Contractor Talk - Professional Construction and Remodeling Forum banner

1 - 11 of 11 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
5 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
I just started my own small company doing mostly residential remodels and I would love some advice for dealing with frustrating clients who dont know what they want.

I'm experiencing many folks who want to remodel their homes but forego any professional design or consulting services. I end up wasting a lot of unpaid time trying to get the client to be specific enough for me to complete a bid. This is of course due to the fact that I am the first bidder. I can always compensate myself in the contract price later (much more easily of it is a big job), but there are two main problems with this:
1) I end up with a less competitive offer (and helped pin down the scope of work for other bidders); and
2) If they choose another bidder, I wasted a lot of time.

In the end, I feel like I am more of some kind of remodeling 'shrink' that has to discuss every little detail and moderate the husband and wife's different opinions. Sometimes, they will come up with an idea that I know will just look/function terribly, but they fail to have the vision to anticipate the results. I'll build it, but I know that they won't be happy with it.

I expect to hear other contractors say something like, "I won't touch a bid unless I am provided with complete specs," or "I offer in-house design services" etc; but often many my customers dont see the need for such professionals for their 'little project' (and they are trying to save money-- and why not if I'm enough of a sucker to do it for them ).

Any contractors, psychologists, customer relations experts got comment?
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
8,573 Posts
If you fail to plan, you are only planning to fail.

Sit down with the customer before the project begins, heck before you submit a bid, and find out what they want. Make a detailed scope of work room by room or floor by floor that details what you will be doing for them. Now review the scope of work with them and make sure they fully understand, and make sure you didn't misunderstand them. NOW is the time to work out the bugs!

Or here is your other option. Prequalify every customer. "Mr customer, do you already have prints or would you like me to have them provided for you?" If they don't have prints you meet with them and explain to them that you can't work without a set of blue prints. Explain that it's like driving across country without a road map. Now shope around for architects and work with one you can trust to do a good job.

Personally I'd prefer my second suggestion. You will weed out the morons right away. After the print is complete you know exactly what your job is so you save alot of time. I still suggest going over a scope of work with them before any work begins.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
178 Posts
There are two parts to this issue: defining the spec, and delivering the spec. Delivering the spec is your job, and defining the spec is the job of a designer or architect. If, as you indicate, the homeowners want to remodel but won't get professional advice, you may want to put together a checklist or list of questions that need to be answered before the "spec" can be cosidered to be firmed up. Their "little" project is going to cost money - the question is are you prepared to subsidize them by accomodating their lack of knowledge and indecision, or educate them enough so that they can come to grips with the issues involved.

As a business person, you need to be paid for the services you render. Often times the homeowners don't even realize how much work is involved in defining the project, but if you show them a sample work description, they should quickly figure out that there is serious work involved. If they want to provide freebies, you have to decide if that's the kind of customer you want, and if the risk of NOT getting paid for the effort you have invested (in the followup project) is worth the risk.

PS. I agree with everything Grumpy said.
 
F

·
Guest
Joined
·
0 Posts
Educate and Seal the bid

Pineflakes said:
I just started my own small company doing mostly residential remodels and I would love some advice for dealing with frustrating clients who dont know what they want.

I'm experiencing many folks who want to remodel their homes but forego any professional design or consulting services. I end up wasting a lot of unpaid time trying to get the client to be specific enough for me to complete a bid. This is of course due to the fact that I am the first bidder. I can always compensate myself in the contract price later (much more easily of it is a big job), but there are two main problems with this:
1) I end up with a less competitive offer (and helped pin down the scope of work for other bidders); and
2) If they choose another bidder, I wasted a lot of time.

In the end, I feel like I am more of some kind of remodeling 'shrink' that has to discuss every little detail and moderate the husband and wife's different opinions. Sometimes, they will come up with an idea that I know will just look/function terribly, but they fail to have the vision to anticipate the results. I'll build it, but I know that they won't be happy with it.

I expect to hear other contractors say something like, "I won't touch a bid unless I am provided with complete specs," or "I offer in-house design services" etc; but often many my customers dont see the need for such professionals for their 'little project' (and they are trying to save money-- and why not if I'm enough of a sucker to do it for them ).

Any contractors, psychologists, customer relations experts got comment?

This is a very common occourance. First measure up the customer is he serious? When I go in a home I ask them how long they plan to stay, the situation with children, use of the room ie do they want speakers and cable?

If you are truely concerned about the use and design of the room they will hire you.

Here is a tip that is worth it's weight in gold.
Upon leaving resummerize they points you have discussed. The design options
are something that you developed together. Politely ask that as they bid this out (assume they will) not to reveal any of your discussion from the other contractor. They should do this to protect themselves and see if the other contractor cares as much as you.

Good luck,

Remember good customers will refer you to other good customers.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5 Posts
Discussion Starter #5
Well, preparing the bid is no problem, but what is happening all to often is that the after I initially sit down with the client and have our happy little therapy session on the project, they later call (maybe 2 hours later, maybe two days later, and they make significant changes to the plan). I have reworked three different bids for some clients (granted that in a few cases this is more of trying to redefine the project to fit their checkbooks), but I feel like I am providing a service to just bounce ideas off of and then get quotes. I think that, on one hand, plenty of this falls under my services and responsibilities as a contractor (and trust me, I emphasize to the customer that these details must be resolved first since waves of change orders are not only costly, but also that projects run this way often have strange and comprimised results since they are not well thought out). On the other hand, I am spending a lot of time reworking bids (in many cases, the job has changed substantially-- moving walls and removing walls, types of finishes, doors, windows, etc) and repeatedly driving out to the meet the client.

