Reflections on Remodeling

An Interview with Dilsha and John Happel,
Partners at H & H Builders, LLC

1. What impact does a good remodel have on a family?
DH: Ideally, a remodel helps people to create something on earth that is closer to their idea of heaven. Their life works better. They get more satisfaction and enjoyment out of their home.

2. What do you think makes H & H Builders LLC different from other design build firms?
JH: We let client needs, wants, and wishes drive the design process. We’re glad to provide an architect or work with clients’ designers, so people can come to us with the first glimmer of an idea or with a complete set of plans. The bottom line is that we listen to clients, and then we design and build spaces that fit their needs. Each of our projects is unique; what they share is a very high standard of quality and workmanship.

3. What’s different about your process?
JH: For one thing, we use a lead carpenter on every job. The lead carpenter stays with the job from start to finish; he’s on the job site every day. This kind of consistency is rare in design-build firms. Often, a project manager is in charge of several different jobs, and stops by for a few minutes every few days. By using a lead carpenter, we make sure there’s a go-to guy who always knows what’s happening on the job and who is always available to clients. The lead carpenter owns the job and takes responsibility for it.

4. What should clients know about the way you do business?
DH: First and foremost, before we do any business, we try to make sure it’s a good match. We want to be sure that we can give clients what they need. If we don’t think we’re the best firm for the job, we always try to refer people – to help them find that perfect match. Once we’re committed to a project, we tell people what we’re going to do and then we do it. We want clients to be as happy as possible during the process, and we recognize that communication plays a big part in creating that happiness; John meets with clients regularly and provides meeting minutes, so we all have a record of what’s been said and a reminder of what’s coming up.

5. Do you have a specialization?
DH: Owner-occupied design-build residential remodeling – that’s a mouthful. We’re very connected with clients, and we like being involved in improving individual lives and reflecting individual needs. That’s why we prefer working with people who are living in or planning on living in the home.

6. What are your areas of expertise?
DH: We have many special skills. For example, John is a structural engineer, and both of us are Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (CAPS). But I think our real expertise is organizing and building complicated projects and making people happy while we do it.

7. What are you most proud of in the work that you do? How do you define a “successful” project?
JH: On the most basic level, a successful project is one where the client is happy with the process and the results. One key element of that success is that our clients know what will happen and when. There are always some surprises in a construction job, but, in a successful project, we’ve scheduled and predicted as much as possible, so the surprises don’t have a significant impact. Naturally, I also like a product that’s beautiful – one that enhances the home in both livability and value.

8. Remodelers have a reputation for going over budget and past completion dates. Why does this happen so often, and does it have to be this way?
JH: It doesn’t have to be that way. One reason jobs can go over budget is that the original bid was not complete – or not accurate. There’s a tendency in this business to underbid in order to get a job. There’s a tremendous pressure to lower prices in order to satisfy clients, but no one’s satisfied when the price doubles a few months down the line. There’s a more benign reason to go beyond budget: Unexpected things happen in construction. A more experienced person can make an educated guess about the conditions behind plaster and drywall, but until we get inside the wall, it’s still just a guess. Mold, water damage, foundation problems – these kinds of discoveries can make significant changes in a project’s cost. Another reason jobs go over budget is that clients add to the job as it’s in progress; for example, our clients typically add 10-20%. We’ve had people quite happily double the project budget, because opening up the house created room for new ideas and new priorities. With this kind of change, we make sure clients are aware of the impact; our clients review and sign project upgrades that clearly outline how the proposed changes will affect the overall budget and timeline.

9. What’s your record in terms of project delivery?
DH: We usually finish projects within a week of scheduled completion; we’ve never had a project that was significantly late, and we’ve had several that we finished weeks – or even months – ahead of schedule.

10. What principles do you bring to your business? And how do these principles affect the choices you make?
JH: We live and work by these rules: tell the truth, be generous, and don’t make promises you can’t keep. We do it right the first time, and, when we can’t, we take responsibility for our mistakes.

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