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How To Keep The Most Expensive Project Of Your Life From Going Horribly Wrong

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Oren has served as the CEO and licensed general contractor of SOD Home Group since its establishment in 2011.

For most people, the most expensive purchase you’ll make in this life is buying or building your own home. When I married the love of my life, Sarah, back in 2006, we decided to jump in with both feet and do just that. Like a lot of newlyweds, we went for a house that could only be described as a fixer-upper, and although nervous about our new project, we were equally excited about the opportunity to build our future and infuse the place with our own unique style.

Besides, I was holding a trump card (or so I thought). I was already working for another construction company. I naively believed that as an “insider” I would be on the fast track to an easy, high-quality, low-cost remodel. Wrong! Instead, Sarah and I learned the hard way when our “three-month project” quickly became a nine-month running joke. 

You see, the construction industry is built on a series of personal networks, and when you’re in the trade, it doesn’t take long before the recommendations come flooding in. And because of the source, folks usually take them in blind faith without doing their due diligence: “Sure, he was recommended by Jim, so he must be good.”

A handshake or verbal contract at these early stages seems sufficient. (And I thought so too.) This was my first mistake. Because nothing was set in stone, when the promises of deadlines weren’t met, it was just my word against the contractor’s. 

Another problem I discovered was shortcomings in ability and expertise. Naturally, as the subcontractors were recommended, Sarah and I assumed they would work to the high standard we wanted. Instead, within a couple of months, there was a series of disasters such as unexplained delays and quick patch-up work, and I even caught them using inferior materials to increase their margins instead of delivering what we expected and had sunk all of our hard-earned savings into.

And speaking of money, it was a constant sore spot throughout the project. Budgets are there for a reason, and of course, there will be fluctuations. However, my calculations appeared wildly different than I was told up front and with unexpected and hidden expenses being a weekly occurrence, it meant predicted costs were spiraling out of control. Coupled with weak explanations of why this was happening, it made the situation even harder to swallow.

These disputes dragged on for months, which only added extra unnecessary stress to the already exhausting situation of remodeling a house in the first place. With unresponsiveness to questions or concerns coming from both sides, it seemed that the dream project had been doomed from the start.

Looking back, if I had just hired a contractor who I could talk to, an awful lot of this could have been avoided. Simply put, Sarah and I learned about every single pitfall, disaster and frustration that comes from unfulfilled expectations, lack of communication and poor workmanship.

My solution to it all was to go out and research the actual challenges faced by both contractors and customers. This was a big step for me as someone in the industry, and I knew that any company wanting to survive long-term would need to get this right. Ultimately, I used this large set to build my own construction company so others don’t need to experience the same challenges.

There are seven themes that arose consistently in my personal research. If you’re beginning a home building or renovation project, keep the following in mind to help you separate the good from the not-so-good contractors for your next project.

1. Communication: Is it easy to get your contractor on the phone? Does it honestly seem like they even like speaking with you when you call? You can learn a lot about your contractor by how they communicate with you.

2. Dispute reduction: Does the contractor have a set policy for conflict resolution? Conflicts can and do happen in any relationship. What’s important is that there’s a way to help resolve them when they come up.

3. Expectation management: It’s one thing to be promised the sun and the stars when it comes to your home improvement project, and entirely another to share the truth — the good, the bad and the ugly. 

4. Competency: Is your contractor good at his work? A simple question, I know, but it’s a very important one. Be sure to check their qualifications and don’t be afraid to ask for their past clients’ contact details. If they’ve got nothing to hide, most will gladly hand them over.

5. Perceptions equaling expectations: This is the ideal scenario: where the client is getting exactly what they are looking for, thanks to the contractor they are working with being crystal clear on objectives and outcomes. When expectation equals perception, the result is 100% customer satisfaction. 

6. Budget management: Keeping to a structured budget is a skill set that some contractors seem to have and some don’t, plain and simple. Be sure you wind up working with someone from the first group.

7. Honoring commitments: I know it can seem as simple as anything — when I say I’m going to do something, I do it. It barely seems worth talking about, as everyone you come across in business should be like that, but they aren’t.

Ultimately, the best way to look at things when it comes to hiring your contractor to help you build your dream home is this: Do they care about your project as much as you do?

