The 3 Percent

Reviews

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has worked in or with the remodeling industry that we live and die based on case studies, testimonials…and, of course, reviews.

All of which have served STRITE design + remodeling well over our 40-year history. Very well, indeed. So much so, that when asked how we differentiate ourselves from our competitors, we typically defer to our clients’ experiences. It is not hyperbole to observe that those experiences are stated far more eloquently than anything we say about ourselves (at least publicly). They are, in fact, representative of what we like to call “the STRITE experience.”

Such is the ubiquity of that experience that of the many reviews posted on the industry association website, Guild Quality, 97 percent stated that they would refer us to a friend or family member. Of the 3 percent that would not, it’s worth noting that none of their reviews were based on a failure to fulfill our contractual obligations. Instead, they were based on a negative experience of the fulfillment process.

To think of our “approval rating” more colloquially, image being in a room of 100 people, all of whom have done business with you. Now, imagine that 97 of those people would unhesitatingly recommend doing business with you to a loved one. With that amount of collective endorsement, you might wonder how the other three could have had such a conflicting experience. It would be easy to dismiss this minority as some dubious anomaly — or an affirmation of the conventionally accepted truth that you can’t be all things to all people.

Instead, we find the 3% to be the exception that proves the rule: the rule being that you deviate from proven processes at your own peril. When you do, you risk something more important than falling short of your clients’ expectations. You fall short of your own.

The most recent case in point is a review we received on the residential construction and remodeling website Houzz. There amidst all the five-star reviews is a scathing one-star criticism that is, hands down, the worst thing a client has ever said about us. It hurts…but there it is…and it’s hard not to get defensive about it. But a client’s experience is their experience — and when that experience fails to reach the five-star level we base our brand on, we have to look hard at when and how the disconnect took place.

At the heart of any client experience — good or bad — is communication. How well we keep our clients engaged in the remodel process is critical to their experience of it. In the case of those experiences that fall short of our goal, we typically find a disconnect between how we communicated with a client and that client’s communication style. In the case of our one-star review, our project manager provided the client with twice daily project updates by phone, at her request, rather than generate written reports following each communication. In retrospect, it would have been far better, when it came to resolving subsequent disputes, if we had maintained a more rigorous “paper trail.” Memories of what is said in verbal conversation can, after all, be faulty on all sides of the exchange.

The repairs referred to in the Houzz review had to do with dust that infiltrated the client’s wardrobe — for which we were presented with a nearly $4,000 dry cleaning estimate. We should here state for the record that we were not given the opportunity to assess this damage first hand. Although mitigation of demolition and construction impacts on a home throughout the remodel process is something on which we pride ourselves — and despite having isolated the construction area from the rest of the home — we took the client at her word and credited the amount requested in full.

One of our takeaways from this experience was a re-evaluation of our dust protection methods. Tools and techniques change over the years, and part of our job as an industry leader is to constantly improve on how we do what we do. In the case of our techniques for dust protection, we came away from this one-star project with a mitigation scheme that is far more rigorous — which only goes to show that people who cause you to do better work are to be appreciated, regardless of what they may say about you.

And this brings us to a final reflection on the other 3%. Yes, you can’t please all the people all the time — but as long as you make that your aim rather than dismiss it as a unrealistic objective, you’re more likely to end up with 97 out of 100 people who would refer you to a friend or family member. In the end, it’s what we learn from the three percent of folks who weren’t completely satisfied about working with us that makes the other 97% happy they did.

What Are the Advantages to Working With Strite design + remodel?

It’s important to keep in mind that retrofitting a space is more complex than building something from the ground up. This is true even when adding onto your home, as it will still require blending the new structure into an existing one and connecting all the necessary services (e.g., electrical, heating and plumbing, etc.) to the original home.

Other factors involved include maintaining the livability of the existing home for family and pets throughout the process — which is a situation unique to remodeling, and one that STRITE is experienced at handling.

