Accessibility Update

Owners John and Chris Carmean built their home in the late 1970s after an automobile accident left John in a wheelchair. The house had some wide passageways and ramps, but none of the other features that qualify as universal or accessible design these days. "It was really not accessible," says remodeler Lori Bentley, CKBR.

January 31, 2005



The Financials

Lori Bentley, CKBR

Owners John and Chris Carmean built their home in the late 1970s after an automobile accident left John in a wheelchair. The house had some wide passageways and ramps, but none of the other features that qualify as universal or accessible design these days.

"It was really not accessible," says remodeler Lori Bentley, CKBR. "We didn't know them then, but they went out and found a builder to build them an accessible home. Back then there was not much available."



The new kitchen design lowered the height of the sink, microwave and message center to make them useable from a seated position. It also updated the space with an open floor plan. "I like giving my customers an area where they can socialize while they’re cooking," says Lori Bentley. "I can't think of a kitchen we've done where we haven't taken a '70s house and removed the walls between it and the family room. You have to be a little more sensitive to your appliance selection — you don't want a dishwasher at 75 decibels."

Appliances: GE, Fisher-Paykel, Thermador.

Floor Tile: Ro-Tile.

Lighting Fixtures: Halo, Kichler.

Windows: Milgard.



The new pantry's swing-out shelves and pullout trays make food easily accessible. Bentley designed the kitchen without many upper cabinets, but also used raised toe kicks to keep the lower cabinets from being too low. she often asks the manufacturers to ship the cabinets without toe kicks but to include 8-inch skins. This allows Bentley's in-house carpenters to set their own base using 2x8s.

Cabinetry: Plato Woodwork.

Locksets: Kwikset.

Paints: Benjamin Moore.

Co-owners of 18-year-old Bentley Design & Remodeling Inc., Lori Bentley and her husband, Bruce, CR, CKBR, had done a few projects for the couple and considered them customers for life. That's why, even through their company doesn't specialize in insurance work, the Bentleys took on rebuilding the Carmeans' home after a fire struck in December 2001.

"We had been having conversations already about correcting some of the deficiencies in the house," recalls Bentley. "With the fire, we had to replace the roof. This was an ideal opportunity to do some very interesting changes cost-effectively. We could not have vaulted the ceiling if they didn't have the fire."

Caused by a gas leak at the meter, the fire damaged the roof and garage and required a significant amount of framing, drywall, plumbing and electrical to be replaced. Add-ons included a new entranceway, exterior facelift, and remodeling about 826 square feet of the 2,400-square-foot interior to create a universal floor plan. The kitchen remodel won a bronze award in Professional Remodeler's Best of the West design program.

The insurance company shuffle

The homeowners knew from the start that their insurance would not cover the above-and-beyond upgrades, but planned to draw on additional resources for their dream remodel. Bentley and the Carmeans settled with the insurance company in May 2002. A remodeler who does more insurance work might have been able to speed the process up, Bentley acknowledges. Still, they didn't want to take the roof off in winter, and the time spent negotiating also gave them time to finesse the design. In a wheelchair because of her multiple sclerosis, Bentley knew from experience what kind of design features would appeal.

"It makes me ideally suited, because I know what things are annoyances, and I know what things can make your life much better," she says. In addition to standard universal design elements such as 36-inch-wide hallways, lever handles and low or no-threshold entrances, Bentley came up with the following:

  • A remote-control operated Velux skylight with integral mini-blinds in the living area
  • Remote-control operated Hunter ceiling fans
  • PEX piping and a plastic plumbing manifold, located within reach of a wheelchair, with lines to each fixture. In case of a leak, the water supply can be turned off at the manifold rather than requiring the homeowner to dive under the sink.
  • Blocking for grab bars — the homeowners didn't want them yet, but wanted the ability to add them at a later date.
  • A stepless entrance from the garage to the home.

The Bentleys, who share sales duties, signed the project on a time-and-materials basis. Demolition began in June 2002, with construction winding up seven months later.

Writing off the dream home

As the project progressed, the Carmeans did make changes — big ones, like the decision to include a home theater with sound in the bedroom and in the garage and separate controls. "That's a $10,000 to $15,000 investment even without the equipment," notes Bentley. "Changes occurred more rapidly than work was being completed."

In order to make the homeowners' budget stretch, they agreed to defer some smaller items, such as a built-in home entertainment center, until a later date.

"The homeowners were not worried about over-improving since this was the final destination," Bentley notes. "This was an investment in making their home truly accessible."

Though the aesthetic aspects of the project cannot be written off, the Internal Revenue Service does allow homeowners to take tax write-offs on medically related home modifications that increase the appraised value of the home. Homeowners will need a doctor's "prescription" for the improvements on letterhead. Again, this is where Bentley's own experience lent insight to her clients.

"When we bought our house, I didn't have to pay any taxes that year," she says. Her perspective takes consultative selling to new heights.


The Financials

Located in a farming community with a population of 45,000, Bentley Design & Remodeling does not have to contend with some of the out-of-control overhead costs facing colleagues in the Los Angeles or San Francisco markets. Office rental space runs only $1 per square foot. On the other hand, the Bentleys do have to worry about California's high workers' comp rates, and legislation restricting contractors from receiving more than $1,000 as a down payment.

Still, demand for remodeling in her market is high and the supply of remodelers low, says Lori Bentley. "I am backlogged for a year," she comments. "If we had the labor we could do $4 to $5 million annually."

Charging for design: Both of the Bentleys designed this project, with Bruce concentrating on the structural work and Lori handling the rest. They work on an hourly rate of $80–$85, charged separately from the construction contract.

"If I know you're intent on having us do design and construction, I'll do my normal rates and then we'll sign a job at the end of the design contract," explains Bentley. "If I'm not sure, I'll charge a premium and have it apply toward the final draw of the construction contract."

That premium consists of a 25 percent upcharge. "My company is structured to do everything from the first call to the last drop of paint," she says. "I have to feed my guys even if you don't hire them." For that very reason, Bentley often turns down jobs where the prospect comes in knowing she wants design services only. She can't remember the last time the company built from someone else's plans.

Time-and-materials contracts: Many times, says Bentley, the company signs fixed-sum agreements with clients, then later agree to an amendment revising the terms to cost-plus, usually with a "not to exceed x dollars" clause. In this case, the Bentleys wanted to start with a time-and-materials contract, anticipating many changes would be made along the way.

"It's about trust," Bentley says. "Because they were a customer for life, they knew we would spend their money better than they would. My customers know that as a designer, I pull out the stops on what I think I can do for the customer. As a contractor, I know how to build things. They know I'm conscientious about costs. I know when things are going to blow the budget."

The Bentleys add overhead and profit to both materials and labor, striving for a margin of 35 percent on materials and a little higher on labor, for an overall gross profit percentage of 40 percent. They came out closer to 35 percent on this project.

Budget History

Initial estimate: $300,000
Final price of job: $335,000
Cost to produce: $217,750
Budgeted gross profit: 40%
Actual gross profit: 35%

Lori Bentley, CKBR

Bentley Design & Remodeling

Location: Hanford, Calif.

Type of company: Design/build

Staff model: 4 office, 4 field

Sales history: 2004 $500,000

Annual jobs: 9–15

Workweek: 50 hours

Software: Chief Architect, Timberline



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