Are You Asking?

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“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes.” – Albert Einstein
 

Identifying a renovation contractor who “best fits” you and your project is a problem solving process.  Simplifying the process requires asking good questions.  And not just your questions, but questions the contractor asks as well.  You, as a customer, ultimately want to know “Am I getting value worth my money?”, while the contractor (at least a reputable one) wants to know, “Am I getting money worth my value?”  A “fit” happens when both sides can confidently answer “yes”.

Here are 7 questions to ask and answer before moving forward with a renovation.

How long will I live in the house I’m renovating? If you’re planning to move within 2 years a major renovation probably wouldn’t make sense.  You’re not likely to recoup money invested. 
How does the renovation process differ from contractor to contractor?Every contractor is different.  Knowing how long a renovation takes, the disruption it causes, how and when selections are made, how change orders are processed, the warranties offered, and other details about the process will help you match yourself with the right contractor.   
How much will I spend?  This may be the most important question you answer.  Coming up with a range is good, but a fixed price is best.  You may need to be educated on how much things cost, but don’t make an impulse decision.  Know your spending limits.
Where do I need help clarifying and describing the renovation I want?   If you need assistance, a design build approach gives you the best idea of what you’ll receive before actually starting construction.
What are reasonable expectations about service and responsiveness?  Expecting daily updates is likely overkill, but not hearing from your contractor in several days is not good.  Weekly communication should be the expectation.  Always wise to stay up to date with your renovation. 
What happens after the project?  Don’t fall victim to a disappearing contractor.  His role after the renovation is every bit as important as his role during it.  Should simple questions or major issues arise, you’ll want a contractor who is responsive to your concerns. 
What have other customers experienced?  Pay close attention when speaking with references.  Obviously, a contractor will provide positive references who say nice things about their work.  Which is helpful (identifying strengths), but you’ll also want to identify “red flags”, or areas where the contractor could improve. Asking a reference appropriate questions will help you figure out those details.  Also, check reviews. Anything you can learn about the contractor’s track record is beneficial. 

These are just a few questions, and they can vary. Just don’t miss an opportunity to ask.  Be professional, be specific, be straightforward, but always ask.  The big question is: What will you ask when your renovation depends on it?               
 

Invest in Trust

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Earlier this month we hosted approximately 60 guests at our first Lunch & Renovate event. 

For those unable to attend, our event was designed to build deeper relationships of trust. That should sound familiar because the tagline “Building Trust” is on our trucks and marketing material. This tagline has become somewhat of an obsession. We're passionate about establishing and protecting relationships of trust, which leads to some obvious questions. Why all the emphasis on trust? What Return On Investment (ROI) does trust offer?
After all, why obsess about trust when actual results are more important? (Short answer: the best results require trust. I’ll elaborate.)

Here’s 7 reasons why we obsess over building trust.   
 

  1. Trust Enhances Clarity. Clear expectations are established and fulfilled when there’s trust. This prevents unproductive habits of speculation and guesswork.    
  2. Trust Establishes Stability. "Surprises" can derail a project. A relationship of trust addresses small problems before they become big problems. The result is stability and decreased anxiety. 
  3. Trust Enables Efficiency. Trustworthy people follow through on commitments.  Less time is wasted “back tracking” to deal with incomplete work. 
  4. Trust Expands Potential. People who interact and operate on a strong foundation of trust accomplish more together than individually. If you want to tap into one of the greatest resources on the planet (people) you’ll need trust. 
  5. Trust Empowers Communication. Trusting someone means you ask and answer straightforward questions without feeling threatened. You can also listen wholeheartedly without doubts in your mind.   
  6. Trust Ensures Protection. A trusting relationships is characterized by “looking out” for the other person. That involves guarding against potential threats to their resources, reputation, or family.    
  7. Trust Endures Setbacks. Encountering problems is a great litmus test for trust. When bad things happen true relationships of trust are revealed, and real help can be provided.     

Bottom line: Trust Enriches Relationships.
We realize building trust requires time, patience and effort - all of which we gladly give to establish relationships. We also realize broken trust is hard to earn back. This is why we quickly acknowledge mistakes, and make every effort to correct them.  We are committed to seek, protect and ultimately build trust. In case you haven't noticed, your trust is quite valuable to us!      

Warm Weather Renovations

Believe it or not, nice weather is coming.

And when it does, how do you plan to enjoy it?  
Here are 5 renovations for soaking up more of the great outdoors.

1. Patio Doorways & WindowsOpen your home to a better view, more natural light, and pleasant outside temps by installing large patio folding doors. And when no thermostat is required, welcome those glorious temps inside with folding windows.

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2. Porches and Decks – They make going outside easy. And in case you’re wondering, porches are covered and decks are uncovered. A porch or deck renovation will add more space, aesthetic appeal, and value to a home.

