Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What’s it really all about?

When you hear the stories of a remodel gone wrong and how bad the contractor is do you ever wonder if there’s another side to that story?

Well, there is. I’m not saying that homeowners are the “bad guys”, in fact, I’m saying there are really no “bad guys” at all. We must stop placing blame as it solves nothing.

I am simply saying there are two sides to every story and in between there is the truth. I coach both homeowners and contractors to look at remodeling as a relationship and bring to the table open, honest communication. This is where the solution lies (and begins).

Once you understand that communicating is key then the work of the remodeling project can begin. Get money and mess on the table early and when it comes up mid-job (as it will) it will not be as difficult to address because you’ve already laid the groundwork. Think solution-based rather than nightmare-based and you can create the remodel of your dreams.

I come from a place of remodeling on-purpose. This means: the client gets a complete job based on the contract they signed at the beginning of the project and has fully understood all changes and possible delays throughout the process (if there were any); the contractor walks away with a satisfied client, all monies due paid and referrals.

Doesn't this sound good? This is a win/win scenario. However, keep in mind, I'm not saying it won't be dirty, frustrating or have delays happen; I'm saying that if clear, open communication happens at the very beginning it can be a win/win.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Are you a good fit for each other?

What both homeowners and contractors must both remember is this, not every homeowner a contractor interviews is a good client for them and not every contractor a homeowner interviews is a good fit for them. That is why it’s preventative “medicine” for both parties to talk to a coach and get clarity about “are you right for one another”? Hence, the dating phase of the remodeling project that’s coming down the pike.

Keep in mind when you’re interviewing contractors, they “should” also be interviewing you.

As I’ve said, this is a relationship, not just a remodel. It would stand to reason, then, that both sides would be interviewing the other. This is the time to develop good rapport (indeed, is good rapport possible).

For a long time it has been assumed that it is only the customer who has a choice in the hiring process.

I want to be clear that this is absolutely not so. Think of it as a date – each party is “checking out” the other. This is the time to develop good rapport (indeed, is good rapport possible).

Since there is really no continuing education for contractors provided by any of the states (that I’m aware of), it is up to us to educate ourselves not only on the aspects of building but of running a business as well.

Remodeling Magazine is one of the best magazines in the remodeling/home improvement industry. It is for industry professionals but homeowners have access on-line at www.remodeling.com

In September of 2002 there was a Q & A with several contractors on Just Saying No – How to turn away a client you have reason to suspect may be difficult. Particularly in these economically challenging times (and, really, anytime) if either party feels the relationship isn’t a good fit, say no.

It’s never a good thing to waste time, money and, particularly, emotion on entering into the “wrong” relationship.

I would encourage each of you to be courteous enough to let the contractors you do not choose know that you are not choosing them. They’re taking the time to come and meet with you to bid on your project – they like to know what’s going on with you as well.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Seven Tips for Hiring a Contractor

#7 Did the estimate compare favorably to others?

I’m not talking about looking for the cheapest price. It’s definitely not about finding the contractor who gives you the lowest bid. To the contrary, it’s about the experience you’ll ultimately get. You want to know that the contractor you are hiring is going to give you the most bang for your buck. When you are comparing bids you want all the inclusions and exclusions to be the same so that you can decipher what you are going to get and for how much. Base your decision on the contractor who you feel suits your needs best.

Be willing to give up making it about the money only who cutting the best deal. You may find that the contractor bidding "in the middle" IS the best deal.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Seven Tips for Hiring a Contractor

#6 Was the estimate on your project returned quickly?

OK, you’ve made your calls, scheduled your bid and now you are waiting to see exactly what the contractors come back with as far as price.

If, indeed, the contractor is preparing a thorough, written bid for your project, it will take anywhere from 5 - 7 days, depending on how extensive the project is.

It takes time to show all the subs the plans and gather those bids. Make sure they are clear on the timeframe you can plan on to receive a solid, written bid back from them.

If it is a smaller, less involved project such as interior painting, the bid could come back as soon as 2 days. Again, make sure you get a timeframe from the contractor as to when you can expect the bid.

This is the clarity in communication that's so very important.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Seven Tips for Hiring a Contractor

#5 Did the contractor respect you and your home?

This is when I begin to discuss how you feel about the contractor. It is really a very important question when you think about it. This is the dating phase of the project. If you are dating someone and you don't develop good rapport during dinner on the first date - do you believe you'd actually marry that person? Same thing with the estimating process of remodeling (the dating phase). You don't want to get married (sign a contract) if you don't have good rapport. Pay attention during this process.

If you feel as if you’re not being listened to because the contractor is in a hurry or doesn’t ask you any questions that particular contractor is probably not going to be a good choice.

If you feel you’re being heard and you feel good about the contractor, this could be the beginning of a “good fit” relationship and an awesome "marriage".

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Seven Tips for Hiring a Contractor

Tip #4

Did the contractor ask pertinent questions?

When they came to your home for the bid did they initially ask exactly what you wanted?

If you’re calling for bids on a kitchen remodel, did they ask if you had plans? Are you completely gutting and re-arranging the space? Have you looked at tile, appliances and your finished product?

What’s important here is, are they coming in and getting a sense of your vision or “creating” a product that’s their vision?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Seven Tips for Hiring a Contractor

Tip #3

Did the contractor walk through your home with you?

In other words, did they look at your home, ask questions and hear what you wanted as far as what they were bidding on?

