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Four Things Home Remodeling Contractors Should Know About Working With Couples


With all the couples I’ve worked with, I swear, if this career doesn’t work out, I could just become a couples therapist. It’s not always the case, but from time-to-time, I think half the job of home remodeling contractors is dedicated to navigating personalities in a group.

Or in this case, a pair.

Even when I think I’m only working with one person, I feel like I inevitably run into another person just swooping in with some big changes in mind… sometimes.

Couples, however, are a dynamic unlike any other. Things can get extremely personal, which is all the more reason home remodeling contractors need to be professional.

It can drive you insane, which is where we come in to help.

How Home Remodeling Contractors Can Keep Their Sanity When Working With Couples


1. Expect Interior Design Budget Concerns

Everyone wants the best deal. When it comes to design, it’s the coolest stuff for the least amount of money and time (more on the time part later). The issue gets resolved with an agreement over what is coolest and how much money each partner is willing to commit and where.

Without some set expectations right at the outset, you might start seeing all sorts of extremes you’d never expect. That couple in all pastels with that idyllic home in the ‘burbs? Yeah, it surprised me when I saw them fight and manipulate over a budget, too.

Of course, it’s not your job to stop family feuds, but you do want to finish your project and get to your next big thing.

What Do You Do?

Expectations. Expectations. Expectations. I say it all the time. First on this list is having a punch-list that breaks down all the easy-to-forget pieces that are going to be essential.

After I set that part of the budget with the client, I like to set aside another section of the budget for extra expenses: a gotta-have-it slush fund. It’s common to get some push back when you do this, like, “Oh, we’ll try to keep in our range.”

Here, bringing your experience to the table is important. It’s truly a rare thing for people to stay in their range—at least in my experience. Something always comes around that’s almost too cool to pass up. And doesn’t your client want to be prepared to make those jumps?

It happens to me, personally. I went in to buy a $600 leather jacket but ended up with a $900 one. I love this thing. I wear it everywhere.

Everyone has something like that that they cherish. And your client should know to give themselves those moments in a reasonable way. So, when it comes time to break the budget a little, you can always politely remind the couple what their initial range was and that the slush fund is waiting for them if they want it badly enough to dip into it.

All of these steps have been a huge help for me. My clients trust that I have a handle on how the budget might grow or contract and being able to go a step deeper than most gives me a polished edge. Outside of these steps, all you can do is avoid taking anyone’s side and slowly back away until they make a decision amongst themselves.

Importantly, you'll want to bring your biggest gun to a gunfight -- a gun in this case meaning an ff&e specification software.

2. Opposite Design Tastes

You wouldn’t think so, but when it comes to design, I’m kind of your typical guy. I like minimalism. Lots of solid cold colors. Just enough to look elegant and get the job done. My girlfriend isn’t that way. Once, she brought in a huge neon sign. Another time, an old-timey record player.

The sign is still there, but the record player was an eyesore. We worked it out, but, as a designer, what do you do when conflict arises? You’re getting two opposite design visions.

What Do You Do?

Don’t panic. You have a little more work to do, but you’re a rockstar. Offer inventive compromises and solutions. Sometimes it’s a matter of picking out each person’s priorities and suggesting compromises they can take. Sometimes it’s giving one person control of one area and another person’s control of another. Sometimes, it’s letting them build the room one choice at a time.

You’re there to suggest options you think would make for a beautiful space. The rest is up to them.

3. “We Changed Our Minds.”

Time is of the essence. Home remodeling contractors hear it all the time, but only vaguely know what it means. I Googled it once and found out it was a legal term?

Anyway! Regardless of how involved in the couple’s dynamic you decide to be, they are going to come to decisions without you. That means you—and they—need to change course and lengthen that timeline. Not to mention, if they have conflicting ideas about design, their solutions and compromises might not be what you expect.

What Do You Do?

Before starting the project, agree on the number of amendment sessions included in the scope of the project. Ahead of these sessions, communicate the potential impact of these changes, so that their reasoning can be weighed against their budget and time constraints.

I also always ask why they’re looking for a change. It helps me share their vision and consider other changes they haven’t yet considered. You may want to consider using an ff&e specification software.

4. Secrets, Secrets.

One minute, you’re looking down at your phone and in the next there they are: one of your client’s without their better half. They haven’t told their partner, but want to tell you what they want—even though maybe their spouse wouldn’t be so into the idea.

“Let’s just keep that between us.”

What Do You Do?

Honestly, you’re between a rock and a few hard places. You want to honor the privacy one of your clients has asked for. You want everything to be as transparent as possible. You want to take everyone’s taste into account and—at least—tip a hat to their suggestions.

But, the reality is: You can’t play favorites.

In situations like these, home remodeling contractors should do their best to keep the specification sheet as transparent as possible. What isn’t there isn’t real. And what is there is a lot closer to coming to life. Sharing this document with everyone and reviewing changes as they happen with both interested partners present makes all the difference in the world.

Often, during a review, secrets come out or vanish. And to solidify everything we talked about, I make sure to send a follow up after each meeting to avoid an avalanche of changes to ruin your deadline. And if a debate sparks, I politely let them know that they should make a decision amongst themselves and that I’m happy to show options or share compromise ideas. Impartial.

If you can’t meet with both people in time, I like using any ff&e specification software that lets me see when each of my clients last reviewed my spec list. That way, I know when and if everyone has seen the plan. I can send a quick note to nudge anyone who hasn’t seen recent changes to take a look.

Working with a group is never easy, but a few adjustments can keep things on track and cut out a lot of stress for you. If you’re a bit nervous about trying a new program, I totally understand. Solutions like Fohlio offer demo sessions, where you can talk about your workflow and hear if there’s something out there for you.

With all that said, what kinds of challenges have you faced with your clients as home remodeling contractors? How has it changed the way you approach your work?

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Published Apr 25, 2017