Project Spotlight: Remodeling Rescue

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The Waldorf job rained multiples -- four architects, two project managers, three dozen change orders and a set of twins. But remodeler Matt Plaskoff managed to weather the deluge and come out shining.

October 05, 1999

Months before Michael and Sherry Waldorf called Matt Plaskoff to discuss having Matt Plaskoff Construction Inc. (MPC) remodel their 1950s Los Angeles ranch house, they had hired architect No. 1 to design a bedroom addition so their twin daughters, who shared a bedroom and bath, could have their own space. The architect designed an addition containing a second kid’s bedroom next to the first, but then he was waylaid by business problems. "We needed someone else to complete the working drawings," says Michael. Enter architect No. 2, who enhanced the plan, sandwiching two bathrooms between the bedrooms. Architect No. 3 added an electrical plan and other details.

Though the plans still needed work, the Waldorfs received construction estimates from two contractors recommended by one of the architects. "We were still trying to figure out what to do about them," says Sherry, when she visited a friend and saw her remodeled home. The friend pulled out a three-ring binder, says Sherry. "It was a manual of what to do with all the new things in the house. I was very impressed by that and decided to check out [MPC]."

The Waldorfs and Plaskoff clicked immediately. Plaskoff understood what the Waldorfs wanted even more than the architects did. In addition, he lives down the street from Sherry’s brother, and if that coincidence were not remarkable enough, he has twin daughters the same age as the Waldorf girls. "We knew it was a good match," says Sherry.

Matt Plaskoff Construction Inc.
  • Location: Sherman Oaks, Calif.
  • Type of company: Full-service design/build remodeler and custom home builder
  • Staff model: 8 office, 19 field
  • Sales history: $3.3 million in 1994 to $7.5 million in 1999
  • Workweek: 55 hours
  • Bio: B.S., aquatic biology. After graduation, Plaskoff worked as an electrician, door hanger, finish carpenter, superintendent and project manager for two general contractors. He launched his own business in 1988. He hired two salespeople this year, freeing him to focus on company management and growth. Plaskoff is a member of the NAHB, the Building Industry Association and Remodelers’ Executive Round Tables.
  • Key to success: "We strive for consistency: consistency of systems and consistency of image. That means aiming for 100% customer satisfaction through an organized approach to every aspect of the operation. A team of quality people implements those systems."
  • Contact information: 818/981-5784; mpc@plaskoff.com

Despite the stream of architects, nobody seemed to be able to move the job forward, says Plaskoff. The Waldorfs had plans done, but nobody was giving them a real budget. By the time Plaskoff arrived on the scene, the Waldorfs had new ideas for the house. For a fee of $1,000, Plaskoff proposed to take the unfinished plans and do a comprehensive, preliminary budget so the Waldorfs could get a sense of where they were going. The fee, he says, would be credited back if they hired MPC to do the remodel. A week later, he returned with an itemized budget of $125,000 -- midway between the two estimates the Waldorfs had obtained.

The Waldorfs clearly liked Plaskoff but still hesitated. He gave them a gentle nudge, asking for a $10,000 deposit to reserve a slot in MPC’s production schedule and authorize him to hire an architect to develop a revised plan. A few days later the check arrived. "That’s when things really got started," says Plaskoff.

First he commissioned architects Bardwell Case & Associates from Sherman Oaks, Calif., to redraw a plan that reflected what the Waldorfs wanted and incorporated the details needed to obtain a building permit. Bardwell architect Karen Zindler-Shuler quickly completed the design for the twins’ bedrooms and baths, and designed other improvements the Waldorfs requested, including a larger study with built-in cabinetry and conversion of a low-slung porch into a gracious front entry. MPC’s new design/build estimate came to $170,000 for a four-month job. In presenting the proposal, Plaskoff went through every page of the plans and estimate. The Waldorfs liked what they saw and signed the construction contract. MPC pulled a permit, and work began Sept. 28. Project manager Mark Grossi took command. Though this was his first MPC job, he had a degree in construction management and years of experience as a project manager.

Soon after the concrete and framing subcontractor began excavating, he hit a sewer main not shown on plans for the property. Grossi halted work and consulted the plumbing sub, who rerouted the pipe. The process of deciding exactly what needed to be done, pricing the $1,215 change, scheduling the work and completing it took a week, says Plaskoff.

After that snag the job kept cooking along, says Plaskoff. Grossi walked the Waldorfs through the house every morning to report progress, discuss the day’s agenda and alert them of upcoming decisions they needed to make. Eric Burns, another experienced project manager who had been with MPC since 1994, stopped by now and then to brief Grossi on company systems. Occasionally he’d chat with the Waldorfs, too.

Early in November, the Waldorfs went on a weeklong vacation. Before leaving, they mentioned to Plaskoff that they might want a different project manager. Around this time, an MPC project manager left a custom home job, providing a perfect opening for Grossi, who had been project manager for a semicustom home builder. Plaskoff talked with the Waldorfs about bringing Burns in as their project manager. On their return from vacation, Burns had taken over their project. By then the Waldorfs realized that their concerns were just anxiety about the job. Grossi was doing a great job, says Michael. But the switch had already been implemented.

The two project managers worked together for a week to smooth the transition. Because MPC equips every project manager with a laptop computer and sets up a fax machine and two dedicated phone lines on the job site, Burns had all of Grossi’s project files on computer for reference and could call or send faxes to Grossi whenever he had questions. Every other day, Grossi dropped by to see how things were going. Having seen both project managers in action, Michael says Grossi and Burns were both excellent.

The Waldorfs also asked to see more of Plaskoff. "We really liked Matt," says Sherry, "and we felt there were some decisions [that he could help with]. It made sense for us all to discuss them together." Plaskoff offers such meetings to every client, he says. Usually, he starts out doing the meetings, and clients find it’s not necessary to continue. In this case, the biweekly walk-through meetings with Plaskoff, the project manager and the Waldorfs started midstream. Though the meetings with Plaskoff were primarily reviews of progress and plans discussed with the project manager, they did make the Waldorfs feel more comfortable, says Plaskoff.

That’s a priority for MPC. "I want my customers to have what they want," Plaskoff says. Customer satisfaction shapes Plaskoff’s philosophy about change orders, too. If clients want changes, Plaskoff helps decide what changes to make and how to implement them efficiently. The Waldorfs' job logged a fair bit of changes -- about three dozen, says Plaskoff, but "we have jobs where there are 200." Because the Waldorfs had been eager to begin construction, Plaskoff advised them to go with the priced plan and then deal with the minor issues during construction. "I didn’t want to hinder the start date by having to wait until all of that pricing was accomplished, given the long road they had traveled to get to this point," he says. Many of the changes were minor. The biggest involved the crafting of complex cabinetry following designs fine-tuned by cabinet subcontractor Tom Jones Woodworks. Late in the job, the Waldorfs decided to refinish all the floors and paint the whole place inside and out. There also were a lot of little things Plaskoff did without charge, such as straightening the roof and replacing bad framing members. "Sometimes it’s worth it for the health of the project," he says.

By the time the entire project, including change orders, was completed, every room in the house had been improved in some way. The job had stretched to 5 1/2 months, and costs had climbed to $193,100. Michael Waldorf asserts that the price was fair, and Sherry says, all changes considered, the work stayed respectably close to the time line. Of course, the Waldorfs are delighted with the finished job and the manual MPC put together on their newly remodeled house.

Also See:

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