It’s very important that you feel as if they are paying attention to what it is you want as well as need during the process of the job.

This is where you can test what kind of experience you’ll be getting during the remodel with this contractor.

In January I will be launching www.remodel411.info which will be featuring my blogs and they will be interactive, you'll be able to post. It will also let you know where you can get the Remodel 411 - Remodeling is a Relationship book. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Seven Tips for Hiring a Contractor

Tip #2

Did the contractor arrive at the scheduled time?

Did you show up on time? I've had homeowners who did not show up for appointments. The contractor’s time is also valuable. If you set a time - be there. Give what you wish to get in return.

If the contractor did not show up on time, did he call to let you know he would be late? I scheduled a tree trimmer to come out to my home to give me a bid. I spoke to his wife and set the date and time. On Wednesday, the day of the appointment (4:30), the contactor called at 3:45 and said they were just finishing up a job and could they come around 6:00. No problem. They came at about 5:50. That is what I mean when I ask, “did they call to let you know they’d be late?” Professionalism. It also lets you know that communication is something this contractor is familiar with. Remember, the biggest part of the job and how well it goes relies on clear, open and honest communication.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Seven Tips for Hiring a Contractor

Tip #1
When calling for estimatesmake sure the contractors you are calling RETURN THEIR PHONE CALLS!

I know this seems like an “of course I know that” tip, however, you’d be amazed at how many people who’ve experienced nightmares didn’t follow that tip when selecting someone to work in their home. This can lead to what I call the Emotionology of Remodeling "syndrome".

Emotionology of Remodeling:

When thinking about remodeling your home I’d like you to think of the why’s of the project you’re considering. So many times people enter into a home improvement project
without any foresight of what’s involved. There are many things to consider depending on how big
the project is. Some of the questions to consider are:
How long is this project going to take?
How will I feel once it’s done?
What are the real costs and what value will it add to my home and my life?

If you are considering a remodeling project really ask yourself these questions before beginning and it will make the whole process much easier.

Please visit our newly updated Eye for Detail website
with more articles, publications and Reva’s bio as well as an excerpt from the soon-to-be-released book - Remodel 411 - The Relationship of Remodeling.

Monday, November 8, 2010

“I always check out a contractor’s license and won’t work with someone who doesn’t have one...

....because I’ve had problems with contractors before!”

When I got a call from someone who told me this, she was calling me for a bid not a coaching session, however, I still address these kinds of comments from a coaching mind.

I simply told her that I not only coach homeowners but contractors and I tell both parties to check out the other party thoroughly and “listen to their gut”.

I told her that a problem “with a contractor” isn’t ever one-sided. I said I’ve heard plenty of stories about “not so wonderful” clients. I’ve also experienced them (that’s another article, however).

She actually paused and said “I guess so, I’ve never thought of that as a possibility”.

So, you see, a remodel coach is still a genre that’s much needed. It appears many homeowners still view a remodel as a one-sided relationship and that’s the myth I’m open to change.

It’s far more than one-sided. It’s a conversation between ALL parties.

What I talk about in the chapter on Listening in Remodel 411 is: listening is the most important aspect of communication. Remember, we have two ears and one mouth for a reason!

If you or anyone you know isn’t sure about how the communication needs to go to create a successful remodel please call or “pass me on” to someone you know who may be thinking about a remodeling project. A great remodeling relationship will create a wonderful experience for all concerned.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Choosing the Right Contractor for Your Remodel On-Purpose

These tips will help you choose the best contractor/client for you. The more knowledgeable you are about your expectations as a homeowner/company, the less problems will arise during the project.

Communication and research are truly the first steps to making a wise decision. You do this for most large purchases, why not before you move into the relationship of remodeling?

Homeowners, learn why you “should” never choose a contractor based on the price alone - either the highest (thinking you would receive more value and better product) or the lowest because you “need to get a deal”.

Contractors, learn that it’s OK to say no and why not to choose a client out of the desperation of “needing” a job or the money.

1. You pick a contractor/job based on money alone.
It really is true that “you get what you pay for”. Whether it’s high or low it’s quite simple - know what’s included, what are you really getting for the price you will pay?

If a client isn’t right for you (you see the red flags before you even begin) walk away. Especially if you are desperate for a job because, trust me, if you take that client on simply because you need the money, it more than likely won’t go well.

2. You think all contractors/jobs are the same.
No two contractors are the same and all remodels aren’t the same because all houses and homeowners are different.

Since all personalities are different, it would stand that, since remodeling is a relationship, every contractor will bring something different to the experience, as will each homeowner.

When meeting for the first time, communicate and listen!

3. You MUST shop at least 3 contractors/subs for bids.
Homeowners, just as a good contractor has loyal customers and no time for price shoppers - contractors, so do subs have loyal contractors they work for.

Once you find a good fit, go with it. If you feel comfortable with them and their communication, it’s (in most cases) that simple - flow with it.

4. In a “down market” you should get it for less/charge less.
Homeowners: just as your cost of living hasn’t changed, so hasn’t the contractors’. Contractors: remember this when bidding your jobs. Everyone: use some common sense.

5. You think the job gets done “over-night” or, as a contractor, you underestimate the time needed to complete the job.
When you’re in a hurry to get the bid to the customer or have the job completed and rush the bidding process or the work, no good will come of it. Patience and time, as well as clarity in the process, whether it’s bidding or communicating about the time, is the key.

