My wife and I welcomed a new baby girl into our family eight weeks ago, and when we found out this big surprise was on its way, we decided that we could use a bit more space in our home. We have lived in our house since 2000, and the nearly 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom home seemed like all we’d ever need when we moved in. And since I have SO much electronics installed in the house and absolutely loathe moving, getting a new place wasn’t on the table.
In the past, our back room served multiple duties, such as guest room, “inventory overflow” storage, and an audio test space for me. It was the perfect spot to store my in-wall speaker testing walls (two freestanding, seven-foot-tall, 16-inch-on-center drywalled towers) along with a variety of music streamers, amplifiers, and other miscellany that comes through the Sciacca house on a regular basis for testing and review.
But now we have a 9.5 year old, a newborn, and no place for guests or for all of the piles of boxes and electronics that seem to routinely congregate in our house.
Adding on a room seemed like the perfect idea, and we actually had a perfect spot off the master bath and family room that tied into the existing structure of our house.
We’ve been doing this remodel since December — yes, six months now to get one 13 x 19 room added to our house — and the process has taught me quite about our business.
1) It’s Tough to Find Good Contractors
I thought that because I had been working with various contractors for literally years that I would have no problem getting someone to help me out with this project. Sure, it was on the small side, but I figured that someone would be happy to take on a quick in-and-out one-room add on.
Not so much. The first builder I called said my house was just too far away from where he lived. It’s about 16 miles. I mean, not to mention that I’ve done work at his house on several occasions. But, OK.
The second builder didn’t call me back for more than a week. Then he called me back, said he was interested, and then never called again.
The third builder said to send him some rough drawings of what I wanted to do, then told me that he couldn’t do it for the budget I had in mind.
The fourth builder came out when he said he would, said he was totally interested, drew up plans, ordered a survey, pulled a permit, and did everything perfect except…he never gave me a proposal for the job even though we discussed my budget and me wanting a proposal repeatedly. Two days before he was scheduled to start the demo he said that my budget wasn’t going to be practical, and he returned with a number that was more than 25 percent over the high number we had been talking all along.
The fifth builder came from a rec from number four and frankly we were up against a hiring deadline because of an ARB start date, and we wanted to have all of the construction completed before Baby Audrey was born. Which happened on April 10. And today is June 6. And the room still isn’t done.
2) Proposals are Everything
Occasionally we’ll see proposals given by other companies. Some are thorough, while others are basically, “Wire for surround sound” or “One housewide audio system: $5,000” where you have no idea exactly what you’re getting. That was essentially the first proposal that I received from my builder.
In fact it was obvious that he had just cut-and-pasted things from another job, as a lot of the jargon didn’t even pertain to me. I called him up and asked him to give me a proposal of exactly what I was getting. I got back something that basically said, “One new room added to home, 13 x 19 feet in dimensions.”
I had to call him back. “What does this include? What am I getting? Does this include the roof? The HVAC? The lighting? The flooring? The paint? Finishing out the side of the house to match the existing? Fixing the inside part of my house where you’re tearing windows out? Moving my existing irrigation system? Removing the pavers? Relocating my gate? Landscaping the new area?”
I wanted the scope of work to detail exactly what was being done so we both knew exactly what was expected.
I’ve had several customers tell me over the years how much they appreciate our thorough billing, which itemizes virtually everything down to, “Misc. parts: various screws, zip ties, fire caulk, wall boxes used on the project.” I get it now. People want to know what they are getting and what they are paying for.
3) Decision Making is Tough
This is the first time that I’ve actually been involved in a building project of my own, and I now have a lot more appreciation for what homeowners go through during a construction project. There are constantly decisions to be made. What kind of windows do you want and where do you want them? Where do you want the power outlets? Where do you want the seam of the carpet? What color walls? What kind of closet door?
This was one room that was basically being built for me by me, and I would often just stand in there trying to figure out how I planned on using the stupid thing. People building an entire house are constantly barraged with questions from different trades, so it’s no wonder that by the time we get there, many of them have little time for the things we want to ask.
Ultimately I just started telling the different trades, “Look, if you had a home theater question, I would know the answer. But you’re the (painter, electrician, carpet installer) and I figure you’re the expert here, so I’m going to just ask you to do it the way you think is best and I’m going to trust your judgement.”
I’m going to be a lot more proactive and leading from now on, instead of asking lots of open-ended questions that require a lot of thought and decision making. I’m going to use leading suggestions along the line of, “If this were my house, I’d consider doing this…” or “This is how I would do it if it were me…”
4) Lack of Clean Up Leaves a Bad Impression
As I write this, the exterior of my room is complete, and it looks really good. In fact, I’ve had several random neighbors stop as they walked by our house to tell me how nice it turned out.
But do you know what I’m noticing right this second? It’s the three random giant cardboard boxes, really long pieces of trim, and paint buckets filled with trash that are sitting haphazardly in my backyard getting totally poured on. Why are they there? Why have they been there for a week? Why didn’t they get thrown away? Why would someone decide that when they unboxed something huge, throwing the waste in my backyard was the right thing to do?
I also removed a trashcan full of rocks, asphalt chunks, wood debris, and miscellaneous detritus from my front yard this past weekend.
These are small items that leave a bad taste in a homeowner’s mouth at the end of the job and are so easy to address. Make sure your guys clean up after themselves. It’s really that simple. Go the extra mile. Bring a shop vac and vacuum all around where you worked. Take out anything you brought with you. Dispose of your garbage. In fact, strive to leave the whole area cleaner than you found it.
5) Communication and Follow-Through Lapses are Frustrating
Our customers lead busy lives, and they hire us to take care of things for them. They probably don’t have any interest or desire in keeping up with us or our schedules and don’t like to be left in the dark as to when things are going to happen.
I can tell you firsthand that it gets very frustrating having to tell someone the same thing over and over again and still not have it get completed. Or to be left in the dark wondering when the crew will be showing up again to continue working.
Also, calling your customer at seven in the morning — especially when you know that they just had a new baby — to inform them of something is totally uncool and shows a real lack of planning.
Finally, while it is a relatively small thing, sending emails and texts with lots of spelling and grammar mistakes really shows a lack of professionalism. If you want people to take you and your company seriously, you need to communicate like a professional. Take a moment to look over things before you hit send.
Standing on the other side of the counter, as it were, can really open your eyes to seeing and experiencing things from the customer’s perspective. And finding ways to reduce and eliminate your customer’s pain points throughout the project will go a long way to being successful.