Unreal Expectations: As Seen on TV

October 2015

by Keith Wilder, CGP, CAPS

This month features the illusion of unreal expectations.

Scenario: Johnny and Suzy want to expand a room in their house by knocking out a wall. They want to do this in the cheapest way possible. After watching HGTV, they both decide the cheapest way is to do it themselves. In the end, it turned out to be a very expensive lesson, and a dangerous one. The upstairs nearly fell into the lower level because the knocked-out wall was a bearing point for the house. I would like to say, be careful with unreal expectations. Here’s why…

In the last 10 years of being in business, customers seem to have more and more unreal expectations to timelines and costs when it comes to their home improvement projects. With Home & Garden TV and the Do-It-Yourself network, many customers are watching whole renovations completed in a half an hour. They don’t realize a substantial amount of time and labor is required to complete these types of remodeling projects. Mainstream DIY shows typically highlight some of the problems, a bit of the tear-down process then some finishing touches, but to replace a floor doesn’t get done in just a half an hour. If the floor has dry-rot, it has to be cut back; floor joists need to be replaced with good wood, then re-covered with new plywood before new flooring can be installed. So, my first points, and important points to remember when watching these do-it-yourself networks is timelines are presented unrealistically and you never know what you’re getting into on retro remodels.

Often the shows are sponsored by big box stores or major plumbing suppliers and they downgrade the cost of their products, such as a new sink. They say you can have this new kitchen remodel done for $8000 when new cabinets cost more than that. My second point here is the absence of labor cost discussion in some of these DIY programs. If the homeowner doesn’t have the skills to install cabinetry, for example, he would have to hire out for that part of the kitchen remodel. Labor costs are the most significant cost in a remodel. I don’t know where these networks get their numbers because usually they don’t add up. Even though our overhead is smaller than some of those big contractors they’re showing on these programs, I can’t compete with those costs and there’s no way they can complete some of those projects for the prices they say they are.

Yes, these shows are geared to demonstrate to homeowners how to do it themselves, but I’m writing about unreal expectations to remind people to factor in the illusion presented. This is my third point: the illusion and how it can be costly, and sometimes even dangerous. Numerous times we’ve been hired out to fix and finish homeowners’ decisions to remodel their house. On one project, the customers-to-be decided they were going to take a bedroom out and make it a part of the living room like ‘As Seen on TV.’ What they didn’t realize is that the upstairs floor joists met right on that wall, and when they took that wall out the whole upstairs almost caved in. It gets very expensive to go back in and jack the house up and fix all the cracked sheetrock. They didn’t have an awareness of where the bearing points were in the house. When you start moving walls – whether the roof is bearing on that or an upstairs floor – you have to know what’s holding your house together. People have hurt themselves doing things haphazardly or wrong, thinking they knew what they were doing. When we have to go in and fix those mistakes, many times we have to tear out everything and start over in order to finish the project properly. So, all in all, you get what you pay for. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is –whether it’s a bathroom or kitchen remodel, new siding or flooring, moving windows, a new deck, painting a house, or those types of projects.

Realistically, if you want a kitchen remodel, plan on take-out food for a while because it’s not going to get done in time for dinner. It’s more likely going to take a week or more, and not being able to use the appliances and sink are to be expected. And by the time we rearrange the flooring, add an island or new countertops, fix the plumbing and so on, the expenses are going to be greater than what’s ‘As Seen on TV.’

If you have the original blueprint that’s good, but most homeowners don’t know how to read blueprints. They are one-dimensional and a home is three-dimensional, so it’s hard for a lot of customers to transfer that one-dimensional blueprint into what that actually looks like once it’s built. We will always take the time to do a structural evaluation and go through the cosmetics with our customers to make sure that they understand what that final product is going to look like. It’s nice to have pictures. I always encourage all of my customers to provide pictures of something they’ve seen in a magazine. We can duplicate anything as long as I know what it is that they want. We take pride in being able to build anything for anybody.

In summary, the illusion of timelines, labor costs, project over-simplicity and the unforeseen costs of the mistake factor calculate unreal expectations that can be avoided for the homeowner. Always contact a quality local building contractor who specializes in home renovations and new construction. Let them help you walk through the process of what it’s really going to take. To find a contractor, you can check the phone book or online, but your best bet is to check with your local Home Builders Association at www.shba.com.