6. You pick a contractor who doesn’t draw up a sensible time schedule and talk about how that could change. Contractors, heed this.
Talk about time, money and mess up-front, early and talk about it with clarity and good communication/listening. Contractors, take time to really figure out what you need to earn and to complete the job as well as any unforeseen changes and DISCUSS them honestly and in lay terms with the client.

7. Homeowners don’t ask for references and call them. Contractors don’t pay attention to red flags or clues.
This is probably the simplest way to avoid nightmares along with clear, honest communication. Listen, ask questions and if you don’t feel you are a fit for each other - walk away. It’s OK for the client and it’s OK for the contractor to say no.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

When will we get over the wholesale mentality?

I realize that, for years, we’ve really wanted the free lunch, something for nothing and had the thinking “free, that’s the price tag I love!”

Is that really what we believe or is it that we must simply be more conscious of what we pay for things and, if we don’t need them, we don’t buy them?

I was talking to someone yesterday about PR for my businesses and, in discussing the remodeling business, the discussion came to money and the cost of remodeling. What I told her and know for sure is, until I got over wanting everything on the cheap, whether clothes, services, cars or the like, how was I ever going to earn enough to get a remodel done right, earn a profit for the company and pay me? It wasn’t going to happen.

As I continued to want to get “a deal” on everything, I drew to me homeowners who wanted to get the same thing from me. When I really started looking deep within myself as to my part in not earning enough to profit the company and pay myself, I realized that I definitely had a part in it because of my “pay me what I’m worth but I’m not willing to pay you what you’re worth” thinking.

The day I made a decision to “stop that!’ was the day I became free of worrying about whether or not someone wanted to afford me.

Notice I said wanted to afford me? That’s exactly what it is. It’s not a matter of “can they?” It’s “do they want the experience I bring to the table or not?”

I decided to no longer be “on sale”. Now, that didn’t happen overnight but I’ve held my ground and it is turning around. When you stand for something or a way of being treated for years it takes some time for the shift to happen. But….happen it does.

As we were talking, she absolutely got what I was saying, not only about remodeling but in the area of any kind of business transaction.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with garage sales, outlet shopping and using coupons, etc. However, there’s a place for everything and everything in its place. When it comes to services such as getting a website built, remodeling your kitchen or getting a good massage, I believe you get what you pay for.

What do you want to pay for? Do you want a contractor that shows up because they’re earning a living and can afford to come to work everyday or doe you want someone who’s spotty at best about their time and how they manage a project?

I encourage you to really think about this when it comes time to remodel your home and ask questions about the price from a place of authenticity - meaning “I just want to be conscious of what I’m paying for” rather than “You’re charging more than I want to pay so give it to me for less”.

We all must be conscious of what we pay for things and when as well as if we really can afford it or not. If you can’t afford something, don’t make the person who’s providing the work wrong for what they charge. Figure out if you really do want and need what you’re asking for and go about saving until you can get it at the price being asked.

For the most part, it’s probably a fair price. Remember everyone must earn a living unless they’re doing something as a hobby. I’m not remodeling or coaching as a hobby - I’m in business to profit the company and earn a living for myself.

Happy thinking!

Reva Kussmaul
CEO – Eye For Detail Inc.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Finding a Good Contractor You’re Compatible With is Worth Hiring a Coach to Help You

The first thing I would say about finding a good contractor is to not choose (necessarily) the lowest bid. I am absolutely not saying that lowest bid might not be the way to go but “don't base your selection simply on money”.

I've coached clients who have chosen the lowest bid on painting their home and they've seen the painter leave after they've completed half the job, and never return to finish the work. There have been contractors who have come out and given a bid and, when the client calls them back, they don't return the call or they don't show up for the follow-up (sign the contract) appointment.

I understand that this can be really frustrating, however, let's look at some of the possible reasons (perhaps even 85% of the reasons) that this might be the case.

A lot of times the contractor will come out to bid an exterior paint job. Let's say that you get two more bids and each of those bids is $1500 more than the lowest bid from the first contractor you interviewed. Do you know the difference in those bids? Do you have any idea what materials they must use and how much paint they must purchase and is that even included in the bid?

I coached a homeowner once who had gotten a bid on an exterior paint job and it was much lower than the other two bids she'd gotten. She called me to come help her distinguish what the difference was. I found that the lowest bid had not included the paint.

Since painting houses is something I've done a lot both personally and with my crew, I let her know approximately how much paint was needed and the approximate cost. It turned out to be about $800 to purchase the paint, the primer etc. When we added that $800 onto the lowest bid it came within $100 - $200 of the highest bids.

The point of hiring a remodel coach is to help you distinguish what the differences are in the bids. If the bids are similar and the bid sheet is laid out very specifically and clearly, it's pretty easy for you to do that yourself. However, if it gets down to being a very detailed bid because, let's say it's a room addition and there's a lot more materials and work involved, then it might not be so easy for you to distinguish what the differences are and what may or may not be included.

Another example of compatibility is when the economy is really flowing and remodeling is up a lot of contractors might be booked out for a year. The subcontractors they use might also be booked out that far. However, even if you talk to someone who is booked out in advance, it's always good to pay attention to:
Do they return phone calls?
Do they show up to talk to you about your project?
Have they suggested “would you like to start the procedure even though I'm booked as far in advance since you’d like to use my company?”
Because the fact is, when we experience an economic downturn and remodeling is down, I as a contractor might be really sorry if I haven't returned your calls, or kept in communication with you, because I was just so busy I didn't “need you” and now, boy do I wish I had kept in touch.

