Remodeling Done Right with Certification Excellence

“I challenged myself to earn my Certified Remodeler (CR) designation.”

Not as a marketing tool, not because I thought new customer prospects would even recognize what “CR” means. I did it because I wanted to see if I could measure up to the best practices as defined by serious Remodelers who had defined those standards years before me. Seasoned pros who learned from their own successes and failures what commitments it takes to manage a successful remodeling company.

I didn’t know what to expect from my challenge, except that once I committed, I would have to apply myself to prepare for what I was told would be a difficult, two hour proctored exam: (closed book, a calculator, a code book and 2 pencils).  That’s what made it all the sweeter when I received a letter about a week after taking the exam, congratulating me on having passed.  I was relieved, and felt pride in having achieved my goal.


The Certified Remodeler certification was described as the most difficult to achieve. “Formidable” for even experienced remodelers.  I noted that it was also the most expensive certification offered. It required several books, study guides and eventually a testing application and fee (non-refundable).

As you would expect, the study guide covered knowledge that any manager in our industry needs to oversee work done by our trades: Electrical, Plumbing, Mechanical, Carpentry. Even Masonry. Understanding how to evaluate existing conditions is vital in Remodeling. And I got practice, cross-referencing updates in the building code book. That was good exercise that taught me some basic techniques that I still use seven years later.

It was also clear that I would be tested on my understanding of my fiscal responsibilities to my company, management of employees and subs, and of course my obligations to my customers. The study guide and self-test quizzes at the end of each section gave me a taste of the difficulty of the test I would be taking. I pretended to take each quiz as if I were taking the actual proctored exam. Then I scored my results using the scorecard from another page. I did well on most chapter quizzes, but bombed a few. (I re-read those chapters and adjusted my thinking).

If I were to do it over again, I would sign up for an on-line study groups that is offered by the NARI Education Department. They usually meet weekly for three months or so. But like a lot of people in our industry, I figured I could do the studying on my own. I did. And like a homeowner trying to remodel their own bathroom, it took me 6 months to brow-beat myself till I felt as prepared as I could be.

I don’t know what my overall score was — only that I had passed. That’s how it’s done. To protect the integrity of the exam. Since then I’ve learned that there are actually multiple versions of the same exam.

And I was surprised to learn that approximately 25% of people who take the exam do not pass. My feeling is that many of those who fail do so simply because they don’t study. This is no free lunch. If you don’t study you will not pass this exam.  I imagine that others who don’t pass may not yet have had enough practical experience, or they simply slipped up. It happens. For those, if they’re still up to the challenge, they can try again.


NARI offers certifications in specialties like Kitchen & Bath, Project Management and Lead Carpenter. I chose to pursue one additional certification: Universal Design, a specialty for which I have a personal passion. This time I signed up for on-line training over 4 weeks, did my homework, studied the materials and took another proctored, closed-book exam. The UDCP exam timed out in an hour and a half and like the CR exam, I wasn’t sure I had passed till I got a phone call from NARI National congratulating me.

I felt that the combination of achieving the CR and UDCP certifications were the right combination for me, and fit my company positioning. For now, I am satisfied to meet the Continuing Education requirements to renew my certifications each year. If you enjoy learning, it’s not hard to tally up at least 10 hours of training for each certification each year. Especially if you’re active in your local NARI chapter, or attend annual events like the Remodeling Show, NARI Leadership Summit or other training offered on line at NARI University and around the country in our local markets.


I didn’t know that my certification would result in referrals. But that’s exactly how it started paying me back for my investment. And it came from an unexpected source. Other members of my NARI chapter knew I had passed the Universal Design course and started referring customers to me who had mobility challenges. They knew that it was my passion and my specialty. I was also listed on the directory under both the CR and UDCP categories. So new customer prospects doing internet searches began selecting me from the member list. It’s still not clear to me if it was my new certifications that sent them to me, or just the overall increase in on line shoppers over the past decade. But since marketing was not my main purpose for earning certifications, I considered this a bonus.


My certifications are something I now include in my Sales and Marketing as a credential. They are part of my brand. Are they the main reason customers choose my company over others? That would be an overstatement. But it doesn’t hurt to have that extra degree of differentiation. And as I meet other NARI Certified members and National Staff, I feel a kinship that has lead me to other new opportunities for personal growth.

I firmly believe that continuing education throughout my career is what keeps me motivated and fresh. Maintaining my certifications is my personal validation that I won’t settle for complacency. And I think my customers can sense that. Even if they don’t know what “CR” stands for.

About the Author

Gary Grabowski, CR, UDCP is an active member of NARI of Southeast Michigan. He has been a past chapter President (2011) and is currently a Board Member of NARI National Education Committee and the NARI National Certification Board. He is the owner of Greater Home Services, LLC serving the greater Detroit area. Greater Home Services is a remodeling company with a focus on Universal Design. His subsidiary company, Detroit Ramp, installs wheel chair ramps. To learn more visit: or

| 3/27/2017 12:00:00 AM | 0 comments
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