Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Blog 2: The Sequel

When people have contractors over to “bid” on a project, they’re looking for the cheapest price, I don’t care what you say, you can’t defend yourself here because it’s true.  When you have contractors over to “look” at your project, then we’re talking!  NOW you’re looking for the right PERSON vs the right PRICE.  When I’m doing these blogs I’m assuming that the homeowner has a realistic budget in mind, and they are looking for the right person.  Like I said before, if you want the cheapest guy ‘cause you think it’ll save you money and it’ll give you the same rate of return on your investment as the most expensive, then A you’re wrong, and B just stop reading because this advice is for people who give a crap about their houses and they’re money.
The Good, The Bad, and then there’s Sheldon
How do you determine who is the right renovator/contractor for you?  How did you find him/her in the first place?  Both great questions, but really, the only thing you need to know is the following:  I, Sheldon Stanleigh, will always be the right one for you ;). So let's go on a journey to find out how I came to be taking your money and turning it into your dream ;)
Where to Look and Don't Get Fooled
Yellowpages?  Phonebook?  Magazine Ads?  Online Ads?  Radio?  TV?  All advertising, and all provide a different audience size, with an exponential increase in cost to use.  So does the best use the best?  Simply:  No (generally, obviously there's exceptions).  Advertising has changed multiple times over since its inception, and the way advertisers reach their markets continuously evolves, tack on a healthy dose of Social Media and you've blown the door open to the possibilities.  The best guys don't really spend much on advertising, aside from truck logos and business cards.  Word-of-Mouth is the best way, hands down, and the cheapest (although terrible to use as a write-off).     You'll find the reno companies that advertise consistently and spend the most $ are generally one of two things:  niche specific (ie strictly decks and fences) that need volume, or they are a Franchise friendly company, and sometimes both.  Ever see a Mike Holmes billboard 15 years ago?  Ever see Brian Baumeler on the TV when he was strictly a renovator?  Neither did I.  The best guys are great at what they do, extremely personable, go from one job to the next, and benefit from their clients singing their praises, maybe a truck decal, a sign on the lawn, and a cell phone.  Now, I'm not saying don't pay attention to advertising (coming from the guy with a degree in Media and Culture Communications), however, in my experience, the best person for you is someone you already have a relationship with, whether you know it or not.  If you don't know anyone who has had a reno before, then you start with the ads and call as many people as you feel comfortable with, but start with your friends otherwise.  Your friends or family are the ones with whom you've begun you're relationship to me...er...your contractor with.
Who Ya Gonna Call?
Family and Friends first.  Do you know anyone who recently had a renovation similar to your project (don't call your brothers window guy to do your flooring)?  What was their experience?  Would they use him/her again without thinking?  This information is also great way to compare a finished product in person with what you would like, in order to help determine a realistic budget.  Listen, would you rather open the phonebook randomly, or take a name/number from someone who knows how many people you've slept with??  Trust is key, if you know your source, then the contact should be credible (SHOULD be, hey, its not a perfect world and there's more reno crooks than there are good ones like me).  Now, in saying that, I always encourage getting as many quotes as possible (even at risk of myself losing jobs), so here's where you'll need that phone book or online resource, if for nothing else, but to compare estimates to make sure your family/friends' guy isn't taking advantage of your relationship and over-charging, thinking he/she is a shoe-in for the job.
Welcome Home, Bidder 1, I’m Burning Star 4
So you've got some potential "bidders" on your project coming to take a look (not all at once!).  If you've been following along at home, you should have read my previous Blog, and should have your list of needs and wants.  The next part is up to you, make sure you discuss what you'd like to do, and definitely what you don't want, ensure you are comfortable that the contractor understands what you are looking for.  And remember, unless its against Code, here's Stanleigh Renovations' mantra:  "Nothing is impossible, it all depends on how much you want to spend!".  So don't let them tell you that what you want is impossible, after all, you're first quote will be the one with all the Bells and Whistles.
"So this guy seems nice, he listens to what I'm saying without making faces, has a real interest in my vision, and takes his time with looking at the project". Where do you go from here?  Generally, after the first visit, you're waiting for the estimate.  While you're waiting, you're checking on references, pictures if provided in person, and if possible a website.  How many references should you ask for?  Enough to make you want to conclude he's Mr. Awesome (I'm using "he" as an example, no offence to the "she"s).  Generally you'd like between 5 and 10 related project references, and recent (within the last 2-5 years).  Something I do is to take potential clients to previous and current clients' projects so they see the work in person....I wish more contractors did....no wait....don't do this.....bad idea ;)
Show Me The Money
So we're this far now, and the quotes come in.  You may get everyone within the same rough range, and you may get a huge price difference.  What's important here is to look at the number of the contractor you liked the best in person, had the best references, and the best examples of previous work.  If the number he gave is competitive and within your budget, this is the guy you hire, no matter what the other numbers are, it's that simple.  Sheldon is...er...."He" is the best person for the job.  If his numbers are a little over your budget, and higher than the average, then you know there may be negotiating room, or some room to cut out some things not needed to help reduce the cost.
Back To The Future
So what’s the moral of the story here?  After a good amount of research, you should be able to come up with the right person for your project.  Add one more thing to the mix:  would you go through the future with this person?  You know when you meet someone if you like them, the majority of the time, first impressions are the right ones, and last forever.  If today is a bathroom, and tomorrow is a kitchen, will he be back in the morning?  I know it’s hard to tell without the job actually underway and being completed, but sometimes you can just tell that Sheldon...er...the right one has come along.
Next Blog
What happens  on the second date:  Negotiations, Contracts, and Deposits Oh My.