There are many advantages to working with STRITE when considering the above. Among these are:

  • STRITE design + remodel incorporates design and planning into all of our remodeling projects, and we have in-depth remodeling experience as well as a thorough understanding of its cost.
  • Having in-house design professionals allows STRITE to keep the budget in mind throughout the design process. This solidifies the cost effectiveness of STRITE’s systems and processes.
  • STRITE has a reputation for excellence. We invite you to view our client list and talk to past clients about their experience with us.
  • STRITE’s team approach — maintaining its core team members for the past 20 years — has been a primary factor in providing excellent customer service.
  • STRITE is a local and national award-winning company that has served the remodeling needs of Treasure Valley residents since 1975.
  • STRITE is a member of GuildQuality, a third-party customer satisfaction survey and reporting company, and has been recognized as a Guildmaster or Guildmaster with Distinction for the last five years in a row. According to GuildQuality, over 97% of our customers surveyed since 2006 would recommend STRITE design + remodel to others, compared to a national average of 60%.

The Emotional Roller-coaster of Your Remodel

Ever wonder how you might feel while remodeling your home?

 

We understand the difficulty making decisions, allowing newly-met people into your home, seeing your house under demolition and construction, and above all trusting a remodel contractor with your investment. Understanding what you’re going through helps us cater to your needs and our unique process allows us to work together on your remodel.

What to do?

When folks are considering remodeling, the question that often arises is should we stay and remodel, or should we find what we want and move.

Lets assume your home is a 3 bed, 3 bath, 2,100 square foot home.  You would like to add another bedroom and bathroom because one of your bedrooms is small and is being used as an office.  The size of this addition would be about 200 – 250 square feet (bedroom, closet, bath).

Several factors to consider:

  • Costs of moving, inconveniences, neighbors.

Costs:

  • Listing and commission costs.  Showing your home.  Moving costs.  Fix up prior to selling.  Buying new furniture for new home.  Typically 6% of the home’s price.
  • Surprises – you know what you have now, but what are you getting?  Even a good inspection will miss something, we see often (see this post about shower).
  • Packing and moving costs: we called Chris Borchers who is the manager of Crosstown Movers (many of our clients have used and have great things to say), and he states that a 2,000 square foot home will cost about $1,560 plus materials estimated in the $400 range.  This includes packing up the contents, loading onto truck, and unloading at new home – but not unpacking (you get to do that…);
  • Larger house, more property taxes.
  • Larger house, more operating costs – insurance, gas, electrical, landscaping, etc…
  • Other fees – closing costs, change in address,
  • Fixing up existing home for resale, estimate $2,000 (can vary widely);
  • New furniture/appliances, blinds, etc.  for new home, estimate $2,000.
  • Neighbors, school district.  One level home.
  • Depending on situation, home equity may be eaten up in new purchase.

A Question of Balance

How STRITE returned an HVAC system to its comfort zone

The paradox of remodeling is finding limitless opportunity in constraint. It’s kind of a zen thing — and if you’ve been doing it for four decades, it definitely colors the way you look at so called obstacles. Just ask STRITE president and “field marshal” Bob Mundy — a man for whom challenges are but thinly disguised opportunities.

Take a recent Southeast Boise project, for example. To realize our clients’ vision of opening up their floor plan to bring their kitchen, dining, and family rooms into a more unified space (the better in which to entertain, now that their nest was empty), we had to first remove load bearing walls. While the most obvious challenge in doing this (one we face quite often) was in finding structural support alternatives, we also needed to reroute the hidden infrastructure of wires, pipes, and ducts.

For the most part, finding new paths for plumbing and electrical conduits is a fairly mundane, if not always expeditious, exercise — one in which matters of efficiency typically rule the day. In the case of this project, however, Bob saw an opportunity to improve on the home’s comfort as well as its esthetics. To appreciate the challenge in which that opportunity was embedded, there are some things you first need to know about the world of HVAC. We’ll let Bob explain.

“Most two-story homes built in the ‘70s, as was the case with our clients’ house, have an HVAC design that does a poor job of balancing climate. In short, the upstairs is generally too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. Trying to correct this with control units that are typically on the ground floor means making the downstairs, where people generally live during the day, uncomfortable…not to mention driving up utility costs. The answer, in most cases, is to add a secondary system for a dual zone approach — but that option just wasn’t in the budget with this project.”

