Managing The Emotional HomeownerTopic: The emotional rollercoaster of a remodel is a tough ride. Managing those emotions as the professional entrusted with the renovation is just as tough. 

David Lupberger discusses his During this edition of CareyBrosPros, you’ll find out: 

  • How to determine if the client is a good fit for you AND if you’re the right fit for a client. 
  • What you can do to manage expectations on a project. 
  • Why home improvement shows work both for and against professionals.  

Guest: David Lupberger – President of Master Builder Group Incorporated, a custom renovation and home building company located in the Boulder Colorado area. And David also writes a column entitled “Managing It” for qualified remodel. He’s written a report titled “Secrets of a Million Dollar Remodeler” and the book entitled Managing the Emotional Homeowner.

Company phone number: (303) 442-3702

3 Points for Success – from David Lupberger: 

  • Number one, we’re selling an experience as well as a project. 
  • Number two, it’s my job to manage that experience and guide my clients every step of the way. 
  • And number three, it’s my job to set clear expectations right from the first meeting. This allows my client to choose me and allows me also to select the clients that will let me do my job.

Magic Mike: [00:00:01] Welcome to CareyBrosPros the broadcast for construction pros by construction pros. Now, here are James and Morris Carey.

Morris: [00:00:14] So glad you’ve tuned into this episode of CareyBrosPros and yes we are contractors and we are brothers. I’m Morris.

James: [00:00:24] And I’m James. And on this episode of CareyBrosPros we get the chance to speak with David Lupberger. Dave is president of Master Builder Group Inc. They’re a customer innovation and homebuilding company, and he’s also the author of Managing the emotional homeowner. Welcome David.

David: [00:00:45] Thank you very much gentlemen. I’m glad to be here.

James: [00:00:47] In 30 plus years remodeling, I think it would be safe to say that we’ve had one or two emotional homeowners wouldn’t you say?

Morris: [00:00:52] I have this adage that I live by and remodeling which is that 70 percent through the job the customer usually falls apart and that’s pretty much a commonplace occurrence.

James: [00:01:06] You know interestingly David submitted a graph which is entitled The homeowner’s emotional rollercoaster which I suspect is part of the book.

David: [00:01:15] Yes it is.

James: [00:01:16] OK. I have to tell you, and Morris will remember this, that on your graph you showed the design is a high point and then you show the working drawings the high points and then you show things going down with the bidding process and then contract is kind of almost at a downward curve. I can remember one client where we had gone through that and got to the contract and the client literally started crying, remember that?

Morris: [00:01:46] Mhmm.

James: [00:01:46] Yeah. You know it was such an emotional experience. Of course later on we met in court. But nonetheless that’s another my friend. But. Why did you write the book. David and for whom is it written is it written for pros like us? Is it written for homeowners considering the remodeling experience to help them get through it?what was the-.

David: [00:02:07] It’s written for the pro and can I just give you a brief story where it came from?

Morris: [00:02:10] Please.

David: [00:02:11] So I literally I’m remodeling in WashingtonD.C. A friend of mine calls this is a true story a friend of mine called and said my psychiatrist wants to talk to you. I said well that’s kind of intriguing. So we made a time to meet at lunch. I get there and he’s there with the marriage counselor partner from his psychiatric practice. Not a personal partner, a business partner.

James: [00:02:33] Wow.

David: [00:02:34] I sit down and within about three minutes understand that both of them had done major remodeling projects in the previous 12 18 months. Both of them were still upset and for about 20 minutes they both vented their frustrations in regards to what didn’t happen. Promises that weren’t kept, expectations that weren’t maintained. Just their disappointment with the entire process. And in listening to this, I said, you know, what were you hoping I could do. And they said you know in many cases all homeowners can do is complain to their friends. We wanted you as a professional to hear what we went through. And then I said you know I’ve thought about putting together a manual to show homeowners how to better prepare for the process. And he stopped me and I remember cause he’s shaking his finger at me, made a very vivid impression, and he said you’re missing my point. Homeowners only go through this once or twice. Contractors do this again and again. You know how to build, you understand how construction comes together, what you don’t understand is how to manage people’s emotions. If you did you would change your industry. That stuck with me and that’s where the book came from.

James: [00:03:53] Wow. Before we go any further where might one acquire the book?

David: [00:03:57] They can just email me. I just discovered today that I had a free link on my Web site and if you understand technology sometimes these links disappear. So if they just emailed me I’m happy to send them a digital copy of the book.

James: [00:04:13] And the e-mail address is?

David: [00:04:15] – just like it sounds.

James: [00:04:21] May the Force be with you yeah.

David: [00:04:22] May the Force be with us all.

James: [00:04:24] All right, so how does a professional manage the expectations?

Morris: [00:04:30] That’s what we’re always talking about.

James: [00:04:32] Yeah.

