Between the muddy feet and the sticky fingers, charitable home tours make some homeowners blanch at the prospect of opening their doors to parades of strangers. Not for the clients of No Problem Builders. When the Beloit, Wis.–based remodeling company asked six clients to open their newly remodeled homes for a tour benefiting Habitat for Humanity, every last one responded with an unequivocal yes.

Two years later, No Problem Builders is on its seventh major project for tour-goers and “still getting calls” from others, says Anne Goodwin, who co-owns the company with husband Matthew.

The back story: It was 2002, and although No Problem Builders was the high-end remodeler in its market, business had hit a slowdown. Anne reluctantly paid $800 for an ad in the local “advertiser” paper. “It killed me,” she recalls. “I said, ‘This isn't our market. It's much too general.'”

A month later, nothing. “Not a peep from the masses,” Anne says.

Fortunately, she had a better idea. Anne knew that several clients had talked about holding a progressive dinner, to socialize and check out one another's remodeling jobs. They were clearly happy to show their homes, so “why not make it bigger and do something good for the community?” surmised Anne. Some eight weeks and a “zillion and one ideas” later, the doors opened on “Take a Walk on the Remodeling Side,” a “walk-thru” of remodeled kitchens and baths to benefit the Rock County chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

In the process, the Goodwins picked up a few tips:

  • Assign the tour to a respected entity to win universal buy-in. Graphic designers designed promotional materials and tickets, interior designers styled the homes, and a local restaurant created snacks for each house — all donated.
  • Price the tickets to screen out unlikely customers. At $15, “Take a Walk” tickets ensured that the 75 people who bought them had a genuine interest in remodeling. The small crowd also facilitated conversations between the tourgoers, Goodwins, and subcontractors.
  • Think free marketing. The Goodwins sent press releases to local media and got clients to draft “remodeling stories” for the program. Before and after photos, along with written client testimonials and guest book comments, went into presentation portfolios.
  • Don't touch the money. The Goodwins lined up banks and other venues to sell tickets before the tour; on tour day, tickets were available through Habitat representatives at each house. This kept the event from looking self-promoting.
  • End on a gracious note. A post-tour party for the homeowners, subcontractors, employees, and sponsors let participants celebrate the success and present the local Habitat chapter with a $2,500 check.
  • The party was also the Goodwins' only out-of-pocket expense, about $1,500. In other words, roughly the cost of “two of those business card ads,” observes Anne.