In early 2011, we embarked on the exhausting and at times all-consuming journey of buying a new house. Our laundry list of “must haves” and “no ways” was a lengthy one. I swear we would still be looking today if it wasn’t for my husband who could see past what was immediately in front of him to the potential of the space. It’s a honed skill that I am still trying to develop as I work with my own clients. He reminded me that you can’t move the location of the house, nor can you change how much land surrounds it, but almost everything else inside a home is negotiable (within reason of course). When we finally bought a house that had potential, the next step was to find a contractor that could make that potential a reality.
We were lucky to be introduced to Bill Gerken of Gerken Building Services. Bill was able to guide us through the construction process and make this house our home. Now, after a new kitchen, 3 less walls, a demoed and rebuilt deck, a remodeled master bath, a renovated family room, new bar area, utility room and coat room redesign, Bill continues to be our “go to” for all things home.
I chatted with Bill who had some interesting thoughts to share:
- Why did you get into this business? What is the best part about your job? I was on Wall Street for years before I got into the business. I was tired of the rat race and ready for something new and different. Being a contractor brings something exciting to the table every day. Every day is a different problem to solve, success to celebrate and failure to avoid the next time. You can never just phone it in. The best part of my job is developing good relationships with clients, crews suppliers and proving yourself every day.
- What are some of the most common mistakes that homeowners make when embarking on home improvements? Underestimating the cost of the job and the amount of time is the biggest mistake clients make. I call it: Champagne wishes for their pocketbook! Construction costs (labor) doesn’t change but finishes do. That’s what causes the most problems. I always allot time for small changes to the scope but clients often don’t completely think through the project. Many clients overextend themselves towards the end of projects because they haven’t planned out the material costs. The best thing you can do is to research and grab accessible knowledge. Go to a website like build.com. Start adding items to a wish list basket. Go to fixture stores. Actually add it up. Clients need to do the work on the front end. I keep in close touch with clients along the way but it is the front end work that is important.
- What advice would you give new homeowners when they are thinking about doing construction? I suggest living in your house for a while before you decide on which project to tackle first. See how you live in the space and what your needs are. It’s best to identify top priorities as well as be smart about what should be done first – like if you are having the floors redone, you want to get that done first.
- What is the most common project that clients selling their home call you for? A fresh paint job is the best thing you can do when you are going to sell your home as well as finishing/polishing the floors. Floors and wall color get outdated quickly and buyers want to see updated finishes like that.
- What is the craziest project that you’ve ever done? A client once asked me to drop a floating motorized 65” tv set from the ceiling of a living room. The client had been told that it couldn’t be done but I was determined. Years later, when the client sold the property, 2 buyers ended up getting into a bidding war because of that tv! (image is not actual project)
- What are some of the quick fixes that can immediately improve the look of a home? CURB appeal! You need to get them into the house. Things like landscaping, power washing and sealing the driveway all get a potential buyer in. People assume that if the outside looks good that the inside will match.
- What trends are you seeing in terms of material? Styles? Renovations? The most significant trend is this new wood look ceramic tile (taverned grey oak). I am laying more of that tile than anything else. I haven’t laid a 12×12 tile yet this year. Everyone seems to like the larger format tiles like 18×18. Brick pattern in the kitchen is also very popular. White and greys are also popular, less beige. Wallpaper requests for accent walls is also popular. Trends in bathroom are white subway tile. In the kitchen, stainless steel is coming back in. Outdoor kitchens huge. And open floor plans.
- What materials should people stay away from? Designer paints are a waste of money – especially since people repaint after a few years.
Bill Gerken, Founder Gerken Building Services, email@example.com, 914-450-7560