RBC 2017 Newsletter

January 10, 2017

Ray Building Co. has become well grounded in the Mountain Brook, AL repair and remodeling market as a second generation, family-owned business. In 2016, our work ranged from very small repairs to complete tear downs. We remained well balanced within our church and community through volunteer work and memberships in social and professional organizations. In 2016, we were also proudly inducted into the Birmingham Business Journal’s Veteran’s of Influence inaugural class for excelling in our chosen career field.

We are rolling into 2017 as strong as ever with several key events and programs that we want to share with our friends in the form of a “newsletter.”


Key events during the first quarter of the calendar year:

 ·       We are happily marketing our annual Spring Kitchen and Bath Blitz in partnership with NeedCo Cabinetry which provides our clients with leveraged savings on their projects. We will help design-build several kitchens and baths (sometimes attic or basement conversions) in a quick-start manner for families that have been on the fence about moving forward but for one reason or another couldn’t pull the plans together, or didn’t know who to talk to.

 

·       We are also excited about booking speaking engagements with Kim McBrayer, owner of spacecadetsorganizing.com on remodeling processes and home organization. Kim is a very active speaker and helped me with the closet system donation for the most recent specially designed home built for a local Iraq War Veteran. Kim and I will speak to a number of groups about our remodeling and organization project partnership.

 

 ·       We are attaining our Fortified Wise-Hurricane Structure certification on Jan 19th, which is a program under Strengthen Alabama Homes (SAH) mitigation program. This program will enhance our technical proficiency in storm and wind resistant building practices along the South Alabama Coast. In addition to belonging to the Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce, we have joined the Fairhope, AL Chamber of Commerce. We are also a member of the Baldwin County Homebuilder's Association and have begun contracting on a very selective basis in the Fairhope area using a core family of building professionals and excellent subcontractors.

 

We encourage anyone brainstorming their next project, in need of a general repair, or with a construction-related question or referral need, to not hesitate calling us or shooting an email. We are very, very accessible!

Friend and professional photographer, Catherine Pittman Smith, shooting a Surrey Road three story spiral staircase. 

Friend and professional photographer, Catherine Pittman Smith, shooting a Surrey Road three story spiral staircase. 

Kim McBrayer, owner of spacecadetsorganizing.com, demonstrating one of many of the closet systems she donated to the hfotusa.org in Calera, AL.

Kim McBrayer, owner of spacecadetsorganizing.com, demonstrating one of many of the closet systems she donated to the hfotusa.org in Calera, AL.

Precision instruments at use setting and troubleshooting architectural lines.

Precision instruments at use setting and troubleshooting architectural lines.

Sleeves rolled up doing what we love to do. Jim Miller (L) and Steve Ray (R) looking over details for exotic beams and brackets.

Sleeves rolled up doing what we love to do. Jim Miller (L) and Steve Ray (R) looking over details for exotic beams and brackets.

 

 

 
                                                                   ATTENTION TO DETAIL MATTERS!
 

The "loaded gun"

Continuing along the lines of pricing, value engineering, and contracting, the "loaded gun" refers to the ballpark estimates many clients fish for during the very early stages of dialogue while exploring their options on their desired projects. I really do engage in these dialogues almost every day of the week and have performed repair/remodeling ranging from a leaky gutter repair to a full blown tear down with formal architecture and engineering oversight, and there are as many clients with varying degrees of need and sophistication. The "loaded gun", so to speak, comes into play mainly in projects ranging in price from $20K to $200K because once you crest the $200K price range, there are normally much more detailed designs and deliberate financial planning in these larger projects, for many reasons that I will explain and explore below. 

Site team's human relationships

Site team's human relationships

As a disclaimer, Our preferred process is called "Design-Build" on most projects requiring pricing because of the effort that it demands of us for a thorough due diligence for providing our clients with solid data, and to protect our current production from the more curious. Statistics also indicate that when asked to provide a ballpark figure, almost 90% of the leads, not clients, take immediate, alternative actions which typically don't involve our services. According to my industry experts, this is a universal phenomena that volumes of sales courses and textbooks have been created. This is why I totally try to avoid throwing out a ballpark figure, regardless of whether I have a good one, because it is a "loaded gun."

Ok, why the "loaded gun" theory? Many of the $20K-$200K projects are either DIY projects where the owner is trying to handle a project without a design professional, an attempt is made to build off of an incomplete set of plans, or a design professional has drawn schematics without a prior, conscientious discussion on owner financials. Buyer beware on financials! This is a blanket statement; however, contractors and architects should not be placed into a position to act as pseudo-financial advisors, without a candid disclaimer to the affect. While we have a certain degree of intuition and historical data, we should be kept on task for design, labor, and logistics. Our greatest sweet spot is establishing a mutually reliant relationship, digesting the scope of work, creating an estimate with some teeth to it, and sitting down at the table to hammer out pre-construction details, and then get our game on. To better explain the "loaded gun," is that if big bold numbers are thrown out before any meaningful dialogue is made to understand budgets, needs, desires, work ethic, professional services, warranty care, etc., and an opportunity to attain a degree of trust from the owner, statistics are that your "ball park" figure will be shopped with a hand full of contractors, or you have just freaked the lead out before a true vision of a great project has been solidified between one another.  This may be the sport of the bargain hunter; however, a really good contractor will have too much skin in the game to interact in too many of these encounters.

Architect Sissy Austin with owner's working through a myriad of design details.

Architect Sissy Austin with owner's working through a myriad of design details.

