Avoid pitfalls when planning your remodel

06 Apr Avoid pitfalls when planning your remodel

 

 

Ruth talks with expert, Jenny Rios about remodeling and construction. Jenny is an expert and is offering a new service that helps people figure out how to plan and execute a residential construction project as seamlessly as possible.

 

Ruth:
I’m with Jenny Rios.
I feel like one of the most common questions that I get is around remodel and construction. Jenny is an expert and is offering a new service that helps people figure out how to plan and execute a residential construction project as seamlessly as possible. Is that right?

Jenny:
Yeah. I guess the first thing is people often don’t have priorities. If you want to do everything, but you’re not sure what you can afford, let’s figure out what’s important first. For sure, let’s just identify what your priorities are and your goals first. Then we’ll kind of create productive early design ideas, create a full budget for everything on your wish list, and then we’ll kind of regroup and create a hiring strategy for what makes sense. So for the same reasons that you wouldn’t hire Frank Gary to design your bathroom, you would want to hire the correct person for the job. That’s the strategy, have an idea of what you’re doing before you lift a hammer or hire a contractor.

Ruth:
Jenny, I know prior to this iteration of your career, you were an architect. So is that when you say, come up with a plan, are you helping them do some quick ideas? Are you working with another firm to help with that in the beginning process?

Jenny:
I mean, I earned my stripes in master planning. I started out taking huge, huge projects and say, okay, we can’t do $1.2 billion worth of work at a time. We’re going to break it into manageable chunks and we’re going to hire the appropriate team for that specific project. We’re going to get there slowly over time. It almost never happens just like that. So if you go into it with this mindset that you’re going to get all of your wishes come true on the first round without having a realistic budget, that’s just not practical. I’m trying to help people kind of shift your thinking into what’s possible and how to get the most value out of every dollar. Does that make sense?

Ruth:
Got it. So, you help them come up with a plan, and then an architect is brought in at that time or later?

Jenny:
It depends on the project. Many projects can’t afford or don’t make it make sense to have an architect or a designer. So you don’t know what you need and you just hire an architect, you might be spending a lot of money. I’ve seen it happen where people go, “Oh, I just spent $50,000 on design to find out I can’t afford any of that design.” Now I’m at 50K. I’m like, “That’s so sad and painful to listen to it.” Let’s figure out what you can afford, and then you can either stay for something bigger and hire the right people. So some people say, “Oh, I already know what I want. I just want to hire the contractor. I wouldn’t mind consulting with a designer for a few things.” Okay, let’s find you that designer, that’s going to help you get over the hump and get your biggest questions answered. So that’s the idea. It’s a strategy that’s just more organized and grounded.

Ruth:
So you’re bringing in the right tradespeople, whether it’s an architect, a contractor or a designer, if needed, depending on the size of the project because you know all the right people. So you can talk to somebody and say, “Okay, what do you want to do?” Then this is the right team for you.

Jenny:
Yeah. I mean, this is really geared towards projects that are under a million dollars. I mean, I work on projects, a million to 30 million plus, but most people are under 1 million range and that’s where it gets a little dicey. Because you’re trying to save money, you don’t want to make the wrong decision. And sometimes you make shortcuts that end up costing a bunch of money that you really should have put towards construction or some other… In hindsight you would have used that money differently, had you known. So that’s what we’re trying to, we’re trying to just figure out like what makes sense for you and your specific project. It’s not a formula that makes sense for everybody. I can’t be, “This is what everybody should do.” I need to know what’s specific to you and like what’s important to you, Ruth, and your priorities, your goals, your budget, given that scenario, then I make a strategy for you. That’s the surface.

Ruth:
I have somebody I’m going to refer to you. I haven’t made the connection yet, but she was over the other day and she mentioned, “Oh, well I was thinking about doing all this stuff to my house. So I called a contractor and brought the contractor over and was like…” I mean, she has no idea really what she wanted to do. She was just kind of expecting that the contractor would come up with ideas and she was like, “I don’t know.” When the contractor got there and was just looked at her like she was stupid. “What do you mean? Do you have a plan? What do you want advice on?”

Jenny:
I hear that a lot. How would you know any different? You would just be like, ” I think I want a retaining wall.” But let’s narrow down to what you really need and hire the correct people for that. Also to be fair, so many contractors get stuck with these budgets that were pulled out of thin air that aren’t even, it’s just a budget. It’s not a budget. It’s just a wish of what I have to spend. It’s not really grounded in what things cost. So that’s a whole other topic, but that happens a lot.

