Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Estimating the Unknown

One rainy afternoon last week Roger looked at two projects that turned out to have a lot of unknowns. Because we were unable to define exactly what needed to be done and how long it would take to do it, we couldn't provide our usual fixed price estimate. To keep the price as low as possible, we suggested that the work be done at our standard hourly rate, plus actual costs of materials, equipment and supplies. 

This caused both homeowners some frustration and disappointment because they wanted to compare our approach with others and be sure what we charged was in line and would fit their budget for the work. The problem was further complicated by the fact that although we had been referred by people they trust who know us well and can vouch for us, we were strangers to them. 

Roger and I understood their predicament, but if there are a lot of unknowns we can't give you a fixed price, and even quoting a range of prices is risky if the problem(s) turn out to be much worse than expected. Having said that, we know that some other contractors are willing to wing it and hope for the best, but we're just not comfortable operating that way.

Project #1

The first project was the exterior of a house that was over 50 years old, with many, many layers of peeling, flaking paint. If the surfaces weren't properly prepared, the weight of the new paint could cause even more failure and make the job much larger and more difficult. The amount of preparation time that would be required to achieve a paint-able result couldn't be determined from just looking at the house. There were also going to be some repairs, but they hadn't begun so Roger also didn't know how much cosmetic work he would have to do prior to painting.

Project #2

In the second case the owner didn't want to paint full walls, just bits and pieces here and there on the inside and outside of a large home. In addition there was considerable damage in several rooms from a large, slow water leak, but the extent of the damage couldn't be determined until Roger began digging out the bad areas. He also was told that a high deck needed washing, but the only access was with a very tall ladder that he doesn't carry unless he knows he'll need it, so there was no way to see what condition the deck was in. There were even more "issues", but you get the idea.

The Solution That's Fair to Both Parties

In both cases there was no accurate way to estimate the scope of work. If we quoted a fixed price, we'd have to make it really, really high to cover contingencies, and the terms wouldn't be acceptable. If we bid the projects with unsubstantiated optimism that they would turn out to be no larger and/or no worse than what could be seen, we could be in trouble. 

This is why in both cases we recommended the only fair solution: charging by the hour plus the cost of materials, equipment and supplies. The homeowners would pay only what the work actually cost and we wouldn't lose money on a job that turned out to be much larger than expected. It also would have given them total control of their project because it at any time they were unhappy with the way things were going, they could have paid us for what we'd done and sent us on our way. (BTW, in more than thirty years in business that's never happened!) 

Even after explaining all this, both homeowners pressed us very hard to give them a firm price. We understood and were very sorry that we couldn't do as they wished, but over-charging to protect us would have been unfair to them and under-charging and hoping for the best would have been unfair to us. We much prefer that our pricing for work with a lot of unknowns be just right for both parties. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Asymmetrical Angled Ceilings: A Simple Solution Using Color

Color contrast highlights an awkward slanted ceiling.
Many homes have asymmetrical angled ceilings, some by design and some as a result of the practical need to accommodate functional items like closets, framing or duct work. Sometimes the entire room is like this and sometimes it's just one or two walls, but either way the result can be awkward and discordant. When it comes to painting these rooms, where you put color will either call attention to the problem or help to minimize it.

Look at this bedroom ceiling. All of it is angled, but in several places there are additional sloped sections to accommodate a closet or lead to an adjoining room. Because of high contrast, the white ceiling and dark brown walls not only made the room look uncomfortably unbalanced, it undermined the beauty of the wood beam in the center of the peak because the pure white didn't flatter the wood.

This room is another example of a common automatic pilot color decision - painting the ceiling plain white. That's what you're supposed to do, isn't it? (No.) Adding to the problem, the baseboards, doors and windows were white with very bad brown glazing that looked splotchy and dirty. The small adjoining bathroom had the same issues with odd angles and bad glazing that didn't work with the stone counter top and tub surround. 

It was time for a new approach to help this master suite live up to its potential. 

After: awkward angles are less noticeable.

Fortunately there's a very simple solution for bringing unity and harmony to rooms with angled ceilings: paint the ceiling and walls the same color. When you do this your eye sees the room as a harmonious whole instead of components, and it enlarges the space while minimizing the impact of all those angles. 

After: one color on ceiling, walls and baseboards.
In the "after" pictures you'll see that we chose a serene blue-green for the ceiling, walls and baseboards. It made the room feel more open and spacious, made the angles in the ceiling less noticeable and made the beam a more attractive feature. The doors and windows were painted in the same warm off-white that was used in the rest of the house.

This project is a perfect illustration of smart color selection combined with strategic color placement to solve a design problem and create a beautiful, coordinated master suite. 

