Taking the Mystery Out of Remodeling – by Reva Kussmaul

New York Times Article: Calling in the House Therapist

By Kristina Shevory

Even though I was interviewed for this article four years ago as of August 2012 it is still as relevant as it was then and, perhaps, even more so.

Home and Garden, March 13, 2008 – Posted 7/3/12

Renovating a home can be as fraught as negotiating a difficult marriage. So it is perhaps not surprising that coaches like Reva Kussmaul — many of them former contractors — are proliferating. Remodeling coaches often act more like marriage counselors than like building consultants, and, like therapists, they are best when brought in as early as possible. They can help homeowners figure out what they want in a renovation, and can make sure that the project is actually carried out.  Ms. Kussmaul, while acknowledging that some homeowners might blanch at the fees, suggests that paying for a coach can be far cheaper than ending up with a home you dislike, or not finishing a remodeling project at all.

Two years ago she mediated between two homeowners and the contractor they had hired to build a second-story addition. They had paid him $90,000, she said, but he was often absent from the job site and sent workers who mistakenly severed the sewer line and electrical wires. Ms. Kussmaul estimated that it would cost $120,000 to fix and finish the project.

“You can say $175 is a lot, but good luck if you get into it and it gets really bad,” said Ms. Kussmaul, who charges $175 an hour. “They could have saved thousands of dollars and headaches, and that’s priceless.”

Coaches can help steer clear of nightmares, act as intermediaries between contractors and homeowners, and help owners set a budget, put together a timeline, navigate competing proposals, pick a builder and get discounts on materials and supplies. Once a project starts, they can keep an eye on the contractor, monitor the quality of work and mediate conflicts.

In the past, only multimillion-dollar home and office jobs had project managers, who oversaw the work and made sure everything was done. But the housing boom and the growth in remodeling created a market of homeowners who know nothing about building and are searching for help. Former contractors have stepped in to fill the void, retooling themselves as coaches. While no association tracks their numbers, some in the field estimate that there are about 100 such coaches around the country.

Coaches’ fees typically vary from $90 to $300 an hour. Because the coaches usually are not affiliated with contractors, their advice is generally viewed as more objective. For large projects, many coaches charge a percentage, usually from 5 to 10 percent of the total project cost. Some, like Reva Kussmaul, owner of Remodel 411 in Pasadena, Calif., offer one-on-one consultations as well as webinars.  Ms. Kussmaul has also written a book from the viewpoint of “the acting like marriage counselors aspect”.  Remodel 411, Secrets to a Successful Remodeling Relationship.

Unlike many contractors, coaches have time to discuss a homeowner’s plans, suggest alternate and sometimes cheaper materials and designs, and explain the money and mess aspect of the project. Most builders are juggling so many jobs that they often do not have time to answer homeowners’ endless questions, walk them through a project or offer suggestions about how to do something better and for less money. Perhaps most important, a coach can help save a homeowner’s sanity and wallet.

It’s much cheaper to change plans than to stop midstream because you can’t pay; Then what do you do? You put down a blue tarp and nail it down until you have more money to pay.

This could easily happen if you don’t have someone to steer you in a different direction.

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