When Bob DeHaan responded to a call about a living room remodel, he was faced with an unusual situation: There were really two clients. One was Traci Polacco, who lived in the house. The other was her mother, Patricia, who was paying for the improvements.
To confuse matters further, Traci was both a student and a part-time employee working for her mother, who is a children's book author. "It was a strange situation," DeHaan recalls. "I was cautious at first because I didn't know who to follow. I was concerned that I would have to play peacemaker."
In particular, DeHaan had doubts about how well everyone would communicate, so he decided to sign a contract for just the first phase of a larger project.
It turned out that his fears were unfounded. Traci's work relationship with her mother helped ease any issues during the remodel. "They were business-like in their decisions," DeHaan says.
The project expanded somewhat seamlessly into the next phases. Nevertheless, DeHaan set up a meeting at the beginning of each phase to go over the scope of the project with both Traci and Patricia. During construction, he had several meetings with Traci only, but they would call Patricia as needed. It didn't go the other way, though. "I never had a meeting with Patricia without Traci being present," he says.
When it came time to pay up at the end, the three of them sat down together to go over the details. DeHaan made the changes to the original estimate and thoroughly explained the charges in as much detail as he used in the original contract. (He is now implementing a written policy for change orders, but at the time of this project, he used only verbal approval. He says he's never had a problem and did not in this situation.)
All three agree that maintaining a sense of humor helped them diffuse any tensions that arose. DeHaan and Traci joked about Patricia's enthusiasm for remodeling. For the kitchen phase, Traci only wanted an update to the original room. "But my mom and Bob got together and the next thing I know, I was getting a new kitchen that cost half of what I paid for the house," Polacco recalls.
In the Beginning
When Traci Polacco bought her Kalamazoo, Mich., house, she was already renting in the neighborhood. She researched the real estate market and found that, if her mother would help with the down payment, she'd pay $200 less per month than her rent and own a small house.
The house was built in the 1890s and remodeled in the 1950s. Though the house needed work, Traci and Patricia thought it was structurally sound. "It was packaged to sell," Traci says. "We didn't realize how much remodeling would need to be done." She purchased the house for $67,000 and ended up putting at least that much into remodeling it.
Sure enough, within months of moving in, Polacco noticed water dripping through the living room ceiling. The toilet in the bathroom upstairs was leaking. DeHaan answered her inquiry about an estimate and came to assess the house. Polacco and her mother agreed to his $45 consulting fee (see "Time Is Money," right). When they discussed the problem, Polacco also asked about taking down the wall between the living and dining rooms to create one large living space. DeHaan gave them a plan and estimate. In January 2000, phase one began.
Leak to Sleek
When DeHaan's team ripped away the plaster in the living room to fix the leak, they found broken floor joists. "The more they peeled away at things, the more they found," Polacco says. The crew pulled down the wood lathe and plaster on the main-floor ceiling and installed new joists where necessary.
When the team removed the wall between the two narrow front rooms, they found that the fir flooring did not extend under the wall and that someone had patched part of the floor with plywood. The flooring sub put in new fir flooring in that area, resanded the existing boards, and finished the floor in the entire area to a high gloss.
The walls were plaster, but they had been covered with wallpaper and then painted. "We put plaster bond over everything and plastered right over the wallpaper," DeHaan says. The room also had modern trim that he pulled off. Polacco chose new molding more in keeping with the 1890s aesthetic, and DeHaan's team installed it around the windows.
Phase two of the project also started with a leak -- this time in the kitchen. That existing room was a shed-roof addition tacked on to the back of the house, with headroom of about 5 feet.
At the end of the summer of 2000, the Kalamazoo area had an intense rainstorm. That's when the leak in the kitchen ceiling showed up. Polacco paid a roofing company $150 to tar the roof, but the ceiling began leaking again. When Polacco called DeHaan, she just wanted him to fix the leak. Her mother had grander plans.
The original space measured 9 by 16 feet. DeHaan designed an addition to go as far back as they could without infringing on the detached garage. He used a vaulted ceiling to optimize the space and light. The final plans for the addition expanded to a 20-by-16-foot combination kitchen and dining area.
DeHaan used Chief Architect to create the design. He says customers are better able to picture the final design if he uses the different views available on the program (see "Simple CAD," page 66).
