confessions of professional

What do homeowners not know about your industry?

From small repairs to large remodels, most homeowners will work with a home professional at some point in their lives.

Since it is a given that homeowners are bound to work with home pros, we want to give them insider info directly from the experts about what little-known tips they should know in order to have a successful relationship with their home professional. Our panel of experts shed some light on what homeowners need to know about the home improvement industry…

Why We’re Asking:

We had an idea. We wanted to create an article titled “Confessions of a Home Improvement Professional,” in which our experts let our homeowners in on little-known secrets about their industry. Since most homeowners only know home pros through their professional relationships with them while working on a project, we wanted to shed some light on insider secrets homeowners wouldn’t normally learn on their own. Like the information you’d receive from your best friend who happens to be a contractor, our experts are here to help you get the best out of your time working with home improvement professionals.

So experts, it’s time to weigh in:

What do homeowners not know about your industry?

What insider tips can you reveal to homeowners about your industry?
What advice or wisdom would you give homeowners about your industry that most do not know?
Is there a little-known way that pros evaluate a client and his/her value in your trade?
Do you have a specific example of a project that could have ended differently if the homeowner knew something?
Is there something homeowners do or say that all pros in your trade absolutely hate (but rarely talk about)?
No matter what you’re tip is, we want to hear it so we can create an article outlining the “confessions of a home improvement pro.”

Experts, post your answers in the comment field below!

  • Jill Banks @ Happily Better After 10/14/11

    Most homeowners (and some real estate agents) think that staging a home for sale is easy. Slap on a coat of fresh paint, rearrange the furniture, toss a pillow here and there, and viola! But just like good actors or elite athletes make what they do look effortless, people don’t realize how much training, research, and experience are behind the skills professional stagers possess.

    Just because your neighbor finds the coolest stuff at HomeGoods or your sister watches every staging show on HGTV, or your friend took a decorating course once, doesn’t mean they are qualified to stage your home for sale. We professional stagers eat, sleep, and breathe staging—we’re excited by the creative challenge of making a home look its absolute best, and we continually strive to improve our skills by joining professional organizations and attending training so we can learn more about our craft.

    Selling your most valuable asset means there’s an awful lot at stake—professional stagers know how much.

  • Sohail Hassan @ One Stop Green 10/14/11

    The best advice for a homeowner interested in a Solar PV system for their home is to first do your homework! Prices for Solar PV systems will vary depending on the size and type of system, as well as the overall structure of your home. An average solar PV system for the home costs between 16k -28k and may be more depending on the type of solar panels you use, however, the industry has seen a 30% drop in solar panel prices in the last six months alone, meaning that solar for the home is becoming more affordable every day!

    Generally, the more electricity the system can generate, the higher the savings – but the bigger the initial cost. A 4kW system typically provides around a quarter of the average home’s electricity needs and will save you money on your annual electricity bill.

    The Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE) has information regarding incentives available in your state. You can use energy calculators available on various websites (such as to determine how much potential your home has to produce electricity from solar.

    How much electricity you will generate will depend on:

    •The tilt angle of your roof and its orientation (maximum output is for a perfectly south facing roof with a tilt angle of 30 degrees)
    •Where you live: the south-west gets more sun than the north, which could impact the amount of electricity your system will generate, although not too significantly.

    Our initial site survey first completes a comprehensive energy audit of your home in order to determine potential problems areas. Otherwise, it’s as if you are just pouring water into a bucket with a hole in it – no matter how much water you pour in, its going to continue to leak out. In much the same way, it is important to address all the other problem areas of the home before even thinking about adding a solar pv system.

    Also, be sure to:

    •Make written notes of all the measurements, in particular the orientation of the roof.
    •Look at the roof – from both inside and outside.
    •Use access equipment for closer inspection where roof quality is uncertain.
    •Record any possible risk of shade on the roof from trees, neighboring houses and chimneys.
    •Examine the house and measure the tilt angle of the roof.
    •Look at your fuse box and metering.
    •Identify your main electrical appliances and when you use them.
    •Look around your house and discuss where to locate cables and equipment.

    Be sure to ask about other costs: including scaffolding, panel/module information, details of warranties, details of the inverter, the company’s terms and conditions, and information on how it has calculated the payback, rate of return and savings.

