Lupberger: How to Quickly Close the Sale on Major Remodels

by Patrick OToole

Last week, a particularly good remodeler came to me with a sales problem. He was having difficulty getting his deals to close. We had a great conversation that I’d like to share. He will not be having that problem moving forward.

The issue that was arising was that he was providing estimates to potential clients, but they were not getting back to him with a commitment to move forward. We reviewed each step in his sales process and we agreed on a new sales one below.

The Qualifying Call

You cannot go on sales calls with unqualified prospects. Your time is too valuable. With preparing for the site visit, travel time to and from your location, and with time spent with the prospect, you have wasted up four hours of your working day. That ends today.

Before any onsite sales call, set a time to speak with your prospects as this pre-qualifying step is so important. Get them on the phone and review each of the questions below. Print these questions out and put them in front of you when you start the qualifying call. If possible, when setting up this call, ask the potential customers to send some digital photos of the work area. These images will assist you in your follow-up. Move through each question below but do not move forward if you do not get the answer you are looking for.

When interviewing a potential customer, ask the following questions:

  1. How did you find out about my company?
  2. What is the type and scope of the project?
  3. Why are they considering remodeling?
  4. What is their target schedule?
  5. What is their budget range?
  6. What level of research have they done?
  7. Who will be involved in the decision-making process?
  8. Have they remodeled before?  If so, what was the outcome?
  9. If not, do they know someone who has remodeled before?  What was the outcome?

I think you can begin to see the purpose of each question. Customize these for your own use, but again, if you do not get the answers you need, you do not move forward.

In following this “script”, you will get the information needed to address the desired scope of work and potential schedule. Knowing that scope of work will allow you to begin putting together some initial budget ranges and to take supporting materials from similar past projects you have completed.

My rule is that the first meeting is free, but that is where the free visits stop! I would take my design agreement to the initial meeting and plan to get a signed design agreement and payment before leaving. This is how this works:

  1. At the initial visit, review the scope of work
  2. Review the tentative schedule
  3. Based on your knowledge of the scope of work, share some preliminary budget numbers
  4. If you can bring some similar plans and scope of work from a past project, show these potential clients what will be involved in getting them an accurate estimate:
    • Initial plan drawings
    • Project materials pricing
    • Trade contractor feedback
    • Preliminary estimate numbers

This is a key point in your meeting. Show them what it takes to complete the real estimate that you will be providing. This may well include initial drawings and a written estimate that reviews that scope of work. Let them know that preparing this information will take you between eight and 10 hours to complete. Let them know that you do this because this is what is involved with a real estimateCompanies that do “free” estimates are not putting this time in. They are preparing a free “guesstimate” that without plans and scope of work is nothing more than a preliminary guess at the project cost.

I have told past clients that I stopped doing free guesstimates because it did not give potential customers the information that they needed to make an educated decision. It was my job as a qualified remodeler to show them the make-up of a real estimate and what that looks like.

When a potential client has said that someone else will do that for free, my response is always to ask what is that competitor estimating?  If there are no plans to review, what does their estimate reflect? It is truly a guesstimate if I am giving you a number for your project and I am imagining what you want. That is not what your potential customers need!

I would always take some similar project plans if someone were looking at a kitchen, bath, or room addition project. I want potential customers to see what a real estimate looks like. I want them to see some sample drawings, a description of the scope of work, and an estimate that reflects that scope of work. Guess what—that takes several hours to prepare, and you should be paid for that!

My design agreement rule is that any project that includes three or more tradespeople will, for the purpose of an accurate estimate, also require a scope of work and plan so that each tradesperson can give me a more accurate estimate for the work that they will be estimating to complete. A more complicated project will need plans to accurately estimate both labor and materials. When potential customers visit with their attorney, dentist, or car mechanic, they understand that with these professionals that there will be a fee for the services that are provided.

I always review a sample estimate from a previous project with a similar scope of work. I want them to see the deliverable and get a real sense of what they are paying for. Reasonable customers who are serious about their project understand this pay-for-services concept. After we have reviewed the scope of work, preliminary budget, and the sample estimate from a previous project, I show them the design agreement.

After showing them what I will put together for them, I again review that this will take several hours to complete. Spending eight to 10 hours on something like this is not unusual. I then show them my design agreement and I ask for a nominal fee to get this started. I do not ask for a percentage of the projected project cost because we don’t know that yet. My intention is to ask for an initial payment of $400 to $500 to get this started.

I just want to cover my time. My desire here is to get an initial commitment. For $400 to $500, I will put together an estimate and scope of work that will give them a real number to start to work with. No selections have been made so this is just a preliminary budgetary number. To be clear, this is not the only money you will receive if you enter the full design-development process. In my design agreement, I have the payment schedule below:

Conceptual Drawings                $ ____________       1st Payment ___________

Design Development                 $ ____________       2nd Payment ___________

Production Drawings                $ ____________       3rd Payment ___________

TOTAL DESIGN FEE        $ ____________

My job at that first meeting is to get them excited. I want them to see what is possible in working with me. I want them to see the initial deliverable and what they are paying for. A $400 to $500 initial payment is small change when working with them to get their dreams on paper. But there is another benefit to this. When they give me that initial payment, I have taken them off the market. They will not be doing this with another contractor and with that initial fee, we have set a 2nd appointment to return to review the initial estimate and plan. 

That initial fee allows me to engage with them and my simple philosophy is that if I am putting in time, they also need to invest something. That something comes in the form of a signed design agreement and deposit to start working with me. We have come to an agreement to begin working with each other.

I have used this approach with success because good clients will pay for services if they understand what they are paying for. Make this easy for them. A free estimate does not give them this information. This paid design-development process does. It’s a win-win as it sets the stage for a paid consulting arrangement that begins to pay you for your time. QR

To get my sample design agreement, send me a note at I am happy to forward that onto you. — DL

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