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3. Gazebos or Pergolas – Relatively easy and inexpensive to build, these structures also add value to your home.  They provide a designated space for outdoor relaxing.  Pergolas offer more light with open rafters while gazebos have a covered roof for more shade.

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4. Hardscapes – Two words: Low Maintenance. Unlike grass, these hard surfaces won’t grow weeds or require water. Instead, this renovation enhances the visual appeal of your landscape, while providing more space for outdoor entertaining.

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5. Outdoor Kitchens – No traveling to a restaurant required.  Fine dining is waiting just beyond your back door. And strong food odors? These unwelcome guest stay outside.

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Good Timing

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How long should a major renovation take?

Renovations can be unpredictable. Each is unique and creating a realistic timeline is part science, part art. One thing is certain: Accurate renovation timelines are based on careful legwork, not guesswork.

From a customer’s perspective here’s how that legwork looks.

1.       Pay attention to small promises. Little things like arriving on time, receiving references when promised, and getting a follow-up call when scheduled all indicate how a contractor manages time, and ultimately how well he’ll manage your project. Speaking of references, check them. They, combined with online reviews help you evaluate a contractor’s promise keeping ability. Sometimes more in depth information is available in the form of customer surveys. A track record of fulfilling promises (both large and small) indicates an ability to keep a project running on time.            

2.       Seek “bad news” sooner than later. Large problems are avoided if they’re addressed early. For example, hearing about a delay a week before it happens creates a much smaller dilemma than finding out moments before it happens. What if out of town guests are coming and you need this step complete before their arrival? Suddenly making adjustment for everything else becomes significantly more difficult.    

3.       Clarify the scope of work. Or, maybe a better way to say this is Identify Your Assumptions. A detailed scope of work clarifies expectations for both customer and contractor. Know what is included and not included in your renovation. Forming a reasonable timeline is possible once expectations are clear. Without a detailed scope, assumptions eventually lead to confusion, frustration, inefficiency and delay.  Not to mention, contractors can be held accountable when a clear scope is created and communicated in writing before construction.

4.       Make selections before construction. Deciding on the right fixtures, hardware, flooring, paint colors, etc can take time, but should never interfere with construction. Making these decisions during construction only bogs down the construction schedule.

5.       Get the drawings. Putting a well-crafted design or drawing on paper helps you and your contractor share the same vision for your renovation. Otherwise you may visualize one thing and your contractor something entirely different. Don’t rely on your contractor to guess what you’re thinking. Inevitably, this leads to inefficiency and an unreliable timeline. 

6.       Establish a fixed price.  This may sound obvious, but starting a project based only on estimates is far too common, just like the delays they cause. Your goal as a homeowner is to eliminate unexpected costs. To be clear, not every uncertainty can be eliminated. What you find once you start tearing down walls is really anyone’s guess.  The point is stopping a project because of cost will destroy a timeline. Know what you’ll pay before you start.

7.       Know the change order process. You as a customer may decide to increase the scope of your renovation during construction. This happens frequently, but an unclear change order process can lead to huge delays.  Have your contractor clarify his/her change order process before moving into construction.       

Good contractors anticipate your questions/concerns in each of these areas, and offer established processes for you to follow. As you consider your next renovation, save yourself time (and needless frustration) with an accurate project timeline, not based on guesswork. After all, a little extra legwork is well worth the time!

Renovation Laws of the Universe

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Production

  1. Don't be hurt by a little dirt. Work sites can get messy. Keep in mind it is a WORK space, and some dust & debris is expected. Trades and carpenters are responsible to maintain a level of cleanliness, organization and safety, but deep cleaning and detailing happens after the work is complete.
  2. Stick to the scope. Existing imperfections not addressed in the scope of work will still exist at the end of a renovation. Examples include:                                                               *Trim not replaced or painted will still have old paint & stain imperfections.                       *Foundation problems will negatively impact a new renovation potentially                          causing floors not to be level and walls out of square.                                                         *Marginal electrical and plumbing won’t improve unless included in the renovation             scope.
  3. Acknowledge the unknown.There is no way to know for certain what is inside existing walls, ceilings, and floors until they are open and exposed.
  4. See colors change. Paint & stain colors appear different based on lighting, surface type, material type (wood, brick, hardie plank, etc) and even angle of viewing.
  5. Give up match making. Matching an existing stain perfectly is impossible.
  6. Blend in, but not seamlessly. Seams are part of a counter top hard surfaces. They can blend into the surface, but can not be completely invisible.

