As a far home improvements are concerned, there is no official “how to buy” or “how to sell” books for homeowners and remodelers respectively. Add to that, unlike many other life decisions and past purchases, a homeowner has little or no personal history to refer to or learn from. A person, with no auto industry involvement, will purchase many cars over their lifetime and typically get wiser from each experience which improves their next car purchase. Also consider, homeowners are more likely to buy and sell a home than purchase a major home remodeling project such as an addition or a new kitchen. Many of the homeowners that the TB&A staff consults with have never personally experienced a substantial home renovation.
The remodeling contractor is not much better off. There is no official “remodeling school.” Yes, there are national associations (for example: NARI), professional groups, and consultants that offer courses and training, but not mandatory and/or standardized.
Painting the picture with a broad brush, there are three general groups of remodeling companies with regard to estimating and ultimately selling projects.
- One group believes in presenting a robust scope of work and service for a 100% completed project based on history and experience. They will try to earn the order and business through thorough explanation of what their process offers before, during, and after the project. They illustrate the potential industry pitfalls through cautionary tales. While this approach typically has the best interest of the consumer, homeowners usually have initial sticker shock and continue to get other estimates as a result. As time goes on, homeowners often forget some of the finer points of the scope and/or service and only remember the price in which to compare to other estimates. Homeowners that purchase from this group are generally pleased.
- The next group presents a project scope that is not as encompassing as the first group. The initial investment amount will appear more palatable to the consumer. If the order is obtained, at some point there will be extras added to the project and price that were not initially included. Often the homeowner will end up with a project and experience not at the value level they had hoped for; nor ultimately achieve as good a finished project, but after some struggle, stress, and rough patches do arrive at a finished project.
- The final group is the unqualified, unprofessional, or new, inexperienced company that seeks to obtain projects by virtue of being the lowest priced estimate. Lack of experience or training often leads to incorrect pricing and necessary tasks being overlooked up front. The low budget sets the stage for corner-cutting or a very bad experience. We have yet to meet a homeowner that has not personally known someone that has had an awful remodeling experience at some point, and was often a result of working with this group.
Within those neat and tidy groups the solutions might seem simple. A homeowner would probably say they plan on getting three estimates from companies only in the first group with hopes to make an “apples to apples” comparison. It is not that easy. There are three distinct components that make up a remodeling project – material, labor, and the company that will deliver the experience. As an example, if you planned to buy a Ford SUV, you could go to three Ford dealerships and compare the prices. The only variable will be the people at the dealership – the company delivering a small part of the experience. Ford is the main company, the SUV is the product, and Ford provides the labor or assembly and warranty. Now how about the apples to apples comparison when it comes to remodeling projects? There is not a level playing field or a pre-cast guideline. Here is a fun fact: there are 7,500 different varieties of apples in the world with 2,500 varieties grown in the United States.
Let us look at it this in another way: the products are LEGOs, so the consumer can make a true material comparison if all the products were specified. Now the assembly of those LEGOs, the labor, even if following a plan or blueprint will not be performed in the same fashion from one crew to the next. Then the clean-up, pack up, communication, work duration, and overall experience of the LEGOs, (we mean the project), are the biggest variables when it comes to residential remodeling.
If there was a standardized platform available that accurately depicted and detailed the project and process for review, discussion, planning, and comparison then the playing field could be truly leveled. Great news! The staff at TB&A provides a detailed project design and development service and package for homeowners!