It's really important to pay attention to how the communication works along those lines because that is also going to tell you if it's a good match. The bottom line is every contractor is not for you. Even if a friend used a particular company and you met them as you followed the progress of their job and really liked the crew, the company and the quality of work, that doesn't mean you and that company would be compatible - because every job is different and every personality is different.

A remodel coach can help you come up with a questionnaire that addresses such things as “did the contractor want to bid your job?”, “had they done similar work?” and questions designed to suit your project. This way, you will have clarity in your communication as far as being able to tell the contractor exactly what it is you want and what your expectations are.

I'm not simply talking about what you want as far as the color of your tile, or deciding between a Jacuzzi tub or a regular tub, I'm talking about deeper expectations such as the time they arrive for work, the bathrooms they use, how they interact with your family, etc. These are all really important questions, especially if you're doing a project that is longer than two weeks. Once you get beyond the two weeks, you're entering into more of a long-term relationship and having a coach who is on your side as well as on the contractor's side (because the bottom line is, you want this to be a win-win situation), makes it work well for everyone - which is how dream remodels are created and nightmares are avoided.

So, when thinking about doing a remodeling project, look at the compatibility factor when hiring a contractor.

Stay tuned for more in my upcoming book: Remodel 411 – The Relationship of Remodeling.

Reva Kussmaul
CEO – Eye For Detail Inc.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Win/Win and Communication

I have heard it said that if you run a remodeling business, knowing what to charge and how to communicate about money, it doesn't matter if you know the formula for mixing a mud floor for the bathroom or not (you want a subcontractor who knows that formula). What you want to know is how to estimate properly the time it takes for that project, not to walk on it before it dries and charge enough money for the job.

I'm always encouraging contractors that I coach to retain great quality craftsman and get them to see remodeling not just as the job they have for this month or this year but as a lifetime career for them and their employees.

When you're considering hiring a remodeling company, one of the things you want to know is how long have their employees been with them and what are the benefits the employees get from working with that company. I don't necessarily mean their pay or insurance. I'm talking about the value they receive in going to work every day. For example, if they enjoy going to work every day, you’ll probably get a craftsman quality job.

I coached a client whose remodel turned into a nightmare because the crew and the project manager weren’t what they needed to be as far as bringing a good experience to the table. I knew this particular contractor and I also knew who the crew had been and who the current crew was that worked on my client’s remodel.

The client shared with me that they had given this contractor many leads in the past and everyone was absolutely thrilled with not only the experience, but with the quality of the job. What I shared with the client was that the crew had changed from the time they’d given the contractor all of those referrals to the time they decided to do a remodeling project on their new home. It wasn't that the contractor/owner of the company had changed, the crew had changed.

I often give the example of a good sitcom or one-hour drama on television; it's not just about the lead of the show, it’s about the ensemble cast. A good crew headed up by a lead carpenter, headed up by a “on top of their game” project manager, headed up at the very top of totem pole by a good contractor/owner is what makes for a quality experience on a remodel project.

The contractor/owner of the company can know everything about remodeling when it comes to banging nails, hanging the drywall or installing the tile but if they don't manage the project well or have a project manager on board who can lead the orchestra, so to speak, the job becomes a nightmare.

That was what happened in the case of this particular client I coached several years ago. It took several sessions to get them to understand that it wasn't personal. What was personal is that, prior to the remodel, they didn’t ask me, or anyone else that could advise them, to “find out who the crew is, how long they've been around and who is managing the crew”.

The remodeling industry needs new methods in order to bring higher value to the customer and in turn higher profitability to the contractor. This contractor may have made a very good profit on the job but there really wasn't value and experience brought to the customer. Therefore, that homeowner would never refer that company again.nIt was absolutely not a win-win situation.

So a good coach can function as the communication conduit between the contractor, the homeowner, the subcontractors and the project manager and sometimes all it really takes is a good coach to get things off to a smooth start and help keep them on track.

Stay tuned for more in my upcoming book: Remodel 411 – The Relationship of Remodeling.

Reva Kussmaul
CEO – Eye For Detail Inc.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tips for Avoiding Remodeling Nightmares

Your house is a mess. You can't use your bathroom or kitchen. Strangers come and go all day. Just some everyday occurrences during a home improvement project that can disrupt your world and make life miserable! But...the results can be well worth the trouble. A remodel well done can bring enjoyment and add value to your home for years to come.

Sometimes, however, working with contractors is worse than a natural disaster. If the workmen do shoddy work, overcharge, or never finish the job, the result can be a nightmare. The following tips on working with a contractor can help make sure your improvement turns out the way you expect.

Be a part of the process

Know exactly what you want before you pick up the phone to start calling contractors for pricing. Research the market to find out what you like. Pick out specific products (by brand name, model and style) to include in the renovation. For example, if you're updating your bathroom, go to home centers and check out all the latest fixtures and faucets. When you call in contractors for prices, tell them which brand and style you've chosen. Don't leave the choice of materials up to the contractor or you're likely to get the less expensive on-the-shelf products available, which may or may not be to your liking.

