We are experiencing an almost unprecedented focus on home improvement in our culture today. In addition, today’s homeowner is educated, empowered and inspired like never before. They approach the building and remodeling process with specific examples, criteria, features and unique materials in mind, which has changed how we manage projects.
I enjoy this. Home improvement has always been fun (it should be — I’ve been in the business for more than 35 years), but there is a whole new level of passion in the industry. The new challenge, however, is guiding that passion while never dampening it, and aligning my clients’ creative vision with practical functionality they will appreciate every day.
How Do You Help Align Vision with Functionality?
1. Listen, Repeat and Listen Again
This is the recipe for a strong relationship with your client.
Actively listening and re-stating their goals will not only help ensure you are on the same page, but it also helps them realize that you are truly, 100 percent invested in meeting those goals and checking off the boxes on both their list of “wants” and “needs.” It’s important that you reiterate that you are a team.
2. Communicate Your Concerns Clearly and Honestly
If there is an element of their plan that raises a red flag for you, clearly and openly address it. Explain why you’re concerned; it is very likely that your client will research your answer on their own, and it is important that whatever does not seem feasible is articulated well.
And then, be ready with a solution … always.
3. Be a Solutionist/Advocate, Not a Wet Blanket
Never identify a problem without a solution in your back pocket.
Remember, you and your client are a team, and you both are working toward finding ways to make their vision a functional reality. Be a problem-solver and they will look forward to rather than dread your input and advice.
4. Offer Function To Their Design By Sharing Examples of Your Previous Work
Clients today are very often going to be using sites like Houzz.com. Their saved kitchen project photos might be focused on gorgeous countertops and backsplashes, but you should have a few examples of practical touches to bring to the layout. For example, maybe they have never heard of a pot filler over their stove, or custom spice racks built into their cabinetry for quick access.
Be just as excited about the beautiful aesthetics as they are, but remember they are relying on you to help suggest those details that will take their kitchen from great to incredible.
5. Use Technology to Your Advantage
I personally have found tremendous value in today’s tech tools. Many clients have trouble visualizing a design idea or solution I have developed, but with my tablet I can help them better understand the finished product.
This works for not only troubleshooting a project, but also showing them specific examples of what the products and materials they are choosing will look like. This helps eliminate any disappointment or negative surprises if they are picturing something different than what a material or design will actually be.
6. Explain the Danger of Trends
Designing around trends is a wonderful way to make stylish updates, and the results can be satisfying.
But what about next year?
Use your experience and the benefit of your perspective to remind your client that you want to help them build something that is so much more than trendy. Are trendy features okay? Absolutely. We all want our homes to be in vogue. But this can never be focused on to the detriment of designing a functional space that will meet your needs for decades to come.
This also can be an opportunity to guide them toward timeless, high-quality materials. This serves the dual purpose of being both functional and aesthetically pleasing. As a bonus, it also offers enduring property value.
“The customer is always right” is a popular saying, but it is not always a good one. In the case of home building and remodeling, they have come to you for your expertise, service and the benefit of your experience. Sometimes the greatest service you can offer is to help a client avoid a costly mistake, or a decision that they will regret a few years down the road. Champion their vision, but also help them to refine that vision into something that offers the greatest benefit possible.
Keith Gerety is president of Gerety Building & Restoration, a full-service remodeling firm serving Westchester County, N.Y., and Fairfield County, Conn.