Confessions of a Remodeler

What is this remodeler looking for in a client?

If you do an internet search on “planning your remodeling project,” you will have very little difficulty finding plenty of advice on how to choose a remodeler. Most of these articles, very rightly, talk about references, insurance, reputation, integrity and the like.  It is important to make a thoughtful decision when choosing someone to work in your home and I suggest you take your time and read several of the online guides. One place is here.

But I wonder, have you ever stopped to consider what the remodeler is looking for in a client?

I think you may find it of interest to know what remodelers are thinking, or at least what this Lake Norman area remodeler is thinking.

•           Generally my first thought is, “Can I work with these folks?”  By that I primarily mean, does this person (or couple) seem to be someone with whom I can effectively communicate? I don’t mean they have to be just like me, but we do need to have a common base of reference. It is vital that I can hear (and understand) their desires and the ultimate goal of the project. They need to be able to understand my responses. This may seem so basic that it doesn’t need mentioning. However, if you look at the vast bulk of nightmare remodeling stories, most of the nightmares started when the communication broke down.

•           Secondly, is the project they are considering, appropriate for me to take? I believe that what I do, I do very well. I manage mid to large custom remodel projects especially well, and particularly well, if the client is interested in the process and wants to be involved from start to finish.  Some projects are simply too large for me to give the care I feel they need. Sometimes the timing is wrong. Sometimes there is a focus to the project outside my areas of expertise. If I try to step into one of these projects the results are not fun. I will always remember the time a client said to me, “I don’t want to do anything here that I won’t have fun doing.” I think there is a lot of wisdom in that comment. Early in the process I am asking myself, “Is this going to be fun? For me? For the client?” If the answer is “no,” then it is, most likely, not an appropriate project for me.

•           Are the clients passionate about the project? Is this something they really want to do? Tearing up a house, ripping out the old, is not for the faint of heart. Remodeling projects (under the best of conditions) will upset the routines of the household to some degree. I firmly believe that the payoff is worth the effort.  However, if the clients are not excited about it or not in agreement with each other, then the cards are stacked against the remodeling contractor and it gives me considerable pause.

•           Are the clients really interested in getting it right?  “ Right” is different for each project and each client. What I am saying though, is that the best projects are ones where client and contractor form a good working partnership and each take ownership of their respective responsibilities. The client needs to realize that without some hard work on their part the project will not be as successful as it could have been. I am always looking for clients that really want to get it right.

•           Can the client afford it? The old joke among builders is that a client walks up and asks a remodeler, “What can you do with my house?” The builder responds by saying, “I can do whatever you can afford.” The joke may seem flippant but the subject is deadly serious for both parties. Sometimes builders are reluctant to talk about money. I don’t think they stay builders for very long. It is vital that remodelers and clients can both talk realistically about the finances. Together, they need to create realistic expectations for how the money will flow and how much is required. If a client is overreaching their resources, the “fun” in the project dries up really fast. It is critical, that I, as a builder, make sure the client is always aware of the financial implications of the decisions they are asked to make.

So, let’s say I have had an initial meeting with my prospective new clients and I leave with a positive sense of the possibilities. If they are also feeling positive about the possibilities then we can “start the dance”, so to speak. As I hope you understand by now, I feel strongly that successful remodeling projects are the natural outcome of a solid working relationship based on trust, respect and good communication. Generally, after an initial meeting, it is on me to provide some level of budgeting information back to the clients and the dialogue continues. It is through this continued dialogue that the relationship becomes more confident and an agreement is signed. Then the fun begins in earnest!


  • About the Author

    I’m Larry Harkness and I think it is an absolute blast to be a remodeling contractor in the Lake Norman area. There are few things more satisfying than helping homeowners make the changes to their homes...

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