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November 10, 2011

Ground Rules: Improve the "Remodeling Estimate" Experience - part 4

Establishing the ground rules is a vital part of any remodeling project, but is often overlooked or assumptions are made that lead to confrontation or disappointment. In the estimating process, before the agreement is finalized, the details of the working relationship need to be discussed and understood. Then these agreed details must be placed in writing in the agreement.

The first point is communication. Who is the contact person for both the family and the remodeler and for what aspects each person is accountable. In many homes there is one person that primarily handles the financial decisions and questions while another may have the final say in design or color choices. The remodeler should be able to provide a mini organizational chart or a specified contact list for access and communication. Homeowners that contact the wrong or multiple persons with a questions may get inaccurate or conflicting answers that cause problems for both the client and remodeler. How will the project progress communication be handled? Will this be done via phone calls, emails, posted job board, or face to face meetings? Will there be a regular schedule for these progress updates?

The second point is paperwork. How will any change orders be handled? Both parties should make sure any changes to the original work scope and/or plans be in writing, approved, and signed by both the homeowner and remodeler before performing the change. Is there a provision in the agreement that allows for the approving signature of just one of the homeowners? If the change order decision needs to be made immediately is there a provision for email approval to move forward with obtaining paperwork signatures subsequently? Homeowners and remodelers equally should never accept and act upon verbal discussions no matter how long and solid the relationship is.

Construction permits, when read aloud, sometimes sounds like "root canal" to everyone involved. Make certain that the process and responsibility of obtaining, paying for, scheduling inspections, and waiting around to meet the inspectors are understood by all. A note to homeowners: while it may sound advantageous to you when a remodeler tells you that permits are not required for your project, they are important for your safety and assurance and is often mandatory with a shared legal responsibility for both parties. When in question, call your township.

Then there is the money of course. Is the payment schedule clearly defined in writing? In our opinion, the progress payments should be tied to several work progress milestones and not dates on the calendar. Is the schedule fair and equitable to both parties? A remodeler having half the total amount at the start of the work is unfair, but so is the client holding onto a large sum until 100% complete. There should be a written process that addresses how the work and payments will close out. We suggest that when approximately 90% of the work is complete, there is a walk-through meeting with all owners and a field and office staff representative from the remodeler. At this meeting, a mutual list of items yet to be done and things that need to be fixed or changed should be agreed, put in writing, and signed. The plan should be for final payment to occur with the satisfactory completion of this list combined with applicable final inspections and approvals that the municipality requires. Also, what methods of payment are accepted and what is not? Who collects these payments and are there separate invoices, receipts, and reconciliation spreadsheets provided?

There is often a list of items for the project that require viewing, comparing, and final selections by the homeowner that might not be finalized at the time the agreement is put in place. Typically these allowance items are products that may entail a visit to a showroom; such as: plumbing fixtures, tile, lighting fixtures...etc. Allowances have estimated dollar amounts associated with their anticipated cost. Are future decisions or changes to these items, and associated payment adjustments, clear? How will allowance credits and debits be applied to the payment schedule? What are the time frames, deadlines, and consequences for delay in making final selections?

The next point is time. Are there defined start and completion dates? Is there a remodeler's penalty clause for late completion? Are homeowners held responsible for delays in access, decisions, and payments? Are there acceptable exceptions listed that are beyond the remodeler's control? We recommend that normal work hours and possible weekend work be discussed and agreed upon. The homeowner should expect a written anticipated progress schedule for the entire project before the work starts. There should be a method of communicating and updating this schedule, as it will almost certainly change due to outside factors and change orders. Homeowners should have an expectation of knowing daily what crews will be working and made aware if there will be a "no-work" day and the reason why.

Finally, don't forget the home and family! Does the house have an alarm system and how will it be handled? Who is responsible for access when the homeowner is not home, and how will they access the home (key, garage code, etc.).  It is our suggestion that an alternate door code, or a new lock be used during construction, and switched back after the work is complete. Determine parking arrangements, garage and driveway access plus location for debris, portable lavatory, and material deliveries. Do the children or pets need special attention or isolation? Will there be daily, periodic, and final cleaning for safety, comfort and appearance? Determine the reasonable level of expectation for site cleanliness and don't forget it is construction that usually starts with destruction.

