Whoever coined the expression “What you don't know won't hurt you” obviously never had a kitchen or bathroom remodeled. Yet even proactive clients who have done their research don't know everything that they will face. They aren't prepared for emotional stress, changes in family dynamics, budget creep, product selection issues, and the amount of time a remodel can take.
“The biggest challenge is the turmoil,” says Bob Hooey, author of How to Remodel Your Kitchen and Stay Married. Clients don't realize they'll take everything out of their cabinets and store it in boxes, usually in the living room. They may have to wash dishes in the bathroom. “Try telling them they'll have to shower with their silverware and bathe with their dishes. A lot of people aren't ready for that,” says Hooey.
Opening lines of communication to establish trust and set expectations, and doing preconstruction planning will help level the playing field between your knowledge and expertise and what clients are unsure of —which will improve your relationship.
High Anxiety “I think an architect or designer's second profession is marriage counselor,” says John Davies, director of design for Marrokal Construction in San Diego. “There's a peak of anxiety just after a job starts, while they're in demolition, when people have second thoughts. They ask, ‘Are we doing the right thing?'” He says he's never had anyone answer “no” to that question, but he spends a lot of time discussing what might happen, how clients might feel, and directing them through the selections.
Stress can come from every angle —from the number of product choices, to the budget, to the heightened emotions during demolition, to the changes in lifestyle that come with the finished product. The carpenter might cheer when a wall falls, but homeowners may be teary remembering the pencil marks on the wall measuring their child's growth.
Steve Frkovich Casci of Design Works in Sacramento realized his clients were having trouble when they talked about their lifestyles of the past while trying to imagine their future life within the remodeled rooms. “We're moving forward, and they keep pulling backward.” He reminds clients that they won't be the same way after the remodel. “You have to approach tomorrow with a clean slate,” he says. It's his job to get them to recognize they're making bigger changes than spending money and having more cabinets. “It's the way they go about preparing meals. There will be more people in the room wanting to participate; the way people move through the room will be different. Suddenly dad's cooking dinner. He's never cooked in his whole life,” says Casci.
These issues must be dealt with up front. Mason Lord of Hudson Valley Preservation holds a preconstruction meeting to deal with emotional issues. “No matter what, there will be bumps in the road,” he says. “A big bump is the lead carpenter gets into an accident and can't finish the job himself. A little bump is one cabinet isn't the same color as the rest. We talk about how we will handle these things in a meeting.”
Lord says he allows clients to open up and talk about their pet peeves — smoking in the house, playing music — as well as specifics like how the family schedule will work with everyone sharing one bathroom or how laborers should enter the house at the beginning of the day. “Should they knock or just barge in and start working?”
To help give clients a way to communicate, the lead carpenter holds a weekly production meeting with the client every Friday at the client's home. Laura Lurcott — who Lord calls “the glue that holds it all together” and acts as a gatekeeper, sales assistant, and sales coordinator — e-mails or phones clients on Wednesdays to get their agenda for the meeting. “This keeps the homeowner from interrupting during the week,” says Lord. “We try to gently let them know this is their chance [to vent].”