Morris: [00:04:33] Manage your customers expectations. Don’t tell them that it’s going to be 200,000 if you’re not sure. Don’t offer them information which you can’t back up.

David: [00:04:42] You’ll relate to this. We don’t just sell a project, we sell an experience.

David: [00:04:48] So it’s my job from the very first appointment, and you just said, it it’s my job to begin setting clear expectations. And there are some landmines because sometimes people are watching these home improvement shows and home improvement shows make these jobs look effortless. They give pricing that isn’t realistic and everybody’s having a good time. And so right from the beginning it’s my job as the professional to begin really sharing with people what the process is, I can share the rollercoaster with them, but also tell them, I’ll guide them every step of the way.

David: [00:05:27] Can I share another analogy with you?

James: [00:05:28] Please and I just want to say this before you do. Thank you so much for weighing in on these shows. They truly are a double edged sword. They create an interest in and demand for what we all do, which is wonderful, but they are equally poor at painting a very unrealistic picture as regards to both the level of disruption, the amount of time that it takes to accomplish a particular task, and completely and totally unrealistic budgets.

David: [00:06:01] They call them reality shows. That’s the irony here which is those are entertainment shows. They’re not really about the reality of the remodeling process.

James: [00:06:11] All right your story.

David: [00:06:12] OK so about two years ago I had to get a knee replacement had, injured myself you know athletically and they finally said you know let’s just start over. So before I could get the knee replacement I had to go to two joint replacement classes and going through these classes was illuminating because here’s my analogy custom remodeling is just like elective surgery. Now elective surgery you make a choice. Customer modeling you make a choice. Let’s look at the items around elective surgery. Number one, it’s very invasive. Number two, the outcome is uncertain. Number three, you hope you pick the right doctor. And number four, it can be very expensive. Now let’s jump over to remodeling. People start the process in design and the outcome is very uncertain. It’s going to be very invasive. They hope that they pick the right contractor, and it can be very expensive. I can’t emphasize enough the emotional undercurrent that’s present in any remodeling project. You’re in people’s personal space, around their children. So you’re selling trust. You’re selling your promises. Your commitments. They don’t have distinctions are the cabinets you know perfectly level, are the miters perfectly tight. They don’t have those distinctions, but they do know how they’ve been treated. So my job and the surgeons they did this in the prep for the knee replacement. Those meetings were all about managing the patient expectations. What’s going to happen. How do you prepare. What do you do to get ready. Here’s what we do to get ready. Here’s what’s going to happen during surgery. Here’s what happens afterwards. And my point in all this is why aren’t we doing the same thing? And setting people up to succeed. And honestly I do this is also a nice qualifier, after doing this for 30 years, as you both have, I know what works. So I’m going to review my process and procedures with a client. If a potential client doesn’t want to follow my process, honestly, they’re not my client. I know what works. Will they let me do my job? Does that make sense?

James: [00:08:36] We call that a red flag. That’s red flag number one.

David: [00:08:38] Bingo.

James: [00:08:38] You know what, the moment that you begin, and I’m speaking to you the pro listening, the moment you begin to alter or mold or customize your business to meet the expectations of a client rather than using your tried and true methods, that is the first step toward disaster.

David: [00:09:08] We can’t give up control and that’s why to me this surgical analogy is so appropriate. You don’t walk into a surgeon and say you know I was on webM.D. and I noticed that this, this, and this. Now if I’ve got a guy that’s done 5000 knee surgeries, I’m going to trust him to do his job. I know he’s good at what he does. And I’m guessing both of you, have you done probably around 1000 jobs if not more?

Morris: [00:09:34] Maybe two or 3000.

David: [00:09:35] Yes. So we know what works. It’s our job to educate. Loosely speaking the home owner and say this is what we do. This is how we do it. This is why we do it. And I always follow that up with, “Will you let me do my job?”

James: [00:09:53] And you know David to your point technology really has been wonderful all by creating an awareness of the benefits associated with a remodel. Wow what a new kitchen will look like in that new bathroom or additional space whatever and creates demand for us and access to information on products is wonderful with tablets and all of that on the Internet. But it also can for some cause this false sense of empowerment where they believe they now are armed with enough knowledge to be a project manager or to be a contractor. And that is very dangerous very dangerous.

[00:10:43] Yeah unfortunately sometimes we don’t find out about that customer characteristic until midway through the job no matter how hard we try in the beginning. We do a lot of very hard qualifying trying to eliminate clientele by virtue of their initial attitude when we first meet. You know, “I drew this plan,” and the minute I hear I drew this plan I’d say Jeez that’s just gorgeous. And I’d say but you know what that project too big for us. We just won’t be able to do it because anyone who does a design has no respect for what we do. They feel that if they’re capable of drawing it they’re capable of managing it and I don’t want to be any part of that.