Having been integral parts of thousands of residential renovation projects, the staff at Design Build Pros has many opinions and suggestions that they gladly share with homeowners and remodelers that want to improve the overall remodeling experience. Let us know if you have any questions and we will answer where and when reasonably possible. 

November 2, 2011

Improve the "Remodeling Estimate" Experience - part 3

This is the third in a series of blog notes on how to improve the experience of the "remodeling estimate" for remodelers and homeowners alike.

As a far home improvements are concerned, there is no official "how to buy" or "how to sell" books for homeowners and remodelers respectively. Add to that, unlike many other life decisions and past purchases a homeowner has little or no personal history to refer to or learn from. A person will purchase many cars over their lifetime and typically get wiser from each experience in preparation for the next. Also consider, homeowners are more likely to buy and sell a home than purchase a major remodeling project such as an addition or a new kitchen. Well over 90% of the homeowners we consult with have never personally experienced a substantial home renovation.

The remodeling contractor is not much better off. There is no official "remodeling school." Yes, there are national associations, professional groups, and consultants that offer courses and training, but not mandatory and/or standardized.

Painting the picture with a broad brush, there are three general groups of remodeling companies with regard to estimating and ultimately selling projects.

  • One group believes in presenting a robust scope of work and service for a 100% completed project based on history and experience. They will try to earn the order through thorough explanation of the process before, during, and after the project. They illustrate the potential pitfalls through cautionary tales. While this approach typically has the best interest of the consumer, homeowners usually have initial sticker shock and continue to get other estimates as a result. As time goes on, homeowners often forget some of the finer points of the scope and/or service and only remember the price in which to compare to other estimates. Homeowners that purchase from this group are generally pleased.
  • The next group presents a project scope that is not as encompassing as the first group. The initial investment amount will appear more palatable to the consumer. If the order is obtained, at some point there will be extras added to the project and price that were not initially included. Often the homeowner will end up with a project and experience not at the value level they had hoped for; or ultimately get the good project, but after some rough patches.
  • The final group is the fledgling, unscrupulous, or new company that seeks to obtain projects by virtue of being the lowest priced estimate. Lack of experience or training often leads to incorrect pricing and necessary tasks being overlooked up front. The low budget sets the stage for corner-cutting or a very bad experience. We have yet to meet a homeowner that has not personally known someone that has had an awful remodeling experience at some point, and often associated with this group.

Within those neat and tidy groups the solutions might seem simple. For example, a homeowner may say they plan on getting three estimates from companies only in the first group to make an "apples to apples" comparison. It's not that easy. There are three distinct components that make up a remodeling project - material, labor, and the company that will deliver the experience. If you planned to buy a Ford SUV, you could go to three Ford dealerships and compare the prices. The only variable will be the people at the dealership - the company delivering a small part of the experience. Ford is the main company, the SUV is the product, and Ford provides the labor or assembly. Now how about the apples to apples comparison when it comes to remodeling projects? There are 7,500 different varieties of apples with 2,500 varieties grown in the United States.

Let us look at it this way: the products are Legos, so therefore the consumer can make a true material comparison if all were specified. Now the assembly of those Legos, the labor, even if following a plan or blueprint with not be performed in the same fashion from one crew to the next. Then the clean up, pack up, communication, duration, and overall experience of the Legos, I mean project, is the biggest variable when it comes to residential remodeling.

If there was a standardized platform available that accurately depicted and detailed  the project and process for review, discussion, planning, and comparison then the playing field could be truly leveled. Great news! The staff at Design Build Pros provides a detailed project design and development service and package for either a homeowner or a remodeler anywhere in the United States. It is illustrated in a Youtube slide-show video. Copy and paste (or click) this link into your web browser to view:

Or contact the staff for more information at 

October 27, 2011

Improve the "Remodeling Estimate" Experience - part 2

This is the second in a series of blog notes on how to improve the experience of the "remodeling estimate" for remodelers and homeowners alike.