The HVAC ductwork in our clients’ home — what we call a “3×10” ducting system — went up through stud walls that we were taking out. For Bob, rerouting the ducts was unavoidable, but he wanted to do it in a way that would address the system’s inefficiencies. Following a brainstorming session with our HVAC trades folk, he came up the breakthrough concept of relocating the system’s trunk line, which had previously been located in a downstairs crawl space, to the attic by going up through the floor system via a downstairs pantry and then through an upstairs bedroom closet (both of which we then closed off). From this new location upstairs the system branched off to condition the house through vents we added under the home to replace those in the walls we removed. Since the return air and thermostat wasn’t balancing the upper floor with the newly opened area below, we moved the thermostat to the top of the stairs.

“We ended up with a system that far exceeds our clients’ air conditioning needs,” Bob reports. “Their master suite upstairs is very cool and we got a balance throughout the house without replacing or adding another unit — just by revamping the ducting. We probably saved between $5,000 and $7,000 with that approach, which we’ve since used again in another similar situation. We could have taken the attitude that since the ideal solution wasn’t in the budget, we’d simply walk away from it. As it was, we found an alternative that worked out beautifully.”

As it turns out, there’s thinking outside the box…and then there’s thinking outside the crawlspace.

Hit on this link to learn more about the goals of this remodel and see more pictures.

Hit here to go to another article with more pictures and the detailed process behind the remodel of this home.

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Client Relations and the Cost of Doing Business

Client Relationships

Any credible company will blithely profess that taking care of customers is just “good business.”  Ingraining good customer service into an organizational culture, however, involves an investment of time (which equals money) that not all businesses are willing to make.

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 appreciate how customer relations shape the STRITE culture and its business practices, I recently interviewed vice president Brad Milspaugh on the subject.

Q: Why are customer relations such an important component of a successful remodeling business?

A: We joke that our project managers need to major in construction and minor in psychology, but when you think about it, we’re spending every day in situations that are inherently stressful — we’re going into peoples’ homes, into some of their most intimate settings, and completely transforming them.  That in itself puts people in a pretty vulnerable mindset, and we have to be sensitive to that.

Q: How do we promote good customer relations among our project team?

A: The first thing we do is practice the techniques we’ve learned from “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” These include always looking for the “win-win” in a situation and seeking first to understand. That last technique is especially important when you have a customer who is upset about something.  We’ve learned that the best initial response to a customer concern is to simply shut up and listen. Another important attribute of our project managers is the ability to stay calm. Bringing a sense of calm to a situation that is inherently stressful is vital to keeping our customers calm as well.

Q: How important are good communication skills?

A: Extremely important — but good communication goes beyond interpersonal dynamics. It starts with the systems we put in place to keep our customers in the loop on their remodel projects. Over the years, we’ve built layers into our tracking and reporting systems in order to accommodate different customer personality types. This means including levels of detail that satisfy a more “engineering” mentality, or keeping things more high level for customers who simply want to know if we’re on track with deadlines and budget, but don’t want to get into the weeds. Every week, our clients receive an email update of their project status tailored to their particular “need to know.”

Q: What else matters to customers?

A: Responsiveness. We don’t like to get a phone call in the middle of the night from a customer who says that the tarp protecting their construction site just blew off in a windstorm, but we have to not only take that call, but respond to it by going out and fixing the problem. In a case like that, just listening isn’t enough.

Q: What is most upsetting to customers?

A: Not being kept in the loop. When we fail to adequately communicate, and our customers have to contact us to find out what is going on with their project, that’s simply not acceptable. Which brings up another aspect of good customer relationships — the inevitability of error, and our willingness to take ownership for our mistakes and fix them without playing “the blame game.”

Q: What is it about practicing good customer relations that makes it a cost of doing business?

A: When we take on any remodel project, one of the things we tell our customers is that after we’ve created the budget, the description of work, and the project calendar, the only wildcard is them. We don’t mean this in a negative way, but simply to recognize that indecisiveness or tortured decision making can add delays and cost. We’re generally pretty good at recognizing these types of situations up front, and we build it into what we call our “dollars versus relationship transaction” rather than put the burden back on the client when issues arise. I think most of our clients recognize that the more they contribute to the efficiency of the process, the more it benefits them in the end…and that the reverse is equally true — but we’ll treat everyone with the same respect and professionalism regardless. As in any relationship, the true test is how well you hang in there through the not so good times as well as the good times.

