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3 Pillar Blog

What Home Are You?

Categories: About Us, Design, Newsletter | Posted: October 4, 2017

Production, custom or in between? The answer depends on your priorities.

If you have done any research into new homes, you’re likely familiar with the three categories of homes and builders: production, semi-custom and custom. Which one you choose will depend on your budget and your priorities–and each type may appeal to the same people at different points in their lives.

Production

If you have lived in a tract home, it was built by a production builder. The company built it and similar homes over and over, in what amounted to an outdoor factory. The repeatability of this approach lets production builders systematically shave time from the process, while the volume of homes they build qualifies them for bulk material discounts. Production homes also tend to be built on relatively inexpensive land. These cost savings make the production home cheaper than a custom home of similar size.

The tradeoff is that you get a cookie-cutter home. It’s like buying a car: you can choose a color and opt for a sunroof, but the basic model doesn’t change. Most production builders limit the buyer to a menu of predefined options–four carpet types, three cabinet styles, six fixture lines and so on–arranged in good, better and best tiers.

The production model is for those who would rather buy than build. It’s popular among people who want a new home but don’t need something unique and don’t have time to think through a lot of choices, such as young families with two working parents.

Semi-custom: Somewhat Different

Some people don’t want a cookie-cutter home but also don’t want to start with a blank canvas. This is the person who says, “I like that floor plan, but it’s not exactly what I want.” Semi-custom builders offer these clients a portfolio of floor plans that can be customized to a greater degree than the production home.

Although customization usually includes some structural choices, the options tend to be predefined. They might include the building a master suite at the back of the house, adding a screened porch or changing the siding, all of which the builder has priced to the dollar.

Structural options make the semi-custom home more expensive than an equally sized production home and require a bit more homeowner involvement. Semi-custom homes are popular with families moving up the income ladder, as well as with retirees who want to sell their custom home and downsize.

Custom: One-of-a-kind

The custom homebuilder works with homeowners to create a home that perfectly serves their particular wants and needs. The homeowners might want a certain architectural style or specific features. Or they might not. These are people who, simply put, want what they want.

The custom home’s status as a unique reflection of its owners makes it more complex than the production or semi-custom home in design, product selection and construction. These homes are often built on the homeowners’ land, which can bring unique design and engineering challenges.

Custom builders excel at imagining and creating something unique with each home. And because these projects involve so much interaction with homeowners, the most successful builders have a company culture that revolves around customer service and customer satisfaction. Not only that, professional builders have systems, organization and subcontractor and supplier relationships in place to efficiently and cost-effectively guide their customers through a complex building project. In fact, it’s a huge part of their success.

Building Success

Categories: Build Process, Building Success 101, Newsletter | Posted: September 12, 2017

Q: What if you have a deadline?

A: Some homeowners come to the initial meeting wanting the job done by a certain date. They may want it finished in time to host a big event like a wedding or family reunion, or they may not want to pay construction loan interest any longer than necessary. These are important concerns, but making them the defining factor can cloud your choice of a contractor. It’s better to choose someone you have confidence in and trust, and then work together to establish a realistic schedule.

First Impressions

Categories: Build Process, Newsletter | Posted: September 5, 2017

The best builders know that the initial meeting is about earning your trust

A big factor in someone’s choice of a builder is their comfort with the first person they meet from the company, whether it’s the owner or a sales person. Natural rapport is important, but gut feelings also play a role–feelings some homeowners aren’t sure how to interpret.

These feelings usually grow from attitudes and actions on the part of the builder. Professional builders understand this, and they make sure to act in ways that earn their clients’ trust, starting with that first meeting.

When interviewing builders, clarity about these attitudes and actions will help you choose someone you can work well with. Before signing anything, ask yourself the following questions.

Does the builder…

1. Show up like a pro? Someone in a cluttered pickup wearing old jeans and a dirty tee shirt may be a skilled craftsman, but their appearance raises questions. Although a pressed shirt and a clean vehicle don’t guarantee a great choice, they’re the first sign of a professional who runs a real business and pays attention to detail.

