Koda Wang, Co-founder & CEO of Block Renovation, Explains How to Reduce the Stress of Home Renovations

By Peter Page Peter Page has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on October 26, 2022

If you are a first-time home buyer, you might reasonably conclude that buying a house is the most expensive and stressful purchase of your life, but you will learn otherwise when you decide to renovate that house. Seriously, it is easier to find a good heart surgeon than a plumber, carpenter or electrician who will answer the phone (much less visit your house for an estimate). Block Renovation, co-founded in 2018 by now CEO Koda Wang, is a renovation (or “reno”) platform designed to make the process far less stressful and much more predictable.

Block Renovation works directly with their vetted network of licensed and insured contractors. Only a small fraction of the hundreds of contractors that go through the rigorous vetting process are added the Block network.

We talked to Koda Wang about why home renovations are so nerve wracking and the service Block Renovation offers to make the process less traumatic for home owners

Grit Daily: You were an early reno platform, co-founding Block Renovation in 2018. How competitive was the reno tech market then, and how competitive is it now?

Koda Wang: When we started Block, the renovation tech market was in the early innings. Most companies were lead generation services – a homeowner would submit their contact information and have multiple general contractors call them offering quotes.

But just being connected to a network of paying contractors doesn’t necessarily make the renovation easier. There were still the underlying problems not knowing how long a project would take, how much it would ultimately cost, and what it would look like.

Our introduction of an end-to-end renovation platform— which includes an unprecedented data set on renovation costs, a network of vetted contractors, beautifully designed renovation templates, and a suite of digital tools and systems to manage each step of the renovation process— turned heads. And ultimately we aim to be the primary platform where contractors and homeowners manage major renovation projects.

It’s an approach that makes sense given the unnerving complexity of renovating — without Block, folks often feel like they’re rolling the dice with thousands of dollars while flirting with catastrophe. You really needed a product that solved the underlying homeowner and contractor needs. Naturally, since we’ve launched, the idea is catching on and there are few companies cropping up mimicking our approach. We don’t mind the emulation, and intend to lead the industry with the best data, templates, tools, and contractors on the market.

We don’t take our role as an industry leader for granted though. We’ve got to earn that position every day. And a homeowner and contractor can always work with each other the old-school way, so we have to consistently demonstrate our value to both parties.

That said, it’s still a nascent industry, and we’re excited to see how it grows.

Grit Daily: I lived in a co-op in Brooklyn for a few years. Dealing with contractors is sort of like hitchhiking. Once you pay the deposit, you’re along for the ride. How does Block Renovation screen for the contractors and tradespeople you work with?

Koda Wang: Hitchhike at your own risk. Most people don’t know how to find the right partner for a renovation – and indeed it’s one of the hardest and most critical parts of the journey.

We know that most homeowners don’t have time to research and vet contractors, especially when their project has unique requirements that limit the pool. That’s why we have an entire team dedicated to scouting and vetting contractors— that way we’re able to screen thousands of candidates and selectively pick a fraction to gain access to our network.

We’ve developed a 5-step vetting process consisting of in-person site visits, virtual meetings, and database research. This multi-week process is designed to qualify contractors’ workmanship, business and license history, and past client satisfaction. We look for high integrity, communicative, and skilled contractors. We aim to build long term partnerships with them— enabling homeowners to connect with contractors that have and continue to demonstrate success.

Our vetting process is just the starting point for building a network of excellent contractors. Throughout the project, the homeowner can lean on Block for guidance as they’re working with their contractor. It’s a layer of safety and security. Also, without Block, the homeowner has little leverage on a contractor – but Block can offer a contractor dozens of projects a year, which changes the equation. Contractors are far more incentivized to do a good job with the prospect of additional work each month. And Block provides the contractor with far more value – future work, business management software, performance feedback, and a community to be a part of.

Grit Daily: My impression is that there is a shortage of tradespeople – plumbers, electricians, finish carpenters. Is there? Is it an impediment to the growth of Block Renovation?

