Don’t Call Them “Subs”!

Suggestion

We’re going to let you in on a little secret regarding our ability to meet our scheduling deadlines.

Sure, you probably think it has everything to do with experience and organizational skills — tempered with a healthy dose of realism — and those factors do come into significant play when we hand a client their project calendar.  More than anything, however, what keeps our projects on track and manageable is the willingness of our trades partners to make our priorities their priorities — and that willingness comes from years of relationship building and mutual respect.

“Mutual respect,” when it comes to our treatment of our trades partners as well as our clients, has been an indelible part of the STRITE culture for as long as we’ve been doing business — so much so that the often used industry term “subs” when referring to subcontracting relationships has been expunged from the STRITE vocabulary for some two decades now.  Inasmuch as “sub” is a prefix denoting lesser quality or inferiority, we consider it a derogatory reference to our partners — many of whom we have worked with over the course of hundreds, if not thousands, of projects.

While this respect cuts both ways, there are other reasons that our trades partners tend to make our priorities their priorities.  It’s good business.  Our trades partners know that when they attend a “trades party” to preview an upcoming STRITE project, they are virtually assured of getting the job.  They know that when they show up at a STRITE job site, it will be ready for them to get to work.  Finally, they know that we pay when we say we’re going to pay, and that once they’ve met our qualification standards (which include being insured, bonded, and reliable), they can count on a consistent stream of jobs.  All of these things contribute to the profitability of our trades partners, and benefit our clients by ensuring that the folks who work with us fit our schedules into theirs, rather than the other way around.

To hear first hand why the local trades community likes to work with STRITE, watch these YouTube video interviews with Terry Scott of Western Electric and Brad Allison of Allison Heating & Cooling.

Simple Changes = Dramatic Effects

Bathroom Remodel

This master bathroom suffered from some bad feng shui.  Fortunately, we’ve learned from years of experience that small changes can yield big results…if you know how to make them count. It’s a zen thing.

Vision

It was bad enough that this bathroom was cramped and dark.  To make matters worse, it had doors that did more to obstruct than reveal.  Our client wanted us to find a way to change all that, without demolishing the room and starting over.

Challenge

The “flow” of this room was badly hampered by a mirrored closet bifold door that consumed floor space — resulting in a very cramped vanity area.  Adding to this obstruction was the swing door into the toilet/shower room that swung the wrong way, forcing one to walk around the door to reach the toilet area.

Accomplishment

To open things up and improve the flow of activity in this room, we removed the wall separating the toilet/shower area.  In its place we added a half wall that separated the toilet from the vanity.  In the space opened up by this modification, we added a window above the toilet, which provided natural light to the formerly dark bathroom.  We removed the closet door and replaced it with a pocket door, which is often the best solution for a cramped space.

Highlights

To enhance the esthetics of the functional changes we made, we replaced the cultured marble vanity with a granite top, added a tile backsplash, and updated the fixtures.  In lieu of the expense of new cabinetry, we sanded and refinished the existing front cabinets and added hardware.  We also fully tiled and reframed the shower and refinished the hardwood floor.  Looking at the before and after pictures, it’s hard to believe that this is the same room — which just goes to show that little feng shui goes a long way.

Click on photos to enlarge

10 Year Trend to 2013

Trends

In some hopeful news for both homeowners and construction companies alike, Remodeling Magazine recently published its annual report on the cost versus value ratio for replacement and remodeling projects across the U.S.  In a positive sign for the remodeling industry, the 2013 national average cost-value ratio rose to 60.6%, ending a six-year decline.

Cost vs

The latest ratio represents a nearly three-point improvement over 2011-12, and is more than a half-point higher than the figure from two years ago. The Remodeling Magazine survey reveals that lower construction costs are the principal factor in the upturn, especially when measured against stabilizing house values (How good do those last three words sound, right?).

The further good news in the report is that cost-recouped percentages were up for all 35  replacement/remodel projects tracked in the survey.  This marks a complete turnaround from the 2011–12 report, when percentages dropped in all but three projects — some precipitously.  The biggest gainers this year were mostly replacement projects, which have always outperformed discretionary remodeling projects, more so in recent years as the economic recession brought price to the forefront for homeowners making remodeling decisions.