David: [00:11:28] When can I give you a one little tip that I finally learned about how to identify the problem homeowner before the job even starts.

Morris: [00:11:35] Yes please.

David: [00:11:36] So it can be really blatant. Which is I’m walking in and the homeowner says you know I fired my previous two contractors. I’m sure you’ll be different. That’s probably as clear as it can be.

Morris: [00:11:48] Yeah.

David: [00:11:49] But it’s usually different. It’s much more subtle. You can notice that there is an interaction between the two spouses that are good disrespectful. There could be something done with you this disrespectful. There’s something that doesn’t sit right. I’m going to see if I can capture this and see what you think. When I sat with problem clients I usually know something doesn’t feel right. There isn’t a green light. I mean in my gut I can feel it which is something’s off on this. It took me several years to literally begin to pay attention. If something doesn’t feel right, there’s a reason.

Morris: [00:12:27] Yeah.

David: [00:12:28] And I told contractors if it doesn’t feel right it is not and as a backup to that when I would feel that I would bring my project manager to the next client meeting because he was not emotionally involved. He would sit through the meeting as we walked to the car. I would turn to him and say What do you think. And he would always give me this unsolicited feedback. Something along the lines of If you take that job. I quit. But he would tell me what he saw and what he felt. Does that all make sense?

James: [00:13:01] It makes perfect sense and we do the same thing if there’s more than one of us that has visited the project. You know I think a lot of people – and we’re in a position in an industry where people expect a free estimate and that can be a major undertaking for someone in our position. It can require a lot of time and a lot of energy and so if you’re willing to invest that time and energy you at least need to feel good about who it is you’re going to be engaging in that they are legitimately a prospect and not just a tire kicker.

Morris: [00:13:37] Actually we don’t offer free estimates because our estimates for a major remodel can take you know weeks of drawings and in order to be accurate. So what we do is we suggest a design agreement.

David: [00:13:52] Yeah.

Morris: [00:13:52] We’ll design it for ya and we’ll work on it until the permits are ready and if and we’ll work on it till you’re happy.

David: [00:14:00] And I’m very clear that if I’m putting my time into a project or an estimate if I’m investing time the homeowner must also make an investment. So there is some kind of payment in kind and I do that for two reasons. One is they’re making an investment number one but number two even if it’s just for three four or five hundred dollars. Once they write that check for the deadline agreement I’ve taken them off the market because they’re not going to do that with anybody else.

Morris: [00:14:30] That’s right.

James: [00:14:30] Interesting. That’s very interesting. I want to speak to for a moment David a couple of things that may resonate with our audience and for those who who doesn’t resonate then it’s a good wakeup call. One is managing expectations. I think one of the biggest mistakes people make in our position is quoting unrealistic budgets to say well if someone is someone looking at a kitchen well it’s going to be you know ninety seven thousand dollars rather than saying you know. Well based on the information you’ve given me let’s see the last three kitchens that we’ve done that are similar have run in the neighborhood of say 95 to 140 thousand dollars.

David: [00:15:16] Yes.

James: [00:15:17] And then stepping back for a moment and allowing the client to respond and say either. Yeah that’s kind of in keeping with what we expected or are you crazy. We want to have this done for 25, 000. Well you know that. And sometimes you can do that over the telephone that you save yourself a trip and a half a day.

David: [00:15:37] You have to do that because again watching reality shows they share budgets that in many cases are not realistic for a variety of reasons. So that is my job to begin helping them understand what the true cost of the project is. And here you just had a bracketing. I do the same thing.

James: [00:15:55] Yeah.

David: [00:15:56] Which is it can be as little as 50 could easily be a hundred depends on your selections. Gosh. Are you closer to 50 or 100? And people will always answer that question.

James: [00:16:06] If you can’t get the budget you don’t have a viable lead.

Morris: [00:16:08] Well we went to one of the things that some of us do as we say what’s your budget.

James: [00:16:14] Well I don’t know what my budget has. It’s up to you. You’re a contractor.

Morris: [00:16:18] OK so we know that this is going to be a fifty thousand dollar job. So the next question out of my mouth is, “Well can you invest 100000 dollars?” “Oh no no no!” and then they give you their budget.

James: [00:16:30] Right.

David: [00:16:31] There you go.

James: [00:16:32] Yeah. One of the other sure ways of sabotaging a project is coming out the gate the client will say well what do you think it’s going to take for in terms of time to finish this project. And if you say six weeks and you know darn well that a project like that takes eight weeks you better put at least 10 weeks into the project and then come in early which will make you look like a hero. I don’t understand David people who do what we do who promised six weeks take eight weeks and end up with an enemy rather than saying this is going to take eight weeks come in a week or two early and look like heroes.

David: [00:17:18] Well can I make another comment on that.

James: [00:17:20] I wish you would.

