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Most homeowners don’t have the luxury of moving out of their home during a renovation. And no matter how much you try to prepare them, many families fail to grasp how much their routines will be disrupted by a construction crew.
Try these nine techniques to prepare homeowners for an in-home renovation:
1. Hold pre-construction client meetings.
Before renovation work begins, present your client with a checklist that outlines every step of the process. When starting a renovation, “we go over what the project is, what the schedule is and when we’re going to start [each phase],” says Brad Cruickshank, owner of Cruickshank Remodeling, a high-end residential remodeling company in Atlanta.
In addition, he explains the sales and estimating process, and introduces the production and carpentry staff so clients know whom to contact if a problem occurs.
2. Set expectations.
Thoroughly prepare people for the reality of life in a construction zone, and provide as much detail as possible. “In new construction, the emphasis is on the end product. But in custom home building and remodeling, you need to communicate the process to homeowners along the way," Cruickshank says.
Eliminate potential surprises and work with the homeowner to establish workable schedules for start and end times. People will want to know if a worker might walk through their kitchen at 7 a.m., and some may not want work done on weekends or after a certain time.
In addition, if you plan to rip up drywall, explain how that could affect the person sitting on the other side of that wall. “You need to prepare them for things like nail pops that could develop on the opposite side of the wall,” Cruickshank says.
3. Respond to individual concerns.
In extreme cases, you may have to go above and beyond to keep a client satisfied. Bernie Smith, the principal of Atlanta-based company Masterworks Atlanta LLC, spent an additional $50,000 on a whole-house remodel for a worker to manage his high-maintenance client.
“We set up an office in the client’s basement, and I spent 80 percent of the day on the phone with him,” Smith recalls. Despite the difficulties, it was worth keeping a good rapport with the client to avoid burning any bridges. Now Smith tells clients exactly how many hours a week he’ll spend educating them.
4. Adhere to contract.
Smith recommends using fixed-price contracts that detail every aspect of the project in advance to help control client expectations along the way. He also suggests reminding them about work you discussed that didn’t make it into the contract to avoid any false expectations.
5. Prepare them for inconveniences.
“Tell people this isn’t going to be easy,” Smith says. Whether the plumbing will be shut off for a day or the driveway will be blocked by major equipment, clients will appreciate your advance warnings.
It might help to also prepare them for the emotional rollercoaster they face. “I say, ‘Right now you’re really excited. You’re going to have a brand new master bedroom suite and the bathroom and closet of your dreams. But in 30 days, you’re going to really hate the process,’” Smith says.
6. Create sound and dust barriers.
“The best way to show respect for the homeowner is to keep the job site as clean as possible,” Cruickshank says. In addition to sweeping daily, shield the rest of the house from noise and debris through carpet protectors and clearly delineated barriers. Secure any plastic duct walls from floor to ceiling with telescopic extension poles, and upgrade air-conditioning filters to keep dirt from getting drawn into the rest of the house.
7. Outdoor etiquette.
Your workers’ behavior outside should reflect an equal level of professionalism. Cruickshank starts each project by staking off the driveway with orange markers to minimize damage to lawns and trees. Supers can also convey respect through small gestures like backing the client’s car out of the driveway so it doesn’t get blocked in, bringing in the newspaper or rolling the trash to the curb.
8. Document your progress.
There may be surprises along the way, and regular follow-up meetings will give your clients a chance to provide feedback. Cruickshank produces meeting minutes in triplicate to ensure clients receive notes of any changes along the way.
9. Rent retention Dumpsters.
Renting a Dumpster is an added expense, but it saves you the hassle of hauling debris off site. It's worth the benefit to the client relationship, Smith says, because it helps maintain a clean work site.
It takes a little extra effort, but respecting your clients and ensuring they stay informed throughout the process will keep you at the top of their list for future projects and referrals.
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