Sticker shock is universal, and clients each respond differently. It's up to you to manage expectations and present cost issues in a way that clients understand and feel comfortable with. Even if you're vetting clients by pre-screening, it doesn't follow that customers know about pricing. “Clients usually have no idea,” says Ted Brown, now a consultant with and former owner of Traditional Concepts, Lake Bluff, Ill. After customers give him a detailed description of what they want, he asks, “‘Based on your neighborhood, what you paid for the house, and your level of comfort, what would you like to invest in your project?' This allows you to take the temperature of what they're thinking and reconcile it with where you think the project is going.”

Upfront questions also can help monitor client expectations says Anthony Wilder, Anthony Wilder Design/Build, Cabin John, Md.: What would you do if the estimate is more than you planned to spend? Are you willing to increase the budget if there are changes? “Go through sticker shock with your client's eyes open,” Wilder says.

When the numbers are out there, keep clients updated. “We try to cut down on sticker shock during estimating,” says John Sylvestre, Sylvestre Construction, Minneapolis, who gives clients a series of numbers with a percentage variance of 10% to 20%. As he learns more about the project's scope and labor details, Sylvestre makes and shares a more accurate assessment. “Customers are softened up by the numbers right from the start,” he says.

The more you do up front — educating and communicating —the less difficulty you will have with clients not understanding pricing. Gerry Roth of GM Roth, Hollis, N. H., whose clients are at the “low end of the high-end market,” works hard to educate them about the value of service and design over price. He uses simple analogies such as, “You can buy a $10 pan or a $100 pan.” This can lessen sticker shock and build trust. “Once the trust is there,” Roth says, “price isn't as much of an issue.”

Stacey Freed is a senior editor for REMODELING.