The Virtual Site Visit: Win (Safely) with Sweeten

by Tisha Leung

A virtual site visit—meeting a potential client over video—can help you keep the project moving safely during COVID-19 

virtual site visit using laptops

What is a virtual site visit?

A virtual site visit, simply, is a site visit conducted over video. It lets you safely review renovation projects while maintaining social distance with homeowners. 

A virtual site visit helps you achieve two primary objectives:

  1. Appraise site conditions and the project scope, so you can prepare a working estimate for the project.
  2. Sell your firm’s qualifications. This means building rapport with the client, sharing your proposed ideas for the renovation, and highlighting your firm’s strengths and experience..

The two types of virtual site visit

  1. Client in the space: this is most common, and makes sense if the client already lives in the space being renovated. They’ll be onsite, and will walk you though the space by video.
  2. Contractor in the space: this works if the client hasn’t yet moved into the space. You can go to the site and see it in person, while the client watches on video and directs you.

How to prepare:

It’s important to make a good first impression. Review the project information that’s been shared with you. Prepare questions for the clients about their project vision and what they’re looking for in a general contractor. This will help the conversation flow. Remember that this could be their first renovation; they won’t necessarily know all the questions that need addressing. 

Prepare Your Video Technology

The Sweeten Video tool:
    • Starting in July, Sweeten will have an in-platform video tool for virtual site visits. It will run on a phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop. No outside video apps or other downloads will be necessary. All parties will receive a link to the video meeting in an email.
If you use a video app other than the Sweeten tool:
    • You and the client must agree in advance on which video chat app to use .
    • Many clients favor Zoom or Facetime. If one or both parties use an Android device, you won’t be able to use Facetime.

      • Zoom, Google Duo, Facebook Messenger, and Skype work on both operating systems.
      • Zoom is free, but limits the calls to 40 minutes, unless you have a commercial account, and you host the call.
    • Download any necessary software ahead of time, and try using it with a colleague, friend, or family member beforehand. Familiarize yourself with the software’s functions and quirks.
    • Confirm with the client that they can get a strong enough signal at the job site.
    • Agree on a backup plan, in case your video quality breaks down during the call. Will you move to a regular phone call? Or, if you think you can resolve the connection problems, will you reschedule a video call
Prepare Your Questions

These should include:

  • How quickly is the client looking to start the remodel?
  • What qualities or services are most important to the client in a contractor?
  • Will an architect, designer, or the homeowner be choosing the materials? Remind the homeowner that ordering and delivery of materials to arrive on time is critical for preventing delays.
  • Is the client planning to live in the space during the renovation?
  • What constraints are there on site access, work hours, parking, etc.?

The actual visit

Successful virtual site visits usually have three parts: introduction, walkthrough, and discussion.

Introduction

This your opportunity for a casual hello—a stand-in for a handshake. Let the client know you’re excited about the project. Share a little bit about yourself and your renovation experience. Agree on a backup plan, if there are video problems.

Virtual Renovation Site Walkthrough

Client in the space: the client will be on-site, while you watch on video remotely. Ask the client to show you the spaces that they’re planning to renovate. Have them walk through with the camera pointed away from them. As they move through the space, speak clearly; politely ask them to slow down, back up, turn left or right, point up or down. Take screenshots, or ask the clients to send photos of specific features in a followup email, if you think it will be helpful. 

Contractor in the space: you’ll visit the job site, while the client watches remotely. You can accomplish the same social distancing, with the added benefit that you can see the site firsthand and make actual measurements. 

With this method, some of the roles are reversed. You’ll be walking through the site, pointing your phone’s camera, while the client guides you from afar.

Discussion

This is your time to shine, so talk up your experience! Offer to send examples of similar projects you have completed, so the client can see evidence of your abilities. 

Spend plenty of time addressing the client’s concerns. Ask them to review the project with you. Ask all the questions necessary to ascertain the project scope. Cover all the other questions you’ve prepared. 

Finally, be clear about your plans to follow up. Tell the client when they can expect to see your bid. Encourage them to follow up with any questions, and tell them the best channels for reaching you.

Followup, Estimate, Ongoing Discussion

A virtual site visit will usually give you enough information to draw up a “best effort” estimate. If you need more information, contact the client as soon as possible. 

Be sure to manage expectations. Make it clear that this initial estimate should be considered “commercially reasonable,” but may need to be updated once you’ve made in-person measurements or seen inside the walls. 

And be sure to stay in touch. This will be a new experience for most clients—probably an expensive, disruptive, and scary one. The best way to put them at ease is with clear communication. Ask them their preferred channels for updates, and make sure they always know what’s going on and what to expect.

How does a virtual site visit compare with a physical site visit?

If you’re able to conduct a “contractor in the space” visit, to an uninhabited site, It should be just as effective. Communication is a bit more cumbersome, but you can see everything you need to see.

With a “client in the space” visit, where you survey the site by video, you should be able to gather enough information to make an initial estimate. According to Long Island-based Sweeten general contractor Robi, “I truly believe a virtual site meeting for most projects will be enough to send an estimate for the labor cost. The one item that is held up is the material selection process.” However, if you’re a design-build firm and are assisting with design and materials, “then even the design process can be done virtually in order to get the price of material selections.

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