  • Neal @ 10/14/11

    Saving energy is on everybody’s minds these days and with the cold weather setting in, many home owners are preparing for the winter season by replacing their old tired furnaces with the latest energy efficient models. When it comes to heating a house, most home owners don’t even consider the critical role that their home’s duct system plays in delivering energy efficiency and comfort. Thanks to the government backed ENERGY STAR program, finding efficient appliances is fairly easy to do.

    To qualify for ENERGY STAR certification, an oil or gas furnace must provide an annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) rating of 85% or greater and come with a highly efficient blower motor. What most home owners don’t realize, however, is that the savings provided by their new furnace doesn’t nearly compare to the loss of heating they suffer via leaks throughout their air duct system. The EPA estimates that today’s average home loses 20% to 30% or more of heating energy through air duct leakage. Even newly constructed homes are plagued with this problem.

    Ask a knowledgeable HVAC pro about the latest options for air duct sealing. There are new solutions out there today that can seal 95% of leaks without tearing down walls or removing insulation typically found around the duct work. In many cases, sealing your home’s duct system will be less expensive and provide higher energy efficiency than replacing your furnace. Do both and you’re really going to see a drop in your heating bill.

  • Rob Jones @ Build Direct 10/14/11

    I think one thing we’ve come across when it comes to flooring is the confusion between laminate, solid wood, and engineered. Although, I think this has receded a bit as customers are beginning to educate themselves, there is still somewhat of a learning curve when it comes to this. Knowing the difference is pretty vital, not only because of things like budget, but also about where installations are going to be the most practical.

    Laminate flooring, for instance, can be floated. So can engineered hardwood. But, largely and with a few very recent exceptions, solid hardwood has to be nailed down, and it’s something of an intense process that requires some experience to do it well. Also, laminate flooring is not really a ‘wood’ floor in the same way a solid or engineered floor is. Laminate is imaged to look like real wood. But, unless you count sawdust in its core layer, it’s not really a natural product.

    Again, consumers are beginning to learn these types of things more and more, as tighter budgets mean more intense research to make sure that everyone knows what they’re buying. But, that has been a common misconception that we’ve seen in conversations with our customers.

  • John A. Salat @ Zen Architect 10/13/11

    Investing in properties to flip or to hold for the long-haul typically
    involves construction repairs, modifications or a total makeover. No
    matter the scope, the goal of any alteration is to enhance the property
    and maintain the value of the investment. Before you purchase a
    property, be sure to factor the cost of any proposed work into the
    asking price. A professional architect can package the improvements into
    a complete and seamless whole—resolving maintenance problems, bringing
    construction deficiencies to code, and altering building aesthetics to
    increase the value of the property.

    First, engage an architect to evaluate the property before it is
    acquired, as well as after close of escrow. An architect can provide a
    broad view of the work that will be required, stepping in where home
    inspection or other services leave off. Home inspectors only provide a
    narrow scope of work and are not regulated by government. A licensed
    architect, on the other hand, goes beyond common inspection protocols,
    covering details of desired changes and the feasibility of making them.
    If it is not feasible to make the changes needed to make the property
    suitable for your needs—say for structural or regulatory reasons—an
    architect is in the best position to know that before you’ve closed the

    If you’re buying to flip, one option is to rent the property from the
    existing owner as a short-term lease, to prevent it from being sold
    while the major design work is being done. Do not assume your design and
    permit-ready drawings will be completed in a matter of weeks, as the
    permitting process alone may take months before actual construction can
    begin. Also, stay away from turnkey contrators. An architect can better
    serve you by shopping the open market of competitive contractors. See
    “More Contract Info ”.

    Don’t presume anything about the permitting process in establishing a
    construction timetable. Each city and county has different zoning
    ordinances, and determining jurisdiction in some cases can be tricky.
    Local codes have been known to change monthly, so wait until you secure
    approved drawings before firming up construction intentions. Also, city
    agencies are reluctant to respond to ad hoc questions from a prospective
    purchaser. However, an architect can set up a pre-evaluation meeting
    with the local planning department for a quick, over-the-counter concept
    review with rough graphics and a checklist. This informal preliminary
    submittal reduces the odds of unhappy surprises before you have
    finalized escrow or completed engineered drawings. Have the buying agent
    place an “Architect’s Review Pending” contingency in escrow documents
    before closing to further protect you from being stuck with a property
    not suited to your purposes.

