The Team Theory of Remodeling

(Warning: if you are the type of person who believes that fighting is the only way to get what you want out of life, please do not read this article, as it could disrupt your entire way of life).

If you are embarking on a remodeling project, it's enough hassle to pull out your credit card twenty eight times in one week, to find unfamiliar, sweaty men smashing up your home (well, your old cabinets anyway) one bright morning, or to discover that your brand new $6000 fridge, finally delivered four weeks late, is the wrong one. You don't also need a battle with a contractor. You need, instead, team spirit.

Let's imagine that you find a contractor who has the skills and willingness to execute the project you envision. Part of you would love the have the guy do everything, figure out everything, buy everything and you could go to Bali for a month and come home to a fabulous new kitchen that is exactly what you want. Of course, most of us don't have the kind of money this guy charges to do it all, and, more to the point, some of us like the idea of choosing stuff and deciding things.

The key to a successful, efficient, happy and minimal-stress remodeling project is to be the captain of your remodeling team, the most vital player and he/she who calls the shots, sets the plays, and gets carried on the shoulders...well, probably not, even though you will win with this approach.

We are expert remodelers. Robert alone has over 30 years of hands-on home building and remodeling experience. We've installed over 600 IKEA kitchens. And you'd be amazed how much you have to know to pass the California State contractors' licensing exams. But we still know that you, the customer, are the key player of the "game" of getting a new kitchen (or any remodeling project). Our expertise is for you, the homeowner, to use, to acquire knowledge from, to consult, and to count on to skillfully execute the plays that you call.

One purpose of our kitchen planning service is to start to build the team. For the homeowner, getting questions answered, getting professional design help and getting a contractor in to inspect and provide a bid are vital and we do these things thoroughly for them. But when we send our contractor and designer to meet with the homeowner, their primary purpose, beyond providing the initial knowledge and assistance the homeowner needs, is to find out what the homeowner actually needs and wants. We've done hundreds of projects, many of them a lot like the one we did the week before. But we never know what any individual homeowner actually needs and wants and requires. We have to find out each time.

And thus, communication is the elixir in all remodeling. Good and abundant (and always business-like and/or friendly) communication can keep your costs down significantly, can get your project completed weeks earlier than predicted, it can result in a much more beautiful result and it can, surely and definitely and every time, minimize stress, upsets and confusion, which can bring about extra expense, delays and dissatisfaction.

What is a team, after all? It's a group of people who coordinate. And who communicate. And who then communicate more. And thus coordinate better. And then, just because it proves vastly successful, they communicate even more.

You might be thinking that you could simply call your fantasy contractor, the one who is "doing it all," from Bali. If you called every fifteen minutes, that would be a lot of communication. Since this is clearly not going to work, there must be some other ingredient that, added to communication, ensures a win.

That ingredient is responsibility. It is the 100% responsibility you take for your project. This is not to say the members of your remodeling team are not responsible. To the contrary, each team member, contractor, designer, crew member, husband and wife, even IKEA or Pacific Sales or Home Depot, need to be 100% responsible also. But unlike you, the captain of the team, each of these players may not see the entire project, may not have the insight and commitment and vision that you have, in regard to your project.

IKEA is responsible for the quality of their product that they deliver to you, and for their service. But you don't expect them to call you if the salesperson thinks the brown doors would look better in your house. It's up to you.

If your wife, or husband, is only peripherally involved with the project, she/he still needs to know what it is going on, what it is going to cost and when and how long it is going to take. He/she must somehow align his/her own activities and intentions so as to help, and not hinder, the goal from being realized. Each person are 100% responsible for their home, even if it's your job to make the remodeling decisions.

And your contractor, is, always, 100% responsible for the quality of his work, for the meeting of deadlines, for prompt and friend customer service. He is responsible for ensuring you have the full benefit of his expertise and knowledge. He is even responsible for the image of his industry, contracting, that he projects and instills.

However, a contractor cannot read minds. He cannot see through walls. And though he may be utterly expert and well-intentioned, he is human and fallible and has other projects and, of course, his own life, on his mind. He is, no matter how charming, muscular (and aggressive) some of us may be, your EMPLOYEE, someone you have hired to help you. Tell him what to do, let him know your expectations, ask for his help and cooperation, and let him do his job without undue interruption or micro-management. But don't make the mistake of thinking that you are the employee, the junior party to this project, or that your contractor knows what you want before you tell him, and will do what you want without your instructions, your supervision, your explicit communication, and your feedback, day to day, hour to hour even.

