Not many people could buy a house 1,300 miles away, hire a design/build firm, then return home to wait out the remodel. But Candace and Larry (they've asked that their last names not be used) are just the sort of people who could do it — and did. And David and Peggy Mackowski, owners of Raleigh, N.C.–based Quality Design and Construction, are just the sort of remodelers to meet the challenge.

Build Confidence, Then Kitchens Candace and Larry, both scientists and academics, were living in Lubbock, Texas, when they accepted jobs at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. They wanted to live within walking distance of the school, and they knew from research and from friends that would mean buying an older home. “We thought we should consult an expert while we were looking at potential old houses to buy,” says Candace, “and [doing so would be] a good way to meet a potential remodeler. I know it's possible for the wrong older house to become a hopeless money pit.”

Strawbridge Photography

They found David and QDC (then known as Quality Home Improvements) on their first visit to Raleigh: In the airport, they picked up New Homes and Ideas magazine, a home buyer's guide for the Raleigh-Durham/Chapel Hill area, where they found a full-page ad placed by Peggy. They decided to hire David as a consultant on an hourly basis to house hunt with them.

“What struck me was that [the company] had won a lot of awards,” says Candace about the advertisement.

But it was more than awards that made them finally choose QDC for their remodel. Unbeknown to the Mackowskis at the time was that Larry and Candace had had a terrible experience remodeling their Texas home. They didn't tell the Mackowskis because, says Candace, “we wanted to look forward to a good relationship, not have the past haunt us.” After that experience, gaining the couple's trust and confidence would be difficult. But Candace and Larry discovered that David was a past president of the Raleigh Remodelers Association, which indicated to them that he was a solid professional in good standing in the community.

The couple wrote to QDC clients and received handwritten, detailed testimonials. They met the crew and spent nearly three days with the Mackowskis looking at other QDC projects. When David went house hunting with them, says Candace, he offered honest opinions. “There were lots of signs this was a good outfit.”

Going the Distance Finding a remodeler was one thing, but Larry and Candace had to return to Texas to finish out the school year and to finalize the sale of their home.

Peggy Mackowski, vice president of the now $1.75 million, 10-year-old QDC, believed there was a way to do this remodel long-distance. She suggested working closely via e-mail and digital photos. The couple, both computer users, agreed.

Maybe not as heart wrenching as a long-distance romance, a long-distance remodeling relationship is still rough. “We got some of the demolition pictures and thought, ‘Oh God, what have we done?'” admits Candace. But as the work progressed, their fears were allayed.

The couple bought the house — a 2,107-square-foot brick Cape built in 1950 — in March 2003 and signed a deal with QDC in mid-April. (They trusted David so much that the house purchased was one he hadn't seen.) The to-do list included enlarging the kitchen, improving access to a back deck, creating closet space, renovating an attic office, removing siding, pulling up the carpet, finishing the floors, painting rooms, and doing an asbestos abatement.

Candace and Larry would move in at the end of June. That gave QDC about nine weeks.

David, who designed the project, knew they had to get every detail in place as quickly as possible. He told the couple what to expect up front — for instance that the kitchen would not be completely ready when they moved in to the house. That, Larry says, “was another good sign” that David was honest and trustworthy. In fact, the kitchen became functional three weeks after the couple moved in.

Everything happened at a hard sprint. “In three days we picked out appliances, tile, kitchen cabinets, countertops — everything,” says Candace, who had a good idea of what she wanted. What really moved things along was the help of Marie McNeill of Marie's Design & Consulting, who often aids QDC clients with product selection.