 

How Long is it Going to Take?

FAQ

A client once showed us an ad from a bathroom remodeling company that she had clipped from the daily paper.  In it, the remodeler claimed that they could complete a bathroom makeover in one day. “Why is it taking you three weeks?”, she asked.

The fact of the matter is that in our business the second most frequently asked question after “how much” is “how long.”

Discarding the possibility that the bathroom remodeler in the ad used a time projection more in keeping with Genesis than with a 24-hour day, the simplest explanation is that things take what they take — and not all remodel projects are created equal. In planning a remodel in which a number of trades are involved, one can’t simply assume that things will be done simultaneously. Scheduling a dry wall installer, a hardwood floor installer, and a painter in any order other than sequentially is a recipe for disaster, if not chaos and compromised quality. If each trade in the sequence takes a week to complete their tasks per the Description of Work (DOW), you’re looking at three weeks. That’s how the real world works, based on the Gregorian calendar.

That said, there are 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. This is especially important when it comes to scheduling work by trades with typically long lead times — concrete and excavation being two such examples. (To better appreciate the relationships we cultivate with our trades partners, we encourage you to read our blog, Don’t Call Them “Subs”!).

Regardless of what a remodeling company may tell you about their project completion time — through an advertisement or in person — the litmus test for their ability to meet a project deadline is how they respond when you ask them for a calendar. What you will likely discover is that most remodeling companies are hesitant to provide project calendars because they don’t believe they can adhere to them — and the most likely reason they can’t is that they don’t have control of their tradespeople. Because of the relationships we have established over the years with our trades, we are in the enviable position of having them build their schedules around ours, rather than vice versa. That makes all the difference in the world when it comes to answering the second most common question in the remodeling business.

Remodeling as a Metaphor for Life

Recommendations

“I appreciate that everyone wants to manage a budget, but I’ve learned that the last 20 percent you don’t want to put into it is the 20 percent that really distinguishes it in the end.”

“You can decide not to go there and end up with something ‘ho hum,’ or invest it and be glad you did.” — CJ (a STRITE client in Boise’s North End)

It would be ever so nice if we could have whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted it, with no conditions or compromises attached — but the fact is that we all live in the real world.  And if we didn’t discover this by the time we were two years old, there’s nothing like a remodel project to bring us hurtling back to the reality that life is about trade-offs.

STRITE designer Michael Snow recently shared an online article with us on this very theme, and we thought it worth passing along with some insights of our own.  The article, “Where Should I Splurge and Where Should I Save Money in a Home Remodel,” should be required reading for anyone contemplating a remodel, and the advice mirrors the discussions we have with nearly every client we work with at the outset of a project.  While we encourage you to read the entire article (along with its excellent sidebar links), we’d like to amplify on some of points it raises.

Very few, if any, remodeling projects will return 100% of your investment, so the decision to remodel should be more about your enjoyment of your home and getting more out of it. For any space, think about your family’s lifestyle, and spend more on the areas that support those priorities. — If your immediate goal is to put your home on the market, it certainly makes sense to prioritize those fixes/enhancements that will most likely get you a good offer.  In the case of most remodels, however, our advice to our clients is to always focus on how a project will enhance their lifestyle.  The reason we have always insisted on a design/build model for our business is to make sure that we focus on lifestyle priorities at the very outset of a project.  That said, it’s at least encouraging to note that the cost vs. value ratio for remodel projects has actually improved in 2013 for the first time in years.

You don’t want to overspend and possibly price your home way out of proportion to the rest of the neighborhood. — Following this advice has a lot to do with how long you plan to live in your home…which is a similar consideration you need to make when the question of “over customization” comes up.  This may be a more relevant issue to a young family than to an older couple, especially if that older couple is looking at modifications aimed at “aging in place.”  To get a good perspective on keeping remodel projects in line with logical enhancements to the style and function of a home, as well as it’s value within a neighborhood context, take a look at our blog, “Confessions of a Serial Remodeler.”

Invest in the Most Permanent, Fundamental Items. — One of the great advantages of remodeling compared with most new construction is the degree of choice you can exercise over materials that improve the durability, efficiency, and functionality of your home.  A good remodeler can guide you through those choices and help you weed out the things that are “the flavor of the month” versus those with more fundamental and longer lasting value.