Get a Written Contract

Use a written agreement for any work you are having done in or on your home. Make sure the contract states what is to be done, in as much detail as possible, has a price for said work, outlines possible delays and overages and a start/completion date. A common complaint is that the job always takes longer then a contractor estimated. If you want to avoid this, ask about a "time of the essence" clause, which charges a penalty to the contractor if the job takes too long. The contract should also set forth a payment schedule. As a general rule, put up a small down payment to get on the books and space out the balance; we call these incremental payments. Reserve at least 10% of the total amount for a final payment and release this money only after you are satisfied with the work. This amount depends on the size and length of the job and should always be discussed and agreed upon by both parties prior to the contract signing so it’s clear. Don’t sign the contract until you’re clear about the details.

If a contractor doesn't give you a contract, you don’t want to work with that contractor. This happens all the time and it’s the biggest reason I’m called in and by that time we’re mediating and not just coaching. Coaching is going to cost you less in the long run, not just my costs, but any amounts you’ve paid the contractor to do the “wrong job” followed by hiring a contractor to do the “right job”.

Change Orders

If additional work comes up that is outside the scope of work in the original contract, this must be in writing as well. Don’t simply have a verbal agreement regarding any changes you or the contractor makes. If construction is underway and something unforeseen comes up that changes the original work, have communication about it, specifically: how much will that cost? why was it an unforeseen and how much time will that add to the job? Don’t sign the change order until you’re clear about the details.

Check Insurance & License

Do the research when it comes to the contractor you choose. Your state probably has a website for checking these items.

Written Record

Keep a folder for all paperwork pertaining to the remodel so you can refer to it if necessary if there are any questions. For larger jobs, keep notes of conversations you've had with contractors over challenges, changes, etc. This may seem like a lot of work but having a thorough written record of day-to-day events can make a big difference in helping you win any dispute, which might possibly come up.

Stay tuned for more in my upcoming book: Remodel 411 – The Relationship of Remodeling.

Reva Kussmaul
CEO – Eye For Detail Inc.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Are you a "good" client or a "bad" client?

I put the words good and bad in quotations because, as I've as I’ve discussed before, this is not about being right or wrong - yet these are words we definitely understand. We hear so much about a bad contractor, a nightmare remodel, yet we've all grown up with the quote "the customer is always right."

So I want to address the clients as the remodeling relationship progresses, who they are and what they bring to the table.

One of my previous articles was about a client who wants to help in order to save money. I've talked about how this doesn't save them money because, for myself as a contractor when I enter into a remodel, I have my whole crew and I am the project manager. So I don't need anyone, especially the client, doing their own demo, going to the paint store or going to the hardware store. In fact, this may even increase the cost because, if they get the wrong paint and I have to go to the paint store, I have to pay my crew that extra time. It wasn't any fault of mine or the crew’s that the job was delayed.

If the homeowner goes to the store to buy, let's say crown molding, and they don't get enough, then my crew chief has to go to the store to buy exactly the amount that was needed. If, let's say, the store was out of that particular crown molding and we had to get another type or wait for the same crown molding to come in, then more money is being spent because the crown molding the client purchased can't be used. The client may end up having to pay for the downtime if there's nothing else on the job that can be done while waiting for the new order, thereby causing the crew to be delayed.

I want to talk a little bit about referring and how a client who has been happy with the results refers a construction company.

I had a client (she was a coaching client), who decided that she really wanted to act as the general contractor on her own project. This is absolutely okay and she did a good job getting the remodel that she had envisioned.

However, the project manager she hired to help her look at bids, go over contracts, and keep things moving, was what she termed a “nightmare”.

She put in a lot more work because eventually she fired that project manager and she took over as the general contractor and the project manager. Now this can absolutely be done, and be done effectively. However, if you're not used to doing this for a living, it becomes your entire life, because there's a lot more that goes into a remodel than just “this is what I want the kitchen to look like, I've hired everybody and it'll just get done”.

That's not the case. This client realized that if she had hired my company, not only to do the work but also to do the project management, she could have acted as the general contractor, paid all of the subs, put my company on payroll (as a project manager) and gotten the job that she wanted - without all of the nightmares and the delay in schedules that did occur.

I was talking to a friend who said that she really knew she could have done a better job had she had me and it would've been easier on her, so she wanted to refer me to friends and some of her clients. However, she wanted to be the project manager on the job if she did that.

I told our mutual friend that it would not work because she is referring someone to me and in doing so she must let go of that "lead". Her wanting to be the project manager is, in essence, wanting to make sure that my company does exactly what she feels it should do in relation to what our expertise is.

Said simply, she wanted to keep track of the lead and make sure that it went the way she wanted it to go for her referral. I told the mutual friend that this wouldn't work for me because I have a crew, I am the contractor and I am the project manager. Now, in the past, I have hired project managers, but they have worked with my company and managed the projects after having been trained by me.

The bottom-line is I told the mutual friend that, if she wanted to refer people to me, that would be great but she must let go of the need to control that referral. If she could not find a way to make herself do that than she needed to start her own business and that's fine too.

Stay tuned for more in my upcoming book: Remodel 411 – The Relationship of Remodeling.

Reva Kussmaul
CEO – Eye For Detail Inc.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Listening Is Really An Important Part of Communication

There was an article in Remodeling Magazine about a contractor in Illinois who took on a client who wanted a new, custom home built. He was very proud of his work and took many photographs throughout the job.