What should you expect at the initial meeting between remodeler and client at the project home? What are the goals and next steps? As mentioned in the previous entry, preparation is a must to maximize time and make the meeting fruitful. Available time is at a premium in today's society, therefore professionals should create scenarios to be thorough, succinct, and efficient.

We often liken the first face to face meeting as a "blind date." Each are not certain what they will find and how the "date" will go. Remodeling-wise, the following are what each party should do and seek to achieve the best experience.


  • Have the project site as clear of clutter as possible for the remodeler to easily inspect
  • Let the remodeler take the lead and control the pace, order, and flow of the meeting - the remodeler should follow a prepared outline based on history and experience
  • Having prepared a list of questions, hold them until the end to ask
    • many may be answered during the natural course of the presentation
    • however, if at the end you are left with most of your seemingly reasonable questions unanswered that may be an indicator of the experience level of the remodeler
  • If applicable, provide the remodeler with pictures, web links, addresses of other local homes that help portray your vision
  • If possible, for any project affecting exterior size, shape, positioning, ground coverage...etc., have a current copy of your property survey to give to the remodeler

remodeling estimate
  • Show up on time, organized, and prepared with a meeting agenda planned
    • Make a professional first impression - you and your company will be evaluated with great scrutiny in the opening minutes
  • Ask good, relevant questions as many homeowners might not know what to ask or say
  • Be a very good listener, don't just wait for your turn to talk
  • Be observant, there are many unspoken clues that will reveal much about the home, family, and lifestyle .  This will help create the best possible project.
  • Do not ignore or under-value children, pets, and/or visitors as they will most likely also be impacted by the potential project
  • Take good notes, either written in a pad or recorded
  • Where applicable, have professional tools ready for inspecting, measuring, and picture taking

Optimally, these things should get achieved, or at least introduced, at the initial meeting:
  • Project profile analysis of homeowners, family, and home
  • Project scope discussed as a "wish list"
  • Options for phased remodeling over time and in priority order
  • Options for scaling back the wish list
  • Detailed budget and investment ranges illustrated, discussed, and customized
  • Discuss payment schedule plus funding and finance options
  • Calendar time frame for design/development, pre-production, and project duration displayed and agreed upon.
  • Next meeting date established
  • Determine the action tasks for all parties to be completed before the next meeting

Here is a YouTube slide-show video that illustrates how one remodeler prepares a homeowner before the initial meeting -

The conclusion of the meeting is just as important as the start. Before departing, determine what the next actions will be for both parties, agree on time frames for accomplishing, and schedule a next meeting if warranted or desired by both. Many of the blind dates end with, "Goodnight, I'll call you." This leaves the other party subsequently wondering - "Are they interested? Should I call them? How soon??"

Be honest, if you feel the other party (homeowner or remodeler) is not the right fit, communicate that information clearly at this initial meeting or at any point that it becomes evident.  It will save everyone time and alleviate potential anxiety.

If any homeowner or remodeler would like a copy of Design Build Pros' "12 Steps to a Professional Remodeling Sale" outline simply request via email to:

This outline was created as a result of the Design Build Pros staff having personally held thousands of these remodeling estimate first meetings. The process continually gets refined and adjusted to remain relevant. We hold annual Homeowner Advisory Council dinners to thank clients for past projects ordered an to have a round table discussion to discover new and better ways to improve the process to deliver the most pleasant and professional remodeling experience possible.

October 24, 2011

Home Remodeling Design and Development Process

Jason Parsons 

The home remodeling project design and development process is defined by the team at Design Build Pros. The staff has diverse experience in the industry including structural and finished carpentry, extreme remodeling on HGTV, design training from the National Association of the Kitchen and Bath industry, and Computer Aided Design drafting training. Recently, Jason Parsons, Design + Build Specialist at DBP won a "Best Design" award from software provider Chief Architect.

