Styling itself as a "home renovation marketplace," online platform Kukun (pronounced "cocoon") has officially launched with an intriguing project estimating component, as well as a professional member locator. The site aims to help homeowners better understand the remodeling process, and even convert more homeowners into remodeling clients by offering free online estimates for a variety of projects. Founder and CEO Raf Howery spoke with REMODELING about the platform and its opportunities.
"People have an address in mind, or a school district, but they want to move into a completed home and feel they can't afford to make it the way they want it," Howery says. "People will throw their money into investments that are less secure, but when the home is their biggest investments - emotionally and financially - they're not willing to renovate."
Intrigued by this hesitation to remodel, Howery looked back at multiple remodels he's done on his own homes over the years. "I wanted to identify those fear factors and pain points," he says. "How did I manage those renovations? How did I start and end? What did I learn? The process of a home renovation still happens very much offline, so I wanted to bring the decision-making online."
Online Project Estimates
To do that, Howery and his team have set up Kukun to answer one important question first: How much will my remodel cost? "You can't make a decision if you can't afford the project," Howery says, "but today you have to call friends who might know good contractors, and take a lot of time to get bids or rough costs. That's a process we automated."
The idea of automating project costs can easily cause skepticism among remodelers. Material and labor costs differ greatly by location and project, so how can a computer program possibly be accurate? Kukun anticipated that argument. The program's algorithms incorporates project data from Harvard, REMODELING's own Cost vs. Value Report, and other data-heavy sources to come up with estimates for 29 different projects at varying finish levels.
"We determine the cost of any project by asking users what finish level they desire, the size of the room, if it's an addition or a remodel, and if walls will be moved," Howery explains. "Those questions give us most of the information we need."
Users are told that the estimates are 80% accurate and Howery says the platform has worked closely with professional remodelers around the country to ensure those estimates are within appropriate ranges. "All the contractors we've worked with have been very happy with the estimates coming out of the program," he says. "They also appreciate that the estimates give homeowners a better understanding of the reasonable costs for their project. Contractors often complain about being called to see a project by someone that's not serious yet, or that doesn't have a reasonable budget in mind. With Kukun, the remodeler can say, 'go onto Kukun, create an estimate for your project, and if it sounds okay then I'll come to you.'"
The estimating portion of Kukun took "a good year to develop," and Howery admits he was nervous about getting it wrong. Confident that this initial feature is working well - it now has more than 10,000 estimates under its belt - Kukun is focusing on adding more features for professionals and homeowners alike.
With an estimate in hand, homeowners can create a PDF reqeust-for-quote, and can find local contractors through Kukun's Professional Network. Contractors can join Kukun for free, create profiles, and add references and photos of their work.
Going forward, Howery says Kukun will incorporate the "shopping" phase of a remodel. This segment will feature checklists of what types of products are required for each type of project, and timelines to give homeowners a better understanding of when those product selections need to be made in order to keep a project moving on schedule. "Often delays happen because people don't order products on time," Howery says. "We're building technology now that will alert people that they have to make a decision and show the effect that delays will have on the project if the decision comes late." Remodelers will likely be involved in helping develop that feature, since every company will have a slightly different process or timeline for clients to follow.
As Kukun kicks off this summer, Howery says he's excited to see professionals' and homeowners' responses to the new platform, which have been good through the soft-launch phase. "Other platforms on the market like Houzz and Porch are working with homeowners that have already decided to do a remodel. We're playing in the same space, but solving a different problem: we want to encourage those who have not yet decided to remodel to take the next step. Intentions need to be develop into opportunity. Your home and everything in it are like your cocoon, and we look forward to seeing our business name become a verb. Just like you would 'Google' a piece of information, we want people to go online and 'Kukun' their house. That's the inspiration."