Ruth:
What are the big mistakes that you see that people make? What is the problem that you’re solving here, aside from helping people pick? You’re helping people pick the right people for the right job, understand the scope, and anything else that I’m missing there?

Jenny:
I mean, that’s a key part of it. Before we get to the hiring strategy part, we talk about everyone’s favorite subject, which is cash. You know, how much money are you really willing to part with? And let’s just be honest about what it’s worth to you, what the project is worth to you. So if you just tell me, it’s not going to hurt my feelings, I don’t care. If it’s $200,000 and that’s what you have. And you’re trying to get… We’re not going to go to the Ferrari store with 200, we’re going to figure out how to tailor the project to your budget and like what you can actually afford. Then we’ll say, okay, this is a value driven project. This is how we get there. These are some strategic moves. I have a couple of shortcuts. I know a lot of people and I can be like, “All right, this is how we get there.” Most people are shy about large sums of money. Maybe you probably deal with this all the time in your business.

Ruth:
I’ve dealt with it personally as well. There’s a saying that I hate in Real Estate, that’s just like, “Buyers are liars.” It’s that they don’t really tell you their budget. They’re keeping the secret, but I think it’s the same thing in design. I think it’s that sometimes people, they really don’t think they want to spend more than $1.7 million. It’s only until they get out there and realize that they see the $2 million house or they see the $200,000 kitchen, but they really did want to spend $50,000. So in their mind, it’s like, “No, I would never spend $200,000,” but when they actually know and understand the compromises, then it’s like, “Okay, it’s not really that I was lying, but like now I really do understand the value more. Maybe I do want to push these budgets further than what I initially anticipated.”

Jenny:
I think there’s two things. One, people want to make an informed decision. So if that’s what it costs, you’re not overpaying. So I think there’s this feeling of, I don’t want to overpay. I want to feel like I get a little bit of a bargain. Bargains are hard to find in construction, but yeah, I mean, the way this… There’s a whole other strategy for that, but there’s no bargains. There’s cost of materials and costs of labor and then there’s management and supervision.

Ruth:
Right. Going back to your house on Delores that I sold for you, whatever 10 years ago, I remember that kitchen and you were in a very different place in your life and you knew the right people. And I remember you told me what you spent on it. And I was flabbergasted that you were able to get it for as low as you did for as good as it looked. I was like, “Dang, this girl knows what she’s doing.”

Jenny:
I spent $35,000, if I recall, on that kitchen. Yeah. Amazing.

Ruth:
It looked like $75,000 or a $100,000. It looked fantastic. So how did you do it?

Jenny:
I planned it out way in advance. Also, I did the design, I knew what I was doing. I knew what I was willing to save on and was splurge on. I really wanted cabinets. I got everything that I wanted, but I was super strategic about it. I was just like, “I’m going to pay…” And I also shopped it. I talked to a lot of people and I did my research and I still do that. I’m always asking people, “What does that cost? What does that cost? How do you do that? What is the… Is it really that?” I’m always… People are like, “Why you’re so curious about what things cost?” I’m like, “Because I want to know, that’s what I do. That’s what I offer for my clients.” You know, most people want to know that they’re not overpaying, mostly, that it’s like a competitive price, it’s a fair price. That’s really what it boils down. So I think that’s the value, is to just have someone in your corner that’s looking out for you.

Ruth:
Because I think the other thing that can happen, I mean, I love what you said about figuring out the whole picture from day one, because it’s so easy to build a kitchen only to realize that later you wanted to expand the living room, and if you would have only put in a structural support beam when you had the kitchen opened up, that you would have had that ability. But now that you just built this really expensive kitchen, you’re not going to tear out the kitchen in order to do that. And so you’re stuck not being able to get the backyard that you wanted, or the extension that you wanted.

Jenny:
I mean, I would say that’s one of my super powers is phasing work. Because myself, I can almost never afford the projects, the whole project that I want to do, but I phase it out. So I’m like, “Okay, if this is my grand scheme, this is my grand plan, I’m going to put it into manageable chunks.” I do like 10 to $30,000 at a time. And it all builds on each other and I have the vision and I know what I’m doing. And I group projects into logical sequences and I go, “Okay, I can’t do it all now, but I know what I’m doing. So I’m going to do it in sequence and I’m not making expensive mistakes.” So why wouldn’t I offer that to everybody that I can, if I know how to do it. I pretend that I’m doing the project for myself and do it for others.

