Monica Higgins of Garagify: “Don’t be afraid to take action”

Don’t be afraid to take action. At times, I have had a tendency to overthink things, especially when I don’t have all of the information. It’s times like those that I need to be mindful that I may not always have all of the information to make a decision, so whatever decisions I make will […]

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Don’t be afraid to take action. At times, I have had a tendency to overthink things, especially when I don’t have all of the information. It’s times like those that I need to be mindful that I may not always have all of the information to make a decision, so whatever decisions I make will be based on the information at hand and that if the situation or information changes, my decision can change. If one waits too long to take action, the impact of the action dissipates.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Monica D. Higgins.

Monica D. Higgins is CEO of Garagify, a Los Angeles, California-based one-stop-shop for homeowners turning garages into studio apartments or building larger apartments from the ground up, handling feasibility, design, permitting and construction. She is a former licensed real estate agent turned construction manager driven by a passion for helping people bring their dream homes to life. Her proven process and expert knowledge have been featured in media including HGTV, eHow, This Old House and Entrepreneur Magazines, as well as her international best-selling book, “Remodel Success: Home Remodeling Done Right, On Time and On Budget.”

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

When I was growing up, I helped my parents manage and renovate distressed properties. After my father passed away, I witnessed my mother get ripped off by a shady contractor. As I reflected on her experience, I realized she had not asked the right questions and done the right steps in the right order to avoid such an emotional and financial drain. Ever since then, I’ve known that I didn’t just want to make a difference, I wanted to be the difference. So, I became a construction manager.

I eventually translated my decades of experience interfacing with all the detailed aspects of remodeling projects into an accessible and thorough guide to help homeowners feel confident about achieving project success. That guide, “Remodel Success,” has gone on to become an international bestseller, which has been ranked in the top 5% of allbooks sold on Amazon.

States across the nation are experiencing a housing crisis: too many people and not enough housing. The aftermath of the Great Recession halted the multitude of housing units under construction, as well as those already scheduled to be built. The devastating result of very little construction of new housing units took place over a period of several years, while the number of people seeking housing steadily increased. States and municipalities are finally easing restrictions on backyard homes to catch up with this demand for housing. That’s when I pivoted to the backyard home market.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

What’s disruptive about the work we’re doing is our DNA, rooted in trust and integrity, when it comes to homeowners’ investment in their homes.

It’s unfortunate that more homeowners have experienced or witnessed a home improvement horror story than a delight story. That’s because homeowners unknowingly hire contractors engaged in unethical practices. These contractors bid unrealistically low to get the homeowners’ business, knowing the homeowner may be inexperienced and uninformed and then find plenty of reasons to jack up the price after the contract is signed. Since it’s prohibitively expensive to fire the contractor once construction has started, the homeowner becomes a hostage to that contractor. It’s no wonder that complaints against home improvement contractors typically make the Better Business Bureau’s list of Top 3 complaints.

At Garagify, we don’t just want to get the job, we want to do the job so our clients can achieve project success. As a one-stop-shop, we simplify the process of building a backyard home by taking care of everything from feasibility, design, permitting, project management and construction at a realistic, transparent, fixed all-inclusive price. A personal project manager works with homeowners every step of the way and cost is established early on, virtually eliminating unnecessary change orders and the need for homeowners to put their projects out to bid.

Our Backyard Build Method, a tech-enabled collaborative project delivery system, is also disruptive. It’s all about speed, simplicity and cost savings, delivering convenience and value through a personalized, interconnected experience, saving homeowners up to 30% in design fees and up to 50% in construction costs, as well as countless hours, compared to them going at it alone.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

While they may be funny now, any mistakes I made when I was first starting out were probably not funny at the time. Looking back, my reaction to mistakes was always funnier than the mistakes themselves because I took myself way too seriously and would be horrified. I had to remind myself that in business, as in life, no one goes through it without making mistakes. What’s important is that a lesson accompanied each mistake from which I could learn and grow.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

My parents were my first mentors. One way they made an impact was how they approached their hobbies. My father loved tinkering in his workshop and my mother loved sewing. Whenever my dad took on a home improvement project, you could always feel his excitement. However, it was easy to see that the work was “homemade” and not done by a professional. On the other hand, whenever my mother sewed a dress or made a hat, the items always looked like they had come from the finest stores. In fact, people often stopped her on the street to compliment her and ask where she purchased the items. Those experiences observing my parents helped me develop an appreciation for craftsmanship, as well as being aware of one’s own strengths.

One of my early mentors in construction was Al Thompson, a general contractor I was introduced to not long before I started down the path of becoming a construction manager. He really grilled me about my motivation for getting into the industry because he only wanted to work with me if I had a passion for the work and not because I wanted to find a husband, which had been his experience with the women in construction he had met over the years. Once it was clear that my desire to work in the industry was deeply rooted in my mother’s horrific experience and that I really wanted to help homeowners, he opened up and shared his insight and advice with me. One thing he shared with me that I have never forgotten was the importance of focusing on the fundamentals: project constructability, estimating and scheduling. If these are not carefully considered, projects will not be set up to succeed.

