Announcing….”Not So Big Remodeling”…Now in Paperback

I’m pleased to announce that Not So Big Remodeling has just been released in paperback, featuring a new introduction that’s tailored to the post-recession economy. Although this book has sold well in hardcover, I’ve been convinced for some time that once the economy starts to turn around, there will be a much bigger audience for the ideas that the book contains. I believe that time has come.

I’m hearing from architects, designers and remodelers that their workloads are beginning to increase again, and it appears that things are looking up for many of us involved in the world of house remodeling.  This book is designed to help homeowners understand the possibilities for remodeling in a Not So Big way, either by staying within the home’s existing footprint, or adding on a little if necessary.  It’s about how to do more with less, how to use every dollar available more wisely, how to improve energy efficiency, and how to prepare to work with the professionals needed to help realize a remodeling project.

I’ve loved hearing from homeowners, architects, designers and remodelers about the benefits of using this book in accomplishing their various remodeling projects, and am excited about the potential of the paperback to help even more people save money while improving the quality, character and functionality of their existing homes.

Please help me spread the word. If anyone you know is thinking about remodeling in the not too distant future, they need this book.

And architects, designers, and remodelers, this book is intended to make your job easier by priming your clients and customers ahead of time, so they know what to look for and how to think about their projects in a Not So Big way.


“Changing a workplace’s culture requires the right measurements……”

“Culture” is an overused workplace buzzword which can mean many different things.

If company culture is some combination of “how we work, how we treat each other, how we serve customers, and what it is like to work here,” there is a powerful way to move all of these factors in an excellent direction: the right measurements.

The RIGHT measurements, developed in the right ways for the right reasons, can unleash and invigorate a company culture needing a new direction, common language, unified purpose and energized workforce.

Typical measurements include revenue, expense, net income, new accounts and cost of goods sold. How exciting! Are we bean counters or are we leaders, managers and effective team members? There are good reasons to publish these numbers, but do not expect them to move your company culture needle.

What if you found the right combination of measurements to inform, teach, lead, aim, motivate, communicate, reward and celebrate? It is very hard to do, but the impact on culture and results is profound. The wrong measurements can also do damage.

Say you work in a distribution facility. It can be repetitive, physical and isolated work. Today’s measurements are cases shipped, damaged inventory, accidents and on-time deliveries. These are managers’ numbers. They will not move the culture needle except by carrot and stick.

What if you added measurements that communicate strategy, mean something to individuals and provide reference points for individual decision making?

Start measuring (and reporting) customer satisfaction scores. Is the score rising? If so, why? Provide some of the narrative comments from the surveys. Demonstrate the impact of an on-time delivery through a real customer to both explain and thank.

Measure the cost of damaged product in terms that matter to people: what does this cost mean we are unable to do for staff, or, better yet, what does this big improvement in damages mean we now CAN do for staff! What does fewer accidents mean to real people in terms of hospital days and rehab struggles avoided?

Measure how the work of a receiving person (when done well) impacts the work of a picker, forklift driver or loader. Report it and celebrate improvements! Give badges to the best internal service providers as named and ranked by their peers.

When the administrative team meets its goals, how does that affect all? Publish the right results such as re-negotiated vendor agreements, a six sigma project with big impact or getting a better group health and wellness combination – and show how it affects everyone.

Measurements may change due to new company and individual goals. Ideally, they will line up with the goals discussed in individual reviews. There is no better way to start a new strategy than to measure and publish its growth and impact in ways that matter and emotionally connect to people.

The order picker will know how she supports her peers, where she stands on individual measures, how she impacts the success of customers, the tools she has to support company needs (that also benefit her) and where she fits in the strategic plan: WOW!

Do the hard, on-going work to create measurements that both result in good accounting numbers and move the culture needle!

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is president and CEO of CAI Inc., a human resource management firm, with locations in Raleigh and Greensboro, that helps organizations maximize employee engagement while minimizing employer liability. For more information, visit

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Mortgage Madness….still.

