Contractors and Homeowners Can Speak the Same Language
It’s important that contractors and homeowners understand each other so that renovations or construction projects are done right, stay on schedule, and within budget. This article provides a few tips to homeowners and contractors to improve communication.
Tip 1: Define Goals Together
For the Homeowner: Before you invite a contractor into your home, ask yourself what you want to be able to do in your home that you can’t do now. Then, when the contractor comes, you’ll be able to express these goals. Knowing early on what the underlying problem or need is can save a lot of money and time. Often homeowners jump to the wrong conclusion that they simply need more space when actually the square footage is there, but not the right room configuration or features. Let the contractor help you solve your space needs.
For the Contractor: Even though it can sometimes try your patience to get to the heart of the customer’s needs, take the time to determine the real problem. Most homeowners don’t know how to diagnose house problems and frankly shouldn’t be expected to. Do you go to the doctor with a sore back and tell the doctor what operation you need?
Example: A homeowner and wine salesperson used her house to entertain guests and to sell exclusive wine collections. She wanted to add on to the back of her house to make a bigger kitchen and carry out some of her entertaining there. In the initial meeting with a contractor, she talked about how frustrated she was that all her guests either crowded into her small kitchen or left her for the living room. She also spent 45 minutes talking about the countertops and the stainless steel appliances she wanted and the bamboo floor she thought would look good. After a while, the contractor understood that her top goal was to improve her ability to entertain guests and business prospects. In the end, she didn’t need to add on to the house; instead, the contractor moved some walls and added top end flooring, appliances, and countertops. The cost went from the original $175,000 for the addition to $50,000, and she loved the solution.
Tip 2: Speak a common language
For the Homeowner: When your contractor talks about studs, joists, headers, load bearing points, fenestration, R-value, or U-Ratings do your eyes glaze over? Do you just nod your head and say yes to avoid feeling stupid? Don’t feel intimidated and ask for explanations!
For the Contractor: Don’t use jargon and terms that no one understands (leave that to doctors and lawyers). Instead of throwing the word “stud” around, you could say “the board in the wall that goes up and down” or for “joist” try saying “the board in the wall that goes left to right over here.” You will get smiles instead of dazed and confused looks and your meetings will be more effective.
Tip 3: Frank Money Talk
For the Homeowner: Often homeowners are afraid to tell their budget to a contractor for fear the contractor will simply add 10% and make that the new budget. For a contractor, not knowing what the budget is can be a lot like playing pin the tail on the donkey in the middle of the Metrodome. First of all, choose a contractor you can trust and check out their references. Then share your budget in the first meeting, so that you can work backwards from the dollar amount in choosing all of the features and finish work.
For the Contractor: Explain to homeowners that knowing the budget is extremely helpful in writing an estimate that will be acceptable to them. Be sensitive to budget questions, get permission to talk about budget first and explain why that information can be helpful. If the homeowner is not forthcoming, talk about what kind of investment makes sense for the house, location, and work that needs to be done. Come up with a ballpark estimate that includes a high and low end, and then find out from the prospect if that dollar amount makes sense.