Scheduling

  1. Anticipate inactivity. Sometimes on site physical activity slows to a halt, and that doesn't always indicate a scheduling delay. Actual delays (those that push back the project end date) will be communicated by the Project Manager.
  2. Permit a permitting delay. Local permitting and inspection offices operate on a schedule outside the General Contractor’s control, which may contribute to scheduling delays.
  3. Weather the storms. Poor weather negatively impacts a renovation schedule. 
  4. Specialize in patience when special ordering. Special orders have been known to create scheduling delays. Delivery and product condition of a special order impact when it can be installed.
  5. Expect a variety of inspectors. Different code inspectors interpret codes differently. Sometimes satisfying a particular inspector requires extra time, effort, and possibly, unexpected modifications.
  6. Stay ahead of invoicing. Invoices are issued prior to milestones, but due at the milestone. This form of proactive scheduling keeps your project moving efficiently.

Communication

  1. Pinpoint your project point person.Communicating directly with trades can unknowingly complicate a renovation. Keep communication channels clear and current with an appropriate point person, or Project Manager.
  2. Get routine updates. Expect (at minimum) weekly written updates from your Project Manager. Anything longer and small problems grow into large problems. 
  3. Don't let concerns linger. Immediately notify your Project Manager if you see a problem. If your concerns go unresolved, notify the Production Superintendent. If still unresolved, go to the business Owners.  Unresolved concerns breaks down trust, and makes for a miserable experience.
  4. Communicate what you don't appreciate. Trades and carpenters are meant to uphold the values of your General Contractor. When that doesn't occur a project manager needs to be notified. Renovation teams are only as strong as their weakest link, so definitely communicate if someone acts "out of character" with the business. 
  5. Make progress accessible. Communicate any special instructions for gaining access to the work site throughout the day. An extra set of keys or lock box is helpful. Being unable to access all aspects of a job site creates production delays. 
  6. Help them help you. Communicate any unique needs involving pets, noise, dust, etc. prior to the renovation. This info keeps everyone safe and comfortable throughout construction.
  7. Outline the "off limits". Communicate areas not suitable for dumpsters, parking, portable toilet, and staging materials prior to the start of the project. The less time spent moving stuff means more time spent being productive.
  8. Minimize outside damage. Communicate any special landscaping needs outside your home. Keeping your yard from damage is a top priority during a major renovation.   






 

What Did You Expect?

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Since 2007 we’ve completed literally hundreds of renovations. Over that time we’ve identified the single most important element to a successful renovation is establishing Clear Expectations.
As you can imagine guesswork and unwanted surprises create big problems during a renovation.  To be clear (notice how I’m clarifying expectations here) no process completely eliminates every surprise. Still, you can and should always establish clear expectations in regards to price, timeline, scope, communication, and warranty before moving into construction. 
Here are five reasons to hire a contractor committed to clarifying expectations:

  1. Price is Firm. A renovation with a fluctuating price can feel like a scary roller coaster. Clear price expectations require legwork from your contractor, and those willing to do this legwork are typically worth your business. Agreeing to a fixed price is the best way to avoid being trapped in a renovation with unknown, or escalating expenses.
  2. Time is Honored. Waiting is hard enough, but when you’re uncertain about how long, or even why, it can be excruciating. Good contractors outline schedules and communicate delays so you can avoid this anxiety. Don’t misunderstand. Waiting will be required. Renovations don’t happen as fast as you see on HGTV.  However, clear time expectations from the start makes your wait much easier.
  3. Value is Defined. Not all contractors are created equal. Some leave you wondering, “Why did I pay so much (or so little) for my renovation?” Answer: Value was never established or documented. In other words, be certain your contractor knows what level of quality and service you expect before any agreement is reached .     
  4. Trust is Built. Trust is so important because few things in life go exactly as planned. A good contractor communicates and addresses his mistakes when they happen. Problems only grow larger when ignored.  Asking for references and reading reviews help shape an accurate expectation of a contractor’s credibility.  
  5. Service is Ongoing. Unfortunately some problems become evident after a project is complete. This is especially difficult when a contractor is unwilling to return. Understanding the warranty must happen before a project ever starts. Ask your contractor how warranty related issues are handled. Again, check his track record by reading reviews and contacting references. Knowing your contractor stands behind his work brings valuable peace of mind.        

Eventually you will know if you and your contractor share the same expectations regarding price, time to complete, scope of work, communication, and warranty.  The key is clarifying these expectations before it's too late.   

Our Open Letter

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Dear customer, trade partner, and Upstate Community:

Hope you're enjoying Autumn in the Upstate! We composed this open letter to address something we care deeply about.  

In their September issue, Remodeling magazine named Daniel Builders among the “Big 50” best remodelers in the country (see article here). This recognition is indeed a “Big” honor, but far from our biggest. It pales in comparison to serving the greatest customers, working alongside the best trade partners, and being part of a phenomenal Upstate community. In fact, the best part of this award was representing our relationships of trust on a national level.

For that we express deep, heartfelt gratitude. Thank you for making the Big 50 possible!

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Sincerely,

The Daniel Builders Team