Remodeling: Secrets of Success

I've been told I spend too much time reading. I read about two dozen work-related publications every month - and this does not include my personal reading.

It's worthwhile because my voracious reading habits lead to many useful and productive solutions for our company.

Recently I read an article in the July 2005 issue of Consumer Reports that dealt with something that is near and dear to all of us: "Remodeling: Secrets of Success." The article left me confused and disappointed. Either I am doing things wrong or Consumer Reports interviewed 1,500 subscribers who still believe that professionally we are one step above used car salesmen. So what did I find useful? Evidently their subscribers didn't hire a professional design/build firm. All of the pitfalls that these people experienced could have been avoided if a design/builder had been consulted and hired. So what was the lesson learned? We're still not doing a great job promoting who we are and what we do!

Some of CR's points and my response:

  • The subscribers who hired someone they had worked with before were happier than those who hired someone new.

For a multitude of reasons, this is a no-brainer. From our perspective, this is the way it's suppose to happen. Because the design/build process helped us meet the client's needs the first time around, we are spared the opportunity costs when additional work materializes.

  • Subscribers who hired professionals recommended by a friend or neighbor experienced more delays and extra costs.

If it were true, this wouldn't say a lot for recommendations, but our evidence indicates anything but the conclusion drawn by CR. In fact, we consider recommendations from past clients as an affirmation that the design/build system works.

  • Those subscribers that hired separate subcontractors over the ones recommended by their general contractor were happier and their projects were likelier to be finished on time and within the subscribers budget.

This may be the case when the contractor doesn't establish rapport with the client. Part of the design/build process is establishing a long-term relationship based on trust. If your clients trusted you, most likely they would respect your opinions about outside sources.

That aside, setting expectations, a vital ingredient in satisfaction, encompasses time, budget and subcontractors.

  • 35 percent of those who made changes while under construction experienced costs that exceeded their budget by more than 10 percent

This relates to setting client expectations. A client must know and understand the Change Order process. When a client asks for anything outside of the original contract, it's your responsibility as the design/builder to inform them that an "extra" may take more time and money.

  • Subscribers who hired separate architects or designers experienced cost and time overruns

I'm an architect and carry the coveted AIA behind my name, but most architects could not budget their way out of a paper bag, hence unrealistic client expectations. One of the best attributes of the design/build process is that time and budget should be addressed at all points throughout the process.

Interestingly enough, roughly 30 percent of Consumer Reports readers regretted not spending enough time planning, researching and screening the people they hired. Another bright spot was the recommendation that references from both older and recent completed work should be checked.

Items that I recommend to all remodeling prospects include asking for proof of licensing and insurance, professional certification, CGR or CR, and doing background checks with the Better Business Bureau.

It seems that we are constantly fighting an uphill battle with educating the public and staying one step above used car salesmen with complaints. We need to come up with a solution so we can all spend more time reading and enjoying life.

Michael a. menn, aia, cgr, caps is a principal in Design Construction Concepts. D+CC is an award winning design/build firm that was honored as the Chrysalis State and Midwest Remodeler of the year in 2003. Menn is a licensed architect, remodeler and frequent industry speaker. He can be reached at .