Koda Wang: Yes, there’s a shortage – and it’s a national one. You’ve probably experienced that shortage if you’ve met with a bunch of contractors and found out that many are booked out for months. By some estimates, there’s a massive 600,000 person labor shortage in the construction industry in 2022. Combine that with a larger generational shift away from skilled trades, increasing cost to operate these businesses, additional supply chain challenges the past couple of years, and you get this overall strain on contractor availability.

For the average homeowner, it’s an uphill climb to get prioritized by the best contractors – those contractors have more than enough work. That’s where Block comes in. Block delivers more value to a contractor than any individual homeowner can. Block’s platform provides contractors with valuable data on pricing, design templates to make their jobs easier, and software to manage their businesses. On top of that, Block can provide these contractors with a steady pipeline of work.

A consistent and predictable pipeline of work combined with tools and technology enables contractors to better allocate resources and plan subcontractors, reducing downtime during and between projects. They’re more efficient and save money. And as a result we’ve benefited from tremendous loyalty from our contractor market – many of our partners do dozens of projects and make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on the platform.  And we’ve continued to grow while making our platform even more robust for our contractor partners.

Grit Daily: What is the profile of your customers? How big, and small, are the projects you will take?

Koda Wang: Overall, we have two groups of homeowners: One that’s made up of first time renovators. These are folks who are accustomed to doing things online – like buying groceries, ordering a car service, or booking a stay in a stranger’s home. They expect a similar tech-enabled experience when renovating, prioritizing ease and convenience.

The second group is made up of experienced renovators who personally know the challenges of the renovation process. They’re intimately familiar with how stressful, expensive, and unpredictable a renovation can be – and are relieved to hear about a company that helps them. Often the latter group are the most deeply appreciative customers – they know the other side, and are grateful there’s an alternative.

Both groups are typically doing full renovations of bathrooms and / or kitchens. (Read: not just swapping out a light fixture or doing a fresh coat of paint).

Grit Daily: Block Renovation is available in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, DC, and San Diego. Where are you planning to expand?

Koda Wang: We’re starting with the biggest markets with the most renovations. The challenges homeowners and contractors face are quite universal, with some regional variation. We’ve gotten calls from all over the country to expand into their markets. We’ll continue to expand as we learn – to both major cities and eventually to medium-sized cities as well.

Are there any points you want to raise that I haven’t addressed with my questions?

Koda Wang: A lot of first time renovators underestimate how complicated the process is. From permitting to coordinating delivery times for materials to contractor vetting, there’s a lot you might have to juggle in a traditional renovation if you were to go at it on your own. Some contractors say it’s easier to build from scratch than to renovate, because you never know what’s going to be behind a wall when you open it up. There are a lot of unknowns, and while preparation goes a long way— and we can’t overstate that— you also need to remain flexible and adaptable.

You also don’t know what you don’t know. A lot of homeowners don’t know what questions to ask a contractor, and end up footing unexpected costs that could have easily been avoided from the outset.

That’s also why open communication and trust between homeowner and contractor are so important— because you’ll often be responding to new information throughout a build. It’s an incredibly collaborative process (less classical, more jazz) and everything we build at Block is designed to facilitate that sort of collaboration. The contractors we work with are small business owners who want to do their best work, and help everyone succeed. It’s not you versus your contractor, but both of you versus the renovation. Coming at it from that “in it together” mentality goes a long way.

By Peter Page Peter Page has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Journalist verified by Muck Rack verified

Peter Page is an Editor-at-Large at Grit Daily. He is available to record live, old-school style interviews via Zoom, and run them at Grit Daily and Apple News, or BlockTelegraph for a fee.Formerly at Entrepreneur.com, he began his journalism career as a newspaper reporter long before print journalism had even heard of the internet, much less realized it would demolish the industry. The years he worked as a police reporter are a big influence on his world view to this day. Page has some degree of expertise in environmental policy, the energy economy, ecosystem dynamics, the anthropology of urban gangs, the workings of civil and criminal courts, politics, the machinations of government, and the art of crystallizing thought in writing.

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