From the onset the plans were disturbing to him and he went to the client with his concerns. The designer wasn’t a licensed architect but was a friend of the new homeowners. The contractor expressed to the clients that he felt the second and third story framing wouldn’t support the weight of the roof structure, especially if the roof came under any kind of dense weight.

His gut told him to stop but he didn’t listen. He proceeded with the plans as they were drawn since the designer assured the client that “it would all come out OK”.

One month after completion of the project a foot of snow dropped on the new house, followed by shifting temperatures, which caused the snow to melt and then freeze again. Two weeks later he got a phone call that there was a “problem with the shingles buckling”.

Soon everything from a leaky attic to crumbling drywall was occurring and the contractor was being sued for $310,000.00.

This was not only a nightmare for the homeowners but for the contractor as well.

If you are going to have a friend draw up plans for a new home, room addition or remodel make sure they are qualified. If your contractor comes to you with this drastic concern - LISTEN!!

This is where both the listening and honest, open communication is necessary. Always talk about something like this. Call a meeting between all parties and talk about it. Is there really need for concern? If so, get it solved before you go any further.

The other aspect of this project is, why did this homeowner “hire” a friend to draw up plans? Perhaps because they couldn’t afford to hire a licensed architect as well as have the remodel done.

This is where the open, honest discussion about money comes into play. Plan ahead for the cost of a large project and if it needs to be done in segments to be affordable – do it in segments.

The contractor needed to be able to honestly discuss this with his potential clients and, if necessary, say no to the job.

Reva Kussmaul
CEO – Eye For Detail Inc.

Homeowners and Contractors: Are You Right for One Another?

What both homeowners and contractors must both remember is this, not every homeowner a contractor interviews is a good client for them and not every contractor a homeowner interviews is a good fit for them. That is why it’s preventative “medicine” for both parties to talk to a coach and get clarity about “are you right for one another”? Hence, the dating phase of the remodeling project that’s coming down the pike.

Keep in mind when you’re interviewing contractors, they “should” also be interviewing you.

As I’ve said, this is a relationship, not just a remodel. It would stand to reason, then, that both sides would be interviewing the other.

For a long time it has been assumed that it is only the customer who has a choice in the hiring process.

I want to be clear that this is absolutely not so. Think of it as a date – each party is “checking out” the other.

Since there is really no continuing education for contractors provided by any of the states (that I’m aware of), it is up to us to educate ourselves not only on the aspects of building but of running a business as well.

Remodeling Magazine is one of the best magazines in the remodeling/home improvement industry. It is for industry professionals but homeowners have access on-line at www.remodeling.com

In September of 2002 there was a Q & A with several contractors on Just Saying No – How to turn away a client you have reason to suspect may be difficult. Particularly in these economically challenging times (and, really, anytime) if either party feels the relationship isn’t a good fit, say no.

It’s never a good thing to waste time, money and, particularly, emotion on entering into the “wrong” relationship.

I would encourage each of you to be courteous enough to let the contractors you do not choose know that you are not choosing them. They’re taking the time to come and meet with you to estimate your project – they like to know what’s going on with you as well.

In life, if you are courteous you (usually) get courteous back. If you not confident that you know exactly how to go about this particular conversation, call me, I can empower you with the to be able to say no.

Reva Kussmaul
CEO – Eye For Detail Inc.

Keep A Close Eye On Your Bottom Line By Carefully Monitoring The Details

If you’re a contractor who isn’t making a profit - the job isn’t going to go well because you’ll feel resentful – even though it’s with yourself – about not making enough money once again.

1.  Know exactly how much you need to earn personally so you can plug you into your business-spending plan.  In other words, a personal spending plan must be created and then you move on to creating a business-spending plan with your salary figured in.

2.  Debug every job in the set up phase by making all decisions up front, right down to the final color and type of knobs.  Get your products in order and on-site, if possible, before you begin the job.  Prepare a complete materials list and line up all sub-contractors and make sure all work orders and bids are final with the exception of change orders.

3.  Have a preconstruction conference with your client.  Go over all the procedures and schedules as well as supply lists and find out if the supplier is delivering materials and if not who is?  This saves time and $$.

4.  Make sure you discuss exactly how change orders are going to be handled.  It’s easier to know this up front rather than at the time of a change.  Change orders must be written, signed (by both parties) and collected before they are started, as soon as they are completed or in the next progress payment but knowing this before the job begins will save hassles.  It’s easy to forget or wait until the end of a job but this can create a major nightmare for both parties.  It can also create a feeling of being ripped off if you don’t discuss this with the client clearly and directly.

5.  Make sure the payment schedule reads “at start of” rather than “on completion of” a project phase.  This way it’s clear, however, if there’s a broken window get in writing that will be fixed before the end of the project phase in question.  Find out at the beginning of the project who will be collecting the money and when.  If a phase is complete and payment is due - PAY YOUR CONTRACTOR!!  Neither party should allow monies to be held up for any reason if phases are completed in a timely fashion and the payment is scheduled in the contract.

6.  The final payment due should be between  $1,000 - $2,500 and must be paid upon completion of the remodel including touch-ups or punch list items.  Prepare and sign a pre-completion list when the job is 98% complete.  Contractors should be very clear about this initially and homeowners must abide by this on their end.  If any item on the punch list is not complete hold back 200% of its cost, but the client must pay the final payment balance minus this percentage until it’s complete unless you make other arrangements.  Allowing a hold of up to $15,000 because the knobs aren’t on the kitchen cabinets is not acceptable.