Well, to be fair, probably not. But, when you work with someone who shares your concerns and commitment to the project, it shows in the results.


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Real Estate

Seven Steps To Running Your Real Estate Business On Auto-Pilot

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Kevin is the Founder of Marker Real Estate, an innovative firm with a transparent, inclusive, client-focused strategy.

If you grew up in the 1990s as I did, you might be familiar with a video game called Cruis’n USA, an auto racing game with multiple checkpoints. I once heard someone compare Cruis’n USA to running a business. 

In the game, each checkpoint has a time limit. If you don’t reach a checkpoint before the timer hits zero, the game ends, and you’re out of the race. Business is similar. There are checkpoints (business goals and objectives), and you have to reach them in time. But how do you navigate your way through multiple checkpoints as easily and quickly as possible? 

Here’s how to put more of your work on cruise control so you can fly through your checkpoints faster than ever before. 

1. Choose one CRM and use it religiously.

Choose one customer relationship management platform (CRM), investigate its features and customize it until you’re comfortable using it. Don’t worry about using all the features because it can be overwhelming. I focus on notes and task reminders.

There are lots of CRM options on the market. A good one will provide you with information from prospecting calls and assist with communications (e.g., auto texting, email drip campaigns, video messaging and follow-up scheduling). Also look for a platform with access to clear dashboards and analytics. Having a full line of sight on your past activity, current efforts and future activity is a must.

2. Automate communications with potential leads.

There’s a limit to what a single person can do, so if software can take over some of the repetitive, time-consuming work, let it. For example, every online inquiry we receive results in an automated text, email and live phone call. 

We also recently started testing a brand new software that uses artificial intelligence (mainly text and Facebook messenger) to communicate with prospects. In our case, we use it to answer buyer and seller questions like “What’s your price range?” and “What’s your time frame for buying?” The messages come from my account, so the client experience is seamless and it feels like they are talking to an experienced agent. 

3. Create a lead generation system.

The turnover rate in my industry is extremely high. I support my own agents and head off frustration and failure by providing them with quality leads. 

Whatever your industry, if you’re in sales, generating leads is essential. If you have employees, generating leads for your sales team is also crucial. The challenge is to constantly generate quality leads with the lowest possible investment. Thinking outside the box is the best place to start.

4. Make your first admin hire.

For office tasks that can’t or shouldn’t be automated, an administrative assistant will pay dividends. This person can process paperwork and manage HR-related tasks. With these jobs covered, you’ll have more time to step away or give your attention to dollar-producing activities. Also, a good administrator doesn’t just fill out forms. They also keep a finger on the pulse of the business, offer advice and alert you to problems.

Of course, some of us have a problem “letting go.” A good way to overcome this problem is by writing down all your tasks every hour for a week. Separate the tasks into two groups. Add all the tasks you want to keep to Group A. Everything else goes into Group B. Group B tasks will become the basis of your job description for an admin assistant. Depending on your workplace setup, also consider hiring a virtual assistant. They may be just as helpful as hiring someone to work onsite. 

5. Stay nimble and stay lean.

Managing a business is like a carnival act: It’s spinning plates while juggling chainsaws. You have to constantly stay on your toes and quickly move your attention and resources around. You also have to remain flexible and be prepared to take advantage of opportunities should they arise. Keep overhead low. For office space, use a small satellite office that is cost-effective. Also, rather than signing expensive long-term leases, make short-term arrangements. If consumer behavior dictates the need to “cut bait” at a given location, you’ll avoid being saddled with the expense of a space you no longer need. 

6. Take yourself out of production.

This step takes the most courage by far, and if you’re a control freak like myself, it may be the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But if you want to succeed, you need to give yourself the option of stepping out of production. If your business relies upon you doing all the deals, you won’t have time to automate and build an empire. 

7. Stay hungry.

Once you’re out of production, have leads flowing in and systems in place, it’s easy to get complacent. Things might seem good now, but you need to stay hungry. Costs might suddenly increase. Essential people on your team might quit. The market might shift. Stay alert and keep yourself sharp. Always be ready to jump back into the trenches if you feel the heat coming around the corner.