For those of us living in the Treasure Valley, Remodeling Magazine’s report not only breaks out the cost-value numbers regionally, but by metropolitan area as well, including Boise.  Looking over the numbers for our market, you’ll find that the best return on your remodel dollar comes from “minor kitchen remodels” at 76.2 percent.  The figures are revealing not only from the standpoint of giving you some idea of how much you might recapture from a home remodel project should you sell your home, but also for the insight they will give you into average remodel costs, and how our market compares to the rest of the country (hint: we’re looking pretty darned competitive, my friends).

So what does all this mean to our customers, you ask?  As interesting as the numbers in this report may be, they don’t fundamentally change the math as we see it — which has more to do with the intrinsic value of having a place to live that better meets your lifestyle needs.  That said, however, it’s nice to know that should you decide to sell a home you’ve improved through a professionally managed remodel project (no offense to the DIYers out there), your return on investment should be better than it has been in many a year.  That certainly beats a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, which isn’t a bad metaphor for what our overall housing market has felt like until now.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Inside Strite

Remodeling your home, whether we’re talking about updating the look of a guest bathroom or a second story addition, is a big decision…and quite possibly one of the biggest lifestyle investments you’ll make outside of the original purchase of your home.  We naturally expect that our clients will have a lot of questions during the decision making process, and throughout the remodel.

We’ve dedicated this blog to publishing a running list of the most frequent, and most thought provoking, questions that we hear from our clients.

Q: What is a “trades party?”

A: A “trades party” is an important step in the process of creating a description of work (DOW) and a fixed price agreement for our remodel projects.  At a trades party we invite our construction partners to the job site (i.e. your home) to review the project with our design and production staff and provide their input.  By giving them the opportunity to share their expertise and experience at the onset of a remodel we not only identify potential challenges, but also potential savings.  We also ensure that they fully share in the knowledge we have of the project plan, and can safely and profitably fulfill their part in its completion on time, within budget, and to the expectations of the homeowner.

For more information, read our blog post, Party Time!

Q: What is STRITE’s warranty policy?

A: Another, and more relevant, way of posing this question is to ask, “Does STRITE stand behind its work?”  The immediate answer is a resounding, “yes!” — but the heart of this question gets down to the difference between “explicit” and “implicit.”  Explicitly, all STRITE remodel agreements include a one year labor warranty, with materials and products subject to the warranties of their respective manufacturers and suppliers.  Having said this, however, we should add that in nearly four decades of doing business, warranties have never been an issue for our company.  The reason for this is not simply that we stand behind the quality of our work, but more importantly because we believe that, “once a STRITE customer, always a STRITE customer.”  To better appreciate the “implicit” side of our warranty policy, read our blog post on the subject.

Q: Why does experience matter?

A: For most of us, it goes without saying that the more experience we have with doing something, the better we get at doing it. While this may be true for individuals, however, it isn’t necessarily the case with organizations — especially in an industry where every job is a “custom build.”  Where the rubber meets the road is in how an organization builds “repeatability” into its processes — and how it in turn inculcates those processes (think “standard operating procedures,” if you will) in its staff and associates.  For STRITE, this “repeatability” resides in our project database — a rich information source for how we approached a project, the costs associated with that approach, the challenges that arose, and most important, how we managed those challenges.  For more insight into how repeatability benefits our customers, read our blog post “Why Experience Matters.”

Q: What does integrity mean in our business?

A: This is a frequently asked question that we can answer in six words: keeping our end of the agreement — which is, of course, another way of saying “doing the things we said we were going to do.”  As an integral part of the STRITE culture, this value goes beyond the notion of contractual obligation.  Sure, our contracts require us to produce what we’ve agreed to on paper, but our interpretation of “integrity” is more about truly having the best interests of our customers in mind throughout a project and beyond.

Q: What does “value” mean?

A: For us, the concept of value starts with how we see our business, which is to provide a high quality service and product.  If you think about a “higher calling” associated with any business, ours is to fulfill a community need — and after all, improving peoples‘ homes is certainly an investment in the quality of a community.  Focusing on this aspect of our business model, rather than on simply making money, forms the basis of how we look at value.  To this, we add integrity (doing what we do honestly and professionally), talent, and experience.  For more about how we define value, read our companion blog.

Q: What does it mean when we say we know our numbers?

