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.