Ruth:
That’s amazing. So, if you don’t want to answer this, that’s okay. But can you say, what does it cost for someone to hire you?

Jenny:
Oh, now I have for two services. I have my full-service clients. That’s five at a time. I only take five because that’s the only way I can stay happy. Then my planning service is a flat fee, which is 10K. So for 10K you get a project plan, a game plan, I call it. It’s a shared document. You get all the files, you get all the research, you get all the design ideas, you get a real budget that’s grounded in costs and you get a hiring strategy. And then you get up to a year of support. I’ll be available to check out proposals and look at your contract and say, “What about this?” “Oh, you have a question about that.” That’s a flat fee of $10,000. That’s the service, which I think is a bargain.

Ruth:
Yeah. An architect charging like 10% approximately of the budget and designers sometimes are much, much higher than that. And so, presumably, your projects are going to be more than a hundred thousand dollars in most cases. Then your clients are going to be able to probably save tens of thousands of dollars by being able to plan things out properly and get the correct resources. My sister is doing this yard project right now. I’ve been kind of going over and helping her with it. I just see the fear in her face all the time. It’s just like the unknown, she’s so scared, it’s crazy. The unknown.
For me, I do this stuff all day long. So I’m just like, “Oh, this is fine. Let me talk to this guy for you.” I think just having that professional that you can brainstorm with and just check, am I doing something wrong or is this right process is just such a huge psychological benefit that helps you move and move with ease.

Jenny:
Yeah. Most of my clients are insanely smart people. They’re just experts in their field, but they’re like, “We’re an expert in biotech” or “We’re an expert in fill in the blank.” Why would we think that we’re an expert in home remodeling all of a sudden? Oh, I would like to be able to make these decisions with ease and not be somehow learning remodeling on the fly. Or one of my clients was like, “I’ve done this exactly zero times before. It’s my first house. I’d prefer not to mess it up.” So I think it’s just someone that’s like, “Is this normal? Is this really what we’re talking about here?” And I’m like, “Yep, this is normal” or “No, that is not normal. Let’s that’s yellow flag. Let’s pause.” There’s a difference. Every project can have a couple yellow flags, but preferably no red flags. Every project can have some variation of gymnastics. We can totally adapt and roll with it. But you got to know when a shortcut is a big risk and when a shortcut is actually a smart move and you wouldn’t know otherwise. So that’s the idea. What do you think?

Ruth:
I wanted to go back to something you said about record keeping. So Jenny is one of the most like organized and driven women that I’ve ever met. She’s amazing. And I was just having a call with a client who I put their house on the market and it had a ton of interest. And it’s actually very common, Jenny, you, you may or may not be shocked by this, but I will tell you it’s very common, when I’m doing disclosures for a house, and I pull the permit history and oftentimes there are open permits and the sellers had thought, oftentimes that everything was closed.
You know, they hired a contractor, they did the work, they were told that the permits were pulled and they were never closed. So that happened on this job. But the other thing that happened is that I’ve learned through lots of different legal avenues that the best way to disclose for a client is to provide, I always ask people, “Can you please send me all the records of all your remodels?” Because if I can provide that to a future buyer, it actually removes a lot of liability from the seller, because now buyers have the onus of they should have known that wasn’t a great contractor or a great architect, they should have done the research. They were provided all of the information. And most of the time people don’t have the records. So the client was mentioning to me, “How were we supposed to know that we were supposed to keep these like copious records of our remodel when we were going through such a stressful situation?”

Jenny:
So I have a ton of templates that I have, but the main one that I use is just a project file template. So for residential, it’s super easy. It’s everything legal and within legal includes insurance, permits, everything that you would need from a legal perspective. And it has a checklist in there and all the things that you need. The next one is budget. Everything that’s budget related for taxes, capital gains and everything that you spend, whether it’s professional services or construction or vendors, et cetera. And then third one is just project coordination. So that has everything to do with design, everything to do with anything, from images, existing images, new images, current images, developed images, all the images and anything that went into the design. So inspiration or research or anything that’s related to the project that’s maybe not legal or budget.
So that’s the bare bones basics that when you sign up for planning service, you get the project file. And then we just work within that file. And it’s a shared file. And we do a lot in Google spreadsheets and we do a ton in Google Sheets. And that way you can track changes or look at comment history. And I have all these different systems for like color coding stuff. And it’s super easy. I’m like, “I’m all done.”