WASHINGTON — Nearly two years after the “robo-signing” scandal forced a reboot of the nation’s home-foreclosure process, mortgage servicers have begun the hard work of buffing up their industry’s tarnished image after years of making life miserable for Americans struggling to hold on to their homes.

Changing the industry’s bad behavior will be a slow and painful process for servicers who collect mortgage payments and manage the accounts on behalf of lenders, however. The inappropriate fees, mishandled accounts, shoddy paperwork and illegal foreclosures that first came to light after the 2007 housing crisis were longstanding problems that had gone largely unnoticed for years.

Whether it was obtaining loan modifications, arranging short sales, negotiating principal reductions or refinancing homes through the federal Home Affordable Refinance Program, mortgage servicers were more obstacle than facilitator during the housing meltdown, according to many housing advocates and consumer attorneys.

And depending on whom you talk to, not much has changed.

“They’re a huge, inefficient, bureaucratic ship that doesn’t operate well, and it’s not going to turn itself around quickly. Just the day in, day out pulling of teeth you have to do (with servicers) is mind-numbing,” said Daniel Lindsey, supervisory attorney at the Legal Assistance Foundation in Chicago, which helps delinquent homeowners avoid foreclosure.

Jose Rodriguez, a foreclosure intervention counselor with the Mission Economic Development Agency in San Francisco, said it could still take more than a year to complete a loan-modification review.

“By the time we see clients who’ve tried it on their own, they’re ready to give up,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve witnessed clients that have easily taken at least two to two-and-a-half years to complete a modification request.”

David H. Stevens, the president and CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association, acknowledged servicers’ recent deficiencies but said the industry had changed its business model and that progress couldn’t be denied.

“There are still mistakes being made, but it pales in comparison to what this environment was like in the early part of this housing crisis,” Stevens said. “I think we are clearly on the precipice of that changing.”

Forced to improve

Early on, servicers admittedly were unprepared to handle the massive failures of unsustainable and exotic mortgages that had originated during the housing bubble. Failed lenders such as Countrywide Mortgage and Washington Mutual added millions more bad loans to servicers’ caseloads just as they were trying to ramp up their systems and staffing to handle the crisis, Stevens said.

But after the problems resulted in federal consent orders against 17 servicers, a near-nationwide moratorium on foreclosures, a $25 billion national settlement to address past improprieties and federal plans for mandatory industry standards, the situation is starting to improve.

The national settlement negotiated by the federal government and the states has forced the nation’s five largest servicers to beef up staffing, improve communication with borrowers, assign one person per account and provide greater accountability when executing foreclosure documents. Stevens called the requirements “extraordinary.”

“I’ve been in the financial services market for three decades,” he said. “There’s never been standards like this.”

Many of the settlement terms probably will become mandatory for the entire industry when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau finalizes new standards for servicers later this year.

Announced in February, the terms of the $25 billion settlement call for Ally Financial (formerly GMAC), Bank Of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo to provide $17 billion in principal reductions and loan modifications, up to $3 billion in refinancing relief, $1.5 billion to borrowers who lost their homes and another $1.5 billion to participating states.

While the settlement is a “good first step,” said Diane Thompson, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center, she wonders whether the agreement might cause servicers to relax their consumer-friendly efforts, realizing that their punishment already has been delivered.

“I think there’s a real risk that the pressure on them to behave well has disappeared,” she said.

As for the industry guidelines the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has proposed, Thompson called them “very weak.”

“They don’t go much beyond existing law and the clear and explicit literal mandates of Dodd-Frank,” she said, speaking of the 2010 financial overhaul law. “So if I was a servicer, I wouldn’t be particularly worried.”

While most of the financial relief spelled out in the settlement is yet to come, the agreement is bearing some early fruit. Loan counselors and attorneys say they’re starting to see more loan modifications and principal reductions than at any time in recent memory.

“A year ago, I could count on two hands the number of principal reductions I’ve seen over the last five years. Now I’ve seen that many in the last six months. And that was before the settlement,” said John Groene, a neighborhood director at Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago Inc., a nonprofit community revitalization agency.

