A remodeled kitchen or bath is usually a dream come true for your client. So you'd think they would eagerly look forward to product selection. After all, choosing tile, appliances, and faucets is supposed to be the fun part of remodeling. But most remodelers find that their clients are overwhelmed by the process and need a great deal of help. More and more remodelers are developing systems and practices to help guide their clients through the wide world of products and budgets. And though each has a different approach, they all have one goal in common: better communication. Whether it's fielding cell phone calls 24/7 or patiently explaining why it costs more to install granite countertops, experts agree that constant contact is the secret to mastering product selection.

Tricia Sinn and her husband, Frank, in the library at Sinn Construction in St. Lou The Sinns guide the product selections process with lots of up-front communicatio and client education.
Kevin O. Mooney Tricia Sinn and her husband, Frank, in the library at Sinn Construction in St. Lou The Sinns guide the product selections process with lots of up-front communicatio and client education.

In the Beginning

Remodelers who excel in the product selection process spend a great deal of time at the very start of the job working on selection. Amie Riggs of Riggs Construction in Kirkwood, Mo., starts by talking about money. “At the initial sales call, we ask ‘What kind of investment do you want to make?'We try not to call it a budget.” Riggs says this gives her a good idea of where to start making suggestions on brands and finish options, and it's also where the initial allowances are drawn from. “After meeting with the clients and discussing their tastes, we know if they're laminate people or granite people; if they're chrome or satin nickel,” Riggs says. We also “find out the things that are important to them. For some people, spending top dollar on a commode is important, rather than on a faucet.”

“We start with their expectations,” says Tricia Sinn of Sinn Construction and Development in St. Louis. “What they want versus what they need, and how that relates to the budget we're working with. For instance, on a kitchen, if we're talking about appliances and we have a $5,000 budget, I tell them, ‘This is the product line we're looking at.'” This ensures that the homeowners limit their search to products they know they can afford.

Liz Ropele of Pro/Craft Painting and Contracting in Libertyville, Ill., finds that many of her clients don't have a clear idea on how they want their new room to look. “They might say, ‘I want a Jacuzzi and a shower panel with a body spray for the bath,'” she explains, but they won't have specific ideas about tile or color. Ropele suggests that these clients look through kitchen and bath magazines for inspiration, and she'll often bring books from her office for them to peruse.

The initial meeting is also a good time to set time guidelines. It's important that the client know exactly when selections need to be made and when products need to arrive on the jobsite. “We figure out what they need, what they want, what the time limit is,” Sinn says. She also gets the homeowner to start thinking about how long the job will take and when they'd like to be back in their home. During the second meeting, when she knows the scope of the work to be done, she works with the client to make the actual construction schedule.

For Sinn, product selection starts with the layout. “We start with the general floor plan, and then attack from there,” creating the finish schedule by going through every component of the room: plumbing, flooring, colors, fixtures. As the construction schedule gets firmed up, the client knows how crucial it is to make decisions on time.

Another important part of the initial selection discussions is to let the homeowners know that they're supported.

“At the beginning, they're overwhelmed,” explains Carrie Carroll, designer/project administrator at Quality Design and Construction in Raleigh, N.C. “I let them know it's supposed to be fun, and that I'm there for them.” Carroll finds it's easiest to communicate over e-mail, because most clients have day jobs. “Over the weekend or at night, something will pop into their heads and they can just write me. After they see that I'm going to keep up with them, they're fine.”