Walking Through the Path to Zero

by Kyle Clapham

You walk with the client through the project at its end. What do you or your client find on this walk-through? Do you find items that should have been fixed but were not? Is it the little things, such as misaligned cabinet doors, a missing knob or a scratch on the finish? You may have stories of your client finding a fixture not connected or leaking, but likely those are rare. A punch list details unfinished tasks or items. How does the punch list reflect on you, a professional remodeler, trying to turn over an uncompleted project to the homeowner? Of course you will send someone out to fix those items, but at what cost?

In the old days if there were no major issues, you would get your check and close the project. However, you would still need to send someone back to correct the problems your client found. Worst case, the client would hold back some money until all of the issues were completed—albeit, this opened the door for the client to find further issues. In effect, your client was your quality check, and this delayed receipt of your final payment.

Short of the cost of the house, a remodeling project is likely the largest expenditure your client will make. Does it make sense to turn it over with work remaining or to expect the client to conduct a quality check on your work? Also, what does this mean for a client’s satisfaction with the workmanship and project overall?

There are a growing number of remodelers changing this paradigm and eliminating the punch list from their final walk through. Chris Peterson, MCR, CLC, of Schloegel Design Remodel in Kansas City, Missouri, says, “Getting there is a process—your team must have buy-in, and you must manage your client’s expectations.”

Reframing the Approach

What does it mean to have no punch list, and what does it take to get there? Peterson has his leads maintain a “to-do list” throughout the course of the project. This list contains items that should have been done but were not completed. For example, cabinets have been installed but one of the doors has some scratches on it. This goes on the list and stays until corrected. As the completion of the project approaches, this list should get shorter and shorter and serves as the lead’s punch list. Peterson acknowledges that the leads don’t always end without any items on the list, but the issues are normally supply chain/backorder related.

In order to manage the homeowner’s expectations, either Peterson or the project lead meets regularly with the client to discuss the project status and next steps. This allows the homeowner to be engaged in the project’s progress and helps them feel like they are part of the process. Additionally, homeowners typically maintain a list of issues they think are left to complete, and those are often bounced off the leads list.

At Schloegel Design Remodel, the last status meeting usually takes place a few days ahead of closing. At it, the lead walks the client through the project, pointing out what remains to be completed and asks the client if they see any additional issues. This allows the client to give their input, and if they found something not known, there is time to fix it. The lead also uses this time to set the stage for the final presentation that will take place in a few days.

To reframe the closing of the project, Peterson and his team make a big deal about the final result. It is no longer considered a walk-through but a final presentation. This idea stems from many of the TV home makeover shows where they present, or reveal, the final project. In addition to this final presentation, Peterson will present the client a gift of some sort; the type and cost of the gift depends on the overall project cost.

They show the client the finished project, sign off on the required paperwork and get the final check. This is a great way to complete the project and leave the client with a great feeling.

Team Gets It to Zero

What is being described may look straightforward and fairly easy, but Peterson reiterates that it takes a mindset and a team to make it happen. Your leads have to have buy in to the fact that the project will be 100 percent done on presentation day; they have to work to make that happen. The design team needs to make sure that all the materials are ordered and arrive when they are needed. If there are issues with suppliers, those need to be resolved quickly. If a project completes on time with zero items outstanding at the presentation, Peterson believes in providing incentives to his leads and designers. Each is presented with a $50 gift card, but as he says, “It is all or nothing.”

Getting to zero is more than having zero items on the punch list at closing; it is about providing a positive experience for your client with an exciting presentation at project completion. It is also a way to ensure you get the final check without delay. If this process makes sense to you, take the first step and start implementation now. QR

Take the NARI Recertification quiz for this topic here.

Schloegel Design Remodel has been successfully remodeling homes in the Kansas City, Missouri, area since 1980. They are a true design/build firm also offering handyman and painting services as well as express custom kitchens and baths. Schloegel knows the remodeling process is just as important to homeowners as the remodeling project. Their custom “design remodel” process ensures each project, whether large or small, is exactly as promised, every time.

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