Nightmare finally ending

Burt Hamrol of South San Francisco, Calif., is an early beneficiary of the settlement. The 51-year-old carpenter recently received a letter that said he’d been approved for a $297,000 principal reduction by Bank of America, after several years of battling its mortgage servicers.

“When I opened up the envelope and read the letter, I started crying,” Hamrol said. “I’m going, ‘No way. Really?’ ”

The unexpected turn should provide Hamrol with a happy ending to a nearly five-year odyssey that saw him denied loan modifications three times after his mortgage payment with Countrywide doubled from $1,800 to $3,600 per month.

Hamrol’s problems began in 2007, when he tried to refinance his interest-only mortgage to a fixed-rate plan. Countrywide offered the fixed rate for a three-month trial period, Hamrol said, but after that, the payments doubled.

When Bank of America took over Countrywide, Hamrol said, it tried to get him to pay the same amount, but he refused.

“They said that’s what it is because my house is worth all this money,” Hamrol said. “I told them the house is only 890 square feet. They said, ‘But you live in San Francisco in a desirable area.’ I told ’em I live in South San Francisco and it’s a horrible area.”

For 18 months, Hamrol said, he never paid the $3,600 mortgage. After being barraged with collection attempts and threats of foreclosure, he said, he put the home up for sale in 2009 and moved in with a friend for four months.

“It went from $699,000 to $599,000 to $499,000 to $399,000. I didn’t get one offer,” he recalled.

Hamrol eventually moved back home and began working with the Mission Economic Development Agency for a loan modification. The bank initially agreed to a three-month modification trial period at $1,800 per month, Hamrol said, but then he was denied permanent relief. Hamrol said the bank didn’t properly credit his payments. He was offered another trial modification, but was denied again after the trial ended.

At his wits’ end, Hamrol said, the nightmare finally ended several weeks ago, when he got a letter “out of the blue” from Bank of America that said it would knock $297,000 off his principal and lower his payments during yet another trial period to $2,200 per month at 2.5 percent interest.

“If this really happens, I’m gonna go to Ireland and kiss the Blarney stone or something. I can’t believe it. I’m going to make my payments in May, but I still don’t trust them,” Hamrol said.

Rick Simon, a Bank of America spokesman in California, was unfamiliar with the case but said Hamrol probably was one of several hundred people nationwide who had received similar offers because they already were slated for relief under the settlement, as their paperwork and documentation were in order.

“These people are being helped in a way that wasn’t available two months ago, prior to the settlement,” Simon said.

Similar letters will go out over the next few months to some 200,000 other Bank of America borrowers as their eligibility under the settlement is determined, Simon said. Bank of America has provided more than 1 million loan modifications in the past four years, but Simon acknowledged that the program “hasn’t always gone as smoothly as we hoped.”

He said the high default rate on Bank of America trial loan modifications typically resulted from offering the plans without properly documenting borrowers’ ability to pay. The large number of borrowers who needed assistance was also a problem for the bank’s servicers, “but we’ve gotten better and better as time has gone along,” he said.

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Welcome to our new blog

Hello everyone, thank you for visiting.  Please make sure to “follow our blog” by entering your email in the blank to the right, trust me, it’s so easy.  As you can see the tabs along the top are the same as our website and each tab will lead you to that website tab directly.  If case you want more information about that category.

Below are pictures of the B4 and after demo on a project that we just started in the Swift Creek area of Raleigh, NC.  This project includes removing a rotting simple sun room that was added a while ago by one of the nationally recognized “Professional Sun-room Companies”.  The demo was swift because the existing structure was so rotted.   As you can see from the photos, the old sun room is now history.  The masons are scheduled to begin their work to expand the foundation to now include a new heated and cooled room with a new laundry room to the right and a new deck on the left.  Please stay tuned for more exciting photos and updates on this neat project.

The old rotting sunroom is gone

Sunroom Addition before construction