Open, honest communication helps relax client expectations for a successful lakeside remodel.
Source: REMODELING Magazine
Publication date: 2006-01-01
By Stacey Freed
Remodelers are in the business of making dreams happen, not dashing hopes. But to move on a project, you have to help clients figure out what is important to them, which often means redirecting their expectations.
Homeowners Geoff and Crystal Emry agree that Rudy Klein is good at this. Their relationship worked like a good marriage, based on trust and compromise, as Klein’s Home Improvement remodeled Geoff’s childhood home overlooking Swede Bay on Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
“There was a sort of mishmash of remodels,” says Crystal Emry, who moved with her husband Geoff to the home in 2002. “The house made no sense,” Geoff says. In the early 1950s, Geoff’s grandfather had purchased what was then a compact, circa-1890s hunting cabin. He did some remodeling right away — installing a small kitchen in the back, which in the 1970s became the laundry/entryway — and then Geoff’s father purchased it from his father in the 1960s. As his family grew, he added on. He built another, larger kitchen in 1971 and then added a two-story bedroom wing in the mid-1970s. The roof in the upstairs bedroom was held up by four telephone poles. “Everything was backward,” Geoff says. “No one had thought it through.” The family moved to Spokane in 1985, and the house became a summer retreat.
When Geoff and Crystal returned, they lived for a year in the house before deciding to remodel. There was no insulation in the living room — the original hunting cabin space —and “in some places you could see the neighbor’s headlights through the cracks between the windows and walls,” Geoff says. Crystal was pregnant, and one winter was enough to let them know they had to rebuild or remodel.
Compromise and Negotiation
Klein came highly recommended by friends and neighbors, and the Emrys asked his advice. “I told them to remodel if it had sentimental value and to rebuild if it didn’t,” Klein says. They said it didn’t and headed to an architect. They could obtain a bank loan that would give them a maximum $300,000 budget. They made selections for tile, cabinets, and counter-tops, and with the freshly drawn plans for their dream house —which included a craftsman look with a lot of exterior detail, shake siding, frieze boards, small 4×4 corbels to hold the eaves, as well as a new kitchen, a basement, a master bedroom and bath with a walk-in closet, and a walkout basement with a kitchenette — the Emrys got builder bids ranging from $400,000 to $450,000 to tear down and start over. “We were sad and surprised because all along the architect knew how much we had to spend,” Crystal says. Geoff pointed out that since the house was on granite, rock excavators wouldn’t even touch it, and the architect had drawn plans for a full basement. “You’d think he would know the plans were way over budget,” he says.
By August 2003 they were back at Klein’s looking to remodel. “Since they’d been to an architect, saw that construction is not cheap, and had already looked at products and knew what they liked,” it made things easier, Klein says. But he let them know right away — through open communication and honest answers — that they couldn’t have everything they wanted on their now $200,000 budget. (They turned down the bank loan because of high interest and had gotten a family loan at a very low interest rate.) The process of value engineering — compromise, negotiation, and making alternative product choices — had begun.
Klein came up with a design that incorporated many of the things the couple loved in the architect’s new-house plan. But that came in at $260,000. “They were deflated,” Klein says. But then they talked about what the couple really wanted and what they could give up. Klein helped them understand that because of the age of the original cabin and the assortment of additions, they would inevitably run into surprises.
Photo: Quicksilver Studios “During this process,” Crystal says, “Rudy was very honest and straightforward. When he said something, he meant it, and I knew he was trustworthy. I never wondered if he was leading me in the wrong direction.”
Klein wanted to get the estimate under $200,000 to allow for problems. Plus, “we wanted to get started in October, before the snow flies. We needed to meet every single week with design, bid, rebid.” He made the Emrys aware that they might not be able to get all the permits in time, and so wouldn’t be able to cost everything out.
Right away, Klein got the couple to see that turning the upstairs into two bedrooms and redoing the bathroom was a big part of the budget. They decided to leave the upstairs alone, except for removing the telephone poles and shoring up the roof. Klein’s design also eliminated much of the intricate exterior details. He suggested keeping the existing heating system, not adding air conditioning, and using vinyl windows, a solid surface for the countertops, and laminate flooring. They would put siding only on the addition and not re-side the existing house. And, a single-car garage was all that would work because of the underlying granite. The estimate was just under $200,000.
“We were sad that we couldn’t do what we wanted to,” Crystal says, but she felt that Klein was good at giving them options. In the end, she really wanted wood windows, and they reinstated the heating system, re-siding the entire house, and installing new windows and flooring upstairs to prepare for a future phase two. That put the final budget at $221,000, Klein says, who warned them that there would probably be 15% to 20% in additional charges for change orders. “There was a lot of detail I wasn’t going to be able to explore and get locked-in numbers for because we were on the fast track to get this going.”
Prepared For Surprises
Construction ran from October 2003 until May 2004, and the old house threw them some curves. Removing the poles upstairs was one such challenge. “The engineer had to look at the poles and the load on the roof. Because of this being a hip roof, the loads are on your corners and all four corners push out,” Klein says. “He came up with a system where we strapped the outside of the upper walls with a continuous metal strap that was lag-screwed on the outside of the top plate. He also designed some brackets that were lag-screwed to the top and bottom of the ridge rafters.”
Working around the weather posed another challenge. The Emry’s water comes up from the lake through a pipe shared with the house next door. During the renovation, the Emrys rented that house. At one point, the water in the shared pipe froze. Water was also an issue near the end of the project. During heavy rains, water coming off the hill washed out the gravel from the driveway, which then had to be re-graded and a drywell system installed in front of the garage. The road also had to be re-routed to direct water away from the driveway.
Another surprise: “When we tore the porch off,” Klein says, “there wasn’t a foundation between the porch and the cabin, so we had to dig that out and run a foundation, which was hard because the crawl space was so tight.”
Klein’s Improvement gutted the main floor, tore off a back laundry/entry area, and added a garage/laundry area; a dining area was added where a deck had been (Geoff had torn it off before the project began). Klein vaulted the ceiling in the living room, moved and rebuilt the stairway to the second story, installed a new heating system, re-roofed and re-sided the whole house, put in a new kitchen and bath on the main floor, and eliminated the interior stairs to the basement, which had been right at the entryway. Outside, he re-graded the road coming down to the garage because the driveway stopped at a slightly higher grade.
In the end, Klein estimated correctly; there was $40,000 in change orders. The Emrys didn’t balk. “Rudy and I met every Wednesday at 10:30,” Crystal says. “We were always communicating and seemed to be on the same page. It was never ‘Oh, by the way …’ He was very good at telling me [something] could happen and that we needed to be prepared. We were never surprised.”