The Days Before Design Build
Over the last 40 years, I have seen many changes in the Austin Home Remodeling industry. In the early days General contractors were the only game in town. Austin design build firms were not even a thing back then. Architects designed, builders built, and customers rolled the dice. In light of our desire to one-stop-shop we can all thank goodness those days are past. We are not out of the woods though.
The struggle to identify and hire a reliable home remodeling contractor is one complicated by impressive web sites and grand promises. At $1.3 Trillion per year, the U.S. construction industry is the largest in the world. It is also the least regulated and the easiest to enter and start a business. Most construction companies are owned and operated by three types of people: Tradespeople, Salespeople, and Entrepreneurs. Individually, none of these skillsets are adequate to safely and effectively manage your project or your money. Still, homeowners give these unqualified individuals tens of millions of dollars in down payments and progression draws every day.
As an example of the dangers the homeowner faces in even a highly regulated city, statistics show that in the city of Houston, Texas more than 4,000 complaints, grievances and lawsuits are brought against LICENSED contractors every year.
Whether a builder's experience is based in the trades or in sales, few owners of modern building firms possess any type of business degree or even business management knowledge. A well-funded and effective HR department is nearly unheard of in the industry. Most sub-contractors and tradesmen are unemployable, so they work for the only person who will hire them - themselves.
The inexperienced and unprepared building contractor, licensed or not, has to select from these questionable contractors to provide skilled labor for your project. Much of the loss of money and time on a client's project is directly related to poor hiring decisions by the builder.
It surprises many of our clients when we inform them that most sub-contractors in the building industry are unemployable. Many cannot pass a basic background check; they may not be able to show up on time for a job; others are unable to adhere to the rules and requirements of the conventional workplace.
Clients rarely dedicate any part of their project budget to HR efforts. When selecting a remodeling contractor, the client depends upon his or her gut feelings, online information, and the referrals of strangers to make a huge financial decision.
The Self-Reliant Builder
Cable networks like HGTV and the DIY network have put home improvement at our fingertips. Even the most non-handy husband or wife can take a swipe at sprucing up the old casa with the help of Chip and Joanna or those two brothers.
I am a huge proponent of self-reliance. The more you can do yourself, the better you are at guiding your own destiny. The home improvement industry used to be as exclusive as the medical field back in the day. The Home Depot and Lowes helped along the way. They learned early that there were many more homeowners than there were home builders. They were eager to put those Saturday hammock dozers to work. With the apparent ease the home improvement shows characterized home renovations, overnight the honey do list became way more complex.
After trying their hand at DIY renovation projects, a few of those weekend warriors found that they had a bit of a knack for handyman projects. With the economy what it is, and the large dollar amounts associated with even the simplest remodel project, the idea of turning weekend chores into cold hard cash appealed to many. With no limitations on starting a business, the weekend builder found that tools and a strong back fulfilled about 3/4 of the requirements to start their own company.
Austin Remodeling and Building Contractors
One of the biggest remodeling companies in Austin is owned and operated by a former “Tin Man.” His qualifications are comprised of making sales calls in the 80’s peddling aluminum siding and storm windows. Many other well-advertised remodelers are the weekend warrior class that found a lucrative way to put their limited experience to work. In Austin, like on the home improvement channels, the most popular business model is the husband wife team. The wife is the creative force behind the company and the husband runs the production end.
How can you differentiate between the friendly knowledgeable weekend warrior turned pro and the experienced vetted trades professional who grew up in the business? Reviews help, but many are friends and family helping out the upstart builder. A nice gallery could be pirated. Weekend construction classes at the local box store are helpful for learning the jargon and some basic fundamentals. Not long ago I was asked by a customer if I learned to build a barrel ceiling by watching a YouTube video. There are many ways to learn the business. Do you really want to be a part of the training process?
ZeroDown Consulting – a process of considered proficiency
I have been in the business since 1980. I was a senior at Smithson Valley High School in those days. I went to school half a day and worked at my dad’s construction company the rest. I started as a laborer/helper. A few years after I graduated, I went out on my own. 40 years later, I have seen it all. I even learned Auto-CAD along the way and draw my own blueprints.
When I founded ZeroDown Consulting, I decided that I would apply all those things that worked and discarded all those that did not. The road is hard and is not traveled by many of my competitors. I surrounded myself with the best licensed tradesmen and artisans available in the Austin area. I networked at length to partner with premium vendors such as architects, interior designers and engineers. Many of my competitors are friends and we discuss the industry in depth. Most importantly, I committed myself and my company to a process in which my clients are delighted to have us a part of their lives rather than dreading another issue arising from errors.
Tell-Tale Signs of the Neophyte
Pricing is the biggest give away in the industry. You can spot an inexperienced builder by a bid much lower than the others or much higher than the others. Too low may indicate desperation to get a job. High pricing may indicate the builder is “scared” of the job due to a lack of knowledge or experience.
First contact is key. Who visits you on the first appointment?
Is it a salesman, or did a builder come by?
Did he carry a Fat Max tape or a flimsy cheap tape with metric on the back side?
Could he answer your questions clearly?
Was his understanding of the project proficient enough to translate the most detailed of technical processes into terms anyone could understand?
If you went to a doctor’s office and the examining physician could not define a medical term for which he was diagnosing you, would you worry?
Always request a design drawing. A contract cannot relay specifics about your project. A dimensional technical drawing is your best protection against cut corners and the frustration of not getting what you envisioned.
Finally, formulate a list of qualifying questions you pose to all bidding contractors. Note the responses. Later, compare the answers for disparity or missing information.
In closing, Let your instincts guide you as you go. Your gut will be right most of the time. Good luck with your project. As always, I ask you to call on us for any of your home improvement needs or just to ask a question.