What is the Builder’s Motivation?
Any successful builder will have a certain degree of skill in sales and personal interaction with a potential client. If the work could present itself, your work as the homeowner would be considerably easier. Unfortunately, the hiring process is very much a guessing game, your gut instincts playing a large role in the outcome. (read: 10 Questions you Should Ask)
I recently met with a couple who had interviewed 4 builders prior to my visit. They shared with me their experiences with incredulous looks on their faces. Apparently most of those who arrived seemed to have very little technical knowledge. The general explanation for their lack of advanced building understanding was normal. They employed experienced and reliable trades and design staff who handled that aspect. Their role was to manage the project and ensure the right vendors were used on the job. (read: Sub-Contractors vs Employees – Is it Important?) The minority were the larger more prominent builders in the area. This individual didn’t even show up. He called and asked the homeowners to snap some photos with their phones and email the pictures, from which they would derive a proposal and pricing for the project.
The Design Portion of the Appointment
As you may imagine, they were surprised to see someone show up with a tape, pad and pen, and an expertise in what we were bidding. My first questions I ask are very general.
- What do you want to accomplish with the project?
- How do you want the space to feel? (open concept, contemporary, privacy, etc.)
- Are you open to reconfiguration of the existing structure?
- How will the space be used?
The final question I ask, “What is your budget for the project?” is the one most homeowners resist.
If a builder asks you about budget, you have to take it one of two ways: Either he is looking for a price ceiling below which you will buy or he wants to establish a limit within which he can accomplish the goals you desire from the project.
I always preface the question with this statement: “There are two phases to this portion of our time together: Design and budgeting of your project followed by a sales portion where I attempt to earn your business. Right now, I am asking you questions as your designer. The sales part will come once I have completed an initial design drawing and budget proposal for you.”
It is my motto to spend money only where you have to and save it where you can.
My job is to design a space which accomplishes what the client wants it to within the budget they have set for the project. Sometimes I have to express my opinion that the project cannot be built for what their budget demands. I ran into this obstacle recently with a prospective client who had an architect draw a room addition for them. The architect drew a design which could not be built within their budget. (read: Your Architect May be the Biggest Obstacle for Your Project.)
Many times I will suggest a reasonable budget for a project if I feel unease at sharing the number with me or if they seem unsure as I am the first builder to visit.
Finally, I measure the space and the surrounding existing structure and I take photos in case I need to recall any details about the existing space I may have missed. Once I have a good understanding of what I am bidding and a detailed sketch with accurate measurements, I set a sales appointment for a few days later and I leave.
The Second Appointment – The Sales Portion
When I return for the second appointment, I have generated a drawing and comprehensive proposal. We sit down and look over the drawing. Hopefully I have done a good job of applying the concrete information of measurements and structural requirements with the needs and desires of my client. I have rarely seen the first initial table drawing as the final design. At this point, I am providing a free service with the drawing. As long as the changes they desire fall within the structural and measurement parameters of the initial design, the budget will remain the same.
We discuss the specifics of the design drawing and discuss changes the client notices immediately. We note these changes then move to the budget proposal. After discussing the scope of work and pricing, I ask if there are any questions they would like answered before I leave them to make their decision. I never press them for a decision today. Sales managers everywhere are screaming and throwing J. Douglas Edwards books across their offices.
The Reality of a typical Design Build Appointment
A recent client shared her story of a design build appointment from a year prior to my arrival. She was contacted by a builder who discussed the project with her. he asked her numerous questions about what she wanted built and what her budget was. Finally, he asked her to take photos of the project area and email them to his office. She and her husband did as requested. A few days later a designer showed up and walked around the house. He left after collecting $3200.00 and a signed design agreement. Months later they received an emailed copy of a completed set of plans.
I looked at the plans during my visit with this client. I asked if she liked the design. She told me she hated it. I agreed. The drawings had been created in some other format other than Auto-CAD and lacked much detail required to derive any engineering from or which would be required for acceptance by the city for permitting. The design was clunky and amateurish. It turns out that the “designer” is a free lancer who works for a number of the larger design build firms in the area.
Many remodeling sales people will produce a sales price on their first visit and press the owner for an immediate decision. Many sales are made in this way. I am an industry professional with nearly 4 decades of experience. I cannot price a job fairly and reasonably in the house on my first visit. How can a salesman do so? Sales do not drive my business, successfully managed and completed projects drive my business.