A: “Knowing our numbers” is more than just a point of professional pride at STRITE — it is part of the value we bring to our clients when we undertake a remodel project.  Knowing what things cost, based on years of experience with a wide variety of remodel situations, comes from tracking every cost for every project we’ve ever completed.  This knowledge benefits our clients in two very tangible ways: it makes for an accurate estimate at the outset of a job (which translates into a fixed-price contract), and it ensures the absence of “change orders” through the life of the project.  For a better understanding of what this means to our clients, read our blog, Knowing Our Numbers.

Q: What kind of relationship do we have with our local trades people?

A: Mutual respect, when it comes to our treatment of our trades partners as well as our clients, has been an indelible part of the STRITE culture for as long as we’ve been doing business.  While this respect cuts both ways, there are other reasons that our trades partners tend to make our priorities their priorities. It’s good business. Our trades partners know that when they attend a “trades party” to preview an upcoming STRITE project, they are virtually assured of getting the job. They know that when they show up at a STRITE job site, it will be ready for them to get to work. Finally, they know that we pay when we say we’re going to pay, and that once they’ve met our qualification standards (which include being insured, bonded, and reliable), they can count on a consistent stream of jobs. All of these things contribute to the profitability of our trades partners, and benefit our clients by ensuring that the folks who work with us fit our schedules into theirs, rather than the other way around.  For more on this subject, read our blog, Don’t Call Them “Subs”!.

Q: How long will my remodel take to complete?

A: The easiest answer to this question is that things take what they take — and not all remodel projects are created equal. There are, however, a couple of key factors to getting a project completed as quickly as possible. The first is organization…which in turn is a function of experience. Having done thousands of remodel projects over nearly 40 years, we know how the necessary sequence of tasks mesh, and how to condense them down to a schedule that lets us hit the ground running while avoiding the inefficiencies and errors that occur when people are trying to work on top of one another. There is, however, another factor that ultimately trumps experience when it comes to the timely completion of a remodel project: the willingness of your trade partners to make your priorities theirs. For more insight into this frequently asked question, read our blog How Long is it Going To Take?.

Q: How do we treat our clients?

A: For STRITE, customer relations is as necessary a cost of doing business as meeting our payroll.  One of the legacies of our company’s founder, Jim Strite, was to make customer care not simply a rigorous discipline, but the subject of on going study.  Rather than handing out reading assignments on new construction techniques, which our project managers were already inclined to learn as a matter of perfecting their craft, the STRITE team was asked to study books like “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”  As a result, STRITE’s weekly production meetings typically focus as much on the emotional states of our remodel customers as they do on construction details. To better understand STRITE’s approach to client relations, read an interview on the subject with vice president Brad Milspaugh.

Q: What is a DOW?

A: Try to imagine filming a blockbuster movie without the benefit of a script, and you have some idea of how integral a “description of work” (DOW) is to the successful completion of a remodel project.  In essence, the function of the DOW is to take everything we’ve learned from our clients in discussing their project goals, everything our trades partners have told us about those aspects of the project they will contribute to, and all the costs and lead times for materials, appliances, fixtures, and finishes involved in the final outcome, and then compile this information into a “narrative” of how the remodel will proceed from beginning to end.  For our clients, the DOW serves as a way of confirming that their expectations will be met, while giving them a way to gauge the project process.  The DOW also provides the broader context for scheduling the work of our trades partners and for the creation of the project calendars we provide our clients.  To better understand the role that the DOW plays in the overall remodel process, click here for an overview.

Q: How do we deal with mistakes?

A: Nobody is perfect — least of all builders.  In any endeavor with as many details and complexities as a remodel, errors are bound to occur.  Our goal is to minimize their frequency and impact through detailed planning and an in-depth knowledge of the construction process, and then take ownership of our mistakes if and when we make them.  This, of course, begs the question of when something is a mistake versus an unforeseen situation that arises in the course of a project.  Because STRITE routinely generates a “description of work” (DOW), we never try to hide behind a “change order” as a thinly disguised mistake — which is why we don’t use that term in our business.  Between the DOW and our ongoing communications with our clients, there is never any doubt as to the difference between an outright error and a mere “complication.”  The truth is, neither matters when it comes to our obligation to do the right thing, on time and within budget.

Knowing Our Numbers

Inside Strite

Every now and then we confront the perception in our market that “STRITE is expensive.”  Our usual reply is that we’re simply realistic.  “Knowing our numbers” is more than just a point of professional pride at STRITE — it is part of the value we bring to our clients when we undertake a remodel project.

