How to alleviate remodeling fears

A consumer poll asked homeowners to select their largest source of fear when it comes to remodeling. Robert Kalmin, CKBR, and Suzanne Kalmin, president and vice president of RJK Construction Inc., respectively, based in Fairfax, Va., share why these fears exist and what can be done to eliminate them.

My biggest fear when it comes to hiring2 copy

“The biggest source of fear is through friends and family who have hired contractors and have had bad experiences,” Robert Kalmin says.

The negative word of mouth from trusted sources can be very powerful. Good communication and detailed conversations ahead of the time are keys to alleviate many fears, they say.


With more than half of respondents citing budget as their primary concern, this is an area that remodelers should focus on. The Kalmins share solutions to a few common scenarios:

Clients not revealing budgets. “It doesn’t bother me when clients don’t give their full budget, in case of unforeseen problems,” Suzanne Kalmin says. However, when someone is not willing to reveal budget numbers, it is difficult to build trust.

Solution: Robert provides clients with two ballpark estimates after the initial meeting—a high end and a low end.. By calculating the costs associated with labor, materials and size or condition of the home, he says the rest of the budget boils down to selections, which are in the clients’ hands. RJK Construction requires a 10% contingency in all projects.

Vague contracts. “The number one problem is that clients don’t read their contracts,” Suzanne says . “The contract is a legal document, and every detail is important.” When clients don’t focus in on details, that’s when their budgetary expectations become inflated.

Solution: The Kalmins don’t waste time on vague budgetary discussions—they put every shade of paint color into their contract so there are not unexpected change orders within the first week. “I tell every client to read contracts line by line and make sure everything you have in mind is in there,” Suzanne says.

Mid-project budget evaluation.  Sometimes, the unforeseen problems get the best of the budget, and a re-evaluation of the projects is necessary. “We conduct a pre-construction inspection to make sure there are no signs of damage, but that’s not guarantee. We have weekly and daily communication via e-mail and phone to make sure that we are all on the same page, because if not, we re-evaluate where we can cut cost,” Suzanne says.

Solutions: A few ways RJK Construction cuts costs on projects is by finding cheaper finishes that fit with overall look. Marble turns into tile, or brushed nickel becomes polished chrome. Another solution is to phase certain aspects of the project to be easily incorporated at a later date. A recent client who needed to scale back decided to forgo the customized closet, but Robert still outfitted the area with blocking so it could be easily installed later on.


Photos are not enough when conveying the quality of craftsmanship and the quality of professionalism your company represents. The Kalmins spend a large amount of time showing prospects the level of quality they can expect, and use a client’s reaction as a qualifying tactic. Here are a few tactics for showing quality:

Current reference list and jobsite visit. “We bring a current list of references, projects completed within the last six months, with similar project types, and a few names of long-time clients who have worked with us over a period of time,” Suzanne says. She also invites new clients to a jobsite in progress, to show them the cleanliness and quality of work upfront, and have clients talk to each other about their experience.

Full explanation of certifications. The RJK Construction staff holds several NARI certifications, and the Kalmins place a lot of emphasis on explanation of certifications and the importance. “People who care about certifications understand that companies willing to invest in employee education are companies that you should be willing to invest your home in,” Robert Kalmin says. If they’re not impressed with continuing education, Kalmin says they’re probably not the right clients for them.

Emphasizing reliable industry partners and tradesmen. Qualified companies partner with qualified people. The Kalmins carefully select their suppliers and vendors and require clients to purchase from these partners. They also share information about their subcontractors, like experience and how long RJK has worked with them. “This makes us responsible and liable for the project, so when they work with us, they know we will take care of their issues with one phone call,” Robert says.

This kitchen was part of RJK Construction's 2013 Southeast Regional CotY Award Winning project in Residential Addition $100,000 to $250,000.

This kitchen was part of RJK Construction’s 2013 Southeast Regional CotY Award Winning project in Residential Addition $100,000 to $250,000.

Return on investment

Underneath it all, most have concerns come back to return on investment (ROI). The Kalmins take an advisory role when it comes to ROI, researching historical real estate transactions, especially the most recent home sale. Sometimes they go a step further, calling the real estate agent or digging up photos from the listing.

“We try to educate ourselves about the neighborhood and what’s hot in the market,” Suzanne says.  She also asks questions about how long they plan to live in the home to help guide decisions. “We are honest and upfront about ROI and whether they will get the return,” she says.

Solution: Homeowners feel empowered during remodeling to place their mark on the look and style of the home. Style doesn’t have to be compromised because it’s different from what the Realtor wants. “I tell them to have fun with the home’s jewelry—paint, hardware, light fixtures—these are easy fixes that have a fast turnaround,” Suzanne says. Other items like appliances should really match the market.


The Kalmins believe most fears will be alleviated with good communication. Sometimes the communication breakdown is part of the client’s fault, always too busy to pick up a contractor’s calls. Here are a few tips to make your clients communicate with you:

  • E-mail/call every evening to talk about the day’s events. “Some people read e-mails, some prefer the phone, some homeowners shut down by 5 p.m.—you need to adjust communications to their schedules, style of communication,” Suzanne says.
  • Encourage clients to ask questions. One homeowner Kalmin worked with would send a list of questions every night, and she would address the questions by 10 a.m. the next morning. “Your clients shouldn’t be leery about asking questions; I find that [questions] to be a good sign,” she says.
  • Think about the alternatives. “You have to understand the chaos they’re going through, and understand the mutual issues and problems that we both have, and then find a way to continue to work through it,” Robert says. Set appointments, use photos, e-mails or phone—whatever it takes to connect with clients regardless of extra administrative work. –Morgan Zenner

| 6/10/2013 12:00:00 AM | 1 comments
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