If your house has design challenges (interior or exterior), we can show you ways to use paint colors strategically to help resolve them. Call me for a painting estimate at 828-692-4355. If we do the painting, my help choosing colors is a free service.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Camouflage or Feature? Strategies for Exterior Painting

No matter what you're doing, how you treat the details really matters and getting them wrong will trip you up every time. When you're painting the exterior of your house, you need to anaylze seemingly unimportant or small things and have a plan for how you'll deal with them. If you don't, they'll become distractions at best or eyesores at worst, and ruin the overall look. 

Since exterior painting is an investment, it makes sense to not lose these no-cost opportunities to enhance the best features of your house and camouflage the ones that are functional or unattractive.

Exterior Details to Hide, When Possible

To camouflage something, paint it the color of the surface it's on, usually the wall. In the case of downspouts, sometimes they cross the roof or fascia as in this picture, and in that case, the part along the fascia should be painted that color. Note the cabinet where the meters live has been painted the wall color. 

Here are some more candidates for the camouflage treatment:
  • Most construction banding boards (They're usually there as joinery, not as decoration!).
  • Garage doors, if they can be painted. Read your door warranty first as painting some doors could void the warranty.
  • Utility boxes, wires and pipes.
  • Air conditioning unit surround.
  • Gutter exteriors, if they can be painted, and especially when the colors don't work with the roof or the paint colors.
  • Deck undercarriages and support posts, in some situations.
  • Lattice under a porch or deck. 
  • Roof jacks and vents.
  • Foundation.
  • Small vents in gables.
  • Small scale trim pieces used to create outlines.
  • Miscellanous doors and windows in awkward locations. 
  • Unpaintable items like white vinyl windows and doors. They can ruin the look of your house if
    Coordinated vinyl and window trim colors.
    there is high contrast between the trim and wall colors and the windows. Camouflage them by painting the trim the same color so that the windows look like a single unit as you can see in this picture, and by choosing a low contrast color for the walls. 

Before you start your painting project, take the time to study your house and make a plan.

Exterior Details to Feature

  • The front door. Paint it a special color coordinated with the wall and trim colors, and with the flowering plants in your landscape. Don't use that color anywhere else.
  • Decorative details.
As you see, this list of things to showcase is much shorter than the list of things to hide. That's because simplicity is usually best because it supports the architectural integrity of your house.

When it's time to paint your house again, pay attention to these details. You'll be amazed at what a difference it will make to have a smart strategy for them.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Choosing Exterior Paint Colors? Don't Ignore the Foundation

A disconnected foundation.

Often overlooked or deliberately ignored, the foundation of your house nevertheless is an important element in your exterior color plan. With the right color you can resolve design issues and make the house more attractive, but if you overlook the foundation, or you don't choose the color wisely, particularly if it's large and visible, you've created a distraction, or at worst an eyesore and undermined the appearance of your house.

The stark contrasting color chosen for the foundation of this house is such a departure from the stained siding that it draws your eye and fails to make the house look connected to it or to the ground. 

Why Foundations Are Often Ignored

Many people mistakenly think that the foundation of their house is a detail that doesn't matter. The reasons for this can include:

  • not knowing the important role the foundation can play in creating a unified, harmonious impression of the house.
  • failing to realize that leaving the foundation raw will make the house look unfinished or carelessly finished.  
  • not knowing that how the foundation is treated creates a chance to correct design issues, such as a house that appears too squat or too tall. 
  • the perception that the foundation is difficult to paint, or that it shouldn't be painted at all.

I'm not talking about foundations that are 6 inches or so in height, or beautiful stone or brick foundations, I'm talking about the larger raw concrete ones that are a visible design element that either supports or detracts from the look of your house. 

Color Strategies for Foundations

 Don't Ignore Large Visible Foundations.
Tall House with a Large Visible Foundation

If your house has a very large visible foundation, look at the relative proportions of siding and foundation, as well as the overall height of the house, to guide you to the best approach. 

Using a darker accent color on the foundation not only shortens the perceived height of the house and grounds it, the color plan becomes more custom and interesting.  It's usually best to avoid very high contrast between the body and foundation colors, and don't mix pastels with earth tones. If the house has a horizontal banding board, you have options. Depending on the proportions of the house and foundation, you can paint the board in the body color, the foundation color, or in an accent color to adjust the impression of height. 

Modular Home on Raw Concrete Foundation

Long, Low House

If your house is long and low like many ranch houses, paint the foundation in the body color to make it look less squat and more unified. In this case the painted foundation has the additional benefit of making the house look less like a modular dropped on a foundation. 