Knowing what things cost, based on years of experience with a wide variety of remodel situations, comes from tracking every cost for every project we’ve ever completed.  This knowledge benefits our clients in two very tangible ways: it makes for an accurate estimate at the outset of a job (which translates into a fixed-price contract), and it ensures the absence of “change orders” through the life of the project.

From our perspective, change orders are too often used as a way to cover a contractor’s mistake in estimating a project, or in failing to anticipate a problem along the way.  If we neglect to budget for a detail in our description of work, we don’t issue a change order — we simply make it right at our expense.  Mistakes have their consequences, but those consequences should never be borne by our clients.  Learning curves are a cost of doing business.

What STRITE does have to cover the possibility that our clients will expand the scope of a project is what we call an “additional work request,” or AWR.”  Note that unlike the change order, the operative word in AWR is “request.”  There are points in any project where a client might want to address a wish list item that wasn’t part of the original description of work (DOW).  Say, for example, that as part of a kitchen remodel we are replacing vinyl flooring with hardwood, and the client decides that they’d really like to take out the carpeting in the adjoining family room and extend the hardwood into that space as well.  If it wasn’t part of the DOW, it becomes an AWR.

In putting together a job estimate, we generally counsel our clients that additional work requests will probably make up between three to five percent of a job.  This means that for a $100,000 project it is realistic to expect that a client might choose to add $3,000 – $5,000 in additional requests for products (think appliance upgrades), materials (how about granite instead of tile), and services (could we just go ahead and bump out that breakfast nook and pick up some more space in the kitchen as long as we’re reframing).  Industry wide, our percentage of AWRs (vs. change orders) is very small, which suggests to us that our planning and estimating phase in the description of work process is thorough…and that our numbers weren’t based on inadequate allowances designed to jack up revenue or “buy the job.”

When remodeling companies fail to “know their numbers,” they either shift the burden of their ignorance to their clients, or they lose money.  Either way, they most likely don’t stay in business for very long.  So while it may sound a bit arrogant, we feel very confident in stating that if we tell you that a remodel project will cost $20,000, and someone else tells you the price is $10,000, you need to be wary.  At the very least, you need to ask, “Do you know your numbers?”

What Does “Value” Mean?

Inside Strite

Whenever we consider a remodel project with a client, the discussion inevitably turns to the topic of “value.”  Sure, the concept can seem a bit trite, if not hackneyed, but the first thing we try to do is to disassociate its definition from that of “cost.”  The lowest bid on a remodel project is no more a metric of value than the highest bid — and while the concept of “return on investment” may make sense in the business realm, it doesn’t translate as neatly into the math of a home remodel.

Value, as it turns out, is something you experience — and at STRITE, we believe that it is an experience with many facets to it.

For us, the concept of value starts with how we see our business, which is to provide a high quality service and product.  If you think about a “higher calling” associated with any business, ours is to fulfill a community need — and after all, improving peoples‘ homes is certainly an investment in the quality of a community.  Focusing on this aspect of our business model, rather than on simply making money, forms the basis of how we look at value.  To this, we add integrity (doing what we do honestly and professionally), talent, and experience.

To compare the value that competing companies offer is a tricky proposition when choosing a remodeler, since it would ultimately require homeowners to have the same project completed by several different companies — something that simply doesn’t happen in the real world.  The truth is, any good remodeler should end up producing the same, or roughly the same, outcome when it comes to fulfilling a client’s needs.  What happens in getting to that outcome is where value is experienced.

It may seem a bold statement, but we are the only construction company in our residential remodel market that doesn’t say, “We can’t do it.”  We’ve learned over the years that everything can be done…you just have to understand the parameters associated with doing it.  Helping our clients work through those parameters is another component of how STRITE adds value — one that also informs the culture of our company, and how we work together and with our trades partners.

 

Defining Integrity in the Remodeling Business

Inside Strite

Recently, a client looked over our final invoice at the completion of a project and compared it to our original “description of work” (DOW).  “I know you guys did a lot of additional stuff during this remodel.  You should include those things in the invoice and show their value, even if you aren’t charging for them,” he commented.  Our response was that the additional paperwork wasn’t really worth our effort as long as he appreciated what had been done — which was really the point to begin with.

