when we work for clients a second (or third) time on a major project, there are many things to consider about the new project which may not have been factors in planning the old one.

Below is a list of ten questions I think will be helpful to anyone contemplating a substantial remodel, one that involves hiring a professional remodeling and design firm. These are gleaned from years of experience across many different types of job with many different households; each family and home is different, yet there are underlying principles at work here. I think that any client who takes the time to discuss and write down answers to these questions will be coming to the table with a great deal of clarity and savvy about the remodeling sales process.

  1. Which of your family’s routines will be affected by the work you’re planning?
  2. What seems like a comfortable budget range for your project?
  3. What sort of communication do you want your remodeler to offer?
  4. How long can you tolerate the disruption of the work?
  5. What assumptions are you making about the value the project adds to your property, in order to justify the expense?
  6. What will happen if you don’t do the project?
  7. Is there another project, large or small, that you would bundle together with this one, if you knew you had a good contractor and by bundling you could save time and money overall?
  8. How much time (hours per week and number of weeks) have you budgeted for planning your remodel, including all the showroom visits and meetings you’ll need to make?
  9. Are you happy with your home and property overall, (and just need a few improvements in order to be able to stay there contentedly for years to come), or has there been a discussion about whether or not this is the right house for your family long term?
  10. What kind of assurances are you looking for in your relationships with a designer and remodeler?

I’m sure there are many other important questions that could be asked, too many to list in a blog post. I’d love to hear in the comments, what questions do you think should be added to this list? If you’re a homeowner who has done a major remodel, what things did you learn in hindsight that could be highlighted at the front end to have a better experience next time? If you’re in the business, what questions do you wish your clients would think through in order to get through the planning process more efficiently?

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What’s the Value of a Good Idea?

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What’s the Value of a Good Idea?

Houses are full of riddles waiting to be solved. Great remodeling projects require thoughtful design solutions, and careful execution. Before either of these, however, you need a prime ingredient tht is the hardest of all to find: a Good Idea.

When it comes to renovation plans, one of the most common mistakes is rushing the design. Too often, the process skips ahead to concerns about pricing/selections/logistics long before the “Good Idea” test has been passed. In theory, every qualified remodeler and designer should be totally committed to this principle, and should share it with his/her prospective clients. In practice, however, sometimes significant monies are spent up front on ideas that end up on the cutting room floor… or worse, bad ideas that are poorly executed.

For anyone planning a kitchen remodel, bathroom renovation, or any other major home improvement project, our best advice is to start slow and budget plenty of time for planning (three to six months is a reasonable range). Make the first order of business finding and hiring a team that you trust to guide you through the forest of ideas and possible outcomes. When your project is complete and you step back with satisfaction, you’ll recognize the thread of that original Good Idea from every angle.

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Remodeling is Deeply Rewarding

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Remodeling is Deeply Rewarding

Remodeling is often a very personal business. I find it to be a profound honor to work on someone’s home. This includes the time I spend discussing interior design ideas, being trusted to assemble a team to implement those ideas, and the repeat opportunities we receive when the results are enjoyed.

You may be accustomed to hearing the bad news about relationships with contractors. It’s too bad that our industry has acquired a reputation for being unreliable and unprofessional; there are many successful client/contractor relationships that exceed expectations, based on a history of trust and satisfaction.

What you may also find surprising, is that the satisfaction and reward often flows from the homeowners to the remodeler, just as much as the opposite is true. I have been fortunate to connect with a steady stream of customers here in the Triangle who have typically been happy enough to hire us multiple times. It’s a win-win situation because while we thrive on the repeat business, our customers get the benefit of a steady partnership that provides:

  1. Predictability. Because we work with our trade partners year after year, our clients know that they can expect to see many of the same folks as they did on their last project. Many of our clients know our subcontractors on a first name basis.
  2. Flexibility. Once we get to know your house on a first project, we’re in a much better position to help diagnose and provide service for smaller, ongoing maintenance and replacement needs down the line. We can also work across a wide variety of home designs.
  3. Reliability. As the business owner, I take responsibility for seeing that everyone we introduce to our clients is worth of being invited back. It gets easier each time we complete a project, because our success breeds confidence for everyone, including our customers.

Remodeling at its best is a creative, transformative process that solves important shortcomings in the homes we love. It is a collaborative effort between the owners and the firm performing the work, and when done properly it can result in happy endings and even friendships. We don’t insist on that, but we’re smart enough to cherish it when it happens.

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Remodelers, home builders, and real estate developers rely on GuildQuality's customer satisfaction surveying to monitor and improve the quality of service they deliver.

Here’s a Quarter of a Million Dollars, Call Someone Who Cares

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Here’s a Quarter of a Million Dollars, Call Someone Who Cares

If you’ve ever been baffled by the behavior of someone in a service business, you may find this interesting. The truth is, there are really only two types of people in service businesses;  those who care, and those who once did. When you set out to hire a contractor, you need to find someone who hasn’t stopped caring.

Often the line between caring and … “not so much…” is barely perceptible.  That’s because an employee or business owner in service has a high probability of being pushed toward no longer caring over time. Running a service business can be a grind. Even the normal day-to-day of the construction business is tiring, so when a few things in a week go wrong… it’s understandable why someone could be a little out of sorts.

Not everyone working on houses these days is cut out to be a professional remodeler. When your job is to tear someone’s house apart and put it back together, the rules are different; and for the homeowner who doesn’t have the time or energy to tackle a Do-It-Yourself experiment, nothing is more important than finding the right remodeling contractor to work with.

Not everyone understands how stressful the search for a contractor can be. You want to look for someone to work with who seems like they actually, genuinely care. They shouldn’t be too polished, as if “caring” were something that came with a pedigree. You want to find a contractor who shows caring like “Wow, you’re actually going to pay me your hard-earned money to take apart your most valuable asset and put it back together… That’s serious business.”  If you can’t picture the remodeler across the table saying those words, move on to the next one until you find someone who fits.

Keep looking until you find someone who cares. You and your family deserve it.

Tune in, Find a Pro, and Turn On

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Tune in, Find a Pro, and Turn On

Among the remodeling pros I hang with, both contractors and suppliers, there is a consistent thread to the conversation when it comes to home improvement TV (and the way it’s consumed by our sales prospects). We lament the un-reality of the production and the unrealistic expectations it creates… but we also acknowledge the power of the medium.

The world is changing before our eyes. The knowledge of “how-to” is shifting away from the physical and into the digital. Big marketing budget and slick productions have consumers tantalizingly close to owning the house of their dreams— or at least a room or two with a really snazzy paint color.

But here’s the trouble… The sponsors of these programs are by-and-large movers of product. After all these years, the service aspect of the business has eluded their model, and with good reason. In order to offer the prices they offer on product, the prices they offer on service have to be proportionally unrealistic as well.

Or, to boil it down, when watching Home Improvement TV, be a savvy consumer and consider the source. There’s a reason why those guys are on TV and the real pros are sitting with you in your homes, talking through the tough decisions. Real service isn’t getting sold over the airwaves, it’s happening around reasonable agreements between qualified professionals and qualified buyers.