2. Play by the rules? Pros know that you want assurance that whoever builds your house will do it right, and that includes knowing they will follow relevant laws and regulations. Sample contracts, as well as proof of the necessary licensing and insurance, are signs of a conscientious company that doesn’t cut corners.

3. Show emotional intelligence? A custom homebuilding project can be an emotional roller coaster or an enjoyable ride. You will naturally feel more confident in a builder who works to make it more of the latter. The best builders help people understand the ups and downs that will be likely during design and construction.

4. Take schedules seriously? Homeowners who know what will happen and when during construction suffer a lot less anxiety. That’s why you will have more confidence in a builder who clearly communicates the overall job schedule as well as the approximate timetable for each major phase of construction.

5. Commit to keeping you informed? Pros also know that you will feel more secure, and the job will go more smoothly, if there’s a regular forum for your questions and concerns. While the timing of these meetings depends on the builder and project, they’re often scheduled on the building site at the end of key job phases, such as framing and electrical/mechanical.

6. Have clear change policies? Changes have a reputation for breeding anxiety and conflict, but that can be limited if everyone knows what to expect. A good builder will make sure you understand what change orders will cost, as well as how the builder will communicate any resulting adjustments in the job schedule.

7. Offer references? Most reputable companies will provide references to past clients. If some of those clients are happy to show you their completed home, that’s even better–it’s a sign that they really like and trust the builder.

A good builder knows that reducing uncertainty and developing trust, as illustrated by the actions above, are key to helping clients manage stress during a complex building project.

By the way, the best builders will also be vetting you, and they won’t be afraid to politely decline the job if necessary. Be wary of a builder who is too eager for the work. The point here is that the initial visit shouldn’t be about dollars and cents but about finding whether the two of you are a good fit.

Building Success 101

Categories: Building Success 101, Design, Newsletter | Posted: August 23, 2017

Q: What’s the difference between a wood window and a clad window?

A: Window frames can be made from a variety of materials, including solid wood, composite or engineered wood, vinyl, aluminum or steel. Wood windows are very popular because, from the inside, they show an attractive, natural grain pattern that can be preserved and enhanced using a stain and varnish. On the outside, however, wood must be diligently maintained to protect it from the elements. So, most wood windows are clad, or covered and protected, by an aluminum or vinyl material molded to the shape of the outside section of the window frame, thus reducing maintenance chores and costs.

Defining Value

Categories: Build Process, Newsletter | Posted: August 16, 2017

In the current economy, it has become fashionable to define “value” as simply the lowest price among new homes. But doing so discounts the value of providing a high level of construction quality, as well as service, before, during, and after your new home is built. This may not be in your or your family’s best interest.

It’s been said many times…a new home is likely to be the largest single financial investment anyone will ever make. Why, then, would you trust that investment — both financially and in your enjoyment of it — to the lowest price and a limited definition of a home’s value?

As a professional builder, we operate with a different and broader definition of value. We believe value includes a positive building experience for the owner and a sense of confidence and pride about a home’s quality. Value should also consist of a high level of personal service and a commitment to maintaining a relationship built on trust after the move in date.

Some builders play the low-price game. They narrowly define value as a stripped-down house built on the cheap to achieve a cut-rate price. The goal: make a sale and move on. They typically don’t have the staff or systems in place to respond to issues once title is transferred.

Here’s how we define and deliver a higher level of value:

Communication: As professional builders, we listen and respond to our clients’ ambitions and dreams for their new home. We help them define and discover their wants and needs, while working within their budget. We seek to educate them about the complexities of the building process, set realistic expectations and keep them informed about what happens–and why–as their new home takes shape. We seek to be prompt and respectful when we meet to discuss a project. We follow through on promises made and keep our clients informed about a job’s progress.

An Efficient Job Site: Our crews and job site managers follow an agreed-upon schedule and detailed list of specifications that we develop with each client. Materials for a new home are ordered and delivered as needed and on time. We manage and coordinate our trade partners and materials suppliers toward the common goal of meeting our company’s standards and our clients’ expectations for craftsmanship.