    Building code revisions can complicate the process. Regardless of the
    scope of the total project, any building elements that are altered,
    modified or expanded require permits–no exceptions. Avoiding the permit
    process not only exposes you to liability risk, it may delay or even
    stop escrow when you sell. On the buyer’s end, an architect’s forensic
    efforts will track the entire permit history of construction activity
    and compare the current property to original city records. With further
    investigation, an architect can obtain maintenance receipts from past
    construction trade activities, including warranties to determine the
    remaining life span of improvements, perhaps revealing deficiencies of
    construction not visible to the naked eye and ordering selective
    demolition to bring the structure up to code.

    A forensic audit is an inexpensive way to ascertain the actual condition
    of the property. Hire an architect for a simple walk-through or for more
    extensive services to further assess design opportunities. You can
    continue using an architect with broad scope services to compare
    multiple properties, determining which is most feasible for your
    purposes, narrowing the site selection process, as well as providing a
    forecast of the longevity of existing material and equipment, cost of
    retrofits and modernization, green technology, or simply to provide
    common building inspection services. The goal is protecting your
    investment while controlling the total project cost, a small price to
    reduce risk to all investors.

    Its really simple if you can defined your budget and back down 20% of
    what you think its cost. Once we can live with the unknowns the rest is
    smooth sale.

    More Contract Info is at ZenArchitect

  • Peter L. Mosca 10/12/11

    Sometimes the “gems,” the little known tips or techniques are the ones that hide in plain sight. When working with a REALTOR, whether as a seller, buyer or investor, let me offer these three tips:

    1) Communicate with honesty. For some reason we are scared to tell professionals the whole truth and, more than likely, it comes back later on in the process to delay or cancel the closing process.
    2) Trust your instinct. You’ve all heard the one that goes, “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck.”
    3) Love the Math. Don’t glance at the numbers or assume any costs without explanation. Real estate is the single largest investment one will make in lifetime.

    More is less, and it is the little things that count most if you are to have a successful real estate transaction.

  • Jason Crook @ PHAG interiors 10/12/11

    My best insider tip would be to allow your designer to work with remodeling contractors with whom they have history or experience. Too often we are asked to work with contractors who submitted a lower price, or are the friend of a friend, or a family member of the customer, and while the homeowner may save a buck in contracting fees by going with one of these alternate labor sources, they will likely exceed their savings in the additional design fees incurred due to the lack of rapport between the designer and the contractors.

    At this point in my career I avoid working on build or re-model projects where I don’t have control over who I work with. If a customer trusts my taste level enough for me to design and decorate their home or business, they should certainly trust my experience and expertise enough to allow me to select the appropriate laborers for the job. In the end, allowing the designer the ability to work with “their own” team will save a ton of time and energy on the job, and result in a superior finished product for which the designer has ownership and accountability.

  • Pablo Solomon 10/12/11

    When giving a designer or contractor a budget figure, the client should give a number that is 20% less that what he/she really wants to spend. On almost every project, problems arise that result in more money being spent than anticipated.

    Also carefully think through what you can afford and stick to that budget. In most cases, a good designer/contractor/team can give you good results within a realistic budget. A good designer or contractor will not take on a project that is under funded to the point that the results will be second rate.

  • John Lee @ SolarTown 10/12/11

    Home improvement is a challenge for all homeowners even those who are in the business in “Home Improvement – Tim Allen.”

    What you may not know about the home improvement field is that going green not only helps the environment, but it may also be economically beneficial. We at SolarTown just completed a study showing that when you install a solar energy system on your home, you can expect to receive back the cost of the improvements when you go to sell your home.

    Now when you are considering modifications in plumbing, heating, landscaping or other home projects, you should not ignore whether to go green or not to go green. Our home is an investment that we can expect years and years of practical use, at which we will inevitably pass down to our children at some point. Everything we do for our home should be seen as an investment.

