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liz forest PM blog

By Liz Forest, EMF Management

Renovating can be a stressful and challenging proposition, especially when you are going it alone. Don’t have the time, know-how or speak French fluently? Already have a vision for your ideal space but need someone skilled to make it a reality? If you are considering working with someone to plan or manage all or part of your renovation project, here’s a list of what you should expect from any good project manager (PM):

  1. First and most importantly, it is not all about them! Beware if during your initial meeting you hear nothing but “I”—as in “I would definitely…”; “I despise …”; “I strongly suggest…”; or “I can’t live without….”.  Ditto for shameless namedropping or strong or otherwise intimidating statements about fashion, trends, colours, style—unless of course you ask!

  2. They prioritize your taste and needs. A truly talented PM is able to guide you in making well-informed decisions and putting aside their own lifestyle and decorating choices to help translate yours into an implementable vision for the project. However, if you have seen and fell in love with their home or office, don’t hesitate to say you want it cloned!

  3. They have excellent communication skills.  Without a doubt, these include active listening; regular, precise written communications; and fluency in at least English and French. They should also be able to clearly interact in person, by phone or email with you and all service providers on the job.

  4. They have experienced knowledge of the local market. So what exactly is the “local market”? This means not only the residential property and secondary buildings’ trade market (i.e., general trends in sales and rentals, where to buy, who to talk to, how to get more info) but also the rules and regulations concerning legal and administrative procedures around construction and renovation, and sources for materials both locally and elsewhere. Any PM should be able to immediately identify the right cantonal or communal authority, technically-skilled advisors (i.e., engineers, architects), local craftsmen/women, insurance providers and lawyers – though let’s hope you never need the latter!

  5. They have a meticulous eye for detail and if they do not have the answer, they say so immediately and have the skill, patience and perseverance to find the answer. This is not rocket science but prudent common sense.

  6. They have an extensive network and list of contacts, and you are presented with choices for your project.  While this may seem obvious, do not be fooled into believing big names or wealthy former clients necessarily mean better service for you. An independent PM will not only be able to introduce you to their preferred craftsmen/women but also to provide you with a second set of viable estimates with references if you wish.

  7. They have a transparent and documented fee structure, service contract and professional liability insurance. No additional details needed here. But if for some reason you are unsure, do not hesitate to ask for clarification or additional written documentation at any point in the project.

  8. In addition to photos of previous client projects, they furnish you with ample references. This includes people with whom you are free to make contact privately by phone or email to ask questions and confirm that they were as thrilled with the process and results as the photos seem to attest.

  9. They are flexible, actively seek your feedback, and are open to suggestions and constructive criticism. Again, this project is about you and your needs! An outstanding PM will always come back to be sure things will go/are going/have gone to your expectations. What is more, they will also remain calm and be ready and willing to switch gears as needed and where reasonably possible. If this will engender additional expenses, they will tell you so immediately (both orally and in writing).

  10. They have a balanced approach to spending your money and will never surprise you with inflated billings before, during or at the end of a job. You should expect to receive regular updates on hours worked and the status of work in progress. They should be having at least weekly site meetings (réunions de chantier) with the work team by the end of the planning phase and this should increase as project implementation progresses. Your presence at meetings should be welcome any time. If you are not living on site, you should also be expected to meet there at least once a week during the works. This avoids miscommunication on details or questions about implementation. Remember, seeing is believing!

Last and most importantly—keep in mind that there is no such thing as a renovation project with zero problems. There will always be unforeseen challenges and the need to re-evaluate planning during implementation. It is up to your PM to creatively find and propose alternatives and solutions. The more open and ready you are to this reality, the easier will be your transition. That is what life and renovation are all about! 

Author's bio

Liz Forest 200

Liz Forest is the founder and owner of EMF Management, a Swiss-registered renovation project management company servicing the international community in the greater Lake Geneva / Vaud region.

Liz spent the first ten years of her professional career as a free-market micro-economist and project manager. A move to Geneva in 1997 with her young family inspired a change from the corporate world ... and a home purchase over a decade ago taught Liz exactly what property ownership and renovating in Switzerland entails.

In 2013, Liz founded EMF to provide renovation project management services to busy expat homeowners who want to transform their space without the overwhelm. EMF handles the heavy lifting so clients do not have to learn a new trade, take time off work, or sacrifice family holidays or their sanity just to make their house a home.