Follow-Through: When a new home is finished and we turn over the keys to our clients’, it doesn’t mean we disappear. We know that it is critical to our clients’ ultimate satisfaction that we continue effective communication while providing thorough and prompt service. When issues crop up –and they always do — we have policies and procedures in place to respond in a timely fashion.  We work the problem; we don’t pass the buck. We’ve been a member of our clients’ community for years. This is where we’ve chosen to raise our families and we intend to be here for years to come.

We believe our definition of value instills confidence and helps ensure satisfaction among our homebuyers. We respect that our clients’ entrust us to deliver a product that only exists on paper and is created before their eyes. It’s a responsibility we take seriously, and it’s the cornerstone of what we call value.

Building Success 101

Categories: Building Success 101, Design, Newsletter | Posted: August 8, 2017

Q: What is a cool roof?

A: A cool roof is just what it sounds like: a roof that stays cooler than a typical roof on a sunny summer day. This, in turn, keeps the attic from overheating and eases the burden on the air conditioner. Although many people think that a cool roof has to be white, new coating technologies let manufacturers build reflectance into a variety of colors.

The Multi-Generational Home

Categories: Design, Newsletter | Posted: August 1, 2017

These amenities will make the home more comfortable for all family members

Anyone planning a new home might want to consider age demographics. For instance, recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau projects the over-65 population growing from 47 million in 2015 to 71 million by 2030, and most older people who answered a 2016 survey by Home Advisor said they intended to stay in their homes as long as possible. These trends mean that a growing number of households will include multiple generations.

While most older homes weren’t designed for an aging population, it’s not difficult to make a new home accessible.

The word “accessibility” makes some people imagine wheelchair ramps and institutional grab bars, but the truth is that a well-designed multi-generational space feels like a home, not a hospital. There are many creative ways to make a home feel welcoming to everyone, and as a bonus, accessible features provide an edge in the market when it’s time to sell.

With this in mind, here are some features to consider for any new home.

An easy entry. Your builder can create a “zero step” entry by gently sloping a landscaped walkway from the driveway to an exterior door. It’s an attractive alternative to a wheelchair ramp, and–if well designed–will look like a convenience, not an accessibility requirement.

A ground floor master suite. Budget permitting, this belongs at the top of the priority list. The suite’s bath needs a shower with a tile floor that’s flush with the bathroom floor, so that users don’t have to step over a curb to get in and out. As for grab bars, the big plumbing manufacturers now offer models with looks that match specific fixture lines, so they blend in seamlessly.

The suite can also serve as a convenient office, den or guest room. If the bath’s design includes two doors (the second from an adjacent common area), it can double as a guest bath.

36-inch doorways. In many homes, the only wide doorway is the main entry, but a true multi-generational home will have wide doors throughout so that a walker or wheelchair user can reach every room. As an added advantage, wide doors make it possible to move large pieces of furniture that might not fit in a room with a 30-inch opening.

Lever door handles. Levers benefit older people with arthritic fingers, but they will also be appreciated by anyone who needs to get into the house while carrying an armful of groceries.

Visual contrast. Besides making life easier for someone with poor vision, good lighting and strong color contrast between wall and floor surfaces make for a more interesting space. The interior designer can arrange these contrasting elements to evoke nearly any mood, from joyful and energetic to subdued and serene.

Smooth, non-slip flooring. Eliminating carpet makes it easier for someone with a wheelchair or walker to get around, but it also helps keep dust and other indoor pollutants out of the air. Non-slip tile reduces anyone’s chance of slipping in the shower.

Amenities like these will enhance any home, but what if a family member has a permanent injury or a progressive illness? In that case, the professional builder can work with an occupational therapist. This medical professional has the training and experience needed to evaluate the client and to help the builder customize the space to have the right features for today and tomorrow. A custom feature could be something as simple as putting plywood backing behind the drywall in the exact spots where that particular person will likely need a grab bar in the future.

The bottom line? Nowadays, there’s no reason not to have a house that feels like home to everyone.