    Green technology is an investment for any homeowner because it allows the homeowner to save on a daily basis with more energy efficient solar products. For example, a simple CFL light bulb can save a homeowner substantially compared to an incandescent light bulb. Yes, CFL will be more expensive initially but as an investment the value by far exceed that of any incandescent light bulb! From personal experience, incandescent light bulbs can easily pop (break) and costs by far more when in use. My CFL is still running after 2 years which I find amazing!

    Now with advances in solar technology, we see more solar accent lights that we never would have thought were applicable for use in our home or outside our home. Solar security lights, solar lamp post lights, solar accent lights and solar garden lights are more examples of solar energy products derived from investing in solar technology (solar powered IPad anyone?).

    For some outdoor projects it may be more cost effective using green products than running a costly new power line out to your garden! You can find a great deal of information about the solar industry by visiting Whether the value is economical, social or environmental, at the end of the day homeowners viewing their home and green technology as an investment works out the best!

  • Nettie Owens @ Sappari Solutions 10/11/11

    There are a couple of sticky points when it comes to home organization. The first is that organizers do not own magic wands. Often clients want a quick fix that is unrealistic considering the their budget of time and money. However, when clients call us and are ready to communicate, share their goals and work on projects that may be uncomfortable we are usually very successful. I would love a magic wand but if clients let the process unfold in its own time it will provide the results they desire.

    I believe the proliferation of home improvement tv shows has helped to propagate the belief that more can be done in less time. However clients rarely realize the timeline of these tv shows, geographic location and crew of helpers involved.

    Secondly, organizing projects are most successful when we can work with the client to set goals and teach new habits. As with many things in life, you get out of the organizing project what you put into it. The more time clients put into the project and the more they trust the suggestions we make, based on the goals we have set together, the more successful they will be.

  • Anna @ GreenTalk 10/10/11

    In the green industry, a buyer must always do their homework and know what they are willing to spend. Simply stating they want a green home is very nebulous and can range from simply energy efficiency to the whole pictures which include everything from inside the walls to the furniture that is put in the home.

    I highly recommend if you are thinking of building green to hire a green professional which can include an architect, green designer, and/ or building consultant. He or she can save you alot of money in the long run helping you evaluate how you want to green your home and keeping you within your budget. There are many choices available now so if one option doesn’t work, another might.

    I also would encourage you to hire a professional or professionals during the planning stages since making changes during construction can be costly. When I work with a client I focus on the mechanics of the house and leave the design to the architects and designers. We all serve an important function and should work like a team.

  • Tanya Stock @ Vida Verde 10/10/11

    Absolutely nothing. The last few years in commercial trade the proliferation of Green Consultants grew exponentially in response to LEED. For those in the residential side, we exist to meet the growing needs of third party certifications for not only LEED for Homes, but regional Green Build programs, NAHB Green program, Energy Star, Green Advantage, EEBA and others.

    In addition the Residential Green Consultant serves as an educator and trainer for many local Contractors and Trades who don’t have the time or resources dedicated to finding ways to build green or products that are “eco” friendly. We serve as a great intermediary to many projects and have to be up to snuff on many new concepts in Green Building – both new build and remodeling.

    Unfortunately Home Owners are confused as to what we do and often think of us as simple Google resources or want us to do more than simply advise and consult as this is very “new” to the average home owner. Residential Green Consultants have a very specialized and yet vastly diverse resources, knowledges and skills that could benefit anyone in the trades and we are often overlooked despite it.

  • Greg Chick 10/10/11

    Ok, I will really tell you what really matters, I am not grinding a money axe so put down your “Consumer defenses”. First off, Brand names don’t matter, except that some don’t make anything worth installing in a professional job. Other brands do make models well worth installing, but everything they make might not be worth the price. Most importantly, plumbing systems are successful if they are installed correctly, and a Contractors license alone is only assurance that a certain percent will be poor to criminally bad. Emerging Technologies are not learned by all plumbers and the employees are not all trained or even plumbers that have any schooling. I teach these folks in classrooms and can assure you of what I say. Ideally things would be installed by someone who has been fixing errors of other plumbers for a few decades and know more than the code minimum.

    If any plumber bid a job in which they used the best methods and parts their price would double and in turn they would be considered a rip off. Not that doing it right always cost more, sometimes it costs less! Typically, when all of the job costs get added together – if done right – is often double. When I say right, I mean trouble free for decades!

