I'm having air-conditioning added to my home in Washington, D.C., just in time for the hot, humid summers we typically get here. The first day of the job, the contractor mentioned that we may have to "heavy-up" the electrical.
I had no idea what he was talking about. In my 30-plus years in the business, I had never heard that expression. Even with my background as a contractor, it took me a minute to figure out from the context that he was referring to the need to upgrade my electrical service to carry the heavier load.
We use all kinds of lingo that our clients have never heard before. We talk about "rough-in," "substantial completion," "match existing" -- the examples are nearly endless. We fill our contracts and specifications with insider terminology, then we wonder what causes the misunderstandings that inevitably result.
I'm also convinced that homeowners are completely unable to visualize their project. Even when we remodelers provide a complete set of construction plans, homeowners often don't get the picture until it's literally before their eyes. By then, it's too late.
We all bemoan how expensive and time-consuming changes are at this stage in the work, but who's really at fault? I don't know about you, but it took me quite a while to learn to read a blueprint well -- and I had an aptitude for it. Why, then, did I assume that my clients could visualize their three-dimensional project from the two-dimensional plans? Most had no aptitude for spatial relations, and virtually all had no experience at reading plans.
Think, too, about the space we take away. When we describe how we're going to demolish this or that wall, we know exactly how that looks and feels because we've done it hundreds of times before. But it's usually a first for our clients. They've been living with those walls for years, and now one day we come along and -- boom -- suddenly the walls are gone.
Remodeling is less about the stuff than the process, and the process is much harder to communicate. Product selection is difficult at best, and our clients can actually see the materials they're working with. What happens when we're talking about something more abstract? Your clients can't "see" what you're saying about the payment schedule, the completion date, the dust, the noise, or a thousand other concepts you take for granted because you're so close to them. Even homeowners who seem better educated about remodeling are often working from secondhand information they took off the Internet or gleaned from friends.
We won't really be a service industry until we understand it's not what we say, it's what our clients hear. Until we speak to our clients' understanding, it's a one-way conversation.
See what I'm saying?
Sal Alfano, Editor-in-Chief