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For most of us, our homes are the most valuable (and costly) thing we will ever own. It is not surprising, then, that there are high levels of fear, anxiety and joy associated with buying a new home or making a home seem new by remodeling one or more of its rooms. In Dane County there are companies that appreciate that clients might feel uneasy and might know those clients just need to talk.
Denise Quade Design
Whether it's a remodeling project, new home construction or an existing home that is only new to the people who just bought it, the process for the designers and staff at Denise Quade Design is the same. It's all about communication.
"It starts by asking questions about their current kitchen," says senior design coordinator Erica Weaver. "What do they like? What don't they like? A lot of times it's easiest for people to express the things about their spaces that drive them crazy versus telling us about the things they like. All those answers help us plan their space and nail down a floor plan. That floor plan drives everything."
Then designers find out how clients use their kitchen and how the new one should function for them. Space planning a kitchen correctly can make or break the space.
"Do they want to eat in the space? Does a couple cook together or separately? Do they cook or bake more?
Do they entertain? Additionally, we take the time to make sure to organize and itemize where all the kitchen items — plates, bowls, Tupperware, baking goods — will be placed in the new space so the client can easily understand that their new space will fit all of their items," Weaver says.
The designers take the time to ask clients questions to gain insight into their lifestyles and the things that are most important to them. Thorough and effective communication at the front end of the project helps avoid mistakes and head off stress once the project is underway.
"Everyone experiences decision fatigue at some point in the process, so we are there to provide expertise and narrow down options for clients to help them feel less overwhelmed," Weaver says. "We continue to be involved throughout the entirety of the project so our clients don't have to be on the lookout for all the details. We handle that to help make the process as painless as possible."
Kitchen Tune-Up Madison
Tracey Conner, the owner of Kitchen Tune-Up Madison, says designing for a new home is different than designing for a remodel, but what all projects have in common, she says, is the most important component: "The options are different, but the experience is the same: listening to what the client wants and needs, building trust and designing within their budget, in a style that is right for them."
With a new home, you have a blank slate where you can create exactly what the client wants.
Conner says, "You can choose the setup of the kitchen and determine what works best for the client, such as: Do they want deep drawers instead of cabinets, an island, a seating area, wood or thermofoil cabinets?"
She says that with a remodel you may have limitations "such as the kitchen layout, which, although it can be changed within the limits of the room dimensions, is usually quite expensive to do. Instead, most clients will choose a new door style, reface their cabinets and change the countertops, backsplash and flooring."
The client's overall style is the determining factor for the theme of any design. If the home has a modern look, then the interior finishes should be warm, simple and neutral in color. A rustic home would have more stone and wood, like knotty alder or hickory. And a contemporary home would have more bold colors, metal and glass.
A vital element to consider when designing an interior is the layout and choice of products. Conner says these are some questions to ask: Do they cook or bake a lot? Do they have children or pets? Drink wine? Need a large pantry? Do they need universal design, such as lower countertops?
"All of these factors should be taken into consideration by the designer," Conner says.
Ground Affects Landscaping
Ground Affects Landscaping is always the first to know about the latest trends in backyard use and outdoor entertainment — because their work makes it all possible.
"Customers want a landscape with functionality," says Ground Affects Landscaping's owner Tom Ball. "They no longer want it to just look nice. They want to be able to use it. Instead of just a patio, more and more customers want seat walls surrounding it and lighting for ambiance."
Many Ground Affects Landscaping clients are working with the company to transform their backyards into full outdoor entertainment areas.
"We are installing everything from fire pits, fireplaces, built-in grills, surround sounds, televisions and even pizza ovens. Really, the sky is the limit. Customers can now have the luxury of most of their indoor amenities outdoors," Ball says.
Ball appreciates the difference between building a new home and altering an existing property, and as a landscape designer both kinds of projects are equally enjoyable for different reasons.
"Whether our clients are building a new home or buying an existing one, it's just as exciting. We like being part of the design-build with new constructions and also like revamping landscape designs to match the new homeowners' style," Ball says.
Ground Affects Landscaping is an award-winning design-build landscape company offering superior craftsmanship and outstanding customer service. The company was recently awarded the prestigious "Best Outdoor Living Space" recognition by Unilock and was a finalist for the Unilock Awards of Excellence.
"Building a solid foundation with our clients is most important. Our clients really trust us, and we truly pride ourselves on customer relations. I think that is what makes us stand out from other companies," Ball says. "The philosophy behind the business is ‘complete customer satisfaction.' It really is very simple. It comes down to the Golden Rule: We treat every client the way we would want to be treated."
Tim O'Brien Homes
Danny Lowery, Tim O'Brien Homes division president, says much has changed in the homebuilding business in the 15 years since he started, and mostly for the better.
"Quality is now a given," Lowery says. "Fifteen years ago, a builder could hide poor quality, but now a builder can't be fake. You can't hide from Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and the Better Business Bureau. If you don't have quality, you're done."
With that change serving as an equalizer, Lowery says, builders have had to evolve in order to compete. Tim O'Brien Homes differentiates itself from other builders by focusing on the customer's experience throughout the process of planning, designing, building and living in a new home. The staff strives to help customers understand and even enjoy the process.