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Real Estate

How To Keep Your Business From Being Derailed By ‘Shiny Object Syndrome’

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President, Royal Lepage Connect Realty | CEO, Aligned Agent Academy, Top 50 Women in Canadian Real Estate REP Magazine.

From keeping up with multiple social media platforms to constantly changing algorithms and desiring to reach anyone and everyone in their market, real estate agents can get stuck in “shiny object syndrome.” I’m no exception — I’ve been eager to try every new marketing tactic that pops up in the digital world, too. But I often remind myself that just because it’s working for some people doesn’t mean that it’s going to be the right thing for me and my business.  

If you’re finding yourself constantly looking and comparing to see what others are doing, feeling the pull to jump on the bandwagon of what is new and hot or catching yourself wanting to make a change in brokerage/team because you’re not seeing the results you want, chances are what you’re experiencing is shiny object syndrome.  

There’s nothing wrong with exploring change and trying new things, but if they aren’t in alignment with your business and beliefs, they won’t do you much good. In fact, the end result might mean you end up derailed from your original goal. Let’s talk about what shiny object syndrome really is and how to align yourself when you find it happening. 

How We Get Derailed By ‘Shiny Objects’

Our brains are wired with mechanisms to keep us safe and efficient. When your decisions and actions are aligned with your goals, you experience ease and productivity. The problem with new, shiny objects is that your decision to act on them is usually driven out of impulsivity, which means you’re likely not working in alignment. Working in alignment with how your brain works best helps you to stay on track and achieve the results you want.

But we’ve all been there. You start your day with a rock-solid to-do list, only to find yourself scrolling through your phone wondering whether or not you should buy a greenscreen and start learning how to make Reels and TikToks. Before you know it, you’re caught in the web and instead of focusing on the pillars of your business that will help you achieve your goals, you end up with nothing to show for the time you put in. In the absence of clarity and focus on the goals that are meaningful to you, you’re easily distracted by shiny new objects. Is it you? Are you doing something wrong? Is it them? Are they really doing better than you? Maybe it’s a bit of both?

Grounding In Alignment

Here’s the thing. Everything works if it works for you. For long-lasting results, you have to ground yourself in what you want your career and your business to look like. When you feel pulled into the next hot thing, take a moment to ask yourself these questions:

• Where is your business headed?

• What operations systems do you enjoy?

• What marketing tactics do you enjoy?

• What social media platform are you most comfortable with?

• Where have you seen the most growth in the past?

Getting clarity on where your business is going is the most important. If you don’t have an end goal or vision, you don’t have a way to get there. You’ll be wandering aimlessly without a strategy. Once you nail down your vision, you can align any other systems or tools into your overall business strategy. This isn’t to say you’ll never change your tools or systems, but you should spend more time researching things and feeling out if they align with your strategy. If they do, you can implement them as part of your business plan at a later date, or delegate them when you hire someone. You don’t need to keep up with every shiny object out there. The latest thing might not be what you really need.

Clarity And Overcoming

So how do you get clarity and realize when you’re getting derailed? When you feel yourself getting pulled in a new direction, stop and ask these questions:

• What am I feeling right now?

• Am I feeling centered?

• Am I feeling grounded?

• Is this an opportunity for research or do I just feel pulled?

• Am I falling behind in my business, or just distracted?

• Am I comparing myself to someone else with no real basis?

If your answer amounts to anything other than “I am clear. This makes sense for my business,” you’re getting derailed. Take a moment and go back to the vision of your business. Confirm what systems and tools already align with your vision and feel doable for you. If the shiny new object does seem like it could fit into your business strategy and how you operate best, think on it and set a time to make a decision. With this method, you’ll stay on track with your goals and be intentional. It’ll make you a better real estate agent, and especially a better leader in the end. 

We can all get caught up in shiny object syndrome. It’s how we react, realign and get clear on our goals that matters. Separate the small success of a new tool or platform from the steady growth of businesses that have stood the test of time. There’s no magic wand to fix an issue in your business; it has to start with you.


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Real Estate

Can You Influence Your Own Luck?

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Andy Hochberg is the CEO and Managing Principal of Next Realty, a Chicago-based real estate investment and management firm.