We prefer to "unload and make safe" while developing nurturing relations for any size of project, because we care about our client's long term needs and hope to be called back for repeat business, after all, this is a good business plan for small companies operating in a restricted geographical market. This requires a conscientious effort to define the scope of work, define roles and responsibilities, clarify expectations, and the commitment to produce an intelligible construction contract that fits within realistic financial expectations for the goods and services sought. We are working with a few very, very good clients now with the above process, and recently spent a few hours with one of our best client's dad looking at a large time is of the essence project, which epitomized the "cut to the chase" pricing exercise. The general situation was that my client's dad had to cut to the chase for timing issues, and had enough previous construction dealings and real estate savvy to deduce a pretty hard line budget for the work that he knew that he wanted and how much he wanted to spend on it. The deal was for us to only spend enough due diligence as needed to produce a conservative cost of construction (not a ball park figure), and once our numbers were about 30% above what he wanted to invest in the project, he promptly severed our relationship and sent us a check for our time. This was hardball, no doubt, and we rarely run into very many leads that have such a strong grasp of their desired project and financials and that's why we strongly encourage a non-adversarial engagement, working towards the end-goal of a well thought out and planned scope of work, high quality materials and workmanship, and the desire to do more business together down the road. We can always be out-gunned and out-priced; however, our service excellence, loyalty, and authenticity are seldom surpassed. 

Please give us a call, or shoot us an email if you have any questions on an upcoming project, need to brush some dust off of a pending project, or are bogged down in an existing one. We would love to help!

Steve Ray

The Cabinet Plan

I work with clients and cabinets every single day and wish to share some of my experiences and insight into cabinet construction, pricing, and of the many personalities involved in the process of purchasing cabinets. Several other items, such as countertops, tile, and decorative lighting also play a role in this scope of work arena. 

In remodeling, or even new construction, cabinets are typically the single greatest investment one may make on their respective project, but from my experience, they are also the greatest source of misinformation and improper handling. One of the reasons for this is that our clients are challenged by a lack of standardized, competitive pricing, and there are way too many design elements affecting the cost of construction for the casual encounter. Many fabricators are also reluctant to spend much time on an estimate because of the overhead needed to crunch out a half intelligible budget, so the client often settles in with the first fabricator they speak to (I will speak more on estimating and shop drawings below).

There are 3 basic price points in cabinets. They are stock cabinets, semi-custom cabinets, and custom cabinets. Stock cabinets are built ready-to-install in larger plants and are ordered in standard sizes generally from 6" to 42", in 3" increments. More of what we install today are semi-custom cabinets, that have more whistles and bells such are sliding shelves, pantry units, etc. The third price point in cabinets are the custom cabinet line, which one can highly detail their cabinets in many sizes, trim details, and exotic woods. According to numbers published online for 2016 pricing, cabinets range in price from $75 to $1,400 per linear foot. 

My operations in the Mountain Brook area over the years has introduced me to several different cabinet fabricators, and their personalities and services are as diverse as the cabinet choices mentioned above. While our clients normally can't compare true "apples to apples" on their cabinet quotes as they may on windows, tile, or countertops, they do have the luxury of making informed decisions as to the basic price point, scheduling and turn around times, and personal services each of the fabricators may offer. I will next list a few of my regular fabricators below, as well as include an old carpenter friend that is a cabinet and framing powerhouse in Birmingham that we've recently pleasantly become engaged with:

Fabrication partners of our's-

  • Brewer Cabinets- Family owned showroom style operation with selections from Stock to Semi-custom, countertops, hardware, and designers which generate 3D conceptual and programed shop drawings (these are CADD drawings that speak the same language as the plant's fabrication line).

 

  • Cahaba Cabinets- Showroom style operation and selections from Stock to Semi-custom. This shop also has design capabilities similar to Brewer and NeedCo. We recently installed a basement set of Cahaba's stock cabinets and our client has been thrilled of their appearance, functionality, and economical price point.

 

  • Cantley & Co.- A Pepperplace showroom boutique specializing in a select line of custom cabinets. The owners have direct, hands-on influence on design, fabrication, and installation. This is a very solid custom operation and I have enjoyed the direct contractor-designer-fabricator relationship which I have had with owner's Cyndy and Keith Cantley.
Beautiful banquette and bar designed and fabricated by Cantley & Company.

Beautiful banquette and bar designed and fabricated by Cantley & Company.

  • Deal Cabinets- This is a Montgomery operation that has rapidly become a Mountain Brook go-to by several of our architects and decorators. Differing  a little from the local operations, most interaction is initiated by our local architects and decorators who draw up floor plans and elevations for Deal to fabricate from. Deal did a super job for us on a unique wine cellar a few months ago and is pricing (I will still get to this;) an upcoming project for us now.
Wine cellar fabricated by Deal Cabinets in an expansive basement remodel designed by Sissy Austin, AIA.

Wine cellar fabricated by Deal Cabinets in an expansive basement remodel designed by Sissy Austin, AIA.

  • JLP Incorporated- This is an family owned, authentic as they come, custom cabinet shop and framing carpentry operation. Reminiscent of old school shop drawings and old paneled office spaces, owner John Pittman, can pull together just about any cabinet product in his Avondale shop. John's technicians will convert most architectural drawings into "shop drawings" and can lock in a contract price and build off of them.

