Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 43 seconds

Crystal Ball

Crystal Ball

A good friend, mentor, and nationally known expert in the remodeling field, Shawn McCadden coined the phrase “Mutual Mystification”. The more I use it in conversation, the more it just rolls off my tongue.

Shawn used it to describe what I am trying to combat by creating an “exact same understanding” in my Description of Work documentation created during the Design Development phase.

His concern is that my term Opinion of Probable Cost or OPC for short, was too confusing.

In my defense, I told him that the term comes from the architectural world and I believe it clears the air on what the proposed construction project might cost with an accuracy of about 30%.

My Dad, Ed Levitch, an Architect in the Bay Area, gave me the term while we were having a lively conversation on the subject. Dad says he loves it “Because it is specific enough for what we currently know, yet vague enough to cover unknowns”. Not to mention that it is more professional than a WAG (Wild Ass Guess) “ball park” or “seat of the pants estimate” to name a few I have heard of. Opinion of Probable Cost has grown on me since the moment I heard it.

Everyone wants to know the cost of his or her remodeling ideas right away

Before entering into an agreement to design the project, there must be enough overlap to consider remodeling with me. Price is one area that can be compared easily. Discovery during the Design Development phase will set an exact Contract Amount. Until then all I have is an educated guess and opinion.

Some unknowns include:

  • What materials and finishes will be included in the project?
  • Existing conditions need to be evaluated by trade specific contractors.
  • Ideas often require engineering and multiple approvals prior to permitting.
  • Can utilities expand to handle our new requirements?
  • Will code upgrades break the budget?
  • The amount of labor required to do the tasks.
  • The Scope of Work is in flux at this point.

Is there an echo in here?



The one sure-fire way to confirm that what I am saying is heard and Vice versa, is to ask the client to paraphrase.

This form of echoing eliminates confusion and adds clarity.

Guessing on the spot has never served me well.

Fortunately, there are only two ways to fail.

  1. If I shoot from the hip too high, I run the risk of frightening off a client.
  2. If I shoot from the hip too low, then everything explodes when the actual costs are discovered.

Why it works for me

The system I have created uses an Opinion of Probable Construction Cost statement. It is not an estimate or proposal. It is just an opinion based upon…

  1. My discovering what the client wants to include in the project, by listening carefully.
  2. My experience (looking back at similar projects) and existing conditions.
  3. Checking pricing on large ticket items.
  4. My preliminary calculations for labor, materials, and subcontractors.

My unique sales system

On my first visit, I look very carefully at existing conditions and photograph them. I also ask open ended questions like, “What do you envision happening in this room, or on this wall”? I refrain from shooting from the hip and set an appointment for a return visit.

Pausing before I promise has served me well. It has allowed me to set a return appointment quickly, catching all of the decision makers at the same time.

At that second meeting, I review and share my opinion, attempt to get acknowledgement that we are on the same page, and then sell a Design Development Agreement (where absolute clarity is achieved).

This is what sets the stage for my successful remodeling interactions. With any luck, Shawn will see that I am eliminating the odds of mutual mystification by setting expectations that are realistic and achievable very early in my process.

Your comments are welcome. To ask questions or get more information about remodeling, click here to email me directly, or call 208-947-7261

If you or someone you know is considering remodeling or just wants to speak to a trustworthy remodeling contractor please contact me, you’ll be glad you did.

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