Buy Cheaper Alternatives That Look the Same as Premium Materials — Thanks to the Internet, you can do your homework on how to get the look and performance that you’re looking for, without necessarily paying “name brand” prices.   An advantage we have after nearly forty years in the remodeling business is that we can do a lot of this homework for our clients, based on relationships with a long list of suppliers.

Spend More on Your Room’s Focal Points — Something we always take into account in any remodel design is the ways that “line of sight” and “flow” enhance the experience of a living space.  We find this to very often be the case in updating “http://www.stritedr.com/kitchen-remodel-20/”>kitchens, when taking out a wall can connect a key center of family activity with the rest of a home’s public spaces.

Start Off on the Right Foot — The article recommends creating a realistic budget…and then adding 50% “just in case.”  As a remodeling company that has made “knowing our numbers” an essential part of the value we bring to our clients, our general practice is to allow between 3 and 5% for “additional work requests” (AWRs) that typically arise when a client chooses to add or upgrade something to a remodel project beyond the original scope of work.  In other words, give yourself some “wiggle room” if it means the difference between getting what you want and, as CJ so poetically put it, “ho hum.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Qualifications Should You Look For When Choosing a Remodeler?

Next to building or buying a home, a remodel may be one of the biggest investments you’ll ever make — and choosing the right remodeling partner is the single most critical component to whether or not that investment maintains its value.

The best place to start in considering a remodeling partner is to identify those that are registered and/or licensed with the state to do business as remodeling contractors. In addition, check for their membership in local and state remodeling professional organizations, such as NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) and NARI-Idaho, and whether they have certifications in their trades — i.e., Green Certified Professional Certification, Certified Remodeler (CR), Certified Remodeler Specialist (CRS), Certified Remodeler Associate (CRA), Certified Kitchen and Bath Remodeler (CKBR), Certified Lead Carpenter (CLC), Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS), etc.

Other factors to consider include years in business, reputation, recommendations and references, and membership in local business, civic and community organizations. NARI suggests the following questions you should ask prospective remodelers:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Who will be assigned as project supervisor for the job?
  • Who will be working on the project? Are they employees or subcontractors?
  • Does your company carry workers compensation and liability insurance?
  • What is your approach to a project such as mine?
  • How many projects like mine have you completed in the past year?
  • May I have a list of references from those projects?
  • May I have a list of business referrals or suppliers?
  • What percentage of your business is repeat or referral business?

If you are getting competitive bids, be sure to only work with reputable companies.  We also recommend researching articles and tips from industry websites such as RemodelingMag.com and NARIofIdaho.org to learn more about the importance of selecting a professional remodeler.  Another excellent source for information on local remodeling companies is GuildQuality, which publishes surveys of remodel customers in communities throughout the country.

*The photograph shows A STRITE “trades party” convening at the home of a client at the start of a remodel project.

When Does it Make Sense to Remodel?

While people often think of home remodeling as synonymous with building an “addition,” there are a number of reasons it makes sense to remodel besides adding needed living space. Some of the most common reasons that we have seen in our 40 years of residential design and remodel experience are the following.

Updating the Look of Your Home

Like fashion in general, what was once fresh in the layout and design of a home can become stale over time. Believe it or not, harvest gold and avocado were once trendy, but unless you’re way into the “retro” look, you’d probably prefer a more contemporary style for your kitchen. As our case studies demonstrate, Strite has a long track record of design and build updates that wear well with time.

Improving the Functionality of a Living Space

Unless your home was custom built, its design made generic lifestyle assumptions that simply may not apply to you. We find this to be particularly true in the kitchen, where your own unique approach to food and entertaining can make a huge difference in a room’s size, layout and finishes. Your lifestyle and interests are paramount when we address the functional remodel of your home.

Aging in Place

Homes age…and so do we. As we age, we eventually face mobility issues that in turn affect the livability of our homes. Rather than going through the dislocation of moving to a new house, a remodel that transforms obstacles into conveniences (particularly with regard to bathrooms) can be a better option for how we deal with aging in our homes.

To read more about how STRITE design + remodel addresses these and other needs, view the Services page of our website.

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