Once again, the project began in the winter. The crew had planned to repair the floor framing, but it was too damaged. "We decided it would be faster to tear it out down to the block foundation and build new," DeHaan says. Removing the joists exposed the basement, where they discovered that the original builders had spliced two sets of 12-foot joists over a bearing wall to span the 24-foot length. DeHaan's crew simply installed joists across the shorter 12-foot dimension, removed the wall, and created a more usable basement space.
Polacco wanted as much glass as possible, so DeHaan used a stock French door and window paired with custom trapezoid windows to create a window wall in the addition. Because she would be using the rear entrance on a regular basis when coming in from the garage, he suggested 6-foot doors with only one operating door, which are more secure than double-hinged doors.
DeHaan did run into a problem with the window wall. The French doors and adjacent window came from different manufacturers and had different lengths. After he ordered them, DeHaan realized the unequal lengths would require him to order the upper trapezoid windows with different lengths on the short sides to match. DeHaan says he could have special ordered the window, but because cost was a factor, the homeowner decided she could live with it.
Polacco found this phase more intrusive than the first. "I did dishes in the bathtub upstairs and had a microwave and fridge in the living room," she says. Once the crew had the framing and structure completed, she says the finish work seemed to move quickly. "There were never delays -- someone was working on something every day."
While the crew was working on the kitchen, Polacco and her mother decided to have DeHaan reroof, re-side the house to cover the square pressed tiles, and replace the ugly metal posts holding up the sagging front porch.
The garage looked shabby next to the re-sided house, so DeHaan worked up an estimate on the garage. In 1980, a tornado had knocked over the original garage and a new one had been built. But during the analysis, he found the structure was not attached to the concrete pad. "It was built near a hill, which gave it protection, but if a big wind had come up, it could have blown off," DeHaan says. Also, the foundation's sill was rotting.
So phase three began. DeHaan's crew removed the garage's beveled wood siding, strengthened the foundation, rebuilt a sturdy structure, and installed new siding.
Addicted to Remodeling
After living in the house through a living room remodel, a kitchen remodel, and a garage remodel, Polacco opted to plan phase four -- the bathroom renovation -- at a time when she was traveling. During the six weeks she was gone, DeHaan updated the plumbing. "We gutted the old bathroom and relocated fixtures for a better layout," he says.
DeHaan also had to respond to a callback about the skylights in the addition. He says the framing around the skylight dried and shrank, causing the wallboard to crack in the corners. He fixed the drywall and repainted the ceiling. He says this problem has occurred before, but he's not sure of the best way to prevent it.
Despite the four detailed phases, the house still needs some work. "All I wanted was a new roof, and I ended up with a huge kitchen and a new space. Now, the rest of the house looks great, except upstairs," Polacco says. She has scheduled phase five, where the company will remove the carpeting and level the upstairs floors. Can phase six be far behind?
Time is Money
For the past two years, Bob DeHaan has charged a consulting fee of $45 for all new customers. "I decided not to visit a customer for free. My time is worth something," he says. It also provides a way to qualify customers: If they are willing to pay a fee, they are serious about their projects. "When we tell people on the phone, most say no problem," DeHaan says. The few that say other contractors did not charge them are probably not the customers he wants.
Also, DeHaan says, even if he lowered the charge, the customers who say no to paying $45 will probably say no to paying $20. The customer's agreement is one of the qualifying factors.
About 70% of DeHaan's work comes from repeat business, and he does not charge his past customers. He says only about eight or 10 people per year who pay the $45 don't continue to the design and construction stages.
Before Bob DeHaan could build this addition, he and his crew had to tear down to the foundation and install new joists in the basement. The remodeler used a vaulted ceiling with skylights and a wall of windows to create this sun-filled kitchen/dining room.
Bob DeHaan used Chief Architect, a program he's used for seven years, to create the design on Traci Polacco's house. He likes being able to show customers the plans in full color using three dimensional views, aerial views, and interior views.
"I show how it ties in with the rest of the house. It allows me to work out details of how something will be built, so I don't have to do it on site," DeHaan says. "Since I take care of details early, it makes the project go smoother."
In a screened-in porch project, the software actually won him the job. The tie-in to the existing roof was complex -- another contractor could not figure out the detail and turned down the project. With the help of Chief Architect, DeHaan was able to draft the correct roof tie-in, which made it easy for him to show the customer the end result. "In that instance, it paid for itself," DeHaan says.
He recently upgraded to the 8.0 version of the software, which has a more extensive library of details that he looks forward to using.