Foundation Painted the Body Color

Stained Wood Siding

When your house has stained siding, an unpainted concrete foundation can look jarring. The high contrast undermines the unity and harmony of the exterior and makes it look unfinished. Usually the best approach is to match paint to the color of the stain after it's been applied to the house and paint the foundation. 

Stained Wood Siding and Raw Concrete Foundation

Painting Raw Concrete

Yes, you can paint raw concrete, and as with any other painting project, correct surface preparation is essential. Whether you paint it yourself, or hire someone to do it for you, make sure to pressure-wash if needed, fill holes with concrete patch, repair cracks with an elastomeric caulk, then use a 100% acrylic primer before applying the paint. If the concrete is new, it should be allowed to cure at least 30 days before painting. 

Every detail matters when you paint the exterior of your home, even the humble foundation!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Failing to Make Repairs and Stage Can Cost You

Staging done badly undermines the appeal of your house
Decorated, Not Staged 
A lot of of the houses I see on line these days either have no staging at all, or there's been an amateur effort by the real estate agent or seller who don't understand the difference between decorating and staging. The ineffective and sometimes harmful pictures that result put the house at a significant competitive disadvantage. Of course attempted staging usually is better than none at all, because failing to make repairs and paying no attention to cosmetic appeal can really cost you.

The Crucial First Few Seconds

Most people know that today's buyers begin their search for a home on line, and you have seconds at most to get their attention in a positive way and make them want to visit in person. It stands to reason that if the pictures of your house aren't attractive, buyers will quickly move on to the next listing and you've lost an opportunity. If prospects do come and your house doesn't impress them by being clean, inviting and well maintained, you've either lost the sale or inspired a lower offer than you might have gotten if you'd made certain it was in sound condition and professionally staged before listing.

Case Study - Failing to Repair and Stage

To emphasize this crucial point, here's an example of how failing to make repairs and stage (or doing it badly) can squander the equity you've worked years to build. 

Let's say that houses in your development have been selling for $250,000 - $285,000. 
  • Repairs and professional staging costs are estimated at $2,500, of which a generous $500 is allotted for staging. You decide not to spend the money. 
  • A comparable staged house down the street in showing condition is listed at $275,000.
  • You decide to list your house for $265,000, thinking that a lower price will attract buyers and more than compensate for not doing the work. You forfeit a significant amount of money at the outset, and that's just the beginning. Because your house doesn’t photograph well, there are only a few showings and no offers. Keep in mind that had your house been repaired and staged, it could have been listed at a higher price, helping to offset the cost of the work and it would have been much more appealing.
  • The staged house down the street sells quickly for $270,000. You get anxious and reduce the price $5,000 to $260,000. 
  • More time goes by without results. You reduce the price to $257,500. 
  • After a long wait, an offer finally comes in at $255,000, pending the buyer’s inspection. You're down $10,000 from the original (low) list price.
  • During the inspection damage is found. The buyer demands a price reduction of $5,000 to cover repairs. Your original estimate for the same work was $2,000. 
  • After going back and forth, you agree to sell for $252,000. 

Here's What You've Forfeited:

  • the difference between the potential and actual initial listing price
  • plus the difference between the listing price and the selling price
  • AND you've paid higher costs for repairs, the costs of continued upkeep and the costs of lost opportunities, like being unable to buy that perfect new house you wanted. 

    Let’s Add This Up: 

    YOUR HOUSE                                THE HOUSE DOWN THE STREET
     AS IS                                                AFTER REPAIRS AND STAGING
    $265,000 list price  $275,000 list price ($10,000 more)
    $252,000 sell price                           $269,900 sell price ($17,900 more)
                                                                       - $2,500 staging and repair costs                   
                                                                    $267,400  (+$15,400 more net)
    With repairs and professional staging, the seller in this example had $15,400 more profit and a faster sale. This is a conservative example since the average difference in selling price nationwide between staged and unstaged houses is usually about 17%. And remember, this happened because you didn't want to spend $2,500.

    Home Selling is a Competition 

    The main point to understand about selling your house is that regardless of market conditions, you're competing against every other house in your price range. Your competition includes properties in your development and properties outside your immediate area, many with highly motivated sellers who are determined to make their house stand out. That's a big pool for discerning buyers to choose from. 

    Don't put your house at a disadvantage. Be a smart seller and do the work so that your house is ready to be a strong competitor from the moment you list. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Painting Estimates: Look Beyond the Number

I admit it: sometimes I get frustrated. We often do estimates for people who say they want the best possible job, so we thoroughly discuss what they want to be done and prepare our estimate on that basis, only to be told we weren't the low bid.  