 

  • NeedCo, The Cabinet Company- I have admittedly been trading the most with NeedCo over the years and enjoy the resources of their Homewood, AL showroom and expedited 3D layouts. Owner, David Harrison, provides a one-stop shop featuring several cabinet price point options, countertop material, and even tile in their showrooms. Their mainstay are semi-custom cabinets but can ramp up for any sort of custom work as needed.
Kitchen fabricated by Needco, designed by Shepard and Davis Architects, LLC

Kitchen fabricated by Needco, designed by Shepard and Davis Architects, LLC

Now that we've briefly discussed basic styles of cabinets and their respective price points, and of the personalities of some of Birmingham's busier cabinetmakers, lets discuss how a cabinet plan comes alive, how it is priced, paid for, and ultimately installed. A set of cabinets can be designed by extraordinarily talented architects within full sets of plans, or on the opposite extreme, hand sketched basic 3 point movement between food storage, prep/cook station, and cleaning (stove, sink, and refrigerator), on a table napkin and converted into a 3D CADD product by a stock cabinet dealer in minutes. The distinguishing characteristics between the two, are of course the sophistication of the overall design, and whether the homeowner is motivated towards economy and functionality, or to a uniquely designed showpiece. The general nature of how most of our projects come alive, since we mainly work with really good architects and designers, is that a conceptual floor plan and preliminary elevations of the kitchen/bath cabinets are developed and then passed to the desired cabinetmaker for pricing. If we choose a fast production oriented shop, we'll likely receive a 3D CADD layout in conjunction with the pricing, and if we choose a full custom shop, we may receive an initial budget before much time is invested in developing the "shop drawings" mentioned above. Now here is the punchline, and yes it is affecting one of my clients right now, a separate design fee is normally required by any shop to develop shop drawings that have any teeth to them, and it is almost unfeasible to have more than one shop engaged beyond the casual introduction. As mentioned above, even with stock cabinets, this scope of work, if not the single most expensive element of the remodel, it certainly is the most important, so there is an added human element when getting a cabinetmaker on board. I have experimented with trying to get multiple pricing for cabinets and the result is normally choosing one or another prematurely because the designs and cabinet selections almost always take time to flush out, so we took a different path long ago to try to educate our clients on the various price points, cabinet guys in town, and to pop in and interview 1-2 likely situated shops before entering a team-oriented design build relationship. The pricing occurs through a series of meetings to accommodate our clients needs and the overall design benefits from the earlier discussions on floor plans, styles, space, etc. Once a solid cabinet order is ready to fly, a nominal deposit of 50% is made at contracting, and the balance is due upon installation. 

A final note on cabinets is on the integral part counter top material has with the price point of the cabinets. Counter tops are a whole lot easier to price than cabinets and dealers are very receptive to pricing it to as many people as possible as it really doesn't take very long; however, buyer beware! Price points on countertop material have a huge swing, from Level 1 Black Absolute Granite, to the exotic marble line of materials. A big reason for this is supply and demand where the granite that is purchased through Lowe's or Home Depot has had gigantic trade leveraging, is easy to manufacture, and is routinely being installed by teams out of Atlanta that get scheduled to sweep through town installing as they go, to the incredibly select marbles that are bought and sold several times and fabricated by another middle man. Nine times out of ten, materials installed in our projects are selected from Triton Stone, purchased by Synergy or Stone Concepts, and sold back to us at an installed price. These guys can all typically install big production granite costs as little as $60-$70 a foot though. Synergy now carries a large selection of stone to cut out another mark up, and we've been introduced to Birmingham Marble Works, who are being aggressive with their pricing to gain our business. Besides granite and marble, Synthetics like Silestone, Caesarstone, and also Quartz, are great materials to use in lieu of the granites and marbles.

 

Best wishes on your future project! We are always here to help too.

Steve Ray

 

 

 

 

 

 

Design Build= Teamwork, efficiency, flexibility, and budget minded

Steve Ray (Builder), Tricia Abele (Office Manager, RBC), and Harriet Cochrane (Owner/Designer)

Steve Ray (Builder), Tricia Abele (Office Manager, RBC), and Harriet Cochrane (Owner/Designer)

Old Leeds Circle cuts to the core of what Ray Building Company does best. Our owner/designer spotted her new home and had a preliminary set of drawings produced for pricing and we were invited to run with it from there.  This project cuts to the core of what we do best. Our clients simply wanted to transform as much of the existing structure to meet as many of their needs as possible in the shortest amount of time before being forced to move in--all with the wisest investment of their resources. The mission, therefore, was to help price, value engineer, and pull together the best team available to complete a 5-6 month project in a compressed 2 month period spanning 3 major holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.

New highly functional kitchen with floating shelves and an island top fabricated from reclaimed wood, marble countertops, stainless steel appliances, and a unique garden window. The cabinets were also restored in a great cost saving refacing technique.

New highly functional kitchen with floating shelves and an island top fabricated from reclaimed wood, marble countertops, stainless steel appliances, and a unique garden window. The cabinets were also restored in a great cost saving refacing technique.

Following an initial pricing exercise, we prioritized the scope of work, pulled together a construction time table, assembled our build team, and went to work. Our client brought a few of their own trades into the project and our open channel of communications enabled an almost seamless integration of talents as we rocketed through the project. By keeping on task with our schedule, the typical end of project "punch out" began much earlier so that most of our tasks, punch out, and final inspections all converged with one another just days before our scheduled move in.

This was an an extreme home makeover that featured new baths throughout, a super-cool kitchen redo, and updates of just about every space, including a new HVAC system, re-wiring the whole house, painting, flooring and staircase, and a considerable amount of exterior work. The screened porch was a late add-on and has become a favored living space, spilling off the dining room and accessible to a spacious patio. We never pretend to know more than our expert trades and part of the pre-construction planning process included numerous walk throughs, consulting, value engineering, and planning to maintain the greatest momentum once the project commenced.

