Even the most fastidious and image-conscious remodeler is no match for construction dust, noise, and other unpleasantries when clients are expecting a muss-free makeover. To bring those expectations into line with reality, Normandy Builders, a high-end remodeler serving the Chicago area, sends clients a “reality letter” immediately prior to construction.

The result is “a much better experience” that leads to positive referrals, says Normandy principal Jack Steindl. He now receives a small fraction of the irate calls he once fielded from peeved clients. And if the letter leads to a cancellation, better to cut losses early than enter into a can't-win proposition.

The letter comes from Normandy Builders' production manager. Just over a page long, it is mailed on the brink of construction, after permits are in hand. The production manager assures clients that they “are in the best hands possible for the project ahead,” but “I must candidly tell you that major remodeling, even by the best, can and will be painful at times.”

He goes on to invite the clients to contact him for an in-person meeting if they feel they have “a low tolerance for ‘construction pain.'” If the clients seem testy during that meeting, they're offered their money back. “They either come to reality or say, ‘maybe it's not for me,'” Steindl says.

Only a couple of clients have asked for that refund, Steindl adds. More typically, they appreciate going into construction with their eyes wide open. Incidentally, the company's customer satisfaction ratings have climbed since the letter's debut. Nearly 100% of clients say that the process was easier than they expected.