Spaces for Life: Communication tips to help you survive a remodeling project
By Lance McCarthy
I just finished a really good marriage book by John Gottman called The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Excellent read, and I learned a lot that I hope will make me a better husband. (You’ll have to ask my wife if it is actually working).
As I was reading, it occurred to me that there are quite a few similarities between a marriage and a homeowner-contractor relationship. Stay with me here…both relationships start when two parties decide to partner up. They both have to endure some incredible emotional roller coasters while still remaining healthy. Neither will work without trust…I could go on…
As with any important relationship, there are some key elements that will either help make it successful, or ultimately lead to heartbreak. I have made more than my share of mistakes in relationships, especially contractor-client relationships, but I would like to think that I have learned from each mistake and am constantly improving.
I would like to share some of that experience with you. Below are 5 tips that I think are key to surviving a relationship with your contractor.
Regular face-to-face meetings
Jamie and I have learned that a regular date night does wonders for our relationship, and this is no different. Before a project starts, agree on a weekly time to meet on site and walk through the space.
Make sure everyone involved is there for these meetings, and try to make a list through the prior week of what you want to discuss there so that you can save time. Many elements that are too complicated for text or email can easily be agreed on in person, and will help keep everyone on track.
If it isn't in writing
There have been ample scientific studies demonstrating how fallible the human memory is. Conversations and events easily change over time in the brain. Embrace this reality and stress the importance of putting anything important in writing.
Want a good question to test this? Ask yourself “would I be upset if this issue was remembered wrong by the other person?” If the answer is “yes”, it is worth the time to write it down. A good way to do this is through a follow up email or through a journal that you are sharing with the contractor.
Expect rain on the camping trip
When we are preparing clients for a project, we compare it to watching a loved one go through open heart surgery. It can be very traumatic and stressful, but the result is hopefully a good one. A capable contractor can’t prevent that trauma, but should be able to bring all the pieces back together in the end to “make the patient whole”.
Pick your Priorities
There are thousands of details on any project, and it requires a team of experienced professionals to pull it off. Once the first hammer swings, it will feel out of your control.
Trust in the team you have chosen, but just make sure everyone is clear on your most important priorities. Know what those priorities are and spend your time making sure those are right, instead of struggling to keep your arms around everything.
A great test of this is what I call the Two Year Test. If you are worrying about something or wrestling with a decision, ask yourself, “Two years from now, when the wall has been dinged and the floor has a scratch or two, will this issue still matter?” If the answer is “no”, then release it. If the answer is “yes”, then take your time and make it right.
What I mean by reasonable is equitable. Many times contractors and/or clients take an adversarial position and try to do whatever they can to take advantage in the relationship. The client is constantly trying to get more from the contractor while paying less, and the contractor is constantly trying to cut as many corners as he can to protect profit.
In my experience, this stance usually leads to lose/lose. I believe collaboration is always a better route. If both parties are striving for a fair process, they will both inevitably win. Which again brings me back to Gottman, and why trusting the partner you picked is so vital.
Make sure when you are fighting for something, that you are making sure the other party isn’t losing too much in the process. Your success is tied together.
If you have any remodeling questions, (or need any marital advice), give me a call. (OK, don’t really call me for marital advice, just for remodeling questions…or for book recommendations, I do have plenty more of those.)