Last minute add-on screened porch. We re-framed most of the screened porch walls, installed ceiling fans and ran power for the flat screen TV. A new french door system spills off of the dining room to this space.

Last minute add-on screened porch. We re-framed most of the screened porch walls, installed ceiling fans and ran power for the flat screen TV. A new french door system spills off of the dining room to this space.

Our client had developed a much more sophisticated set of drawings to work from in the beginning. However, if you don't have the time or resources for architectural drawings, I have noted before of the "13 Questions A Client Should Be Asking," published by Remodeling Magazine:

1. What rooms do you want to renovate?

2. How much can you realistically afford to spend?

3. How will you use the room you're renovating?

4. What's your design style?

5. What are your accessibility considerations?

6. How important is sustainable design to you?

7. What's your color preference?

8. What's your flooring preference?

9. What are your storage requirements?

10. What type of materials do you love?

11. What type of stone is right for you?

12. What's your cabinet door style?

13. What are your appliance preferences?

These, and many other design and budget considerations, are an integral part of the process needed to properly price, plan, and execute any project, but even more critical when you are moving around in almost every room of a house as mentioned above. Another very, very important note to make on materials is to identify every special order item and consciously plan around delivery times. Since windows and doors, appliances, and plumbing fixtures impact framed openings and cabinet/top design, I highly recommend wrapping up these design decisions very early and get them all on order. The fastest project that I have ever executed was for a client that really got this and we weren't allowed to break ground until all essential building materials were safely stored in their garage. This may not be practical in every situation; however, the point is that change orders and late orders adversely affect momentum and most often cost more.

I have mentioned planning, pricing, and contracts in many blogs and candidly discuss them with our clients. With as many human factors, personal financial planning and labor issues that go into a project, the more time spent on developing a good plan, going through a couple of pricing exercises and conscientious due diligence, and deducing a workable construction agreement between the owner and builder, the further down the road you will be towards a more successful project, before even breaking ground.

Good Luck!

 

A note on "Pricing"

My father came off the road as a salesman traversing the Southeast and frequenting the Doral CC with tennis lessons with Arthur Ash in the mid 70's to tighten up the household. With an extraordinary aptitude for building, he began building new homes and remodeling homes in the Mountain Brook, Vestavia, and Altadena Forest areas. In the day, a builder was a builder, and the term, "Professional Remodeler," wasn't even on the charts back then. I would say that the vocation of being a professional, exclusive remodeler evolved during the last 20 years and is on the forefront of major publishing companies, building materials industry, and shapes the housing market.

Victoria Downing lecturing on sales and marketing in Baltimore, MAryland.

Victoria Downing lecturing on sales and marketing in Baltimore, MAryland.

Personally, I have attended numerous professional remodeling conferences lead by industry giants, a Board member for the Greater Birmingham Area Homebuilder's Association, and participate in Remodeler's Advantage Pro Remodeler University, which is a reference bank on all current topics including sales and marketing, accounting, legals, and general business management resources. This gets us to a note on pricing, which is still one of the most confusing and controversial topics because it cuts to the core to what the bottom line is on every project.

The more typical forms of pricing, or contracting on remodeling projects are fixed priced, otherwise known as a lump sum job, and the cost plus fixed fee job, that is essentially a time and material job with a certain fee attached to the end of it. On the former, the national gross margin for lump sum jobs, performed by professional companies, is 30%. The gross margin includes profit, direct and indirect overhead expenses, and a discretionary margin used by the builder to compensate for geographical, economic, or difficulty/risk considerations. Besides the direct costs of the project, the rest of the gross margin is competitive and left up to the builder to manipulate to serve the welfare of his or her own enterprise. On the later, cost plus fixed fee job, national averages also range between 30-40% gross margin: however, this is where most of the confusion, at least on the local level occurs. Several years ago, one of my attorney clients, turned mentor, helped open my eyes to the confusing, and often offended declaration of profit and overhead and how residential and large commercial operations either overtly or mistakenly "double dipped" on their overhead charges. William Stewart, Esq. helped me open my eyes to properly and ethically declaring direct and indirect expenses and how to evaluate what our market profit margin should be to run and maintain a healthy, competitive operation. Since then, these tools have repeated themselves contract after contract and conference to conference, as they are mainstream business tools used across the country by the professional remodeler. The key to presenting your pricing is to be very forthright and transparent with your client.

Slide of Profit and loss segment of a REMODELERS advantage workshop

Slide of Profit and loss segment of a REMODELERS advantage workshop

My office manager and I frequently analyze our overall operations and seek feedback from clients, and also compare notes among our professional peer group in Birmingham and with Remodeler's Advantage out of Baltimore, Maryland, in an effort to maintain our viability and competitiveness in our local market. Based upon some recent activity on numerous leads, feedback on our pricing, and personal conversations with an architect/client that I highly respect, I became motivated to flush out some of the misnomers, more particular, in the cost plus fixed fee jobs. The 15% mark up was recently referenced on a job that I had begun to look at but backed off until the scope of work and design was more fully prepared. By comparing the 15% mark up against our typical .235%, or higher gross margin, the homeowner asserted that they got a bargain by moving forward with the less expensive operator; however, that may be the farthest from the truth. The lightbulb that William Stewart clicked on for me over 7-8 years ago, and having been exposed to several bid forms from local contractors on jobs that we've taken over, the 15% mark up, among others, is ground zero for misrepresentation, loss of value added service, and quality workmanship. Our pricing is derived from a deliberate estimating process using specific goods/materials for each individual project, many of which are hand selected by the owner or architect, and current pricing from skilled and licensed trades. We have also implemented an user friendly pricing sheet that prevents the "double dipping" mentioned above by using line items for every scope of work, material used, with the specific supervision and expected profit for each and every job, as they differ in form from neighborhood to neighborhood, and client to client. This process is also presented at the front end of every introduction we make and is followed with on the pricing exercises that are conducted during the pre-construction phase.

