Interviews and Reviews

Renovation Technology Helps Contractors and Homeowners Manage Projects With Ease; Interview with Koda Wang, CEO and Co-founder of Block Renovation.

Block Renovation

On Block Renovation, contractors and homeowners can manage major renovation projects with ease. For all looking to renovate but might be overwhelmed by the process, the platform offers a major differentiator of a complete, end-to-end experience with contracts, payments, design, vendors, and contractors all in one product. In this interview with TechBullion, CEO Koda Wang, will be discussing the features of the platform and the technology transforming the renovation industry.

Please tell us about yourself and what inspired you to start Block Renovation?

Hi, I’m Koda, CEO/co-founder of Block Renovation. I’m based in Brooklyn, and grew up in Texas and California. Prior to Block, I spent most of my career in venture backed startups –  helping to build companies like HuffPost and Rent the Runway. 

In founding Block, my co-founder Luke and I were drawn to the magnitude and acuteness of the problems that accompany a renovation. Renovation today is one the most expensive, high stakes, high uncertainty, and low trust experiences in a lifetime. Homeowners don’t know what they’re going to get, how long it’s going to take, how much it’s going to cost. The same for contractors as well — and on top of that they don’t know if they’re going to get paid fully. It’s not a surprise that a renovation often ends in disaster. 

But home renovation is important. People yearn to improve the space they live in, especially as we’re spending less time in the office and more time at home. It’s also a massive $450 billion market!

What is Block Renovation and what unique services are you bringing to the home renovation industry?

Block is a platform that helps homeowners and contractors tackle major renovation projects together, like bathrooms and kitchens.

We help match homeowners to contractors for their projects, providing them with rich information on who is the best partner, as well as proprietary data to accurately price how much different types of renovations should cost given existing conditions. We give contractors and homeowners digital tools to manage renovations (including communication and payments), and we provide users with design templates they can customize and configure online, just like a car. Contractors can build their businesses on Block and get tools to manage their portfolio of projects end-to-end.

Basically, that means we’ve created a product where contractors and homeowners can access all the tools, resources, and expertise they need to work together.

Before Block Renovation, what challenges was the renovation industry facing with planning, designing and building? And how is Block Renovation helping to solve these?

Each stage of the renovation process has its challenges. When homeowners were planning, it was really hard to get a reliable estimate since bidding contractors could easily lowball you on both timelines and cost. Design was a challenge because it was hard to know how to get that Instagram-level design, or to discern which materials would endure for decades after the renovation. For construction, it was difficult to find a contractor you could rely on, and make sure that you both were aligned on seeing the project through. And that’s all before you break ground on construction.

Block seeks to make the renovation experience more trusted, convenient, and predictable. We use technology to make expertise more accessible and take the tedium out of the equation.

Take pricing a renovation, for example. We have a massive proprietary data set of renovation costs with hundreds of variables –  including project scope, existing conditions, and location. We can feed this into an algorithm to give a transparent estimate based on your project criteria. You can compare it to what other contractors quote you, and it gives you a consistent source of truth over the course of your project. 

With home renovations on the rise while navigating pandemic-related delays and longer-than-expected timelines, can you share your expertise and any tips for how far in advance you should plan for a kitchen/bath renovation and how to manage your reno expectations effectively?

It may be obvious, but planning far in advance is always helpful, especially if you’re going to renovate on your own without using Block. If you’re living in a condo or co-op, building approvals might take longer than you expect. The contractor you want to work with might not be available to start on an earlier date. We typically recommend giving yourself a couple months of prep before break ground. 

Once you start construction, know that there will be some unpredictability. You can reduce delays by making sure you have all the materials ready to go prior to breaking ground. Often a single missing valve or faucet can delay the whole project by weeks or months. (At Block, we handle the procurement and storage of materials on behalf of homeowners / contractors, so they don’t have materials piling up in their living for months leading up the project)

Be patient. There may be surprises behind the wall or under the floors, so work with your contractor to inspect existing conditions in advance and anticipate any remedial work you’ll need to do. 