7.  Neither party should let down their guard from beginning to end.  Remember this is a 50/50 relationship and can be a dream if you simply communicate and stay focused on the purpose - which is a completed, quality project.

The goal is a win/win situation – the contractor gets all monies due (including change orders) and referrals and the homeowner gets the project and experience they paid for.

Reva Kussmaul
CEO – Eye For Detail Inc.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Are You Ready For The Rebound? Are You Willing To Be Part Of Creating The Rebound?

Well, I am. I know that whatever is going out there has nothing to do with what’s going on within my inner being or my business(s).

This past year – when things were “so bad” in the construction industry, I had one of the best jobs and clients that I’ve ever been blessed to experience.

I put at least 25 people to work and I feel damn good about that. I once read that the “most patriotic thing we can do right now is to put people to work”. I’ve done that and it is my intention to continue to do so.

I went to a building show in Washington D.C. in 2005 – business was booming in my industry – that was all about the experience we bring to the table of a remodel or building project. I learned so much about what I wasn’t bringing to the table and what was possible for my company if I made the decision to “up my game” as it were.

I know without a doubt that it is all about making a decision to stop listening to the insanity out there. The “no-faced” they that continue to tell us how bad it is and live in the attitude of “Ain’t it awful?”

In February of 2009 I made that decision. Now, it took some months to see the manifestation of that in the outer world of my business but it did show up.

It showed up in a big way and from 2008 to 2009 I was up 384%. Is that big enough for you? This, at a time when all around me were falling deeper into the abyss of joblessness.

I also know for sure that during what “they” call the good times, businesses fail right and left.

I must go back to what I learned in May of 2005 – bring an awesome experience to the table for the client and the company and it’s team-members will be rewarded with same.

That has been the case for Eye foe Detail and its clients, crew, vendors and personally as the owner.

We must be willing to be a part of the change so that the “out there” looks better. However, it all starts within the company and at an even deeper level within the owner or partnership.

Remodeling is a relationship not unlike any other. It must come from integrity and clear communication. It must be nurtured. Above all, honesty must be at the forefront with the intention of creating win/win for all concerned.

Reva Kussmaul
CEO – Eye For Detail Inc.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

An Idea Who’s Time Has Come

Remodeling projects and services generate more mess, stress and consumer complaints than any other industry. Efforts to educate and regulate the industry’s service providers –designers and contactors – have done little to remove the tarnish from the industry image.

Until now, the homeowners got their advice from the media, friends, relatives, designers, and contractors. But the media cannot account for the one-of-a-kind needs of each family. Friends and relatives are generally not experts, and designers and contractors really only recommend what’s in their own best interest.

Remodeling coaches are independent of design and construction firms. Their only agenda is to give unbiased expert counsel to their clients.

Each family’s situation is unique. Homeowners no longer have to settle for cookie cutter solutions. Coaches bring new consumer-focused services and benefits to remodeling.

Seven professionals, from across the country, meet weekly via conference call to hone their services. They share ties to the residential housing industry. Members of the group are working for a superior remodeling experience for their clients.

Each coach has his or her own vision, mission, and coaching technique. Each coach created a niche, a name and concept for coaching homeowners. Each coach helps homeowners solve their remodeling issues.

Remodeling Coaches provide one-on-one support for homeowners when they remodel. Coaches help homeowners with their project relationships, planning, selection of designers & contractors, contract review, and quality control.

They also coach Do-It-Yourself and Contract-It-Yourself homeowners. A DIY coach often works along side his client while a CIY coach provides the systems and training to schedule and manage subcontractors and material suppliers

Coaches help manage the risks by: minimizing changes; qualifying the design and construction professionals; and by reviewing the contract documents for fairness and completeness. Coaches are another set of (expert) eyes.

Coaching services are a great value. Remodeling coaches pay for themselves in terms of saving and stretching dollars; saving their client’s time; shortening schedules; and improving quality, service, and peace of mind.

Coaching is an idea whose time has come.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Am I Crazy?

I was reading an article in Remodeling Magazine the other day and I was very curious about the fact that several contractors were interviewed for the article. One of the quotes that really struck me was: “well a room addition that used to come in at $200,000, now comes in at $160,000.”

Am I crazy? If it still takes $200,000 to build a room addition the right way and have the company make a profit as well as the owner or owners, shouldn't it still come in at $200,000? And if, when times were "good" and it took $160,000 to build our room addition the right way and still have the company owner or owners make a profit, shouldn't it have always come in at $160,000?

One of the other quotes in the article was “while at one point I had 100 employees and I've had to cut back to three.” Okay, if you had 100 employees when times were "good", and you didn't need 100 employees. why did you have 100 employees? If you can get by with having 327 employees to run an efficient and profitable company, why would you look at hiring another 93 employees?

If, indeed, your company can run efficiently with three employees or seven employees, then it would make sense to only hire however many employees are truly needed to run a profitable company. Now this applies across the board in all kinds of professions.

It costs no more money to hire an employee than it does to use an independent contractor. An independent contractor, at least for me, is someone who doesn't have to report to one place every day and do the same job. My webmaster, for instance, sees me three times a week and the rest of the time is free to work with other companies.