Because our company offers customers a lot of help, and caring customer service, because we usually provide design help, cabinet ordering help, and ongoing assistance with cost and design issues, and, mainly because we communicate a lot and quickly, there is the liability in doing this of inadvertently leaving the customer with the sense that "it's all taken care of."

Here is (made-up) customer Joe. We meet with him and his wife, Mary, and design a great new kitchen for them. It's a medium size project, including tearing down two small walls to open the kitchen and dining room to the family room area. There is re-wiring, some venting work needed, flooring to install, some tilesetting. Our typical project, in other words.

Mary works full time and more, and Joe, who works at home (online investments), is going to be the primary person working on the project. Joe has a thick folder by the time we come for the planning meeting. He has appliance specs, pictures of kitchens from magazines, drawings he's done of his ideas, lists of stuff and competitive price lists for items he and Mary need to shop for (tile, new appliances, flooring, paint, handles, a sink and faucet).

As Robert (contractor) walks through the downstairs with him, Joe is taking notes. He hasn't thought of how many outlets he'll want, whether he wants a water line run under the house for a pot filler for his new sink, and that his existing venting is going to have to be adapted for the chimney hood vent he has already decided on. These are just examples of the issues that contractors bring to a homeowner's attention. They affect kitchen layout options, costs, and functionality and enjoyment of the kitchen-to-be.

After the meeting, Joe continues to look into each of the new aspects of the project Robert has brought to his attention. Joe is new to remodeling, but he's done all type of projects in his life and knows that attention to detail and control are key to getting the result.

During the project, as the old kitchen and walls are torn out, Joe is around the house most of the time. He works upstairs while the crew is downstairs, but he's there. He talks to Robert every morning and comes in each day as the guys are cleaning up and shows his excitement as things start to change, asks questions, and makes some decisions as new issues, mostly minor, come up.

Joe's project was a big success. He tells us his new kitchen looks better than his neighbor's $125,000 kitchen remodel. Joe spent $18,500 with all new, top of the line IKEA cabinets in kitchen and dining room, high quality appliances, amazing Silestone counters, elegant floor tile and backsplash, and new and much better and safer electrical and lighting through all the downstairs of the house.

Customer Alice (also made-up) was different. She's a very busy mom and after a flood from the upstairs condo unit, had to replace her kitchen. We came to do her planning and she was sure the kitchen footprint should stay the same (possibly an instance in which deferring to the experts would have been smarter). She ordered her cabinets via fax from the first layout draft, and on the first morning of the installation, gave Robert a key and a check and asked when he thought it would be done.

Now, usually, this type of project goes perfectly well. If something comes up, Robert will call the customer or I'll email the customer and we figure it out. In this (made-up) scenario, the only problem was that we started the installation on Thursday and Alice had thought that it would take two days. She had 26 cabinets and tile to set so this was not a good prediction. On Friday afternoon, she walked in and got upset upon learning that tile cement has to sit for 24 hours before grouting. The kitchen would not be done that day! Robert also told her that the plumbing lines behind the sink would have to be changed out, just too corroded. This is not something you can see until after the demo, but Alice got upset about this, too. We should have known, she said.

Now we got this job done on Monday after Alice got a plumber in to replace the rusted out pipes on Saturday morning. The kitchen was beautiful. But we didn't get a big thank you (or a hug...). I think what we did wrong, mostly, was that we forgot to help and guide Alice to take responsibility for her project.

To you, the reader, it's pretty obvious that those pipes are Alices's, not the contractor's. But in the middle of a project, under a time or money crunch, it sure can be easier to blame someone else. But that is usually only true for those who resort to fighting (or, in the same category, antagonism) to get what they want.

As contractors, we are 100% responsible for the results we get. But, when we walk out the door for the last time, leaving a beautiful new kitchen behind, the homeowner, from that point and rightfully, takes all the credit. A responsible, communicative homeowner, who knows he/she is the captain of the team, and who uses and controls his/her team members effectively, cheerfully and knowledgeably, really deserves the win.


If you'd like to discuss your project with me, I can offer you a free, 30-minute phone consultation. Here's my calendar, just pick a time that works for you.

Susan