"We do a lot of listening instead of talking," Lowery says. "We have to focus on the experience and the deeper thing we're pouring into for our customers, our employees, our trade partners and the community. We have the privilege of creating that experience and living through it with them, for their benefit and ours."
Customers who have never built a home before don't know what to expect. They are also often afraid to let their guard down and admit that they don't always understand what the architects, designers and builders are telling them. Lowery says the builders' job is to earn the customers' trust so that they can communicate effectively and answer the customers' questions.
Once there is communication, the experienced staff at Tim O'Brien Homes can answer customers' questions and demystify subjects such as pricing, financing, interest-rate locks, move-in and completion dates. They can help customers understand what they're in for with pictorial graphs, texted progress photos and informed conversations about how they can expect to feel overwhelmed one minute and elated the next.
"Trust brings about great communication," Lowery says. "This is what we're passionate about at Tim O'Brien Homes."
Lauer Realty Group
With technology and trends changing so often and so quickly in the real estate business, homebuyers and sellers appreciate the experience and one-on-one attention they get with Lauer Realty Group.
"A lot has changed over the last 20 years," says Liz Lauer, the owner and head listing agent of Lauer Realty Group. "It is important as an agent to remember that personal connection makes a huge difference and clients need to understand the 20-plus-page contract you are sending them. I try to keep things more personal along the way. It helps the clients to bring up questions they might have. Talking through things is always comforting for our clients."
Lauer Realty Group's agents have the advantage of decades of experience in the field and working together. That means they are good at communicating with clients — and with each other.
"Our firm is a tight collective of experienced agents," Lauer says. "Our agents average more than 10 years of sales experience in the Madison market helping buyers and sellers purchase and sell real estate. In collaborating, and in sharing our market knowledge and strategies, we help each other to be and do our best in the field. This model is very different from traditional firms and I believe it gives our agents and clients an edge."
That experience and communication can also take some of the stress and anxiety out of the process of building a new home.
"In buying a new home that is completed, a designer already made the choices and selections, and that relieves the buyer from the burden of trying to visualize selections on a floor plan or coordinate a palette of colors and textures," Lauer says. "For some buyers the details of building from scratch and the choices or selections along the way become stressful, and for others they enjoy the process of creating their own environment and feel that their home is a personal statement."
Dream House Dream Kitchens
Everybody at Dream House Dream Kitchens appreciates how overwhelming everything can seem for people who are building a new house. There are so many decisions to make and so many things that can go wrong. Sometimes the homebuyers are expected to answer complex construction or architectural questions when they have no expertise or training in such matters.
"We have had a lot of people tell us that just looking at our design showroom helped them feel better," says Jerry Schmidt, Dream House Dream Kitchens Madison's director of sales. "They can point at what they want instead of just trying to describe it in their own words. It's fun to see the lightbulb go on in a customer's head when we are able to show them what they want but have never quite been able to articulate."
Dream House Dream Kitchens also provides customers with access to three-dimensional design, virtual blueprints so they can see how their new kitchen or room will look without having to translate or interpret.
"Most people can't just look at a floor plan and know what they are getting. Our 3D color renderings give you a great sense of the layout of the room," Schmidt says.
The kitchen is where many of us spend the majority of our time when we are at home. While new technologies and visual aids are helpful, Dream House Dream Kitchens appreciates as well as any company that there is no substitute for sitting down with clients and talking things through to make sure everyone's on the same page.
Schmidt says, "We work with the customer in a series of meetings. It's usually three to five meetings. As many as it takes to get it right. We don't charge by the hour or by the meeting. This way people don't feel under the gun and aren't rushed into making bad choices."
UW Credit Union
Many homeowners are making an investment in solar energy systems for financial and ethical reasons. When they do, UW Credit Union can help.
"As UW Credit Union employees, we learn about things like solar energy by talking to members and experiencing the process of installing a system with them," says Josh Fetting, UW Credit Union's sales manager for consumer lending. "Solar energy systems and other major home improvements can be unobtainable for many people without large amounts of liquid savings. We work to find ways to turn their dreams into reality by making their home's equity work for them."
Fetting is seeing more homeowners interested in solar energy and attributes the growth in solar to its increasing financial benefits along with concerns about climate change.
"I think about climate change and how I can do my part to reduce the damage we do to the planet," says Brion Pagel, a UW Credit Union member who lives in Sun Prairie and is financing his solar investment with a home equity line of credit.
Installing solar is the environmental equivalent of taking a car off the road. While a typical automobile each year emits about 4.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to a figure cited on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website, most solar energy systems offset at least that much in emissions per home per year.
Meanwhile, current trends in the tight housing market have some homeowners turning to solar to increase their homes' value and others choosing to stay in their homes rather than buying. For those staying put, solar can reduce electricity bills by 90% or more. A 30% federal tax credit for the cost of installing solar energy systems is also appealing.
Pagel says he was surprised that the net cost of installing solar was not higher. More than that, he believes it is the right thing to do.
"Anyone who is building a house or putting on a new roof really has to think about solar," Pagel says. "And everyone else should, too." •
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