I could tell it was an exciting kitchen addition project from glancing at the plans, and I wanted this job. I knocked on the client’s door.

“Nice to meet you, Dan,” the homeowner said, and then immediately added, “I am scared to death to do this project. My best friend is totally stressed out about the kitchen redo she’s in the middle of at her house. I may not even do this.”

“What are you fearful of, exactly?” I asked.

“I know it will be noisy and dusty at times,” she said, calming down a bit, “but I just don’t know what to expect going through the process. What if I hate it so much that I want to quit midway through?”

“I think I can help you,” I said. “Let me show you my ‘Funk Chart.’”

In my presentation materials, I carry letter-sized copies of a cartoony chart that lays out the emotional states of the various players in a project as they pass through the remodeling process from design to the last-doorknob party. The players whose joy and pain are depicted include: the homeowners, the contractor, the architect or designer, the children, and the family dog or cat. The chart shows when they will be thrilled (framing stage — real progress, yeah!), and when they will be depressed (real cost of the project is revealed). When the kids will be excited (Demo? Cool! Can we help?), and when things will seem to slow to a crawl (why do drywall paint and finish work take so incredibly long?).

“By the way,” I added, “you can’t quit a remodeling project half-way along, you have to see it through. It’s like the childbirth process.”

Mrs. Anton, who has spent the day dealing with her twin toddlers’ tirades, gives me a glowering “How dare you!” look. “No really,” I said and proceeded to explain.

Moving Through the Stages

“At the start of the process, you’re very excited. A beautiful creation is under way. You’re filled with ‘happy endorphins’ and feel like certain things will be rosy throughout the process. As things progress, a few bumps crop up, but you work through them, knowing the final result will be worth it. Dealing with the tough spots is easier with an experienced and understanding partner. During the last 20% of the process, things get more uncomfortable. Everyone just wants it to be over and done.”

She nodded, clearly getting the picture.

“In the final days, things are pretty stressful, and you swear you will never ever do this again. Then, suddenly … you have this beautiful creation. You show it off to all of your friends and family. As you share your new creation, you forget the unpleasant parts of the process and consider doing it again.”

And with this discussion, the setting of client expectations has begun. —Dan Bawden is president of Legal Eagle Contractors, in Houston.