The Emotional Homeowner

Help your clients through the stressful experience of kitchen and bath remodeling
By David Lupberger
August 13, 2010

Kitchen and bath remodeling can be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for homeowners, bringing out the best and the worst in them. Most have more money invested in their homes than anything else, so they have a lot at stake. In addition, because their home is a reflection of who they are, they also have a huge emotional investment.
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Given this large emotional and financial investment, homeowners may express some fear when embarking upon a kitchen or bath remodel, even if one is desperately needed. For them, the experience may seem like one that puts their home (and themselves) at risk. However, their reservations typically can be explained by the following five reasons:

• Crooks. Homeowners fear being ripped off by unscrupulous contractors, and they hear these stories about this all the time.

• Money. Homeowners do not understand the real cost of remodeling, and they are afraid of hidden costs that will come up when they least expect it.

• Disappointment. When lots of time and money have been spent on designing a project, homeowners are terrified that, upon walking into the project after it has been started, they are going to look around the new room and say, “This is not what I want.” Homeowners have a difficult time conceptualizing what a new space is going to look like based on a set of plans lying in front of them.

• Disruption. Home improvement can be a highly disruptive process. A kitchen renovation, lasting several weeks or longer, will disrupt almost every family routine.

• Loss of control. All of the fears listed above can lead homeowners to experience a sense of a loss of control over their own home. This can, in turn, cause them to feel as if they’re in a vulnerable condition. With fears like these, they may delay their decision to begin projects for an extended period of time.


So if you’re a designer, what’s the solution? It’s empathy. When you let homeowners know that you are aware of their fears and that you empathize with them, it forms a bond that is not present in most other business transactions. By acknowledging that your clients have real fears about this process, you can begin to build a very successful home improvement business. When working in someone’s home, you need to understand that you are not only selling a product or service, you’re also selling an experience. You must manage that experience as well as the project.

If you ask 10 different people for complaints they’ve had about a kitchen project, you'll discover in roughly 90 percent of the cases that the complaints were not about the product. Most homeowner complaints pertain to the process. They may include expectations that were not met or timetables that were not kept. Most often, homeowners complain about something that did not happen or information that was not shared, which left them not knowing what would happen next.

Knowing your trade is not enough. Even if you do deliver the project, you could still lose a homeowner’s trust by not managing them through the highs and lows of this sometimes difficult and invasive process. And because homeowners may start a project feeling as if they don’t know whom to trust, how to proceed, or are overwhelmed just by the decision of choosing a designer, your success in kitchen and bath remodeling could depend on your ability to empathize with your clients—and their feelings of vulnerability—from the very beginning of a job to its end.

Naturally, to accomplish this requires that you establish trust from your very first meeting. Check back in two weeks for Part II of “The Emotional Homeowner,” which will delve into the topic of building trust.

—David Lupberger is ServiceMagic.com’s Home Improvement Expert. With more than twenty years of experience as a contractor, Lupberger reaches out to consumers and trade contractors, providing them with insight on a wide variety of home improvement-related issues. He educates consumers on how to avoid home improvement fraud and how to hire the right contractor for the projects that are too big to handle by themselves. And when a homeowner decides they can do it themselves, Lupberger’s articles and “Ask The Expert” column on ServiceMagic.com are a tremendous resource for “how-to” information.
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