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Renovation contractors and home improvement service providers in South Africa often go through a predictable pattern in terms of their relationship and frames of mind. We at Smarten Renovate always say that we are in the relationship-building business as much as in the renovation industry. Renovation service providers need to rate their relationships with homeowners very highly and therefore everybody needs to understand that during every project certain things, good and bad, will happen that will inevitably have an influence on these relationships.

Let’s look at the pattern in terms of four stages. Just remember, these are generalisations. We are all human beings with our own personalities, circumstances and backgrounds, and therefore each relationship looks different. Each project looks different too, with different levels of challenges and pleasant experiences. Some of these stages may never appear, their duration will differ, or they may appear in a different order. They may even repeat themselves. Still, it is important to take note of them, because if we can identify them we can manage them to some degree.

1.      Stage 1: Euphoria. This phase is often found just before a project starts and lasts through the first few days or weeks of the project. The contract has been signed, both the homeowner and the contractor look forward to the project, and excitement is in the air. This is very similar to the infatuation stage in a romantic relationship. During this stage parties tend to have very high expectations of each other, and the danger is that these expectations can get in the way of reality.

2.      Stage 2: Forming. Work has started on the project and because of the binding nature of the work involved, the homeowner and contractor start getting a “feel” for each other. In the ideal situation this stage is all about give and take, as the parties get to know each other. This stage often determines the prevalence or existence of further stages. During this stage, perhaps more than in other stages, it is important for both the contractor and the homeowner to ensure that their expectations stay aligned as far as possible.

3.      Stage 3: Trouble. This can also be called the “frustration stage”. Although everybody hopes this stage will never rear its ugly head, it mostly does at some point and to some intensity. Remember that a renovation project by its very nature is a disruption of the ordinary course of matters. The contractor and his crew often invade the private space of the homeowner by working where people are living. At some stage this becomes too much and frustration sets in. Issues become major bones of contention, frustration and even anger. The relationship between the homeowner and the contractor is often tested during this stage, and often become strained. This stage is often the result of a misalignment of expectations.

4.      Stage 4: Stability. In all projects, the ideal is to get to the stability stage as early as possible. During this stage, parties have mostly set aside their differences and most of their frustrations, and have accepted that things may not always go according to plan. They have also accepted each other’s temperaments, quirks and characters. Both the homeowner and contractor are committed to seeing the project out without further major disruptions, and they communicate extremely well. Characteristics of this stage include high levels of trust and understanding, open communication, supportiveness and positive feedback.

What then, do we need to do once we are aware that these are the stages that we will mostly experience in a renovation project? Perhaps the following pointers may help:

·         As mentioned before, get those expectations in line as soon as possible, and keep on working to keep them in line. This is why it is so important to have a written agreement in place before the project starts, with a project scope statement containing as much details as possible. It is also important to have a reporting and feedback system in place. (See the bullet below).

·         Keep on talking. This seems so logical it is almost ridiculous, but this is where we most often see things going wrong. Communication in any project is absolutely everything. From the homeowner side: if there is an issue, don’t keep it bottled up. Bring it to the attention of the contractor immediately. From the contractor side: keep the homeowner in the loop. Have regular progress discussions. Phone. Send photos.

·         Be fair and reasonable. We are all humans and we all make mistakes. If a mistake does occur, it can be fixed. Do not allow your emotions to run away with you, don’t get personal, don’t do blame-shifting, and be solution-driven if issues do arise.