Another misused, or misunderstood aspect of cost plus jobs is their degree of competitiveness, or for their tailor fitted nature, the lack there of. As we service a wide variety of clients, neighborhoods, and size of projects, our overhead varies, and in many instances, the simple equation of advertising a 15,20, or even a 30% gross margin cannot be compared "apples to apples" with another company's books. While we may not be competing head to head with other remodelers we do however offer superior service and a transparent pricing for our clients, whether it be for a roof leak or a whole house redo. I have cross referenced the Business And Project Management For Contractors Alabama Licensing Board's protocol for allowable overhead projections below (paraphrased):

Direct Costs (physically traced items to the specific job)

  • Materials
  • Subcontractors
  • Labor
  • Misc. direct costs (design, engineering, supervision, etc.)

Project Overhead/Indirect Costs (indirect expenses that are either "fixed" or "variable")

  • Superintendant salaries
  • Vehicle expense
  • Supplies and other consumables
  • Depreciation- Vehicles
  • Depreciation- Equipment
  • Repairs
  • Administrative expense

In closing, by utilizing the above guidelines, all professional remodeling companies are on their own to identify their respective target market, analyze their required profit and overhead margins, and then merge this pricing process into their own business plan to facilitate a successful, viable, and competitive operation, and then ultimately to make the pitch to their perspective clientele. There's just way too much data and inter-personal interaction with our chosen means of pricing and contracting within our market area, coupled with our professional experience, to vaguely compete against another operations advertised "markups."

Best of luck with your future project!

Game On!

“Game on” was the motto for couple Sissy and David Austin, both of whom are licensed architects, during their home renovation. After months of design inspiration and budgeting, the final determination was made to move forward with their renovation through a process known as "design-build."

The most unique aspect of this type of project is the initial team building, subsequent pricing exercises, and value engineering. We got our minds around the floor plan and use of available space, consulted with our sub contractors and vendors, and with that data we assembled a build team and set a total cost of construction.

Sissy Austin, AIA with Adrian Bond, of Bond Tile, covering all of the new bath finishes

Sissy Austin, AIA with Adrian Bond, of Bond Tile, covering all of the new bath finishes

As a veteran Remodeler and Big 50 alumni, I thoroughly enjoy the team building and mental pricing exercises that are used to achieve the most desired product at the most comfortable price point. A single common denominator that most of our clients have, including myself, is the desire for "value." From my national colleagues at Remodeler's Advantage and Remodeling Magazine, "value" is generally realized by attaining one's desired remodeling goals within their financial limitations (budget), with the appropriate materials, utilizing skilled craftsmanship under timely execution, and in a clean and organized manner. This isn't that far off from Merriam-Webster's Full Definition of Vaule, 1: a fair return or equivalent in goods, services, or money for something exchanged.

How parties get to the purely residential design-build relationship seems to be an enigma, or misnomer, in various circles. Our nationally followed model is achieved by pairing up owners, design professionals, and ourselves to work toward a common goal of achieving as near a fully designed project as possible, with detailed pricing, following as many engagements as are necessary to reach a launching point for the construction phase of the project. The initial pairing up process is brought about by professional or word of mouth networking, advertising, or basic sales, followed by interviews and meshing of the various personalities needed, desired skill sets, scheduling, and overall temperament of the project.

Inspiration through homeadrore.com

Inspiration through homeadrore.com

We've been at this type of work for a while and have become friends with some of the best industry mentors and educators there are. We are continually inspired by editor's like Craig Webb of Remodeling Magazine, educators like Victoria Downing of Remodeler's Advantage, and contractor/actors such as Mike Holmes of HGTV's Holmes on Holmes. My local mentor, George Williams of Precision Homecrafters, is also a student of a well thought out design-build process, organization, and most of all, "value." Sissy and I worked together on another project that's on our website, named "Canterbury Road," and our work together is also written about in another blog. Spinning off of Canterbury Road, we immediately began the design-build process for another young family and are hopeful for an early summer start date on their beautifully designed and expertly priced and managed project.

Starting Point

As a Remodeling Magazine Big50 Alum, I take a little license in sharing some of my own insight on Houzz.com's recent post, "13 Essential Questions Your Client Should Be Asking," in the recent Remodeling Magazine online edition. Remodeling projects have tons of facets that may, or may not even surface during the typical residential project. Many projects are consummated on a hand shake or a verbal communication, others are structured projects with very detailed plans, specifications, and written contracts, while yet others are rife with conflict, stress, and disorder. For Houzz.com to feel that their 13 Essential Questions Your Client Should Be Asking" to be worthy of publishing, I would bet a whole lot of expertise has deduced the below questions, and their editor's felt the subject pertinent enough to our industry to suggest that we share it with our clients:

Client orientation at needco Cabinet's homewood, Al SHOWROOM

Client orientation at needco Cabinet's homewood, Al SHOWROOM

"13 Questions Your Client Should Be Asking"

1. What rooms do you want to renovate?

2. How much can you realistically afford to spend?

3. How will you use the room you're renovating?

4. What's your design style?

5. What are your accessibility considerations?

6. How important is sustainable design to you?

7. What's your color preference?

8. What's your flooring preference?

9. What are your storage requirements?

10. What type of materials do you love?

11. What type of stone is right for you?

12. What's your cabinet door style?

13. What are your appliance preferences?

In conjunction with asking the above 13 Questions, I strongly recommend holding a couple of informal meetings between professional remodelers and their clients to feel one another out, develop a good scope of work, and then break away for pricing. I have written several other blogs on "best practices" for contracting and communication and continue to add to my life lessons as no one project is alike. Special thanks to remodeling.com and houzz.com for contributing helpful topics to our industry.

