It’s not all hugs and kisses

By Francie Healy

You know how it is on TV home shows, when everything’s all perky and happy and, when the reno is over, everyone hugs each other?

That’s not quite how it is in real life, says renovator Gary Singh, President of Singhko Inc. By the time his team is through, “you’re glad to see us go. By then you’re done with us!”

Renovation is no picnic. It can be uncomfortable, inconvenient, annoying, dusty, and disruptive. It might be beautiful at the end, but there are a few mountains and valleys to go through first.

And so, from the start, from the first meeting with prospective clients, Gary likes to make it clear. There will be days when the idea of a new kitchen will seem like yesterday’s foolish fantasy.

Gary is usually the first person clients see in their renovation journey. This is when the relationship between renovator and client begins, and it’s important. A renovation can take a big chunk out of everyday life for several weeks or even months. Clients need to trust him. And he needs to understand them.

Homeowners want to know if they will like having him in their home, if he is reliable and decent. Gary wants to know how his clients live and work. He wants to see their space. He asks about family life, about kids, about routines. He wants to know if they’ll be a good fit for each other, even before he asks about their renovation hopes and ideas.

Once renovation discussion begins in earnest, it can take as much as a few weeks to get questions asked and answered, possibilities explained, all legalities considered, and items selected.

Gary’s team puts together a plan for design, for sourcing local materials, for offsetting costs (for instance, with contractor discounts when possible). They make sure clients’ questions are all answered. Then they establish a “hard-start” date as well as a reasonable finish date.

Some projects are more or less challenging than others, and most are perfectly manageable; but the most difficult of all, says Gary, is a kitchen renovation.

“It’s the biggest change, dollar for dollar, in your house,” he says. “It’s also the most demanding.”
It can be disruptive to a family to have a team of workers in the kitchen at breakfast time, or at the end of a hard day at the office ‒ not just for a day or a week, but sometimes for months. The living space is being torn apart, nerves are sometimes frayed, and everyday life feels upside down.
“But there is also excitement, joy, emotion, a real rollercoaster,” says Gary.

The importance of a good relationship is soon apparent. “We’re there from start to end,” explains Gary. “We’re there from initial meetings, to preparation work, to arranging deliveries; leaving while waiting for things to arrive, returning for plumbing connections, then doing a final touchup of everything. We’re the last one out the door.”

Every client is different, with different needs and reactions to disruption.

“You can’t treat everyone the same,” explains Gary. You have to be intuitive, empathetic, diplomatic. “It can sometimes be tough for a contractor who cares,” he says.

When a project is winding down, when the end is in sight, Gary often does a “walkthrough” with his clients to make sure everything is the way they want it, that nothing has been overlooked and no questions left unanswered. They discuss maintenance and the things that can change in a renovation over the course of the next year as the house settles into its new structures.

“At the end, especially when it’s a kitchen renovation, it isn’t a pat on the back, it isn’t hugs, it isn’t kisses,” laughs Gary. “They just want you to go.”

Still later, perhaps two weeks to a month after the job is finished, Gary makes a “courtesy check in” to see if there are any questions. Clients often call first, just to say hello. But if Gary hasn’t heard from a client in awhile, he calls to ask if they’re happy with the renovation, or if there was anything they might have done differently.

“You want to know,” he says, “what’s going to make you a better person and a better company.”