Ruth:
Well, I will be referring you. So for those of you who are my clients, and you start asking me for a referral, I have one per house that we sold on 12. And they just asked me for our contractor this morning. And I just realized like, “Oh, I need to go back and email them and be like, also, you need to talk to Jenny,” because I just, I mean, having been through the construction projects and even I have a design background, but I would have totally hired you to help me with my project. Because I think for the fees that you’re charging and the amount that you will be able to save in the headache that you’ll be able to save is just it’s just amazing. There’s no one else doing anything like this. And I’m so, so excited that you’re providing this service.

Jenny:
Thanks, Ruth. I mean, it took a while to get here, but I’m super psyched about it. It’s really fun. What else?

Ruth:
There was that question somebody had about a tub. Do you remember what it was?

Jenny:
Oh, somebody was asking about, “Should I get a frameless shower door? Schiker, S-C-H-I-K-E-R Shower Doors is a good resource and California Shower Door, I think is a resource.

Ruth:
I mean, that in itself is like so huge, right? People call me and ask me and I try to keep up. And you know, probably a lot of times I’m texting Jenny saying like, “Where do I find this thing or that thing?” Because it’s also the ever-changing… The contractor that you asked me for 12 months ago will be different than the contractor that I refer you today because I just burned through, I don’t know if you find this, but I just burned through these people. I think somebody is great, and then their business changes a little bit, or I hear a bad story and I’m like, “Nope, they’re out.” So just having that fresh perspective of like what’s going on in the industry and who’s good is so valuable.

Jenny:
Yeah. And it’s such a small world. I feel like everybody knows each other, but I don’t know. I try to keep up with it too. I have a thousand plus resources, but they’re all… I’m always adding. So I hope I get more contractors. I’m actually looking for contractors want to be pre-qualified for projects under 500,000. So if anybody’s watching this and wants to be pre-qualified, please reach out to me because we have a whole pre-qualification process so that we can refer out smaller projects, which are the hardest to find good quality people for. So I have five or 10 over here, but I’m like, “What if I need more than five or 10? I need more.” So I’m sort of starting to try to find new good quality GCs, so.

Ruth:
Yeah. I mean, I feel like when you said, “Oh, I shopped my project around,” sometimes when people will say, “Oh, can you provide me a couple of contractors to help with this $150,000 project.” I’m like, “Well, we’d be lucky to find you one.” So it’s so hard to shop around your value driven budget.

Jenny:
I mean, everybody’s super busy right now. So don’t just think that any contractor is going to just stop what he’s doing and they’re going to give you a price because have nothing better to do. They’re all running around super busy. So the more organized an owner is and says, “This is what I’m looking for. Exactly. I know exactly what I want. Can you give me a price?” Contractors are like, “Yeah, I can do that.” But if you’re going to be like arm waving and hand waving and guessing at what you want and you’re not really sure. And what about this? And what about that? It’s really hard for small contractors or contractors doing small projects to cater to those kinds of projects. So again, it’s way better for the owner to be more organized and to know what they want. You have a much better chance of getting what you want. So that’s-

Ruth:
Yeah. That’s a hard thing when you’re spending all this money, you’re like, “Well, isn’t there a line out the door for people who want to take my money?” Actually, a little bit of what I hear you saying is that, I mean, contractors have their choice of who they can work with, so coming together with a really good plan and being like, “I’m going to be an amazing client. Look how organized I am. Look what I have together.” Then when the contractor’s choosing, they’re like, “Oh, this person seems like they’re going to be good to work.”

Jenny:
Yeah. They’re smart and organized. They know what they want. Let’s do this. They’re ready to get started. They can put you on the calendar, buy the materials, rock and roll. But if you’re like hemming and hawing and not really sure and not really upfront about what you can kind of afford or what you think you want, or you don’t have any design or you have some design, but it’s incomplete. Those are all yellow flags for a contractor to say, “I’m not sure I want to be in relationship with this person. I’m going to go make more money somewhere else with somebody that knows what they want.” So it’s just like… You know what I mean? You get that, right? People don’t think about it from the contractors perspective. But if you know what you want, you can have a much better chance of getting it and contracting for it. So that’s a really good strategy.

Ruth:
You can follow Jenny on Instagram or find her via her website. You can always reach out to me if you can’t find Jenny. I know her digits. Thank you Jenny, for being on here today.

Jenny:
You’re welcome.

 

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Yesenia Rogers
Buyer’s Agent – The Krishnan Team
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yesenia@ruthkrishnan.com | Lic #02057277