Carl Seville's Editorial Archives
As a design/build remodeler, you must learn to meld all your skills as a designer, salesperson, estimator, builder, financial consultant and, on occasion, marriage counselor or therapist. Most purchasers of your services have not remodeled before. If they have, there is a good chance that it was not an altogether satisfactory experience. Your job is to understand what they want, and how it relates to what they need and what they can afford. You design a project that meets as many of those needs as possible, and then you have to convince them to have it built.
One of your first conversations with a customer should include a discussion of the project budget. Many homeowners do not understand that they can control, and even determine, the budget. Long ago, we realized that we did not have to stand by hopelessly wondering if we could sell a project without a client''s budget expectations. Spend a few weeks or months slaving over a set of plans and an estimate, only to have your client say, "Oh, that''s much more than I want to spend, let''s just forget about it." This can quickly teach you to explore budgets in advance.
We have learned that there are very few people for whom budget is really no object. Even the wealthy have a price point above which they are unlikely to proceed. Ask your clients what their budget expectations are. If they say they don''t know, coach them toward making a logical decision. Discuss the value of other houses in the neighborhood. Ask them how long they intend to stay in the house. Are they planning to pay cash for this or borrow money? Some good, professional, probing questions will usually get you the information you need. Learn how to walk them through the process of developing a budget.
The design you create also plays a major part in the process. You must understand your clients'' needs and desires, and how they relate to their budget. When you are interviewing them about their home, listen carefully to what they are saying. Find out what they like about their house, what they don''t like, and what they want to accomplish.
Often you will find that people come to the design/build process with preconceived notions of what they "should" be doing, and paying less attention to what they need for themselves. I can''t even count the number of times people have told me they have to put in a whirlpool tub or a skylight "for resale." So I ask them when they are planning to sell. Usually the answer is never or 15 to 20 years hence. Homeowners usually appreciate it when we suggest that it makes little sense to include something they don''t care about just for some theoretical resale so far in the future that the product will be obsolete by the time they do sell.
Do not leave your meeting without a written description of the goals for the project and the target budget range that you and your client agree on. If you use this information to create your design, and provide them with a design that fulfills those needs, you will be in control of your success in your project.
When you return to your homeowner with a design and a budget, carefully crafted to meet the program you prepared with them, you must now sell them on your design. It is important to sell with confidence, that you produced the right project for them. This must be balanced, however, with openness to their desires. You may find your client making suggested changes--some of which may be good, some not. Listen to them, consider their requests, and give them your honest opinion. They will trust you and respect you as a professional if you treat them with respect.
Defend and sell your ideas from a position of strength, but never bully your client. Let them know they are being heard, and incorporate their good ideas whenever you can without compromising your work. Work together to come to a point of agreement about the design, and you can move smoothly through your project.