His observation, however, got us to thinking about the way we look at integrity in our business.  How we define that term is a frequently asked question that we can answer in six words: keeping our end of the agreement — which is, of course, another way of saying “doing the things we said we were going to do.”  As an integral part of the STRITE culture, this value goes beyond the notion of contractual obligation.  Sure, our contracts require us to produce what we’ve agreed to on paper, but our interpretation of “integrity” is more about truly having the best interests of our customers in mind.

In terms of how our definition of integrity is experienced by our customers (besides seeing things accomplished beyond the DOW), it involves maintaining a critical eye throughout the life of a project in order to present options that will create a better outcome.  It is important to point out, however, that presenting these options does not necessarily mean adding cost, but instead ensuring that down the road our clients don’t find themselves wishing something had been done differently when an alternative could have been presented earlier in the process.  From a client perspective, you might say that our sense of integrity is felt most keenly as an absence of regret.  For us, it simply means viewing our obligation to our clients as going beyond the particulars of the description of work.  Fulfilling a contract is one thing, leaving your customers with an abiding sense of fulfillment is quite another — it’s a seeming intangible that is at the heart of what the word “integrity” means to STRITE.

An Addition Serves as Guest Room and Library

Addition

It would be wonderful if every room in our home could be devoted to one single purpose, but most of us need to take a more practical approach to efficient use of our living space.  In the case of this addition remodel, our client chose to combine the part time function of guest room with the full time function of library — while including a bathroom that could switch hit.

Vision

Our client wanted to add a space to the front of her home to provide overnight guests a place to stay.  At the same time, she wanted the space to function as a library for the majority of the time that it would not be inhabited by visitors.

Challenge

At the point where the new addition was to join the home there was a multilevel walkway.  We raised the addition to connect to this walkway via a porch entry.  Rather than simply add a room, we wanted to create a more self-contained suite to include a bathroom that would be available both to those staying in the guest room, and to anyone else in this part of the home — which up to this point had not been served by an accessible bathroom.

Accomplishment

To ensure that the bathroom served its dual purpose within a limited space, we created an oversized room with a pocket door that separated the full bath accessible to the guest room/library from a powder room accessible to the public space within the addition — a feature that truly defined the new room as a place for overnight guests, and not just a space for those wanting to enjoy a good book in a tranquil ambiance.

Highlights

Our addition was too small to have its own furnace, so we solved the problem of how to control the climate of the area by using a ductless heating/cooling unit that we discreetly  installed in the library shelving unit.  Since our client wanted to incorporate an original window treatment as part of the addition’s decor, we had a custom window created to accommodate this.

Click on photos to enlarge. 

 

 

 

Simple Changes Yield Big Improvements

Bathroom Remodel

At Strite Design & Remodel, we believe that a hallmark of good design is finding simple solutions that yield big enhancements — both in the functionality of a living space as well as its esthetics.  This bathroom remodel is a prime example of that philosophy.

Vision

With this bathroom remodel, our client was looking for greater ease of access to their toilet.  The original design was more than just awkward — it involved having to go through a doorway that led from their shower.  Finding a solution to this little design flaw also provided the perfect opportunity to give the master bathroom an updated look.

Challenge

While the goal of this remodel seems straightforward, making everything come together was a complex design challenge.  We needed to create a new doorway to the toilet so that it would be accessible from the main bathroom area, rather than from the shower.  In blocking off the old shower-to-toilet entrance, we were able to address another design flaw: the necessity of stepping up onto a platform to get into the shower itself.  This created an added inconvenience of having to walk through a puddle to get to the toilet if the shower had just been used.

Accomplishment

By creating a doorway to the toilet, we not only made it more accessible, but gave it a new sightline that looked into the larger room rather than directly into a shower wall.  Although we kept the original glass block wall for the shower, we reduced the number of angles in the room by making the wall a curved surface.  Rather than having to step up into the shower, now that access to the toilet was not an issue, we sloped the entry into it — which had the added benefit of creating a drying off area that wouldn’t leave a puddle on the bathroom floor.

Highlights

Along with solving the practical issues that the original bathroom design presented, we updated the tile, color scheme, and fixtures to give the room a more contemporary look.  Borrowing a sightline from an adjacent space — a technique we use in a lot of design situations — created a visual appeal that went beyond the surface alterations.  If form follows function, both should serve to enhance the experience of a place.

Click on photos to enlarge.