The First! Focusing on Beginnings

Well, since this is the first Blog of what will hopefully be many for years to come (not to mention the first to help launch the best selling book, the magazine, and movie rights...possibly t-shirts, mugs, tape measures....), I guess I should say “Welcome”....so....WELCOME!!! Thank you for reading, enjoying, and not throwing anything until your finished. As being the first, I would like to start at the beginning of the journey for all home-owners taking the plunge to deciding on their renovation(s), and hiring a contractor/renovator (yes, there is a difference between the two, we’ll save that for a different rant...er...Blog).

Part 1 Focusing on Your Renovation

The first thing to do is focus on your needs. Let’s assume you’re renovating for you, and not to fix up to sell (that’s a whole different situation and future Blog). So you already know you want a new bathroom, for example, but what is it about the current bathroom that is not working for you? Is the tub too small? Too shallow? Wrong location? Does the bathroom need to be bigger? Two sinks or one? Etc. Those you will focus on first as they will be the priority. The next is what will be required for usability and for future-proofing (expanding the family, renovating in a desirable neighbourhood, future design considerations for other rooms are things you’ll want to think about). Just like the little graphic on the TV shows, write a list of what you need and what you want, and have that ready when meeting with potential contractors. Don’t think you’ll be able to answer all the questions yourself, and don’t get overwhelmed, as the right contractor for you will be one that can help you figure this out. Although I can’t tell you what you want, and in the end the decisions are yours, I always help to define the best decision, and keep you up to date on current trends, long lasting designs, and where to focus certain percentages of your budget. It’s important to have your potential client feel like they are the boss, as well as the student at the same time.

The second part of focusing is on your budget. This can get complicated depending on your situation, but let me try and keep it simple: are you looking for quality? Long lasting? Comes with a warranty longer than 2 years? Then please be prepared to spend some money. And I’ll be perfectly honest here: if you didn’t put a checkmark beside each of those 3 details, then don’t renovate, you’ll waste your effort, time, and your investment dollars. Keeping with the bathroom theme, a Powder Room will start at $3500-$4000 including materials. A Main Bath will start at $8500. These are starting points, for simple tear-outs and re-build, nothing structural. If you want high quality, long lasting, and full warranties this is where you’ll begin. Remember that bathrooms done well will be giving you at least 150% of your investment back, so a $10,000 Master Ensuite will increase your home value by $15,000. Not bad for an investment that takes 3-4 weeks.

What if you can’t afford it but REALLY want it? The easy answer is wait until you can afford it, and at risk of losing work, is the advice I usually give, as you will end up cutting things out of the budget that are expensive but necessary. However, there are options if you’re willing to take on a bit of credit. An example is taking a Line of Credit, normally offered around the 4% annual area. If you’re doing a $10,000 renovation, you will make $5000, well worth the 4% annual interest rate on the original investment.

The third part is focusing on your time: when is the right time for you? Do you have a vacation coming up? How available are you on a daily basis? Is it a major renovation? Need it done for holidays, a party? When is your contractor available? Will you need to have temporary accommodations? These will determine the best time for you as only you can answer these questions. However, if you’ve found the right contractor, generally you will be worked into his/her schedule, so you may not have a choice at risk of waiting too long and losing their time! I’ve lost potential contracts from people that wanted it done right away and I wasn’t available, as well as people that have said they would wait for me, and after warning it may be 4-6 months, still lost them over waiting too long.

Thanks for reading the first!!! Send me comments, questions, virtual high-fives, and smiles J

Next Blog: Part 2 - The Right Contractor