    Designer Magazines often show Grohe LadyLux Kitchen faucets, consumers most often buy the brand name spin off m,- which is made in China – for a fraction the price. Pipe layouts and other function design almost always take a back seat to Look design, and looks design is what buyers know, not function design. I have been fixing looks and cheapest bidder work for 35 years and have stopped installing plumbing to teach a better way. Master Plumbers, Journeyman Plumbers & Apprentice are a standard in many parts of US, card carrying Trained Accredited Plumbers are who you want to install your work. Where this standard is not used, you should get Accredited Green Plumbers or do your homework! I would interview the entire staff and or visit the shop before choosing a plumber. These plumbers should also be drug free proven and know the home residence of the contractor. I know that if all the unhappy customers I have helped in past from other Contractors had followed my recommendation, they would have avoided the misery.

    Greg Chick DBA Ramona’s Plumber Certified Trainer, Licensed Green Plumber, still getting continued education weekly.

  • Kerry Ann Dame 10/10/11

    The preponderance of “design” TV shows has really confused consumers about what designers really do. Here’s what we wish they knew:

    When we work with clients on furniture plans, they will often say “just give me pricing on this room two or three different ways”, something easier said than done. Since people are accustomed to shopping at large stores where things are barcoded, they assume that prices exist in a magical computer program that includes all of the furniture in the world, and that designing and pricing out a house is quick and easy. Since residential interior designers do so much custom fabrication, and purchase from many different vendors, nearly every project we do starts from square one. This means that when we make room selections, we have to look up the price for each piece in a price list, then enter the item in the computer.

    For custom work such as draperies, there may be several items such as fabric, lining, trim and labor that all have to be calculated. We also have to call the vendor to check stock, and find out if there is a minimum purchase and what the freight will be. Once the client has made their selections and left our showroom, we may spend hours on the phone and computer. Once the order is placed, we have to follow up frequently, writing out instructions for craftspeople and sometimes chasing down damaged or missing goods. Two to three times a year, we attend trade shows to find out what is new and see the furniture in person, so if we order from a catalog for a client later, we know they are getting good quality. There is a large unseen investment of time and energy for us, just to be in business.

    Our efforts save the homeowner countless hours of running around and aggravation, yet still there are those who don’t value the effort. They are the clients who will take our estimate to a competitor and ask them to beat it. Usually, the answer is yes, because the competitor can “cheat” off our work (just like in school) and not have to take the hours of time we took to meet at the home, measure, calculate and enter the order. Sometimes, the client just wants to check prices to make sure they are not being overcharged in the expensive world of decorating. Sometimes they will see an item on the internet for less – from a vendor who has no staff to pay, no showroom, and no overhead. Of course, online may cost less – but the designer who pays for travel to find the pieces at market, pays for the showroom for the client to see the furniture, spends the meeting time to discuss all of their needs and concerns, and has the expertise to know what to recommend for the best quality, is the person doing the work and the person who should profit. Usually, the designer’s advice is the only reason the client would even be looking for a certain item. Therefore, the advice itself has value.

    Because so much design work occurs out of the clients’ view, it is easy for them to think that it’s all right to take the plan we create and shop it around. What we’d like them to understand is that we are selling a service, not a bunch of products. We can never be as cheap as mass market imports, but we are selling quality and longevity, not a throw-away look. We’ve even had customers comment that there are so few furniture stores nowadays – are they the very same customers who walk through a store, write down style numbers, and go home to order over the internet? Looking at furniture and fabrics in person is difficult to do as more and more showrooms close.
    Sometimes our clients are surprised that we charge by the hour for furniture plans and drapery prices, since they don’t want “interior design”. However, good clients do understand – the time we spend working on their home has tremendous value for them in the end. If we produced a design plan and the client purchased elsewhere, they’d be using our services without paying for them. An interior designer provides quality furniture and tries to get the most for the client’s budget, then follows up with personal delivery and installation services. If more shoppers understood what an interior design shop can provide in terms of quality and follow up, they would think twice about spending hours shopping around just to save a few hundred dollars.

