Marek Tekliński has over 20 years of experience in NYC doing high-end residential and commercial projects. He is a master of his craft, knows the remodeling business inside-out and is an absolute pleasure to bounce ideas around with. On to the interview...
Q. So what is the current remodeling market in NYC like right now?
A. The higher end market is booming - the big $100,000 plus projects are numerous and the clients want the best finish and are willing to pay for quality. The smaller end of the market however is a different story. The typical bathroom or kitchen remodel has all of a sudden become incredibly competitive and really tough to get paid on.
Q. It sounds like it wasn't always this way. What's changed?
A. Well people are definitely getting wealthier, especially in Manhattan, which is a good thing, however their expectations are getting, dare I say it, more and more unrealistic.
Q. How so?
A. It's almost as if many homeowners are referring to prices from 10 or 15 years ago. A typical bathroom remodel in NYC today costs around $30,000 and takes say 4 weeks to complete, but many customers think it can be done for $15,000 (a 1990 price tag) and that it should be completed within a week. I explain the labor alone is close to $20,000 and that they will have problems later on if they don’t do it properly using skilled labor. A good bathroom can last for 20 years if done properly.
Q. What do you think is changing customer's expectations?
A. In short, I think one of the biggest issues we face as contractors is the popularity of home improvement shows. All of a sudden homeowners are telling me how things ought to be done, what their project should cost and how long it should take. Often they are citing a magazine, website or TV show like Love It Or List It.
The issue is these shows dramatically over simplify and even obfuscate the true resources, timeline and costs associated with doing a particular remodel. They also create a lot of fake drama that doesn't necessarily exist if you hire the right professionals.
Another issue I face at the smaller end of the market is competition from new contractors who are undercutting me. Mind you, at the higher end of the market, there are also a growing number of elite contractors winning projects with inflated prices.
Q. So the new guys are simply underbidding you to win?
A. Pretty much yes. There are lots of new contractors in NYC and many of them, some unlicensed perhaps, are hungry to make a name for themselves and will underbid me to win the work. Ultimately the customer suffers from a poor job and 2 months later I get a call asking if I can come over and fix things.
These contractors don’t tend to stay in business very long but there are lots of them popping up every year and without much of a barrier to entry its hard for customers to know the dangers.
Q. And the bigger jobs?
A. There are actually many elite contractors, especially in Manhattan, that win a lot of the big jobs while overcharging.
A. Yes, a typical $100,000 remodel is sometimes costing homeowners perhaps $200,000.
Q. How does this work?
A. Well contractors that have been recommended by a well known architect can play this to their advantage and charge more.
Q. Sounds like knowing who to trust is a real issue.
A. Right. The issue is the typical homeowner doesn't know the real cost of their project and they don't know who to turn to. They don't trust the contractor and if there is an architect involved that isn't experienced with that particular type of project then it can get even more confusing.
Usually though on bigger projects this is less of an issue but sometimes an architect referral can lead to the homeowner receiving inflated pricing from the contractor.
Q. How does this issue usually play out on smaller projects then?
A. So take a $30,000 bathroom remodel, and let's say a competing contractor is saying they can do it for $15,000. The homeowner starts comparing bids, but that's really hard to do - perhaps not everything has been included from the $15k guy, who knows if the materials are the same quality, if the guys are equally skilled, licensed, bonded etc. If the homeowner is extremely budget sensitive then they want to believe the lower price can be made to work.
As with everything, you typically get what you pay for. In this case that usually means substandard work, leaks and much higher maintenance and reparatory, costs.
Q. As in having to pay for things to be done again?
Q. So pay for the quality.
Q. What are your plans for the next few years?
A. I honestly don’t know. I love being a contractor, but like I said, it's getting tougher out there for honest contractors. Let's see.
Follow Marek @MarekTeklinski