Remodelers: Jerry Levine and Bruce Wentworth, Wentworth-Levine Architect-Builder, Silver Spring, Md.
Jerry Levine and his production managers meet with clients every two weeks or more during a remodeling job. "The meetings keep small problems small," Levine says. He says it also gives owners a chance to educate themselves. "Most people don't know what the middle of the process looks like," he says. "This gives us another opportunity to build confidence and reinforces the idea of service," he says.
Though the plan for bi-weekly meetings was in place a few years ago, overburdened production managers scheduled them less and less frequently. "People were angrier at us, more frustrated," Levine says. "Without a regular means of talking or exchanging concerns, you leave yourself open for problems."
The problems prompted Levine to enforce the meeting system. Though it's still hard for the production manager to schedule an hour or two with clients, Levine insists that it be done and even attends when he can.
The meetings are actually an extension of the frequent contact Levine has with clients during the design process, when they meet to create the scope of work and review products. "The owner enjoys the continuity of it," he says. "Continuity means care."
Customers: Jane Dietz and Robin Rains
Jane Dietz and Robin Rains are working with Wentworth-Levine on the remodel of their historic Washington, D.C., house, and say the remodeling company knows how to work with homeowners. From the design process to the construction of their new master suite and kitchen, the two felt comfortable about all aspects of the project. "They're expensive, but they're a full-service firm," Dietz says. She says Wentworth-Levine does a good job of managing the client. "They forced us to make decisions on time and kept us on track," she says.
They had heard about permit problems from neighbors, but Wentworth-Levine efficiently handled all the details. Dietz says the bi-weekly meetings helped them feel more in control of the project, especially during the demolition phase. "We just want to understand where we are in the process and what is happening," she says.
She also liked the employees, who were sensitive to her concerns about the 100-year-old wood floors. She had worked with another contractor for basement work who had a few employees who kept making wiring and plumbing mistakes that resulted in opening and patching one piece of drywall several times. By contrast, the Wentworth-Levine employees took great pains to avoid damaging existing materials.
Remodeler: Laura Ferrell, Woodenwings Builders, Palo Alto, Calif.
At the end of a project, Laura Ferrell gathers her clients and staff together for a closing celebration. Some may say the ceremony is a touchy-feely way to end the job, and that's exactly what Ferrell wants. When she asks clients to give the staff a tour of the project, they forget about the dust and interruption to their households. "We listen to their delight about their new space," Ferrell says.
She doesn't tell the homeowner about the meeting because she wants their response to be spontaneous and unrehearsed. The crew is often just as spontaneous. One carpenter thanked the homeowners for feeding his family; another thanked homeowners for knowing his name on the first day of the job.
Ferrell includes the entire staff -- from rough framers to the office manager. "It shows them the effect that our work has and the effect of their presence," she says. She also presents the clients with an embroidered Woodenwings shirt.
Customers: Olivia Bartlett and Alice Anne Martineau
In the 18 years Olivia Bartlett has lived in her 1940s bungalow, she's had a few small remodeling projects done, including adding blown-in insulation and installing new windows and doors. On these jobs, she and Alice Anne Martineau had dealt with contractors who didn't finish the work or didn't show up when they said they would.
The pair had worked with Ferrell 11 years ago when she was a cabinetmaker and liked her up-front approach. So when it came time for an addition and bathroom remodel, they called her. The homeowners say having a negotiated contract allowed them, their architect, Gustave Carlson, and Ferrell to work as a cohesive team.
The ending ceremony, though, was a surprise. When Woodenwings employees began arriving at their house for what was supposed to be a final meeting, they were confused, then excited. "We had been so close to many of the staff," Martineau says. "We liked the experience of being together and saying thank you."
When Ferrell asked them to present the house to the staff, it was the first time they had taken the time to walk through the space. They were especially happy to finally meet the carpenter who had made the custom roof vent designed by the architect. "He could see the vent installed, and we could thank him in front of his colleagues," Bartlett says. At the end of the ceremony, the staff and homeowners shook hands or hugged. "It was like a reception line -- very personal," Martineau says.