I also had the honor of having Sean Leonard, the construction manager that turned the famed Disney Hall project around, as an instructor. He opened my eyes to best practices to achieve efficiencies that I hadn’t seen implemented at the small contractor enterprise level. That exposure has helped me take a more holistic approach to projects. He also emphasized the importance of designing to clients’ budgets and the scope of work aligning with such budgets. As a result, one way I have defined project success has been starting a project a client can actually afford to finish.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Disrupting an industry can be positive when it empowers people to make the right choices. The personal finance industry has experienced this type of disruption with many companies focused on helping people make all of the right money moves themselves by finding the best credit cards, increasing their credit score, landing the perfect mortgage and so on.

Social media has disrupted virtually every business-to-consumer industry, changing consumers’ communications preferences and giving them a platform to voice their opinions. As a result, their influence has grown, which has forced companies to extend the customer experience via social channels, as well as produce goods and services they really want to buy based on direct, real-time consumer feedback.

The flipside of social media’s disruption is the negative impact it’s made on many people’s self-esteem, equating their worth to the number of followers they have or likes they get. Or, comparing their life to someone’s social media life that may not be real. This constant validation of oneself by comparing yourself to others will always be a losing proposition.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Give more value than customers pay for. Homeowners often view their relationships with contractors as a win-lose scenario in which they are going to lose big time. At Garagify, we love win-win scenarios that help homeowners reach their goals. We truly want to see their lives improve as a result of building a backyard home. That’s why it’s so important for us to see our business through the eyes of our customers. One of the reasons we developed our feasibility study as a stand-alone product is that we discovered that homeowners were very hesitant about signing a contract for a backyard home before seeing what was possible on their lot, within their budget. The feasibility study allowed them to preview the size, location, floor plan and project budget versus construction budget for three options from which to make an informed decision.

Don’t be afraid to take action. At times, I have had a tendency to overthink things, especially when I don’t have all of the information. It’s times like those that I need to be mindful that I may not always have all of the information to make a decision, so whatever decisions I make will be based on the information at hand and that if the situation or information changes, my decision can change. If one waits too long to take action, the impact of the action dissipates.

There is always something to be grateful for. I’ve kept a gratitude journal for many years, writing down three things I’m grateful for each day. By doing so, I’ve been able to appreciate what I already have so much more, as well as the “little things” such as sleeping in, a sunny day, etc. What I’ve learned is that gratitude does not have to be based on something profound. Expressing gratitude for the simplest of things helps you become more receptive to more.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

I like the concept of shared appreciation financing in which homeowners access the equity in the homes with no payments and no interest in exchange of the lender/investor getting a stake in the property and its future appreciation or depreciation. While such a finance product exists based on the current value of the property, I’m not aware of this type of financing based on the future value of a property. One-way Garagify wants to shake things up is by creating shared appreciation financing that offers no payments and no interest based on the post-backyard home value of the property. This will help improve access to backyard homes.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I just finished reading “Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs.” One story that resonated with me was how Angy Grove used a management method, known as OKRs or Objectives and Key Results, to deal with the threat of Motorola overtaking the high-performance microprocessor market Intel had been leading.

OKRs helped get everybody in the company clear about not only their own objectives but also everyone else’s so everyone is literally on the same page, moving in the same direction with clarity to achieve the key results. OKRs provided Intel with the synchronicity necessary to be agile, pivot and drive transformation in a way it had not done before in order to achieve its goal.

That, and many other stories in the book, resonated with me because they demonstrated how companies or organizations of any size and stage can drive transformation and consistently achieve their performance goals. They also highlighted the importance of the impact of people knowing how their role, their team’s role, their manager’s role, their department’s role, and other teams, managers and departments’ roles tie back to the objective. Having that holistic view of a company makes people have their own “ah-ha” moment that propels them forward toward a common goal.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite” Life Lesson Quote” is “Stop comparing yourself to others and embrace your lane of genius.”

One of the biggest challenges I faced growing up was losing my self-awareness to me parent’s expectations of what they thought I should be, a doctor or a lawyer. So, imagine the shame I felt when I flunked out of law school. Yet, that experience put me on a path to evaluating and recognizing what I’m good at and focusing on my strengths versus trying to improve my weaknesses. This ultimately led me to the startup world which embraced my analytically creative strengths. Reading Daniel Pink’s book “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future” gave me the confidence to value my right and left-brain perspectives.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, it would be re-structuring the educational curriculum so it’s based on engaging curiosity versus memorizing facts, as well as the connection between the mind and body. This foundation will help people reach their God-given potential and live in alignment with their true selves.

How can our readers follow you online?

Readers can follow Garagify online at:

Instagram: @garagifynow


Twitter: @Garagify

They can purchase Remodel Success here:

Thank you for these great insights!

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