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The Fear Factor

by David Lupberger


Even reading this gives most contractors a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomachs. What do you do about the emotional homeowner? If you've been in this business for any amount of time, you know they can be a very painful part of your business:

  • They can cost you money
  • They can take a great deal of your time
  • They can cause you a great deal of frustration
  • They can take the fun out of your business

  • My job is to talk and help you manage this most unpredictable part of your business - the emotional homeowner. I'll review simple techniques and strategies that will assist you in calming the toughest customers and I will respond to specific questions you might have regarding your own horror stories about the "homeowner from hell."

    Look at three simple strategies that will help you manage these difficult clients:

    The Homeowner Point of View
    When you begin working with someone, and this can begin as early as your first appointment, consciously put yourself in the homeowner's shoes. Look at the project they want done from their point of view. Their home is usually their biggest investment, so they are putting their biggest investment at risk in any remodeling project.

    In addition, people view their homes as extensions of themselves. Working on their home is a lot like working on them! There is a huge fear factor that homeowners feel when they ask someone to come into their homes for any major project - for them it's not only a financial investment but an emotional investment as well.

    When we as contractors walk through their door, we often forget how overwhelming the process of remodeling appears to the homeowner. For many of us, this is a job, and we may do anywhere from 20 to 200 remodeling jobs a year. For us, we see a job to be done and it's not a big deal.

    Well, this isn't just a job to them. They are inviting you into their home and their lives. They are scared, they feel they have a lot to lose and they want someone who understands their fears to guide them through the process.

    Document Everything
    Homeowners do not understand the process of remodeling. Add to this the fact that while contractors and builders know how to build, we are not so great at documenting expectations and agreements. When you listen to most construction complaints, you'll notice that most are not about the actual construction. It' s usually more about something else; something that didn't happen, or about expectations that weren't made clear. In fact, one of the most import jobs a contractor has is managing expectations - the homeowner's, the sub's, his own.

    So, document everything. Use carbonless memo pads at homeowner meetings to summarize what was agreed to. Provide a preliminary construction schedule to help the homeowner understand what has to happen before construction starts, and list all the decisions they will have to make. Provide clear specifications to eliminate potential disputes. Review change order procedures. Provide a construction schedule and review and agree on job procedures beforehand.

    The homeowner needs to understand what will be happening and when. One of the greatest fear quenchers I know is detailed paperwork put into your client's hands. This documentation goes a long way to keep them "in the loop" and will protect both you and them in case of differences that will surely arise.

    Assume a Parenting Role
    This is one of the most powerful concepts a contractor can employ in building trust. At the beginning of any good-sized project, a subtle transfer of authority takes place. You may not realize it, but if you are controlling the process like any good contractor does, you take on the role of parent to your clients. This phenomenon is known in psychology as parental transference. I didn't make this up. Two different psychologists have spoken to me about this concept and how it applies to homeowners in a remodeling project.

    Deep down your clients want you to assume a parental role. When they are scared, reassure them. Be there for them when a crisis erupts. From the very start you want to build trust. How? Keep the promises you make. Be on time for your appointments. Set a routine and stick to it. Face problems squarely. Don't ever lose your temper but understand your clients may have temper tantrums and you don't have to take it personally. That's parenting. The only thing you can't do is spank them.

    Managing the Homeowner 1/99 - reprinted with the permission of Qualified Remodeler

    To contact David Lupberger directly, call him at (301)570-9756. You may also send your comments and/or questions to David at his personal email..

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