While home renovations are exciting transformations, they’re also a daunting process, often plagued with cost overruns and taking longer than expected. Block, an all-inclusive renovation platform launching today, wants to change that by making the whole experience easier and more transparent. Through Block’s website, customers can purchase renovation packages that include design, materials and fixtures, permitting, and labor. The total price starts at $15,000 and takes three weeks to complete.
Founded by Koda Wang, former chief customer officer at Rent the Runway and chief operating officer at Huffpo, and Luke Sherwin, co-founder and former creative director of Casper, Block applies the direct-to-consumer brand playbook to the world of home renovations. That means streamlining the customer experience, simplifying choices, and improving price transparency. Block’s sales pitch? “An Instagram-worthy bathroom in a box.”
“It’s $400 billion dollar market for home renovations, yet most people are turning to two guys with a van they found on Angie’s List or to a neighbor who gave them the number of a guy they know,” Wang tells Curbed. “People deserve a modern way of going about a home renovation.”
A bathroom renovation process usually involves hiring an architect or designer, buying materials and parts, then vetting and hiring a general contract contractor. The contractor then hires his own plumbers and tilers and painters to do the job. Throughout this whole process the homeowner is project managing and handling things like missing parts or incompatible fixtures.
Procurement of services, parts, and materials are the most common sources of delays and cost overruns in renovations and Wang and Sherwin sought to alleviate those pain points by offering a one-stop renovation shop. Block is launching with bathrooms—the second most common renovation and one of the easiest to systematize—and offering its service to residents in the New York-New Jersey area.
To get a cost estimate, customers pick a package—think stainless fixtures, marble vanities, and subway tile—complete a 15-question quiz about their home—like when it was built, if it’s a condo or a single-family home, and existing layout—and submit a photo of the space. Then the company’s pricing algorithm provides a quote. The modern bathroom packages were developed in consultation with three architecture firms—Kate Scott, Schiller Projects, and Leong Leong—and general contractors, and optimized so that the designs look good and are easy to construct.
“Our filter [for picking architects] was folks who were deeply curious about making architecture and construction work well together versus the more traditional calibration where architecture is design in conflict with feasible construction,” Sherwin says. “We designed with architects and builders in the same room so it’s easier to build to a high-grade bathroom and also achieve a better customer outcome.”
Once a design is set, Block will apply for the necessary permits, which are only needed about 50 percent of the time in New York City since the renovations are usually considered replacing fixtures and don’t require Department of Building authorization. More commonly, residents must obtain approval from their co-op board or condo association and Block will assemble a package with insurance documents and statements of intent of work to help ease permissions. Then, Block will send a vetted contractor—every contractor who works with Block is fully licensed, has workers comp insurance, and meets the company’s standards for workmanship—to complete the job.
Standardizing design, materials, and construction helps reduce unpredictability and therefore keeps costs consistent with estimates. Understanding, though, that unforeseen circumstances do come up, Block will eat the cost of change orders, up to $1,000. The company has piloted its design-build bathroom renovation process in about 40 homes in the NY-NJ area and pricing has been accurate 95 percent of the time.
Block is trying to improve the business of contracting as much as it’s trying to improve customer experience—and it’s searching for more builders to help grow its platform.
“The fact that there’s a company that will give [a contractor] a customer that’s ready to go, a design that’s ready to go, and the materials are all here? That makes their job much easier,” Wang says. “The general contracting world hasn’t been modernized—it’s working how it was a century ago.”
So will Block change home renovations? Can you purchase a renovation just like you would sheets, mattresses, and apparel?
The startup received $4.5 million in seed funding led by New Enterprise Associates, the same VC company behind Casper and Burrow. The company says it can renovate 50 bathrooms in a month and hopes to increase capacity. Eventually, Block wants to expand to different metropolitan areas and offer services for other rooms in a home. The company is betting that its level of service, the quality of product its offering, and turning a “fragmented, inefficient process” into something more straightforward and transparent will upend the industry.
“There’s an elevated expectation of what a great customer experience should be,” Wang says.
Correction: A previous version misstated the number of bathrooms Block can renovate in a month. It’s 50, not 40.