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

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.