Jon Levy, owner of Builders Integrity Group, Naples, Fla., might have known things weren't going to go as planned.
After meeting homeowner Katherine Jones at a home and garden show in January 2004, it took 10 months to get a solid design and sign a construction agreement. “I did think about dropping the project, giving her the design plans, and walking away,” Levy admits. But he believed the client “was an awesome person,” and he had already invested so much of his time. Plus, he felt he had professional standards to uphold by seeing it through.
The transformation of the 1977 ranch house with its cramped box of a kitchen to a 3,965-square-foot house with four bedrooms, four bathrooms, and a wide open kitchen overlooking a great room — inhabited by a happy client — is a testament to Levy's, and project manager John Brechel's, perseverance and flexibility.
Making the Rounds Jones had more on her mind than wanting a new kitchen and master bedroom. After living in the house for just two months, she discovered mold — not so surprising for Florida — but one small spot in the bathroom led to a $12,000 mold remediation lasting a month. Jones was left with a shell of a house, living cordoned off behind plastic in a 13-by-15-foot area (where she would remain for nearly a year). “The place looked
like a nuclear waste site,” she says, recalling the workers in full suits and masks as they tore down the drywall and treated the wood. Even before the mold was discovered, Jones had thought about a few small-budget changes to her home, but she wasn't prepared for what to do with the house in its post-mold state. “I was kind of thrown into remodeling,” she says.
When she met Levy, Jones was uncertain about the remodeling process and hadn't done much research. But, she says, she liked how Jon and his wife, Kim, BIG's vice president, “presented their package.” Once she began working with BIG, she says, “Jon did a good job of leading me through the process; he knew I was a novice.”
Jones' indecisiveness and lack of preparedness led to glitches early on. “When we did the first round of design we were taking the existing space and remodeling it with a small addition and leaving the kitchen in its original spot,” says Levy, who does his own design work and hires a draftsman to complete the drawings. As with all architectural plans in the state of Florida, these had to be signed and sealed by an engineer. Jones had worked closely on the plan (and signed off on the working drawings before engineering), and it fit her budget. But after they were signed and sealed, says Levy, “the space was still very dysfunctional. No one was confident about the design.”
Jones asked for a second round, in which Levy suggested moving the kitchen across the room to face the great room and enlarging the addition. The plans had to be redrawn and resealed. This process of drawing, signing, sealing, and creating a new design agreement, specs, and an estimate would occur three more times. Each design change — after paying the draftsman, Levy, and the engineer — cost approximately $2,500, not to mention the extra time.
Under the final design agreement, the addition was much larger than in previous plans and included a new master suite with a walk-in closet, a bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub and water closet, and French doors leading to a screened lanai; the kitchen would be relocated; there would be new windows, doors, and hardwood floors throughout the house. BIG would also install a stone fireplace, remodel three existing bathrooms, and install new drywall, flooring, and tray ceiling in the old master bedroom.
More Surprises According to John Brechel, the project manager
and president of BIG, the company's policy is to have all selection decisions made before a project starts. That didn't happen on this project, in part because Jones' job in the medical field kept her away from 6:30 in the morning until 7 or 8 in the evening. She could not be reached by phone during the workday, so choosing and shopping for materials and appliances was relegated to weekends. Brechel, who came in after the third set of design blueprints and knew the history, sat down with Jones, and “walked her through every phase of the project, every light switch, every window, every door and which way it swung,” he says. Still, he wasn't sure she understood her responsibilities to the project. “She didn't make it difficult on purpose, but she didn't understand the urgency of some decisions.”