Mark Robert Halper

What is that magnetic, charismatic pull that makes you want to buy from a businessperson? I have been in such a magnetic field lately, and it happens to involve design/build.

I work remotely from my farm in West Virginia. The nonprofit nature preserve and craft center that I started operates out of an old building that isn’t worth upgrading to commercial standards. We have decided to build a 2,000-square-foot building on a very limited budget.

Here, labor rates are lower and the contractor pool is less sophisticated than in metropolitan areas. Most residential remodelers are go-it-alone types who rely on word of mouth. The contractor my colleague and I found has a good local reputation and an expertise in SIPs (structural insulated panels), which resonates nicely with our center’s mission involving sustainability.

From Rapport …

Our initial meeting was at the contractor’s office. It was fine but not overwhelming. He was interested in designing the building, and in serving either as the general contractor or as a subcontractor on the SIPs portion. He helped us establish our budget and said that his design fee was 3%.

He said there would be two design meetings, and we set those dates. (As it happens, we are heading to the third meeting this week, so there might even be four meetings.) In general, he struck us as someone who is organized and delivers what he promises, and we felt a sense of rapport.

As the meeting ended, the contractor sent us away to create a list of what we wanted. This was a fruitful exercise. My colleague and I hashed out our space requirements for art studios and offices, as well as the emotional feel we wanted to achieve: that of an old-time bank barn (one story from one side, two stories from the other), with few frivolities but some artistic touches. We e-mailed him the list.

… to Allegiance

Two weeks later, on the morning of our first design meeting, we received the contractor’s drawings via e-mail. This was a time-saving step that allowed us to formulate questions before the in-person meeting.

Not only that, but the drawings very nearly sold us. They showed how carefully he had listened to us at that initial meeting and had studied our wish list. He left out nothing, and wowed us by adding articulated panels that could open or close depending on our needs.

The design meeting was impressive as well. Using a CAD program, the contractor quickly manipulated drawings. We accomplished a great deal very quickly. He seduced us with his love of recycled materials — the beautiful wood flooring in his office, the windows that he salvaged from an incomplete multi-million-dollar house that the bank had torn down. He suggested that we, too, use rustic and salvaged materials.

By this time, we were virtually drooling. We knew that he “gets it,” whatever “it” is.

As I write, the story isn’t over. We haven’t received his price or signed a construction contract. But this contractor has consistently been on time, organized, fun, and easy to work with. We are daunted by the idea of venturing out into the cold cruel world to find someone new. We want this to work — and frankly, we’ll pay more to have it work.

So, in dissecting this professional magnetism — this contractor’s ability to sell — we have found it to include technical competence, credibility, and organization, including smart use of technology.

The clincher, however, has been this individual’s ability to understand us, his clients, and to view the project with our values and priorities.

He has nailed the emotional feel of the project, and we feel that our vision has been transferred cleanly and successfully. Thus, a magnetic field is created, and a strong relationship has begun.

—Linda Case is founder of Remodelers Advantage, a national company that gives remodelers the tools to achieve consistent profitability and success through one-on-one consulting, the Roundtables peer program, and an online learning community, Advantage Associates. 301.490.5620;;