When homeowners are overwhelmed with DIY Projects, how can technology in the home reno space help / what are some of your favorite tech tools/apps/companies?

Some of the most helpful tools to guide DIY projects weren’t originally designed for renovations, but incidentally people have been using them. A lot of people use Pinterest and Instagram for sourcing inspiration, Angi and Houzz for finding contractors, and tools like Notion or Asana for managing their projects.

None of these are integrated, however, so one reason people choose Block is because the platform brings together all the parts from inspiration through to construction. 

What are some of the best ways to navigate the supply chain during the home renovation process?

Order things as early as you can and expect delays. Find reliable vendors and materials. (Everything in Block’s library is vetted for availability, which means we work with materials that are consistently ready-to-ship and restocked on a regular basis) You should avoid super-custom materials if convenience and timeline are important to you— a lot of the time, you can find similar  materials that can give you a similar effect without risking the delays.

Having a project management system where you can see all your tasks at a high level is also a great way to make sure that all the different workstreams are proceeding at the right pace, and to respond comprehensively if there’s any minor changes in lead times or delivery that might impact your timeline down the road. Even better is if you and your contractor are using the same system. 

Could you give us a walkthrough of how Block Renovation works between homeowners, designers and contractors?

Collaboration between these three parties is fundamentally part of our DNA. Homeowners come to Block with a project with specific requirements and existing conditions. They’ll then get access to a comprehensive design system that they can customize and configure online, as well as consult with a designer to give them peace of mind. Based on the project scope and the expertise needed, they’ll also be matched with a contractor in their area. 

We provide all of these parties with data on renovation pricing, design templates that can be customized and configured to existing conditions, and software to manage the renovation end-to-end. 

Why should homeowners choose Block Renovation for their renovations, could you share some of your success stories with us?

Block is a great solution for folks who want more sanity and predictability in managing their renovation – and who don’t necessarily already have a good, trusting relationship with a contractor. 

We’ve had experienced renovators— like real estate agents who have overseen dozens of projects on their own— work with Block because of the convenience factor. We’ve also had homeowners who have had nightmare renovations in the past choose Block because we offer a number of safety nets they couldn’t get otherwise. Not to mention all the new homeowners and first time renovators who use Block because it gives them an easy way to navigate the world of renovating.

We once had a couple renovate their bathroom and kitchen with Block. They decided to do their next project outside of Block, because their renovation with us had been so straightforward they figured it couldn’t be that bad. After their other experience, they came back and said that they had no idea how much Block had actually taken off their plates until they had to do it all themselves. One of the homeowners was a lawyer, and he said that navigating permitting and approvals without our team was hard, even for him!

Often the homeowners who appreciate Block the most are the ones who have renovated before – they know what it’s like out there and can better appreciate the value Block brings to the table. 

What are you currently working on and what are your plans for the future? Any opportunities for investors or partnerships at Block Renovation?

We’re working every day on making the renovation experience better for homeowners and contractors. Better ways of matching homeowners and contractors, more accurate pricing models, easier ways of getting updates on project progress and problem solving issues. We want to empower homeowners and contractors to take control of the renovation — giving them data and software  that will make it easier for them to run projects on their own.

In terms of partnerships, there are all sorts of folks who are interested in partnering with Block – from real estate agents to property management companies, home insurance companies, retail, and building supers.

Do you have more information to share with our readers today?

The pandemic has fundamentally shifted lifestyles – less time in the office, more time at home. So people have been more willing to invest in the spaces they live in. When working from home, they’re spending more time in their kitchens and using their bathrooms more often. 

The housing market is also cooling off. Mortgage interest rates are increasing to the highest levels since 2006, and it’s having a visible impact on new home sales. Given this, we may see fewer renovations done solely for the sake of selling a home quickly. Aesthetic “facelift” type renovations are less compelling when you’re not going to sell your home anytime soon. 

Also, people who are less likely to buy a new home are more likely to renovate their current home. Historically, there’s a negative correlation between home buying and renovating— it’s the more prudent thing to do. We expect more folks will be in this mindset as the housing market cools. 

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