Robin discusses technical, marketing and personality lessons learned on two jobs.

The wall and ceiling had water damage right below left beam on the ceiling.


Since our last meeting in this column, I have been able to take in the AWCI show in Nashville, work on a project in Boston and also take quick trips to New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Jersey. Though I've been able to meet with many companies and manufacturers, what really makes each trip worthwhile is meeting individual contractors.

This time around, I'd like to blend an experience I had in Boston with a repair I recently made. They have a lot in common, especially with the first two areas of the P.A.T.C.H. System: Problem and Approach.

First, a little about the repair. The room was a bright orange and I was not about to ask if the painting was old or new! (Remember, we've discussed not getting involved with the decorating of any home!)

Problem: I was called to work on a project that someone else had fixed. In photo 1, you'll see what I did when I came into the room. The wall and ceiling had water damage around a fireplace that was right below that left beam on the ceiling. Here is where the simple repair got complicated. The individual who did the work did a fine job; he matched the swirl texture and didn't leave a line visible around the repaired area. However, the problem started right at the get-go. The repair person never asked the homeowner's opinion of the beams on the ceiling. He never bothered to ask the homeowner what he or she wanted! Which gets us to:

Approach: Whenever insurance is involved in a project, it is vital to make sure things are done the way the homeowner wants. This is something I cannot overemphasize. It's just part of "Marketing 101." Here's the situation: The homeowner is usually going to pay a deductible on any water damage claim. In this particular instance, there was a $250 deductible to pay no matter what. Homeowners usually know this. It puts them into an if-I'm-going-to-have-to-pay-I-want-it-done-right frame of mind.

I feel the same way, as long as I'm dealing with a legitimate claim. You will run into an occasional homeowner (this is rare, but it is worth mentioning) who wants you to "pump up" the estimate so that you can then cover the deductible, with the homeowner paying you the amount you want for the repair and them keeping the balance. A Bozo "no-no." An honest reputation is not worth losing for a few points you score with the homeowner.

Losing the beams

A clockwork orange

Back to this project. The owner of the orange room not only wanted to have the repairs done, but he also wanted to lose the beams. As you can see in photo 2, we lost the beams. Apparently, the first repair person thought they were real wood and never bothered to check for damage underneath them. (It was easy to see in this instance, as there was peeling plaster sticking out from several areas around them.) In the approach, the repair person simply thought, "Hey, I'm repairing most of the damage and doing a great job." Agreed. However, this is where the homeowner comes into the room at the end of the day expecting a different picture. Granted, he never told the repair person what he wanted. The approach we take--that of asking a few pointed, specific questions before starting a project--would solve many a problem. (It turned out that he absolutely hated those beams and was looking for a good excuse to get rid of them!)

Our approach can either get us on the same page as the homeowner or can alienate us and cause confrontations. As it turns out, the homeowner was right in having the beams removed. Under each of them (photo 3) there was evidence of water damage. This was especially noticeable with the beam right over the fireplace since there was water damage on both sides of it. Thus in my mind, removing it and checking for water damage was justifiable. This led to the ceiling's being completely resurfaced, as the damage was to be extensively spot patched. The end result was that the insurance covered both the previous work and mine. In this case, the homeowner insisted the work be done right, and to his satisfaction.

As a side note to this story, the opposite wall that is not pictured was also stripped of the paneling during this resurfacing project, as there was also water damage to the ceiling area right above it. I could not be sure that the wall had not been damaged without taking the paneling off. It turned out that about three areas had plaster damage, so again, the removal and expense of this work was justifiable and covered by the insurance. I must put a plug in here for State Farm, as I have had outstanding insurance adjusters to work with all across the country on water claims, which shows some good training is at work at that company.

It's a shame that a pretty decent job by the first repair person was viewed so negatively by the homeowner. It just goes to show that talent in doing repairs must be matched by equal amounts of communication and marketing skills. Grunting and drawing pictures in the dust on an endtable to describe what we're going to do is far below any and all of the contractors I've met so far. But the end result is sometimes the same, which brings me to the experience in Boston.

The evidence of water damage.

Not exactly a tea party

I was flown in an emergency job along with one of my restoration team members. The problem on this project was a direct result of a poor approach at the start. The homeowner left for a few days while the plastering was started on an addition upstairs. No drops were put down and heavy tracking by a 20-mule team was done across the hardwood floors in the downstairs. Much of the mess was not even necessary. It was a case of a bunch of bulls in a china closet. The minimal effort by the plastering crew to keep the areas neat instantly turned the very easygoing couple into perfectionists. They went over the plastering with a fine-tooth comb, of course. There was no way this crew was going to please them from here on out, no matter how perfect their plastering work was.

When I arrived to finish this project, I felt very bad. It's a very hard spot to be in when you have to re-do or have to take over another crew's project. I wanted to mention it because it just shows how it's important to get things right at the start of a job, and continue with the same attitude throughout the project. In both these cases I've brought up, the cost to the homeowner and insurance company were much more than they had to be or should have been at the end of each project.

In many cases, we get moving so fast that we don't take time to cover the little things. And the little things, many times, are what are the most important. I'm finding that insurance companies are moving more toward getting something done right the first time, even if it appears to cost more, than to try and skip or cut a corner. It's just not worth it with the way this system is going. People are under stress, and often these situations give them a place that some of that frustration can be vented--and then hold onto your hat.

From time to time, I am going to include sidebars with my column. These sidebars will include information I think you'll find helpful, as well as products I come across that can help you do your work more effectively. I hope you enjoy these, and remember that if you come upon a product or technique you think would prove beneficial to the readers, you can always reach me through this magazine.

If you are planning on coming to the Restoration and Renovation show in New Orleans in September, please stop by a workshop I will be doing there on the 8th from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. I'd really enjoy talking with you! Until next time, keep the work standards high and the overhead low!