David: [00:17:21] And I mean this sincerely because this is going to sound a little unusual but it took me 15 years to learn how to say no because in this service industry I was trained to say yes can you do this? Yes I can. Can you work with this? Yes I can. It only came with experience that I discovered that saying yes does not benefit my client and certainly may not benefit me. But it took some time for me to understand that saying no is the appropriate action and telling people what they don’t want to hear because that’s my job is also as a professional.

Morris: [00:17:58] Exactly.

David: [00:17:59] And it took me some time to say to somebody no I don’t want you ordering the light fixtures, I don’t want you ordering the plumbing fixtures. I will do that and I’ll do that because I have my dedicated suppliers because of getting delivery. We want to handle the install. I can then warrant everything that I can do. Let me do my job.

James: [00:18:21] David can I say something and I’ll say the three words, I love you.

James: [00:18:28] It is wonderful it’s a great reality check and reminder for us. And this information that you’re providing to our peers is totally invaluable.

Morris: [00:18:39] It really is. Here on CareyBros we like to ask our guests to share three points for success with our pro listeners could you please share yours.

David: [00:18:51] Yeah. Number one, we’re selling an experience as well as a project. Number two, It’s my job to manage that experience and guide my clients every step of the way. And number three, it’s my job to set clear expectations right from the first meeting. This allows my client to choose me and allows me also to select the clients that will let me do my job.

James: [00:19:21] David Lupberger president of Master Builder Group Incorporated there a custom renovation and home building company and the Boulder Colorado area. And David also writes a column entitled “Managing It” for qualified remodel he’s spoken on the topic. He also writes a column titled managing it for qualified remodeler and has spoken on this topic at the International Builders Show The remodelers show and other industry meetings. He’s written a report titled Secrets of a million dollar remodeler and you may certainly get his book entitled Managing the emotional homeowner and get more information about his services at remodel force dot com.

Morris: [00:20:07] And remember you’ll find our guest information as well as additional podcasts videos and articles on our website at

James: [00:20:18] Thank you, David!

David: [00:20:19] Thank you gentlemen.

Magic Mike: [00:20:20] Oh OK everybody. Loosen up those two belts and relax. It’s time for a quick brode tip from the Carey Brothers.

Morris: [00:20:29] Remodeling construction workers are used to being laid off. Naturally, such is the case, for anyone who works outside and who subject to rain sleet or snow. Construction workers may not care for it, but they fully understand not being able to work in inclement weather. What they don’t understand is not working when the weather is good and that Mr. Employer is fully upon you. So how does remodeling contractor ensure full time work for his crew year round in good weather and bad. One fellow told us sell projects at breakeven values in order to keep the men working. And although this suggestion sounds very noble such a plan is a formula for disaster and maybe even bankruptcy. Planning ahead is a must. And advertising is the most important aspect of planning ahead.

Morris: [00:21:25] Here are the steps to learn remember them and follow them closely.

[00:21:30] First you need to know the average time it takes for a project to get started and when I mean get started. What I’m saying is that the timeframe between the initial phone call and the time that the project commences so I got called on a month ago Monday and I get the job started following month Friday. Two months it takes to get the job, the plans done, get the permits, get all the finishes selected, get the estimates done, get a contract. OK. So you have to know the average time that it takes to get that project started once you get that phone call. We call that first contact to commencement or FCC. You should know FCC for each type of project you build because every type of project takes a different lead time between the time you get the phone call and the time that your project commences. Remember you’re trying to hit rainy season with some projects.

Morris: [00:22:37] Remember when you advertise regularly consumers still take a bit of time to respond to your ad. So if you want work in two months and you advertise two months in advance that may not work because people who are reading the newspaper take several weeks to respond to an ad. So what you have to do is take that commencement time that FCC and you have to add a little bit of lead time for your ad to make sense. So if it takes about three weeks for the ad and two months for a job to get going. You want to start advertising about three months before you need the outside work. So it rains in December in your area. You might want to be advertising for indoor work in October. October is a really good time it’s still dry but then you should be working on kitchen and bathroom models whole house remodels and the like. Here’s another tip if you’re a design build remodeler begin your advertising for additions in early winter. Folks who would otherwise wait until spring to contact you or your competition would respond to an advertisement that states begin planning your room addition now and the ad should explain that some additions take months to plan. So begin planning now for spring. You’ll beat your competition to the bunch and get a bunch of profitable additions before everyone else. Keep your advertising going all year long but change up your ads to promote the kind of work that will keep your company going year round. And by the way, word of mouth advertising is great, but it doesn’t necessarily get you the kind of work that you want when you most need it.

Magic Mike: [00:24:26] Well that’s our podcast for today. Thanks for listening to this edition of CareyBrosPros the podcast for construction professionals by construction professionals. Want more check out you’ll find articles and videos to help make your business a success.

About The Author James Carey

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