More than a decade ago, I concluded that the adage “location, location, location” was outdated — apologies to its presumed author, Lord Harold Samuel. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, I made the case that other factors, specifically liquidity and luck, had earned their rightful place alongside location as key influencers for successful real estate investing.

Location will always be a critical component of any acquisition strategy. Without a good location, an investment could face insurmountable challenges. Liquidity is necessary for those times when unexpected capital expenditures may be required to fix a property defect or replace a relocating or bankrupt tenant. Finally, it never hurts to have a little luck on your side. Thus, the evolution of a new industry standard bearer: location, liquidity, luck.

Twelve-plus years later, the phrase is as relevant as ever. Yet in terms of investing, those three factors aren’t truly parallel, particularly when you consider control and predictability.

Real estate investors strive for predictability and control. It allows them to build and substantiate an investment thesis. Investors can control location by acquiring properties whose barriers to access limit competition or those that are directly in the path of progress. Similarly, savvy investors control liquidity, or at least take steps to make it more predictable.

Luck, however, is different. Luck is not a commodity to be bought or traded. Some contend you either have it or you don’t. I have concluded that while luck is unpredictable and cannot be controlled, there are things investors can do to be prepared for and enhance the ability to be a beneficiary of luck. Some of those things, based on an investment track record spanning more than 20 years, include:

• Being open-minded about potential solutions. Remember, unique times call for unique considerations. Evolve; don’t stay static.

Being visible and connected so that luck can find you. People aren’t mindreaders; you must be out there so people know you are an option.

• Adhering to your strengths and tolerance for risk. Don’t force things to influence your luck unless it is consistent with your core practices.

• Remembering the fundamentals. For all the evolving you and the market may do, the industry is cyclical; fundamentals will always be important.

Following are three examples of how our firm has created our own luck with these principles in mind.

Good and lucky with help from the government: There are scenarios in which good luck triumphs over bad. One of our assets had been leased for more than 30 years by a single tenant that ultimately went bankrupt. The 50,500-square-foot property occupied a premier location in the heart of one of Chicago’s well-established and highly sought-after residential neighborhoods.

While the property drew interest from traditional retailers, it also attracted the attention of the healthcare community, including one organization seeking to further establish a foothold there. A potential roadblock, however, was the pending potential merger between that healthcare provider and a competitor. We also understood that a governmental ruling could block the merger, increasing the importance and value of our property to the one healthcare provider. Luck was on our side: the merger was denied. Our site ultimately became the site of choice, and ultimately the flagship for a large healthcare system. We were open-minded and adhered to our tolerance for risk knowing that regardless of the merger, we had an attractive retail location.

Good and lucky with help from the tax code: One of the most successful deals we ever completed started with a +/-7 acre land acquisition in Alexandria, Virginia. The parcel was directly in the path of growth and progress, just ahead of a significant housing boom. The combination of the housing boom and the presence of a buyer with a need for a 1031 exchange — with limited time to complete the exchange — enabled us to sell the asset on favorable terms. In addition to a great site, we were visible and connected, which helped create a successful outcome.

Good and lucky with help from demographics: Sometimes the luck that happens results from the strategy you develop to overcome a potentially disastrous outcome. This may be best exemplified by the acquisition of a lifestyle center in Chicago’s northern suburbs. While fully occupied, our due diligence raised concerns over the future tenancy of the largest tenant, a national bookseller. We took a calculated risk, believing that we would be able to secure a new tenant with greater financial strength and stability to replace the original tenant. There were advantages and flexibility to the space as it offered a unique, two-story layout. Being open-minded about a potential solution, we helped shape the concept of medtail space in Chicago with a 40,000-plus-square-foot lease to a large, well-known healthcare provider within months of acquiring the center.

In the absence of certain levels of predictability and control — an increasingly common characteristic in today’s market — real estate investors need every competitive edge, and every bit of luck, possible. Just as you can’t predict when a large anchor tenant may have to file for bankruptcy and leave a significant hole in a property or portfolio, no one can tell when, out of the blue, a tenant comes along with a requirement that absorbs a significant block of space.

While luck can’t be bought or sold, investors should understand how they can influence it, or recognize the opportunities to seize it when it comes along. At the end of the day, sometimes success comes from being lucky rather than simply being good.


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