Creating a win/win with homeowners assisting on projects

In an ideal world, a client will request that their contractor complete a home remodeling project from start to finish, but the economic realities of budgets often put a crimp in those plans.

That wasn’t the case for last year’s northeast regional CotY award winner in the category of residential kitchen under $40,000. So iKitchens Etc., a Falmouth, Mass.-based design/build company, worked with the client to trim costs.

“As ethical business people, we price it right the first time—we’re not price gauging and lowering costs,” says Rich Carl, project manager for the company. “So the only way that the cost can come down is either we change the scope of the project—or you can do some of the parts of the project yourself.”

When iKitchens Etc. completes a project estimate, the company educates the customer by breaking down all elements to the build in lieu of simply giving a total cost. As a result, clients can see how much each part of a project costs. This includes demolition and clean-up services, painting, electrical, plumbing, and material costs for items such as cabinets and countertops.

According to Carl, if a client decides it wants to do part of the work, iKitchens Etc. will only allow them to do work at the beginning and the end of the project, or to complete tasks that do not interfere with the scheduling of contractors.

“We don’t have clients do work in the middle of our project. That was a lesson learned,” he says. “So if you want to help and do something, we need you typically at the beginning or at the end, not the middle.”

Nor does the company allow clients to use their own subcontractors, such as electricians or plumbers. “I don’t know about your electrician. I don’t know if he has insurance,” Carl says. “But more important, if I have an electrician scheduled for Wednesday, I know he’s going to show up and do what he needs to do on Wednesday, and my schedule goes along. If your electrician does not show up on Wednesday, then the whole schedule is blown. So we don’t let people show up in the middle of the project because it really affects everything.”

Where a client can step in

Typically clients complete demolition and disposal of materials or painting, which occur at the front or back end of a project. Other areas clients can complete include insulating the area, sourcing materials, or, if a customer uses IKEA cabinets, the client can pre-assemble them before iKitchens Etc. installs them. But anything that requires licensing, such as plumbing and electrical work, iKitchens Etc. completes.

For example, the client of the CotY-winning project demolished the old kitchen and bathroom, which included removing double-layer plaster walls, pulling up the old flooring and removing the old cabinets and countertops and coordinated and paid for the disposal of the materials.

Carl noted the company provides clients guidelines for a clean demo, which include the following:

  • Remove all plaster or drywall off the wall.
  • Remove any screws or nails that are sticking out of the studs.
  • Vacuum out the stud bays.
  • Pick up and remove all trash.
  • If you pull up the floor, all nails of the floor need to be set into the flooring or pulled out.

Since most clients do not complete the task to their standards, the company builds in time to clean up after a client does demolition and charges for this service by the hour. For example, clients often leave nails and screws in the studs, which must be removed, or they make jagged cuts to the plaster or drywall, which must be fixed. Generally, the company sets aside 4 to 8 hours to clean up after a client demos. For larger demolitions, such as the CotY project, they spent 16 hours cleaning up.

If a house has lead paint, Carl does not recommend the client do the demolition work because of safety concerns.

Though iKitchens Etc. does not train clients on how to demo, they do offer suggestions on how to complete the task safely and effectively, which includes the following:

  • Don’t use an 8-pound sledgehammer like on TV.
  • Don’t cut blindly into walls. First take the plaster or drywall off the wall.
  • Wear safety glasses.
  • Use dust protection, such as disposable masks or a respirator.
  • Seal off areas of the home that are not being worked on.
  • Order a big Dumpster.

To ensure the client completes the demo before iKitchens Etc. is slated to start, the company gives them a deadline to complete the task. If the client fails to finish before the start date, the company will finish the demo and charge the client. This situation occurred during the CotY project.

“They underestimated how long it would take to do the demo and how much work was involved, so we ended up going in on the first day and demoing the bathroom,” Carl says. “I don’t think I’ve had anybody who’s said they need another day to finish things off,” he adds. “Most people are more than happy if they’ve done 80% of it, and they’ve realized that cost savings, to have us come in and finish it.”

Another area where clients can save money on a remodeling project is if they source and provide all the materials, meaning finished products and fixtures, for the job. For the CotY project, the homeowners bought all their own appliances and fixtures for the kitchen and bathroom, flooring, and they ordered and purchased the IKEA cabinets. The client also obtained any additional materials or returned damaged ones to IKEA.

Charge for company’s time

Typically, iKitchens Etc. gives a one-year warranty on materials they supply. But if a client sources their own materials, the warranty changes. The company will not warranty those materials; they will just guarantee the installation of those materials.

“If you provide a faucet, and six months down the road the faucet starts leaking, you’re paying my plumber to come in and change the faucet,” Carl says. “That’s our policy. Any homeowner applied-materials, there’s no warranty on those materials in terms of us swapping it out.”

Carl mentioned there is another caveat in terms of homeowner-supplied materials. If the appliances are not on site at the scheduled time, clients will incur additional costs for interrupting the production schedule. For example, if a plumber is supposed to come and hook up a dishwasher, but there’s no dishwasher in place, the client would probably get charged a few hundred dollars to cover the costs of the plumber’s time.

“If I’ve scheduled a day to have my crew put in appliances and I get a call the night before that we don’t have the appliances, and I can’t have my crew go elsewhere, then we’ve got an issue,” he says. “I’m pretty strict about this stuff, so I’ve never had people miss deadlines in terms of projects, but I do reserve the right to [charge for] that.”

A third component of remodeling projects that iKitchens Etc. has just recently started allowing clients to handle is meeting inspectors for permits, if their municipality allows it.

“If a client is willing to take a day off from work or if you work out of your home and you’re willing to meet the inspectors, and that’s acceptable to the town, that will save you some money,” Carl says. “We just finished up a couple of projects where the homeowners saved hundreds of dollars by meeting inspectors. Some towns, it’s not possible because contractors have to be onsite.”

Working with clients to complete a project is doable, but the only way to a successful collaboration is communication and education, Carl says. Today, the company uses a cloud-based project management software called Co-construct to keep the client and contractors up-to-date on a project.

Carl warns that owner-assisted remodeling is not for all contractors, because you have to create the right structure for it to be successful.

“Not every contractor is a great communicator, and communication is key,” Carl says. “You need to be able to and willing to educate people. But if you’re willing to work with people and help them out and try to find a way to get their kitchen or bathroom they want at a price they can afford, this is one way to do it without cutting your prices to get the project.” —Amalia Deligiannis

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