As a former contractor, I am sometimes asked for remodeling advice by co-workers who are planning a project or repair. Helping them out as a disinterested party, I can see both sides of the conversation more clearly than I could when I was competing for the work.
What I’ve discovered is that homeowners today are the same as they’ve always been — confused, apprehensive, harried — except more so. Unfortunately, to hear them tell it, the contractors aren’t much different — and that’s the problem. Here are what appear to be the biggest issues.
You know too much. Most remodelers are so close to the work that they use lingo homeowners don’t understand — talking about putting “tons” of air conditioning in their attics may be technically correct, but it just makes them nervous.
Remodelers also tend to leave out entire steps in a familiar sequence of events. They might explain the tile installation schedule, for example, without ever mentioning the fact that the homeowner won’t be able to use the space for several days while the tile sets and the grout cures.
One-trick pony. Mark Twain supposedly said, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” He wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a common theme running through the stories I hear from my co-workers is that remodelers tend to present the solution they are most familiar with, even if the problem calls for something else.
Surgeons have the same problem, but while surgeons are specialists, remodelers are generalists — or they should be. No two houses are exactly alike, and a solution that works in one may not work in another. These days, people want custom solutions, and the company with the best solution ends up with the work.
Price-blind. It is essential to sell value instead of price; but it is folly to act as if price doesn’t matter. Homeowners get lots of price information from the Web, but that doesn’t mean they understand what the work costs. They probably don’t understand what kinds of risks are inherent in the work, for example, and what you must charge to cover them. If a fixed price that is padded to cover all eventualities is too high and too opaque, you may need to break it down for them.
From what my co-workers tell me, they are willing to take on some risk if there is a chance it will save them money. The bottom line is that remodelers need to be more creative in the way they approach pricing. Homeowners are usually more willing to deal than we think they are.
One final point that, sadly, is still true — as Woody Allen supposedly said — “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” The shortest stories my co-workers tell me are about the contractors who didn’t.