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Managing expectations: the 22½ rule

By   /  January 22, 2013  /  No Comments

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So, you think you’re going to beat the odds. You think you’re going to build that house or add that bedroom or remodel that kitchen for less than everyone else, because you’re smart, you’ve planned carefully, you got good advice, you were disciplined in choosing all that stuff you have to choose, all those fixtures and finishes and gizmos. You did all the right things, so you’ll obviously come out ahead.

That’s what my wife Sarah and I thought. BWAH- hahahahaha.

For years I have been designing and engineering new homes and remodels, always counseling my clients to note the 22½ rule: every project takes twice as long, costs twice as much, and ends up half as good as you were expecting. Everyone always smiles, laughs nervously, and thinks it doesn’t apply to them. As did I.

Then we remodeled our bathrooms. As remodels go, it was a no-brainer job: no changes to structure or weather enclosure, plumbing and electrical visible and accessible, a detailed set of plans and specifications for every major purchase (hey, I’m an engineer!), plenty of access, storage and workspace, and no changes or surprises. Sarah and I even did most of the grunt work like trim, baseboard, paint, caulk, and cabinet installations.

And guess what? It still took twice as long and cost twice as much as we expected. It did turn out just as good as we expected, so I guess we beat the ½ part of the rule.

So what happened? The 22½ rule is always in play, but that’s mostly just a way of saying the Universe doesn’t always have your agenda in mind when it goes zigging and zagging around as the Universe will. Our contractor is an honest guy and a competent builder, but he couldn’t anticipate the huge blowup on another job that absorbed his attention during ours. He couldn’t know that his superintendent would be distracted by a spouse entering the hospital with a brain tumor. None of us knew that the bathtub we needed, that seemed pretty ordinary and “off the shelf”, was in fact out of stock and a two week special order. And so on.

The takeaway? Always expect the 22½ rule. Remodeling contracting is a very specialized and difficult profession. Many try it, and often move on to larger and more lucrative projects. The rest, though generally honest and good at whatever trade they started in, such as framing or plumbing, find that they’re not as good as they might like at bookkeeping, managing employees and subcontractors, and/or scheduling.

Remodelers rarely have time to properly estimate costs, and will almost always lowball the price up front so as to secure a job, then hope to make it up during construction to regain some profit margin. A few are unscrupulous about that, but even the honest ones have to price low just to get work and survive. It’s a tough business.

Takeway? Treat everyone well, but watch the numbers. As we keep saying here on HouseTalk, it’s all about people. It LOOKS like it’s about the tile, or the gizmos, or the technology. But that’s all secondary. It’s all about process – how you communicate and maintain an environment of communication on the job. If no one’s talking, you’re probably headed for trouble. By contrast, if you have a good team and establish regular check-ins, you’ve got a good shot at getting the result you wanted.

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