Learning about what our clients need us to do for them or how we can help them resolve issues in their homes is at the heart of creating a successful working relationship with them. Regardless of how we met them – they contacted us through our website, they called us from an ad or social media, it was based on a referral from someone they knew, or it came as a referral from someone in our professional network – we need to determine what we can do to help them.
Every remodeling, renovation, or home improvement project begins with an assessment of some type. It can be a formal checklist and evaluation that we conduct (using a form or app) on the physical setting of the structure and layout, it can be a functional needs assessment of the client, it can be based on our visual observations and what the client shares with us, or it can be a combination of approaches. We might even be briefed by the referring professional of what they think is needed or what the client has expressed to them as being necessary to improve their home and quality of life.
Sometimes we will have formed an initial idea of what we want to do or the client thinks might be required before we arrive at the client’s home because of what we have been told on the phone by the client, what referring professionals or team members have shared with us about the client’s situation, or research we have been able to do about the property. We may have done work in this neighborhood at other addresses already, and this will give us some insight into some of the physical constraints we might encounter in the structure or how we might want to approach this particular project.
Nevertheless, nothing that we prepare or conceive in advance can substitute for what we actually will see and hear when we arrive. In some cases, the actual scene will reinforce our planning. Other times, we will immediately abandon what we had prepared and start afresh by listening to the client and observing what is really going on in their space.
Taking things out of context by hearing what the client desires without seeing how that connects to or relates to the actual space configurations or limitations of their home can lead us to a conclusion that is incomplete or misdirected. This is why the onsite inspection and interview is so important – and why giving quotes for work over the phone without physically viewing the premises is quite risky.
In many cases, the client will know what’s bothering them about using their space – maneuvering room, reaching objects, the need for more space in one or more rooms, using the bathroom easily and safely, more convenient access in general or in specific areas, better lighting or flooring, or other issues. Who is better able to know how their home is living than the people who spend their time there? So, let’s rely on the client’s input as a major part of our evaluation.
The client may not understand what needs to be done or even what can be done, but they quite likely know what is concerning them or what isn’t working for them. They will help us meet their needs and design a suitable solution for them by explaining exactly what they are looking for, what isn’t working, or possibly what they already have tried to do to remedy the situation. Then it’s simply a matter of telling them about or showing them what we have that coincides with their request,
In order to be an effective aging in place professional, we have to be able to communicate well with our clients – by asking questions and listening to what they share with us. Also, much of what we observe and include in our proposals will be unspoken. We will perceive situations that are present or we will detect body language or visual clues from our clients that will suggest agreement, concern, or areas we need to explore some more.
Once we have a good idea of what we have collected from our clients through what they have shared with us and what we have observed by being in their home, we must confirm that our conclusions adequately frame what is going on and that we are addressing their major concerns. If not, we need to tweak our conclusions to arrive at an appropriate design solution.
Relying on input from the client – or their family members or caregivers if they are unable to express themselves well – is the best way to achieve an effective design that will address their needs. We may have to make some adjustments and be creative to meet budgetary parameters, but the client likely knows what is going on in their space. We should utilize this ex[erience and build upon it.