I'm not surprised to hear it. Our professional standards and our personal definition of high quality work are likely very different from our competitors, but the homeowner doesn't know this and chooses the low bid on the assumption they were prepared on the same terms, and that price is the only point of comparison. Unfortunately for us, it's never true. To compare estimates accurately, you need to know how they're calculated. 

Cost Elements of a Painting Estimate

Labor, materials, supplies, equipment, and overhead (office expenses, vehicle expenses, insurance, taxes, licenses, web site, dues, and memberships, etc. etc.) are the main cost elements of a painting estimate. The biggest factor is the time needed to do the quality of work specified because of the cost of labor. It takes longer for a professional to prepare a surface for painting the right way, which can involve several steps, and then apply the paint correctly, than it does for an amateur working at a low wage to do little or no preparation, or incorrect preparation, then slap on a coat of paint. Which do you think yields attractive, long-lasting results? And which approach do you think costs you less over time? You can either save money today and get poor or at best mediocre results, or you can have work that looks great, adds to the beauty, enjoyment, and value of your home - and will last. 

If you hire an individual who doesn't operate as a business with associated overhead you might pay less, but you take a much greater risk because they've chosen not to be visible and accountable. 

If you want to compare painting estimates more accurately, here's how:

How to Get Comparable Estimates        

First you need to decide what you want to accomplish. If you've just moved in and plan to stay, doing things correctly is smart, even if it means you do the work a little bit at a time. On the other hand, if you're doing a quick clean up to get your house ready to list, your goal might be low cost rather than high quality. Be sure to discuss your goals with the bidders who might have valuable suggestions. Make certain that everyone knows the final strategy so that the estimates are comparable. Require detailed written estimates.

We always provide written estimates, as much for our benefit as for yours, and we specify exactly what we're going to do and the materials we're going to use so that you know what you'll get for your investment in hiring us. I have yet to see a competitor's estimate that takes such a detailed approach, so how do you compare them with us?

Questions to Ask Each Bidder

  • Who will do the work and what are their qualifications? Unskilled or temporary workers may keep costs down, but you could pay a high price for their shortcomings.
  • Does the company carry workers' compensation insurance? If not, you could be held financially responsible if someone is injured on your property. 
  • What steps will be taken to prepare the surface?  Get every detail in writing so you can make comparisons.
  • What materials will be used?  Paint manufacturers offer several grades, and you will get what you pay for. If you want the best, specify it by manufacturer and product name.
  • How many finish coats will be applied in addition to a primer, if needed? Some painters will slide by with primer tinted to the finish color (it's cheaper) and one finish coat after stating they bid it for two finish coats. 
If our number is higher, it's usually because we were going to do more work and use better materials, or the competitor planned to take shortcuts, or didn't understand the job and underbid. It's that simple. 

Comparing the Estimates

Once you have the estimates, it's time to make a systematic evaluation. 
  • Compare the scope of work and the steps to be taken. If you weren't given enough information, you can't rely on that estimate to be accurate.
  • Review the qualifications of the workers if you care about clean work habits and want to have paint applied to professional standards, such as crisp lines and no paint where it shouldn't go, like your wood floors, cabinets, driveway, patio, plants or windows. Sometimes paint can't be removed without doing damage. 
  • Confirm the exact materials each bidder is using and tell them you will verify the materials if they're hired. 
  • Confirm the number of finish coats in the estimate. 
  • Your impression of the professionalism and integrity of the company. Are you comfortable at the prospect of having them at your home? Do they have references or a web site where you can learn more about them? Are they established in your community? How long have they been in business? 
  • Professional color consulting services. We believe that using well-chosen colors is essential to a successful outcome, so Sandy LeRoy provides a free color and detailing consultation to every painting client. Sandy is a Certified Color Strategist who uses color science and the latest technology and methods. If you need help with colors, this service is invaluable. Do any of the other bidders offer something comparable? 
  • Price.

Set up a grid and enter the information from each estimate. Notice that the price is the last basis of comparison because it depends on the preceding items. If you're not comparing apples with apples, you're in the dark about the estimate that represents the best value.

Beware of the Low Bid

Beware of an unusually low bid because it normally means the bidder:
  • didn't understand the scope of work
  • intended to take shortcuts, usually in the preparation phase
  • uses unskilled or temporary labor and pays them cash
  • plans to use lower grade materials
  • isn't operating as a reliable, accountable business

In Conclusion...

Painting done correctly can have many significant, positive effects on your house, far beyond what the work costs, so it's well worth hiring the right people who are going to do things the way they should be done. It's the best value for your money in the long run. 

If you require professionalism, high standards, integrity and work that looks great and lasts, please call me at 828-692-4355. We'll talk about your project and I'll schedule an estimate with Roger. On the other hand, if the most important thing is to find the lowest bid, we're probably not the best choice.