Questions About Process
What’s your greatest strength?
After the overall quality of the people who make up Blackdog (we have attracted and retained a staff of talented, integrity-driven employees and experience very little turn-over) our single greatest strength is in our systematized approach to business. Our internal systems are documented, communicated and understood by every individual in the company. Nothing is left to chance – we don’t “figure it out when we get there.” This translates to smoothness and consistency from taking a client’s first phone-call through gathering all the relevant data and documenting our clients’ preferences and selections to communicating all of those details to our Production Staff who then utilize their own systems and procedures to insure that the building process and end-results are exactly what our clients are expecting.
Your greatest weakness?
Usually, one’s weakest suit is simply the flip-side of one’s strongest – Blackdog is no exception. Because our staff relies on the successful completion of many internal systems, we are not always able to make sudden and extreme changes in a timely fashion. If we were half-way through remodeling a kitchen, for instance, and the clients suddenly requested that we build an addition at the same time, we would be hard-pressed to accommodate that request – we would have to design and sell it as a separate job to be produced later. We don’t “turn on a dime” well – that’s why it is important for all the major remodeling decisions be made before work begins.
Do you use subcontractors?
Yes, we use subcontractors for a variety of trades including but not limited to electrical work, plumbing, insulation, sheetrock, floor-finishing, roofing and painting. These are areas in which we can save our clients money through the efficiency gained by employing specialists. Our pool of sub-contractors is the result of a vigorously vetting and qualifying process implemented since 1989. Annually, we require proof of proper license and insurance from each and every one of them. All subcontractors are coordinated and communicated with by Blackdog. Clients are not expected to pay subcontractors directly or be involved with the coordination of their schedules. That is all managed by Blackdog.
Are your cabinets custom?
Rather than create our own cabinetry in a local shop, we carry a variety of cabinet lines that allows us to better insure quality & consistency and to meet different budgetary requirements. All of our cabinets are “special order” meaning none of them are pre-assembled and sitting in a warehouse waiting to be shipped. Some brands are “semi-custom” meaning that they are made-to-order but that there are limitations either to sizes, wood-species or finishes available. Other brands are “custom” meaning that – if we can draw it, they can build it and cabinets can be ordered in virtually and size, door-style, wood-species or finish.
Do you have architects on staff?
No. Our Designer/Salespeople come from a variety of professional disciplines that contribute to their ability to imagine and develop beautiful projects and our clients benefit from their collaborative efforts. For structural engineering to supplement our designs, we contract out for engineering on an as-needed basis.
Do we need an architect? It’s possible but unlikely. If you want an addition, our Design staff has the skill to design it and its connection to your existing home. For extremely complicated work involving historical buildings or complex connections, however, we would not hesitate to recommend an architect.
Can we provide our own product?
Most products – like windows, doors, siding, cabinetry, countertops, fittings & fixtures – are intrinsically linked with the building process. Order accuracy & timeliness, quality shipping and order completion all play into our ability to insure a smoothly-run project for which we take total responsibility. With few exceptions, it is important to our process that Blackdog provide most of the product.
Can I do some of my own work?
A client can do any work that he/she is legally allowed to do in his/her own home and which does not intersect the critical path of Blackdog’s work schedule. For instance – a client might wish to do his/her own demolition prior to Blackdog’s starting the project. He/she might want to do all the painting after Blackdog has completed the services for which we were contracted. We would happy to discuss other types of client involvement on a case-by-case basis.
Are you a “Green Builder?”
“Green” means many things to many people. For some, it means using only materials from sustainable resources like recycled products or fast-growing crops like bamboo. For others, it’s about using products that do not contain harsh chemicals (like formaldehyde) or use harsh chemicals during their manufacturing processes. And for yet another group, it means designing in ways that improve energy efficiency (like passive solar) or water conservation. Blackdog does not promote itself as being a specialist or expert in any one particular “shade of green” – we conserve fuel and energy where it is practical to do so, recommend “Freecyle.org” to our clients as a way of discarding products in way that has less impact on our land-fills and are open to looking at new products and ways of building things provided the materials and practices are predictable enough that we can have reasonable confidence in their quality and longevity.
Questions about Schedule
Can you give a guarantee start date?