I like Grumpy's second suggestion of insisting on a plan before bidding. I dont have a shortage of work, so those I can let those folks who dont feel this is neccessary walk.

I had also considered charging a fee for reworked bids on top of any initial free estimate, but as justifiable as that is, I dont think many customers can fully understand my position on this, and I anticiapte having to argue with them why their changes required me to spend significant time reworking the proposal and revisitng the jobsite. I think that it would cause more bad feelings in the end-- giving them the impression that I was nickel and diming 'em, and then allowing another contractor to give a better impression and score the job.

The third idea is just to figure it all as overhead and up my prices even more, but in some cases, this is just not necessary and I hate for some people to foot that bill. One of my own pet peaves is witnessing patient and well-intentioned people get passed up by annoying and demanding people who end up with better service just 'cause they were jerks about it.
 

·
Banned
Joined
·
14,078 Posts
Pineflakes, your initial post hits home so hard right now for me! I just met with a husband wife who initially contacted me about installing a whirlpool tub they have already purchased. What started as the husband only wanting to spend a small budget on the bathroom, within 10 minutes grew to demoing and redoing the stand alone shower in custom tile and glass, then to the wife wanting a waterfall in the shower, then to redoing the entire bathroom which is 12x25 feet, a huge bathroom! I had to explain to them that I was a bit confused here, because you have continually stressed that you were only looking at a small budget, which was under $5000 and what you are looking at now is getting closer to $30,000. There was talk about how we only want to do what we can pay cash for, and then home equity loans were discussed between them... it was all over the board. I finally had to tell them, that there was no way I could really do anything for them at this point until they decide on a direction. I gave them ball park figures, from around $5000 for your initial thoughts but that could widely vary depending on the level of finish and the materials you want to use, to $15,000 for this and that, up to $30,000-$40,000 for the whole hog.

Part of their problem like most husbands and wives is they have different parts of the house they want to emphasis and spend their money on. The husband wants to just spend as little as possible on the bathroom because all he does is crap, shower and shave and gets out, he wants to build a home theater in the basement and spend the money there, the wife could careless about the theater and wants a bathroom retreat for herself. It is one thing to be stuck with homeowners who don't know what they want, but it is even worse to be stuck between homeowners who want different things, but don't know how to actually say it and expose the issue so it can be resolved. It starts to become marriage counseling!

As you said, in the end all I felt I did was help the homeowners narrow down their ideas for the next contractor they talk to.

On the one hand you think there is value to being the person who takes them from zero to 100%, being the guy who helps them when they were clueless to a workable design, all the way through to the end of the build process. And on the other hand you wonder if it is smarter to just be the guy who comes in after they get a clue and takes them from 25% to completion.

This is a really good topic full of ramifications for anybody in the trade.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
8,573 Posts
What about reworking your "free esitmate" structure? There will be a charge of $150 per estimate and major bid revision. These fees will be applied to the down payment when the customer signs up. These fees will not be refunded if the customer decides not to use your services.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,407 Posts
I gotta subscribe to this post also, really glad to hear it's not just me either :Thumbs: I dont think homies have any idea about how much pencil pushing, head scratching, phone calls, faxes, etc... go into their "free estimate" LOL Hell, I could just make an honest living if I did get paid for estimating!!

Very frustrating going to somebodies home for a remodel and they have zero ideas about what to do, what they want, and basically want you/us to start popping suggestions out for them to mull over. I remember 1 basement remodel estimate I was reffered to from the gals sister I did alot of things for. I get over their and do the introduction and small chat, go downstairs with her and she clams up. I ask intentions or what's she'd like to have done, "well, I have'nt really thought about that. I know I want it to look finished off" could go on and on, but you all know story. I realize alot of folks with small to medium projects rely on us for suggestions since we've seen and done different things and can probably lay it out better than most homies could think about, but at some point enough has got to be enough!!
 

·
Custom Builder
Joined
·
4,406 Posts
I think what is being overlooked here is that this trade is an art. Art takes time and inspiration.

A hommie can stop by to get gas and pick up a burrito, or order frys with their shake. Our society has created the disposible on the spot consumer, and they want what they want now. I think you may pan better percentages by just explaining the situation, no matter how obvious it may appear to you.

When I run into a runaway remod, I pin them on a phase that will allow them to advance the project later, then let them work out the details on the rest. In this case, if I trust them, instead of contracts, I convert my work order to a contract. It's easy to whip out a work order in the middle of a project. It also allows the customer to monitor thier spending.

Just food for thought.
Bob
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
25 Posts
Finley, that part about "installing a whirlpool tub.....grew to....the wife wanting a waterfall in the shower" was one of the funniest things I have read in long time because it is so true.....These folks dont have a clue! Now try to imagine this same mindset on a 9000 sq.ft. house.
"No Mam, I can not build this 9000 sq.ft. house with $95,000 worth of molded urethane millwork for a grand sum of $280,000."
This after having spent a whole week meeting with subs and architects. I am still laughing! But its not a laughing matter because that is a lot of time/money wasted with people who just dont seem to have a clue on what it cost to build.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
89 Posts
This is going to sound veeery trivial compared to other posters in this thread, but I get the same thing with clients and paint colors. They call you for a bid and haven’t given a thought to colors. They want me to match colors to furniture that’s yet to be delivered, but they want the rooms painted before the furniture gets there.

Or I’ve been referred to them by the decorator that’s already chosen colors, and they use me to try and say they don’t like the colors the decorator picked out. I never step on the decorators feet. Their colors are THE colors.

I could tell you a story about a pill popping christian lady and her two lovely dogs I did work for this last fall. She wanted to save me. :rolleyes: I ended up saving her. :cheesygri
 
1 - 11 of 11 Posts
Top