Am I crazy? Or doesn't it seem like this is common sense, and perhaps, this is the reason that we're in such a state of affairs that we are? When we really start examining and gaining clarity around what we need first of all personally, then, as a business, we can go from there and create an effective logical working spending plan. I don't call it a budget because the word budget often has a negative connotation to it. I really prefer the words ‘plan of circulation’ because, for me, I choose to keep my money circulating. Not that I don't want to save money for myself or my company and create a prudent reserve, but because I must be willing to circulate my money, so that not only does it go out but it comes back in.

In reading this article, I was very taken aback by the continued lack of common sense that we have exercised as business owners. My feeling, my belief and my knowing is that until we get back to, or even simply discover, total clarity in what we need as far as money, we are going to continue to see the kind of people that we have seen over the last three to five years.

When it gets down to the nitty-gritty of things, it really is all our personal responsibility - whether it's for ourselves or for our company - as far as the money goes.

The last quote that really stuck out in this article was “now it's a matter of getting back to customer service.” Am I crazy? Or is that where we always have been supposed to operate from?

I went to a Remodeling Magazine conference five years ago and it talked about bringing the experience to the customer. What experience? Well, a good experience is when I'm coaching clients - homeowners or contractors - and I am coming from the middle ground position where I'm all about taking the mystery out of remodeling and bridging the communication gap between homeowner and contractor. What I get to first with the contractor is clarity around what they need to earn to run a profitable company and pay themselves - so that they can not only start the job and bring a good experience to the table, but they can finish the job because they are earning what they need to do it. As I've asked contractors in the past, "if a kid’s remodel takes you $75,000 to do the right way including profit for the company and your salary, why would you say okay I'll do it for $60,000?" The answer that I've received, "otherwise I wouldn't have gotten the job." Am I crazy or, if you know it takes you a certain amount to do the job right and earn the money you need, why then would you work for free?

So, it really matters not what the "economic times out there" are, what are the economic times for you and your business?

Am I crazy? Or are there others out there who are willing to get on this "personal revolution" train of doing business?

Reva Kussmaul
CEO – Eye For Detail Inc.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Aren't You Finished Yet?

Now that all the up-front work is done, let's move on to how do we prevent the “aren't you finished yet?” part.

The larger the project the longer it’s going to take.  At some point during the project everyone realizes the honeymoon is over and you wish “they’d get out!”  At the beginning of a remodel things seem to go rather quickly, then a feeling of loss sets in.  Loss of control, loss of your home and loss of being able to continue your routine(s) as usual.  The invasion of your private space and the dirt are sometimes unbearable.

The best way to prevent this is to be prepared. 
  • Get set and psyched up for the inconvenience this will cause.  A remodeling project turns your home, and sometimes your life, upside down.  Depending on the project be prepared to set your kitchen up in the laundry room or plan on the whole family using one bathroom for the duration.
  • Make sure you’ve “secured” a safe space in your home where you can escape.
  • Make sure either you or the remodeler guards against dust as much as dust can be guarded against:    
  1. Seal off doorways.  
  2. Turn off central air and heat while sanding is happening and keep extra filters on-hand.
  3. Designate one entrance where deliveries can be made.
  4. Make sure all bare floors and carpets are “draped” out thoroughly and completely.  Covering all flooring and pathways can prevent the tracking of dirt throughout the home.
  5. Have an upfront conversation about cleaning – when will it happen, how thoroughly and how often?  Will the contractor or one of their crew do it or should you get your cleaning service to handle it.
  • Try to keep your sense of humor.  Remember that many parts of a remodel are out of your control and laughing can keep you from blowing up or losing it as can having honest conversation.  It’s all about clarity.
  • Work at seeing this as an adventure.  Celebrate each finished stage of the project.  In the long run you can control how you feel about things.  This will translate to a happier family and better working conditions as well. 

Remember, it takes how long it takes and if you’ve had that conversation prior to starting the job that will make a huge difference when you want to know, “Aren’t you finished yet?”

 It’s like taking the kids on vacation and hearing continually “Aren’t we there yet?”  You must exercise patience with the kids just like you must exercise patience during your home improvement project.

Reva Kussmaul
CEO – Eye For Detail Inc.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Reva's 7 Tips for Hiring a Contractor

COMMUNICATION: The Way to Avoid a Remodeling Nightmare

Are any of you considering a remodel in the future?

Are you not quite sure how to hire a contractor or specialist to meet your needs?

Or, have you been involved in a remodel in the past?

Do you wish you had known then what you know now?

We hear a lot of stories these days about remodeling nightmares, or as they are sometimes called CONTRACTOR NIGHTMARES. There are ways to avoid these disasters. The most important way is with clear, open and honest communication. The responsibility rests equally with both the contractor and the homeowner.

The homeowner must be clear about what they want and the contractor must respond in kind as to whether or not the stated desires can be met and, most importantly, how much it will cost. The homeowner must be able to do a complete bid analysis of each bid received. In other words, compare apples to apples and not simply look at the bottom line.

A remodeling coach helps create a win-win situation for everyone and ensures that the desired end result is achieved. The homeowner will be pleased with the final outcome and the contractor will walk away with a completed contract and referrals. When good communication comes first, everybody wins.


  1. Did the contractor return your phone call quickly?
  2. Did the contractor arrive at the scheduled time?
  3. Did the contractor walk through your home with you?
  4. Did the contractor ask pertinent questions?
  5. Did the contractor respect you and your home?
  6. Was the estimate on your project returned quickly?
  7. Did the estimate compare favorably to others?

Reva Kussmaul
CEO – Eye For Detail Inc.