Let Builders Give Remodeling a Try

I stood in the unfurnished vaulted living room of a new, unsold, unoccupied production home. It was an attractive box of conditioned air, simmering on the summer prairie. If I listened carefully, I could detect the whistle of its asking price falling like a missile from the sky.

I nodded as the builder outlined the very real impact of the credit crunch and housing slowdown. Higher gas prices were the coup de grâce, he said. This home and others like it were situated 40 miles, or a $10 gas expenditure, each way, from the center of town.

I took notice when the builder smiled and suggested that things had gotten so bad that he might even consider giving remodeling a try. Hmmm. He made it sound as if remodeling was akin to getting down in the muck with day laborers. My take: Remodeling shouldn’t be a last resort for desperate builders; the transition from production builder to remodeler isn’t as simple as hanging out a new sign with the word “remodeler” on it.

Remodelers and production builders are different breeds. Production builders are builders for a reason. They like starting with clean canvasses. Unfortunately, those clean canvasses will likely remain fields of profitable corn and soybeans for the foreseeable future. Many are smart to consider remodeling, but to be successful, I think some will first need to complete a 12-step program, or something like it. It will take some production types a dozen remodeling jobs, rife with trial-and-error, to understand the correct markup in this business.

Not long after my field trip came a note forwarded from a colleague who had an e-mail exchange with a builder about an unrelated topic. The builder said he approved of the new housing legislation as a consumer confidence measure, perhaps leading to a real boost in ’09. Then he wrote that he was hoping that remodeling jobs would keep coming his way and that he did not mean to ‘pray out loud’. In this case, the builder had at least expressed gratitude that there was still work to be found in the remodeling (and custom building) sector(s) of the housing industry.

Yes, the credit crunch and housing slowdown are affecting remodelers too, but there is plenty of life left in remodeling. For evidence look no further than the pages of our 30th annual listing of the largest remodeling firms, which (fittingly) begins on Driving Remodeling Forward.

Many of these Top 500 firms are having their best years ever. Looking deeper at the many challenges and opportunities these remodelers reported to us, it becomes clear that most of the victories among the 2008 Top 500 were hard won. Success in remodeling is often years in the making.

Remodeling is truly a discipline unto its own. The biggest and the best know this, and respect its challenges, along with its rewards.