With residential remodeling, what is the perception of quality? And how do those perspectives affect our expectations?

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Q: Is going cheaper when dealing with a remodel ever a good idea?

A: Let’s explore the idea of quality in construction, particularly within residential remodeling. What is the perception of quality? How do those perspectives affect our expectations?

In today’s society, we as consumers are accustomed to purchasing many products that have designed obsolesce, not only in the physical engineering of the product, but also in business practice. For instance, the cell phone of today becomes obsolete next year, typically because of updates or feature changes.

Make no mistake, this practice is a designed business system for profit, and I have to wonder, how that has clouded our perceived expectation of what quality should be?

We tend to celebrate purchasing things on the cheap because it feels like we are getting away with something more for less. For example, I once had a homeowner client who decided to purchase a high-end “quality” faucet for half price online, which saved a thousand dollars. Well, about a year later the internal line within the faucet blew and damaged the new custom cabinets and hardwood floors. The manufacturer wouldn’t warranty the faucet because, apparently, it was purchased from some clearinghouse that resold returned items.

There is nothing wrong with purchasing something cheap or on sale. But perhaps our expectation of perceived value should be considered to help us understand the service and performance behind the purchase.

As a tradesperson and contractor, I was taught that quality of craft was to build things to maximize their long-term performance. There are, however, different degrees of quality in construction with different specialties offered, varying talent, experience or attitude, as well as different levels of quality in materials available.

Contractors also have their own wheelhouse in which they offer services to the market. So, there can be a lot of confusion or misunderstanding regarding the expectation of quality if the customer and contractor aren’t communicating truthfully about expectations.

I recently met with a customer to look at fixing some problems they were having with a major addition they had completed by a spec homebuilder 10 years prior. The addition had no resemblance to the rest of the existing home, and nothing matched. The owner was constantly talking about how much money they saved but they were obviously not happy with the results. It seems his expectation of quality far exceeded what he was willing to pay for. On the other hand, the spec builder probably had a false idea of what it cost to do a remodel addition, or wasn’t adept at communicating pricing versus quality expectations with clients.

In any case, confusion ensued, with each having a different idea of what quality is, and the result was a nice spec home that was showing signs of serious age, on top of a historic 1920s craftsman.

If you’re a homeowner looking for a contractor, make sure your expectations don’t exceed the dollars you’re willing to spend. If you’re a contractor looking for clients, make sure you’re not overselling what you’re capable of providing. In the end, the level of quality received should match expectations.

There are three things every consumer must weigh their expectations against: low price, high service and exceptional quality. Choose two, because it’s impossible to provide all three.


Daniel Westbrook is the founder and owner of Westbrook Restorations and a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, and HomeWork is the group’s weekly column. If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of the MBA’s more than 2,800 members, write to homework@mbaks.com.