    There is a reason many clients are so loyal to their decorators, often working on homes with the same designer over a lifetime. Not only is the client’s time worth money, removing stress and aggravation from the furnishing process frees them to take real pleasure in creating their home, and that’s really what Interior Design is all about!

  • Emily Widle 10/10/11

    One of the #1 mistakes homeowners make during remodeling is not accounting for lighting in the budget. Lighting can make or break a room.

    Well-designed lighting can create a soft, cozy atmosphere. It can energize a dull kitchen. It can call attention to details in a work of art, provide effective task lighting for an office, and more.

    The rule of thumb is to use layers of light throughout a home. This is an incredibly simple concept that lighting designers live by but that most homeowners are unfamiliar with. Creating layers of light involves ensuring each room in your house includes each of the three types of lighting …

    – General Lighting: Any light source that provides overall illumination in a space without serving any focused purpose. That includes recessed lights and ceiling-mount fixtures.

    – Task Lighting: Any lighting that you specifically install to light an area where a task is performed. For example, under cabinet lighting in a kitchen, flexible reading lights in a living room, or table lamps in a bedroom. Task lighting provides focused light in areas that general lighting can’t serve well, and that’s why it’s an essential component of lighting design.

    – Accent Lighting: The purpose of accent lighting is to create visual interest – it’s the layer that will highlight your paintings, houseplants, wall textures, or displays. Accent lighting should be about four or five times as bright as the level of general lighting in the room. Examples include wall-mounted picture lights to illumine wall hangings and adjustable recessed lighting trims used to highlight displays.

    Follow this rule of thumb, and you’ll be designing your home lighting like a pro!

  • Dan Fritschen 10/10/11

    A common mistake homeowners make is not considering all their options at the start of a remodeling project. This can be a very costly mistake. Homeowners should always take their time before making any initial decisions. I see this frequently when homeowners are making the remodel or move decision. An example is a homeowner who wants an updated kitchen, an additional bath and bedroom added to their home. A common mistake is to talk with a single architect or contractor – get a price to remodel and say “wow, it is cheaper to move” and off they go never fully investigating the true cost of moving or the options that are available to maybe remodel for less. It is very likely that by changing some simple design requirements – maybe something that they homeowner didn’t even care about – they could have reduced the cost of the remodel by many thousands of dollars.

    The power and flexibilty a homeowner has to control the costs of their remodel and ultimately the success of their decision is tremendous but because of the work involved and uncertaintity many homeowners never go much further than a cursory quick evaluation.

    I recommend the following
    -Talk with a real estate agent who is an expert in your neighborhood about your options.
    -Talk with a contractor about the options for remodeling
    -Once you have this initial information..ask these professionals and maybe others about what you could change in your plans or your approach that could help you better meet your goals.

    • Kerry Ann Dame 10/10/11

      Very well put – so often, clients give up after getting one price, instead of taking the time and spending a little money on expert help to tweak the project to meet their needs and budget. An expert contractor or designer will know plenty of things the homeowner doesn’t – that’s why they are called experts!

  • Dawn Ohnstad, Realtor, Coldwell Banker Burnet, Wayzata, MN 10/10/11

    The biggest little known secret about our industry is that working as a Realtor is probably less about houses and more about people.

    A person’s home is usually the single largest asset they will ever own, and the single largest debt obligation. Coupled with this is that fact that most of us utilize our home as a projection into the world about “us”. The decor reflects a lifestyle and taste uniquely ours, the manicured and weedless lawn shows our pride of ownership and skill at maintaining things well. (to say nothing of our knowledge about grasses, fertilzer, watering and aeration). Our financial success is on display in the form of the bricks and mortar so cared for and well appointed. And our homes are full of memories….so hard to let those go.

    My insider information here, in the real estate industry, is this; that as Realtors, in a great many transactions, we are often dealing with people when they are not at their best. The emotion attached to our homes can often bring out the worst in us…we are so worried that the other guy is going to get more from us, than we, from him…that somehow, we lost and they won…. making smart decisions becomes harder and harder as the emotion escalates…

    If I could whisper in the ear of every buyer and seller prior to a real estate transaction I would tell them to try to keep the emotion out of their decisions, to take an attitude of compromise and expect to get a little less than you had hoped. The other guy will feel he paid a little more than he hoped too, and, this would describe an ideal negotiation.

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