 

 

 

When It All Goes Right

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Few get credit "when it all goes right." Instead, reputations, and even careers, often get slammed by the smallest of mishaps, especially in the super, emotionally charged, residential remodeling market. I was paid the "mother load" of all compliments today by one of our new clients. I ran into our client in a public setting and was complimented for doing a great job on a recent small, but technically challenging scope of work. This particular project was an acid test from the tutoring that I recently received by both Mike Holmes, of HGTV, and a course of instruction that I have prescribed to from Remodeler's Advantage. By following established guidelines in this particular service industry, while seeming elementary, establishing a clear channel of communication between parties is key to a healthy remodeling or repair job. Elements of this communication process is to identify the specific scope of work needed, prescribe the needed work, price, and schedule the execution of the work. We try to be as conspicuous as possible in both written contract forms and third party evaluation through guildquality.com, and then follow up over a certain amount of time to ensure our work is holding up and to reinforce that we are committed to our work and client's welfare. 

Not all jobs go as planned, but if you don't have a good plan to begin with, you should certainly plan to fail. One of my very first projects was a virtual nightmare because it lacked in every aspect of structure, from a well defined scope of work, written agreement, and what everyone is supposed to do when things don't go so well. We were placed in a position that our best course of action was just to chalk one up for experience, lick our wounds, and press on. Despite that hiccup, we were happy to invite over 80 super clients to attend a client appreciation reception at Roy Morton's antique warehouse, Architectural Heritage, to help us celebrate our 10th Anniversary as a full service remodeling company. We are always learning and welcome constructive criticism, seek advice from Remodeler's Advantage and the experts from Remodeling Magazine, and look forward to generating more compliments as mentioned above. They make it all well worth the hard work.

Happy New Year, and thanks for the business and positive reinforcement of the things gone right!

 

Peacock Pavers

Peacock pavers are typically set with a 1/2" joint. We are also using a 1/8" slope to control wind blown rain at the gazebo. A beautiful stair system and landing are across the courtyard. 

Peacock pavers are typically set with a 1/2" joint. We are also using a 1/8" slope to control wind blown rain at the gazebo. A beautiful stair system and landing are across the courtyard. 

Making last minute load checks at the peacockpaver.com yard in Atmore, Alabama.

Making last minute load checks at the peacockpaver.com yard in Atmore, Alabama.

Peacock Pavers are a formed and poured concrete paver material. To Alabamians, the historical peacock paver has been produced in Atmore, AL for almost 30 years. Once reportedly produced by prisoner labor from the nearby state correctional institute, PeacockPavers.com is now privately owned by Don Gordon, and operated by a very friendly staff. As a retired Marine, I was delighted to be greated by a former Marine Security Guard (Embassy Security Detail), named Steve Reynolds, acting as their yard manager. We are matching an existing paver system on an outdoor living space designed by Alex Krumdieck, and I wanted to kill two birds with one stone by taking a road trip, and to also meet the staff of PeacockPavers.com down in Atmore. I have nothing but nice things to say about the service I received and of the care that was provided making sure that I was safely loaded up for the trip with over 11,000 lbs. of freshly minted buff colored peacock pavers. Architect Bobby McAlpine is also quoted on PeacockPaver's website, and cross referenced to Veranda Magazine on the use of the material. The cost for this material is about $5.00 a foot, in contrast to a $12.00 a foot bluestone. The nice affect of this material is the smooth non-slip surface and durability (it's concrete). It can also be stained down the road, so it really is user friendly. So, if you are ever in the market for peacock pavers, give their staff a call at (251)368-2072, or visit their website at peacockpavers.com.

Outdoor living space designed by Alex Krumdieck, aia, of Birmingham, al

Outdoor living space designed by Alex Krumdieck, aia, of Birmingham, al

Planning, Contracting, and Execution

Pictured with Victoria Downing, Owner-President of Remodeler's Advantage, a nationally renowned professional remodeling education and mentoring group. Victoria is passionate about professional planning, contracting, and execution of remodeling projects.

Pictured with Victoria Downing, Owner-President of Remodeler's Advantage, a nationally renowned professional remodeling education and mentoring group. Victoria is passionate about professional planning, contracting, and execution of remodeling projects.