When our clients sign their contracts, we give an “Anticipated Start Date” – usually simply the month we intend to start. At any given time, each Lead Carpenter is scheduled for at least two or three jobs in advance. We cannot give a “guaranteed” start date because it is impossible to predict the exact duration of the preceding jobs to which that Lead Carpenter has already been committed. Sometimes, unforeseeable but pre-existing conditions arise on a job and they cause delays. Often, a client will decide to add work to the body of their contract after we have already started the project. Rather than leave a job only partially finished, it has long been Blackdog’s policy to stick with each project until the clients can once again enjoy their home. Clients who have signed contracts with Blackdog and are waiting for the projects to begin receive regular updates from their Designer/Salesperson or Project Manager regarding the current schedule.
Can you give a guaranteed finish date?
For myriad reasons, it is in Blackdog’s best interest to finish every project in a timely manner. A protracted schedule serves neither the client or the contractor. While Blackdog includes an “Anticipated Completion Date” in every contract, we do not “guarantee” a completion date due the possibility of pre-existing conditions and the possibility of Change Orders. Prior to the job starting, we develop a schedule for the work-flow including all the labor, trades and inspections. It is our policy to keep our clients apprised of any changes in the schedule as we work our way through the job.
Does your contract contain a penalty clause?
No. The concept of a “Penalty Clause” – the practice of the contractor discounting the final invoice a certain dollar-amount for every day beyond the “Guaranteed Completion Date” a project is not delivered – is most commonly associated with new homes under construction and is desirable to the new-home-buyer who usually needs to sell and move out of a pre-existing home. Obviously, this requires careful scheduling and if delivery of the new house is grossly delayed, it can result in significant expenses for the buyer. Because the new home is “pre-designed” and has usually already been built several times, the contractor can easily predict the Completion Date predicated on his past experiences. In remodeling, however, every job is a prototype. While a Professional Remodeler can make educated assumptions about the condition of a home based on its age, style and other exterior clues, it is impossible to know just exactly what is hiding behind the sheetrock until the job is completely gutted.
Why will our project take that long?
A common misperception is that Remodeling work is comparable to New Construction. Drive by any new development and you’ll see a crew of a dozen people all working to build the same house at the same time. Drive by a couple of times over the course of the two or three months and the house is nearly completed. So shouldn’t remodeling “just a bathroom” take only a couple of weeks? Remodeling work needs to happen sequentially. Spatial constraints alone limit the number of people that can efficiently work on a given job. It is not safe or even possible to have a carpenter, a plumber and an electrician all working simultaneously in your bathroom!
Questions about Price
Is the price negotiable?
- Often, our clients use this question to ask, “If the price is higher than we’re comfortable with, will you work with us to help us get it down?” The answer there is a resounding “Yes!” We begin the Project Development Process with an eye toward meeting all our clients’ needs including budget. If, after roughing out a design, we determine that the cost of building that project is more than our client wants to invest, we can offer suggestions to help bring the budget back into line. Solutions can be as simple as selecting different products or finishes or as all-encompassing as simplifying the design by re-addressing the primary goals for the project.
- Sometimes, our clients ask this question meaning, “Will you sell this project to me for a lower price because I asked?” The answer is, “No.” Blackdog believes in fair and honest pricing for every client. The only way we could reduce the price of one client’s project would be to raise the price of another client’s and that is not the Blackdog way.
How much per square foot?
Every year, a variety of construction-oriented periodicals publish the per-square-foot price of building a new home of a specific caliber in a specific region. With prices ranging from $200–$500 per square foot, it’s easy for the owners of existing homes to translate that equation to their own remodeling job and think, “Well, my bathroom is only 35 square feet so that means I should be able to remodel it for between $7,000 and $17,500.00!” In point-of-fact, per-square-foot pricing is not a relevant benchmark for remodeling because it does not take three very important factors into consideration;
- Demolition and rubbish removal – not necessary in new construction – costs money. Before beginning the project, the existing space must be stripped of all the fittings, fixtures, sheetrock, insulation, flooring, etc. Those materials must then be removed from the home (taking care not to dirty or damage the walls and floors of adjacent, uninvolved rooms) and disposed of.
- Tying in to old work is more labor-intensive than installing all new work. Imagine an electrician installing recessed lights in a house that is currently under construction – all of the joists are visible and wiring is simply stapled up in clean straight runs to the electrical panel which is completely accessible. Compare this to installing the same lights in a pre-existing, plastered ceiling – to place a light, a hole is cut in the plaster. If a joist is revealed, a new hole must be cut and the other hole patched over. Wires must be “fished” across closed ceilings and down sheetrocked walls to reach the electrical panel. This comparison holds true for almost every phase of a remodeling project from excavation to pouring a foundation to framing to flooring to painting.
