As important as the sales effort is for any home remodeling and repair contractor, closing the deal is only the first step in a successful project. Making sure the work is done well is equally important, which boils down to meeting or exceeding homeowners’ expectations. Here are some important issues to go over before the work begins to help ensure success.
Agree on project scope
“We are a design-build firm, which sets us apart from the typical general contractor,” says Bill McManaway, general manager of the kitchen, bath and custom division of Dreamstyle Remodeling in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “One of the first things we do is explain to our customers who we are and what process we use, in order to assure them that they are looking at the right company for their remodeling project. It’s one thing to get the project to fit their budget; however, they need to know exactly what the scope of work is and exactly what they will be agreeing to have us do.”
McManaway says a good way to head off many potential change orders is to go over the contract together in detail. “The majority of our projects do not have any change orders, unless an unexpected or hidden issue is uncovered in the demolition stage or the customer decides to enlarge the scope of work during the construction phase,” he adds. “These are situations that we consider with our clients early on in the process.” When change orders do become necessary, McManaway says Dreamstyle’s transparent way handling of them maintains a high level of trust and confidence with clients.
“Once you’re to the point of starting a job, all the design selections should already be made,” says Tom Dwyer, president of Harbour Towne Construction, which has completed hundreds of extensive remodeling projects in the Atlanta, Georgia, area since the company was founded in 1979. “But if the homeowners haven’t done remodeling before, a lot of the process can be new to them,” he adds. “We have a preconstruction meeting to go over things like where we’re going to put the dumpster and where we’re going to store materials, as well as things like what they are going to do with their pets.”
“We also talk with the homeowners about personal security, in terms of making sure they don’t answer the door after-hours,” Dwyer says. “If somebody’s saying they are there to look at the work, one of our representatives would be there.”
Go over project management and be prompt
Dwyer says his project managers play an important role on every project, which includes being in constant communication with the homeowner. “Project managers are our on-site quality control, which includes managing subcontractors. They also manage homeowner expectations, and they keep the job clean—that’s a huge item,” he says.
“Before we start, we also get the homeowners’ approval for the work hours. For example, if traffic is an issue and we want to start at 7:30 in the morning, we make sure the homeowner is OK with that, because we’re working in their home,” he adds. “A lot of people are up and out of the house before 7, but it’s an individual case. We also let the homeowners know we will be consistent about the start time—our crews will call ahead if they’re running late.”
Plan for the unexpected
“One of the most important things I help the homeowner understand is that in remodeling an existing home there are things that we’re going to encounter along the way that we couldn’t have planned for,” says Wayne Pierce, owner of Schaumburg, Illinois-based Handyman 4 Hire. For homeowners who are novices at remodeling, he suggests learning from some of the remodeling shows currently on television. “Until you open up the walls, you have no clue about what somebody before you has done,” he says.
“As a responsible contractor, [I] am going to tell the homeowner, ‘This isn’t something you told me to come and do, but I see it and it should be fixed.’” In fact, inspectors may require work beyond what the homeowner requested as part of the permitted work, Pierce says, such as upgrading the electrical service from 100 to 200 amps to comply with new city or village codes.
Pierce says his ultimate goal is to become his clients’ trusted adviser, and a key part of that is building a relationship based on mutual respect and trust. “If you’ve got that, everything else can be dealt with,” he adds. “Then, when you make a recommendation, clients know it’s because you genuinely care about them, their home and their environment. If you’ve built that kind of relationship, it’s so much easier to make progress during the project.”
“You cannot over-communicate,” Pierce says. While acknowledging that poor communication is one of his pet peeves, he says most contractors don’t realize how important communication is to the contractor-client relationship. “Sometimes I like to educate my clients about their home and things they could do to better maintain it or make it safer,” he says. “Most clients greatly appreciate insights that will help them better care for their largest asset, and doing this shows them you care about their home and have their best interest in mind.”
Pierce says he also calls his clients if he’s going to be even five minutes late. “It’s simply a courtesy, and then they know I am on the way and I didn’t forget about them,” he adds. “Timeliness, attention to detail and simple comments and actions that show you really care about their home go a long way toward building trust, which in turn creates a more productive working environment.”
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