Never has planning, contracting, and job execution been so widely published. The U.S. is reportedly in a qualified labor shortage, and things don't look any brighter for some time. The local phenomena that I am witnessing is ironic at all levels. The building related economy is booming in terms of homeowners wanting to remodel and invest in their homes and the labor hasn't recovered from the last down turn. Many other cultural and socio-economic occurrences have greatly diminished our former multi-generation (father to son) labor intensive construction teams. This was predicted in many economic studies and trade shows in the preceding years and we are slap dab in the middle of it now. I recently attended a national conference and listened to the common theme of qualified labor shortage issues in economic "up turns" from the CEO of Porch.com, Mike Homes, of HGTV, and the Chief Architect of the EPA. To tie all of this together, I will relate a current project that I am trying to pull together behind an errant builder that is shattering the dreams and expectations of the owners and of their confidence in professional contractors and tradesmen, if not physically endangering them for an unsafe site. Two years ago, the mantra of the Remodeling Magazine's Big 50 Conference in DC was, "execute or be executed." This mantra, and how it is affected by the current labor shortage, is directly affected by clear planning, contracting, and finally, in the execution and completion of a healthy remodel project. Modern building science, the International Building Code Conference, local building requirements by inspections departments (police powers for enforcement), and a plethora of other licensing requirements should normally spell things out for homeowners and contractors, but they seemingly don't. The project mentioned above is the 3rd major structural goof up that I have been involved in where significant construction was endeavored upon by either terribly trained carpenters, bad planning, or just plain disregard to established design principles and building codes. We are engaging with a licensed structural engineer and communicating with our local building officials to come up with the best practices procedures to properly resolve the current framing and installation status, but a comment from Jim Dick, of Alpha Lumber Company yesterday really hit home. As a semi-retired Master Carpenter with decades of experience, Jim said the poor quality of workmanship that he saw on site "cut to his soul." One of the unfortunate consequences of the qualified labor rut, or shortage, is that some homeowners fall prey to the less qualified contractors or tradesman, the lure of the lowest price, or the sense of urgency disrupted the deliberate selection, planning, and contracting process . Another element contributing to the breakdown of many remodeling relationships is the absence of legitimate planning documents and substantive contracts. Emergency repairs for leaky roofs or a burst water main is one thing, but opening up a roof or moving load bearing walls within a structure is another. We responded to an emotional plea for help from an homeowner several years ago in Mountain Brook, AL and were shocked to discover the house was on the verge of collapsing after a carpentry crew had undermined footings and removed vital load bearing walls. In this case, no plans were being followed on the job, the job hadn't been properly permitted (key), and there wasn't a written contract spelling out the scope of work, warranty terms, etc. The police were finally needed to chase off the hackers when they were stalking the owner for pay. This was a very bad scene to get involved in. Our current project is nowhere near as desperate as the former, but I use it as an illustration of how some of these ill thought out projects can turn out. I am very hopeful that we can turn things around and leave a more pleasant memory for the homeowners as we did for the Cherry Street project. The script is really very easy to follow, but it does require patience, an open dialogue, and documentation. Healthy projects almost always begin with a good plan. The more sophisticated a design, the more influence by a professional designer, architect, or engineer will be needed. Not only will detailed plans be needed by local building officials, but they establish a standard to be evaluated from and for safety parameters to be satisfied. The project plans will also be used for scheduling, payment procedures, and a myriad of other logistical details. Contracting is practically impossible, if not impractical, without good plans and specifications. I personally prefer to study, price, and conduct numerous face to face planning meetings with my clients and trades to preclude any confusion once a project commences. This takes us to the "execution" element in this blog. You can't execute anything in a timely manner without proper planning and contracting. It defies all common sense and winds up hurting homeowners and breaking good contractors and tradesman from delayed payments. If a contractor is to execute a timely and professional project and expect to be properly compensated for their efforts, adequate plans and specifications are needed to fully understand, budget for, and mobilize for the work. Certainly there are unknowns from time to time, and provisions for those instances should be clearly covered in any good written agreement. Other change orders are a cake walk if they are are lined out in the master agreement. In summary, healthy projects demand thoughtful planning, contracting, and execution. The Greater Birmingham Homebuilder's Association, Remodeling Magazine, and Remodeler's Advantage provide excellent tips for finding qualified contractors, as well as good word of mouth referrals. The bottom line though, is that the homeowner will have to make a one on one transaction with their chosen contractor. Be patient, plan, contract, and expect timely execution.

Design-Build

With Sissy Austin, AIA

I have posted about "Design-Build" relationships before and feel compelled to post about a very recent, highly successful Design-Build project that I was teamed with architect, Sissy Austin, AIA, on. This project arose when great clients of mine approached me regarding the feasibility of re-claiming a very unfriendly basement and maximizing the use of the space, following an interval between building a unique terrace and limestone outdoor fireplace for them. The house is in a very nice neighborhood and the new basement project could sustain a relatively flexible budget/investment if properly designed. Due to the various ranges of complexity with load bearing systems, waterproofing, lighting, and space, among other details, I didn't hesitate directing my clients towards consulting with a professional architect. Fortunately for everyone, Sissy was friends with my clients and had an interest in taking on the project.

The Design-Build team consisted of the owner/clients, Sissy, and I. A study was made of the existing space, needs and comforts were discussed and weighed upon, a design produced and value engineered, and a very enjoyable project was completed thereafter. The basement was primarily below grade and extensive excavation and waterproofing was made.

Playroom with durable carpeting, built-ins, and plenty of run around space.

Playroom with durable carpeting, built-ins, and plenty of run around space.

One of the design features was to achieve a full 8' ceiling height throughout and we removed the old, uneven slab and almost a foot of soil before re-roughing the plumbing and installing a professional foundation system with a sump pump in the new mechanical room. Sissy's style, and design achievements, were to introduce more natural light, provide an elegant industrial feel to the finishes, create a very comfortable laundry/cleaning environment, full spa-like bath, and space for the children to spread out in.

The other "adult" comforts are a custom walk-in wine cellar, and a spacious carpeted den with a large flat screen television with surround sound. Sissy and I met and worked with skilled craftsman from Birmingham to Montgomery on site and in large and noisy fabrication shops throughout the winter searching and collaborating, and installed specialty items ranging from bluestone flooring to custom designed, handmade steel doors transforming a stereotypical "dungeon" into one of the coolest spaces in our client's home.

