The smell of sawdust. Turning dreams into reality. Not having a 9-to-5 desk job. The smile on homeowners’ face as they tour our creation. These are the temptations that lured us into home remodeling.
Then we have to ask for money.
When that happens, warm and fuzzy fades, and stark reality moves to center stage. Here are some lessons we’ve learned over the years about collecting payments:
Our attitude directly affects every behavior and action we take. What is your attitude toward money? Do you see it as a dirty necessity of our society? Do you see it as well earned for your hard work–that you deserve every penny? If you do good work and take care of your clients, you have every right to see money as well earned for your hard work
If you have reservations, just call your attorney, chat with them for 30 minutes and see how long it takes them to bill you. If you still have reservations, go see your doctor and see how long it takes them to submit for reimbursement from your insurer.Becoming a top flight home remodeling expert is no less of a challenge than becoming a lawyer or a doctor. You’ve earned it.
Talk about money proactively with your clients. Starting with the initial consultation, don’t hide budget or dance around it like a wild animal in a closet. Budget is important to you and it is important to homeowners. Talk about it openly and make it a conversation. When you contract to do the work, have the draw payments clearly outlined in the contract. (And watch your local regulations on the amounts–especially for the initial draw payment. States like California have caps on how much you can collect up front.) Point out the draw payments as you go over the contract’s details. When presenting your flowchart at the start of work, include the draw payment due dates and amounts.
Substantial completion is your friend. Substantial completion is achieved when the space you are renovating can be utilized for its intended use. Take a kitchen renovation that is done and is being used by the client but that doesn’t have cabinet knobs installed yet because they’re backordered from Italy. The kitchen is substantially complete.
Your contract with the homeowner should state that when substantial completion is reached, you are due the final payment less the value of any uncompleted work. With the kitchen example, this would require that the homeowner pays you in full less the value of the knobs and the labor to install them.
Substantial completion is also a wonderful tool to effectively manage the never-ending punch list. If you are ever lucky enough to experience that slice of heaven, have them pay you for the full amount due less the value of the open items rather than having your final payment delayed forever.
When collections are a challenge, make it a relay race. Most client relationships are wonderful. We love them, they love us, and fairy dust collects in every nook and cranny. But there can be that exception when the fairy dust has run dry and payments aren’t timely. If we are truly due a payment and it’s not forthcoming, we tag-team it: Let one person try to collect it, and if that that won’t work after a set number of days, get someone else involved. If that won’t work after a set number of days, get someone else involved.
There are times one person can cut through when others can’t; not to mention it’s more fun to have teammates rather than going it alone. Your teammates could be you, your carpenter, your office manager, your mother, your spouse.
Remember: Most of the cash in our bank account isn’t actually ours. Most of us get payments before we actually do the work–we use the client’s money to build their project rather than our own (except in areas like California that restrict deposit levels). That is a wonderful thing, but it can also be the death of us. It’s easy to think the money in our bank account is ours to spend. In fact, most of it is the client’s money given us to build their project. It’s not our money until we’ve actually done the work and paid the expenses.
I’ve seen many remodelers spend the money in their bank account on new toys only to be surprised by bills that arrive from the job they finished last month. They are forced to use the deposits on a new job to pay off the bills from the last job. Like a boulder bearing down on you on the side of a mountain, it’s only a matter of time before you are crushed. Don’t be crushed by a boulder.
Balancing the passion and art of our craft with cash flow, budgeting, HR, and regulation is daunting. Hopefully these lessons learned help you along your journey.