The custom design and development process that Design Build Pros offers provides a homeowner with a project reference binder that includes: three design/layout options, detailed floor plan, 3-D color elevation views, overviews, furniture placement, 47-category scope of work, 50-category breakdown of pricing by project phase, plus and minus options for specifically discussed scope options, breakout of product selection items and allowances, and a color-coded calendar showing start, duration, and guaranteed completion dates.

These items are illustrated and detailed in this 3:20 slide-show video posted on YouTube:

This process and product is typically ordered after the initial complimentary meeting with a staff member. Many have commented that having this project design and development book has made for a more pleasant remodeling experience regardless of the contractor that they have selected.

For more information please contact us at 
Existing and proposed example

October 23, 2011

Improve the "Remodeling Estimate" Experience

This is the first in a series of blog notes as to how improve the experience of the "remodeling estimate" for remodelers and home owners alike.

Thorough preparation is the key is improving many activities as well as speeding up the process. The initial meeting between the remodeler and homeowner should not be just the preparation for future meetings, unless time is not important to either party. This first meeting in many ways is like a blind date. There is typically an initial awkwardness with each not knowing the "rules" or procedure. Preparation will help alleviate this and some of the anxiety. 

The homeowner's preparation for this meeting should include:
  • having a discussion about available funds, financing, and monthly payments
  • listing wants and needs separately as to easily convey what you are planning to achieve
  • have a clear view of what the long term plan and goal is for the project and home
  • have pictures from magazines and/or the internet that depict your likes and dislikes as far as features, style, and colors
  • set aside ample time and try to create an environment where you and the remodeler will not be interrupted much during this first meeting to best evaluate the project and each other.

The remodeler's preparation for this meeting should include:
  • having a meeting outline and procedure to make the meeting time the most value packed
  • have a series of project related questions available - often homeowners do not know what to ask or say
  • send the homeowner information and links regarding your company and related projects to preview prior to the meeting
  • have an accurate system to be able to discuss investment ranges and options at the initial meeting
  • be organized, prepared, and on time for the meeting!

If any homeowner or remodeler would like a copy of our "What is Really Important to You?" checklist simply request via email to:

This checklist is not product or specific project based, but an evaluation of the importance of the credentials, policies, and procedures of the remodeler to be hired.
Design Build Pros

September 9, 2011

One remodeler's recollection of 9-11-01

In 2001 I was the sales director for a large home improvement company in New Jersey (the photo is from that time). September 11th was a Tuesday. While 9/11/01 is a day that no one will ever forget, I remember the day of the week because we had a very expensive full-page ad
running in a major newspaper that day. Needless to say, that advertisement was useless.

The Twin Towers stood 15 miles from our main office. Watching the events unfold caused our emotions and thoughts to run the gamut. We made a decision that we should try to conduct business as usual as best we could under the circumstances.

Wednesday mornings were our regularly scheduled sales meetings. As it turned out, on 9/11 we had sold three projects, just below our daily average, even though many client meetings had been cancelled or were impossible to hold. That sales meeting was very informal -- like a roundtable discussion that turned into an effective therapy session. Each sales rep, in turn, told of their client meeting from the day before. The common themes included fear and worry, but these were over-ridden by a sense of Americans uniting and standing strong.
We did get a small amount of criticism for running appointments, but most people applauded our efforts to maintain the status quo.

We decided to pitch in collectively to do our small part to help. Cantor Fitzgerald, a financial services company based in the Twin Towers, lost 658 employees on 9/11, two-thirds of its work force. For the remainder of the year we donated a percentage of each sale to the Cantor Fitzgerald family relief fund.

Neil Parsons

September 6, 2011

Design Build Remodeling Approach Makes Sense

Below is the discussion at a development meeting regarding this potential project illustration.

Homeowner: my architect friend said your design would be nicer with the entry in the center

Design Build Pro: did your friend list all the things that would have to be done to make that happen?

Homeowner: no

Design Build Pro: did your friend tell you how much these things would cost?

Homeowner: no

Design Build Pro: did you tell your friend that you hoped to find ways to have the investment go down, not up?

Homeowner: no

Design Build Pro: what do you plan to do now?

Homeowner: tell our architect friend to mind their own business!