- In new construction, the “big-ticket” items like plumbing and electrical are averaged over the square footage of the entire house. The plumbing for a kitchen and two and a half bathrooms is very expensive but is averaged over 2500 square feet. When a home is being remodeled, that same work is often averaged over only a tenth of the square footage.
I hear you’re expensive...
- Purchasing a remodeling project can be difficult because it’s impossible to compare apples to apples. Even if an estimate appears to have all the same components, how can a client be sure that the jobs will be executed with the same attention to detail, the same level of craftsmanship? Here’s an example; a bare-bones, stripped-down estimate from another contractor might include a line-item for the kitchen electrical work that says, “lighting, switching and outlets for kitchen.” During construction, the client might ask, “Will there be two recessed lights over my sink or just one?” The contractor then raises his eyebrows and says, “Well – actually – none. Your lighting allowance includes one surface mount light in the middle of the kitchen and one over the sink. I can do recessed lighting for you but that’s going to be an up-charge.” At Blackdog, we don’t believe in “low-ball” estimates designed to “get the job.” We feel a responsibility to provide accurate, up-front pricing that is reflective of our clients’ expectations regarding quality, style and functionality. When we give an estimate, it’s “real” in that we’ve taken time up front to gain an understanding of our clients’ expectations for the finished project.
- Every year we are privileged to work in beautiful homes, large and small. In fact, most of our work is not in grand mansions but in more modest, family houses. Sadly, most of these meticulously crafted, smaller projects cannot be effectively photographed. The photographs that appear in magazines are inevitably those of the larger projects for which we have been selected and consequently, we are occasionally confronted by the misperception that “Blackdog only does fancy jobs.” In point of fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. It would be far more accurate to say, “Blackdog only provides excellent service and only does quality work.” Blackdog is fiercely proud of all our work – to be entrusted with the homes of our clients is the highest honor to which we can aspire.
How much am I paying for your overhead?
- Nothing. A single contractor in a pick-up truck needs a book-keeper, a phone system, product samples and a computer system the same as we do. Blackdog becomes more financially efficient because each of those individual overhead items is supported by ten to fifteen jobs at a time, not just one.
- The individual contractor continuously loses time by having to jump from task to task; design a plan, price a materials list, swing a hammer, schedule a sub-contractor, answer an emergency warranty call. Blackdog works more quickly and accurately by allowing employees that specialize in each discipline to focus on what they do best without time-consuming distractions.
Can you break this quote down line-item by line-item?
Purchasing a Design/Build project is more like buying a car than a list of groceries. When you buy a car, the “base-price” includes everything you need to be able to drive it off the lot and operate it safely. You do not have separate prices for the engine, the rearview mirror, the windshield, etc. You may, however, select “packages” to upgrade the vehicle in a variety of ways – special rims, sound systems, leather trim, etc. We handle the design of our clients’ projects much the same way. If we’re developing a kitchen project we will come back to the client with a “base-price” for the kitchen – all the demolition, rubbish-removal, framing, plumbing, electrical work, HVAC work, insulation, sheetrock, flooring, cabinetry, countertops… (the list goes on and on) required to create a beautiful, functional kitchen that will meet the needs identified by the client during the Goals Assessment. Then, if our clients want to know, “How much more would it be if we wanted cherry cabinets instead of maple?” or “How much would we save if don’t replace the window?,” those options are priced out as Upgrades and/or Savings Options.
What’s your mark-up?
Blackdog prices its projects to produce a 10% net profit which is used to grow the company.
Is this going to cost me more than what the contract says?
There are three circumstances under which a client may end up paying more for their project than is listed in their contract;
- The single biggest contributor to projects costing more than originally anticipated is client-driven change orders… “While they’re here, maybe we should have them change out that window in the bathroom…” We get a lot of those.
- Unforeseen conditions. Sadly, we do not have x-ray vision. Until a space is gutted open, we cannot know about the rotted sill or the termite infestation or the improperly vented drain-line. When we discover those things, it is our legal obligation to bring them to the attention of our clients. If additional work is needed to correct the situation, a change order will be written and presented to the client for consideration before proceeding.
- “Escalation” refers to a sudden, unforeseeable and dramatic increase in the cost of a commodity-type product due to circumstances beyond our control. Such occurrences are rare but well-documented; a few years ago, the cost of plywood doubled in the space of a few days due to Hurricane Katrina. Under such circumstances, we are forced to share the burden of the added expense with our clients.