Full laundry with floor to ceiling tile and opposing wall Service Space.


Laundry service space.

Laundry service space.

Sissy and I are working on another "Design-Build" project now, and I believe that the non-adversarial and open dialogue during the preliminary design stage, and throughout the course of construction, is the crux of the Design-Build process and is enjoyable for all of the parties involved through its team orientation. Every aspect of pricing, accounting, design changes, etc., were always transparent, and we strived to "value engineer" for the best products at the best price point, resulting in pleased clients, a great product, and lasting relationships.

Walk-in wine cellar with cyprus paneling, steel/glass door, and stand alone climate control.

Walk-in wine cellar with cyprus paneling, steel/glass door, and stand alone climate control.

Job well down! 


A Tale of Goodness

My dear friend, Reverend Calvin Meadows, has once again come into my life in his classic non-invasive, self confident style pitching in as our hfotusa.org/Galloway Project Chaplain, and general helper. Calvin's church leadership has showered our project with goodness through his selfless service, the mentoring of his church elders and youth, and by creating a sense of community among many of our other volunteers. Calvin and I met some 13-14 years ago while I was the Chief Flight Instructor at Shelby Air, Shelby County Airport, Calera, AL. I had no idea the personal experience that I was about to embark upon that fine day a long time ago. Calvin told me that he had always dreamed of earning his "mortal" flight wings and was pretty up front that it would take both of us a lot of prayer. Prayer wasn't new to me; however, it had never been a mainstream FAA process of mine and I thought that it wouldn't hurt trying. Some 100 hours later, I remember, Calvin and his wife, Beverly, and I had another special treat by celebrating him earning his wings by a brief wings pinning ceremony by the late Col. Harry E. Ford Jr., a former Tuskegee Airman. After Calvin volunteered his humble services by chauffeuring my wife, Marguerite, and I home from our wedding at Independent Presbertyrian Church, we lost contact for several years until Calvin again volunteered his services by offering the invocation for 2 consecutive Wings For Warriors Disabled Veteran Fly-Ins at Shelby County Airport. On any given day now, both Reverend Meadows (Beverly is also a Reverend for their church, Present-Truth Church of Montevallo and Centerville) can be found on site of the hfotusa.org/Galloway project, leading by example, and sharing their Tale of Goodness. First aviation, and now construction. I was once Calvin's teacher, and now I am positive that I am his pupil.

I found a fitting Biblical verse in honor of Calvin and Beverly, and for the good work that I am seeing of everyone down in Calera. It is from Romans 12:6-8, and reads, "Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does act of mercy, with cheerfulness."

 

"God is Good," Bart Fletcher.

Gameday Condo Conversion

Dr. Allen Yeilding, in his new "Gameday," gleaming with UA pride.

Dr. Allen Yeilding, in his new "Gameday," gleaming with UA pride.

Updated kitchen with SS appliances, quartz tops, glass mosaic splashes, and special lighting.

Updated kitchen with SS appliances, quartz tops, glass mosaic splashes, and special lighting.

Remodeling takes many different shapes, sizes, and circumstances. When a special client of mine proposed that we convert his college campus condo into what is called, "a Gameday," I was immediately excited. Our task was to help Design-Build a very entertainment friendly environment, which is only 2 blocks East of Bryant Denny Stadium on the University of Alabama's main campus in Tuscaloosa, AL. The project marinated for about 2 years before our client finally pulled the trigger last April, and asked us to get rolling in order to build out over the summer break.  

My friend, Rob Walker IV, AIA, helped us with the initial design concepts, and then we cut and pasted ideas from sources such as Houzz, Pinterest, and other ideas from our regular designers at a few of Birmingham's lighting and plumbing fixture show rooms for a pretty comprehensive scope of work in the condo. As we peeled back the wall and ceiling coverings we exposed a few surprises on the load bearing structure and modified our floor plan on the fly. Our client was, and always has been, very patient as we solved some of the design elements and our sub contractors easily accomplished the various change orders. The "Gameday" has a unique feel to it as you step inside from the breezeway. The use of track tracking and flat stock crown molding highlights the rich UA Crimson Tide art and memorabilia, and the LVT flooring and Quartz tops adds a unique gallery feel to the spaces. As you pass room to room there are new design surprises around each corner and you get lost inside the relatively small condo. We flipped what was initially an structural dilemma into cool passageways, cased openings, a large neo-angle walk in shower, desk space, and so on. Football season is now upon us and furniture should be arriving within the next few days to finish off the perfect "Gameday" condo conversion.

Crimson Tide "Hall of Fame"

Crimson Tide "Hall of Fame"

Spa-like hall bath with designer treats from MargueritesConceits, of Mt. Brook, Village.

Spa-like hall bath with designer treats from MargueritesConceits, of Mt. Brook, Village.

 

The Devil is in the Details

The Devil is in the Details

After re-learning one too many "lessons learned," we almost always break out modern laser levelers and 6' Kobalt (Lowe's brand) or Stanley levels to test plumb, level and squareness of our surrounding structure. If an irregularity isn't caught early enough in the course of construction, it will haunt you throughout the project. Below are some easy tips to use during the typical residential remodel project:

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Residential Pre-Construction Guide

Residential Pre-Construction Guide

Assuming that a design has been produced; then what’s next? If a licensed contractor is needed and a strong word of mouth referrel hasn’t occurred yet, you will need to attain a list of 3-4 contractors that you would feel comfortable working with to bid on your project. Commercial bidding and contract law has a fairly regimented process; however, there is not as near a rigid set of rules for residential work, generally speaking.

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