Building Success 101

Categories: Build Process, Building Success 101, Newsletter | Posted: July 28, 2017

Q: What should I consider when evaluating homebuilding companies?

A: First, narrow your list of potential builders based on their direct experience with the type of house you want. Next, meet with each potential builder and be ready with questions that are important to you about their building process, communication skills, change order procedures, and past work. Make sure to get satisfactory answers. Also be prepared with a budget and a solid idea of what you want and share that information with each builder. Finally, look for a builder you like on a personal level; do your styles mesh? Do your personalities gel? It’s okay to go with your gut, as long as the company has the right skill set and track record to do the work.

Homebuilding Myths: The Three-Bid Rule

Categories: Build Process, Newsletter | Posted: July 18, 2017

As the housing industry becomes more sophisticated and conscientious about achieving genuine and lasting homebuyer satisfaction, the level of professionalism among builders continues to reach new heights.

As a result, potential clients searching for a builder to create their dream home have a much deeper pool of talent from which to select. Today’s professional builder is not only skilled in construction and client relations, but also highly competent in terms of his or her business expertise.

This new and more professional breed of builder deserves to be evaluated by homebuyers in a new way. Namely by dropping the age-old practice of collecting three bids for the work in favor of a more business-like approach to a very important decision.

Comparative Bidding is Inaccurate:

In theory, the three-bid rule was thought to work because it assumed everything else, other than cost, from the competing builders was equal. This thought process assumed that each builder had assessed and calculated the scope of work, blueprints, and specifications in the exact same way.

In reality, however, such assumptions are rarely, if ever, accurate. Every builder and contractor, professional or not, analyzes a new-home project and estimates its associated costs differently; as a result, the three bids are not apples-to-apples comparisons. The differences can be subtle, but they exist. And those differences render an unequal playing field for competitive bidding creating confusion and misunderstanding.

In addition to being inaccurate as a cost comparison tool, the three-bid rule reduces each builder to a number rather than considering his or her various skills, experience, personality, record of success, and ability to do the work. For this reason, an increasing number of the best homebuilders simply refuse to bid competitively, opting out of such opportunities because they know they are being evaluated only in terms of a cost estimate (that is inaccurate) rather than whether they are the best builder for the job.

The Negotiated Contract: A More Useful Approach

Many of today’s home buyers are utilizing a different approach to select their contractor: the negotiated contract. In that scenario, a homebuilder is selected based on his or her abilities for the specific project and personality and how they fit with the homebuyer. These are two critical considerations considering how closely builder and client will interact with each other during the construction of a new home.

The negotiated contract also takes the guesswork out of the project’s cost. The budget is shared up-front with each of the builders being considered based on what the buyers can afford, not what the builder (and his stable of trade contractors) thinks it will cost.

Sharing the budget not only removes assumptions and judging a builder’s worth based on price alone, but also begins to build trust between homeowner and builder. They can explore honest communication about actual costs and, if necessary, choices that need to be made to match the project’s scope with the homebuyer’s budget. That’s the “negotiated” part of the contract process.

The negotiated contract process is far superior to the three-bid rule in matching personalities between the homebuyer and the builder, as well as between projects and a building company’s skills and experience. By first narrowing and then selecting one homebuilder based on everything but the cost of the project, buyers can better make their decision on which builder is most likely to be on-budget and on-schedule and result in a finished home that meets (or ideally exceeds) their expectations.

As the homebuilding industry continues to evolve into an increasingly professional business, it requires new and more effective models for conducting that business. The negotiated contract has strong advantages over the three-bid rule. This approach reflects the new age of new home construction to the benefit of every homebuyer.

Building Success 101

Categories: Building Success 101, Newsletter | Posted: July 14, 2017

Q: What is SEER?

A: SEER stands for seasonal energy efficiency ratio, or the cooling energy output of an air conditioner divided by the electrical energy it burns. The higher the number, the more efficient the equipment. For example, a new 15 SEER unit uses 33 percent less energy than an older 10 SEER model. All systems sold in the United States must have a minimum SEER of 13 or 14 depending on the region. The most efficient units have SEERs of 20 or more.