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3 Pillar Blog

Blog Category - Newsletter

Building Success 101

Categories: Building Success 101, Newsletter | Posted: January 23, 2018

Q: How do draw schedules work?

A: Lenders don’t want to pay for work that isn’t done yet. If it’s a big job and the contractor can’t complete it for some reason, the lending company will want to protect itself. Most lenders require that construction loans include a draw schedule that ensures they pay only for work that has been completed. For instance, if the foundation and framing are budgeted at $75,000, the check issued at the completion of framing cannot bring the total amount paid to that point to more than $75,000. A good draw schedule not only protects the lender and homeowner, but will be welcomed by a professional builder who does work on time and on budget.

How to Check References

Categories: Newsletter | Posted: January 16, 2018

Some tips for getting the most from this important step

The vast majority of builders are happy to provide prospective clients with a list of people for whom they have recently built homes. They encourage prospective clients to call these references and ask about their experience and level of satisfaction.

References may also include financial partners, trade contractors, materials suppliers, and other colleagues who can provide perspective on their professionalism and track record of performance.

Homeowners who fail to check their builder’s references do themselves a disservice.

After all, a reference check is an easy way to avoid trouble and an important confirmation that hiring a particular company is a good choice.

Reference call etiquette

Like you, our past clients are highly successful people who lead busy and productive lives. When calling a reference, be direct and respectful of their time. Let them know who you are and the purpose of your call, and ask their permission to speak to them at this time.

For example, you might say, “Hi Bill, this is Bob Smith. We are going to be building a home near you and are deciding which builder to use. Gary Poster at Poster Construction suggested I call and ask you a couple of questions about your experience with their company. Do you have a minute to talk?”

If they say this is a good time to talk, consider these questions as a starting point for learning about your builder.

Questions for current or past clients

What kind of home was built?

Was the home finished on time and on budget?

Would they recommend the builder to others?

Additional questions can include:

  • Is the company organized? Do the company’s managers deliver on their promises?
  • Does the company keep deadlines and schedules? Small things, like being on time for meetings, can strongly influence homeowners’ satisfaction.
  • Was the home finished as expected? This reflects the builder’s skill at writing detailed specs and setting realistic expectations.
  • Were the builder and his team pleasant to work with? Any construction project is a team effort, and the best contractors have good working relationships with everyone, including architects, interior designers, subcontractors, and other professionals.

As a final question, consider asking, “Is there anything else I should be asking or you want me to know?”

Lastly, be sure to thank the builder’s reference for their time and information.

If you do uncover a problem, don’t jump to conclusions. Instead, get the builder’s side of the story. For instance, if the home went over budget, a follow-up conversation might reveal that the homeowners made a lot of costly changes after things were underway. These types of follow-up conversations set the stage for honest communication.

Any reluctance on the part of the builder to provide references is a red flag. A forthcoming attitude is a good sign that the builder values transparency and is secure in his or her reputation.

Building Success 101

Categories: Build Process, Building Success 101, Newsletter | Posted: January 9, 2018

Q: Who is responsible for the work of subcontractors?

A: The general contractor (your builder) has the final responsibility for the quality and timeliness of all subcontracted work. That’s why a professional hires reputable subs with a proven track record. And that’s why you hire a pro to manage your job rather than trying to do it yourself.

Have Questions? Ask the Builder

Categories: Build Process, Newsletter | Posted: January 2, 2018

It’s natural to have questions and changes when building a custom home. Prevent surprises and delays by getting answers from the top.

There are lots of things homeowners can do to keep their building project running smoothly. Number one is making timely product choices, but another key action is to direct all change requests and questions, no matter how small, to the builder or the builder’s representative (usually the project superintendent).

It can be tempting to ask workers to make small changes, but doing so can create stress and misunderstanding. For instance, a homeowner may ask an electrician to move the junction box for a wall sconce a few inches to one side. Simple, right? Maybe, but the electrician may have to ask the framing carpenter to add blocking at the new location, or to move a wall stud that’s now in the way.

The problem is not the change itself but the fact that the framer has to bill the builder for the additional time and materials. If the builder passes this to the homeowners, they could see it as an extra charge they hadn’t agreed to.

Another example is the homeowners who ask the architect or kitchen designer rather than the builder to change the spec for the kitchen tile. If the builder is the one responsible for ordering this item but doesn’t get the information in time, the wrong tile might show up.

Going directly to the builder with each change request ensures that the homeowners learn the cost ahead of time, so they can decide whether that cost is worth it. If they say yes, they will feel a lot better about the final bill.

So it is clear why change orders should go to the top, but why can’t the homeowner just ask tradespeople informational questions?

The answer is that these subcontractors may not have all the facts. Say the homeowner wants a different type of showerhead, but before approaching the builder casually asks the plumber how much that model usually costs. The plumber may give a ballpark cost without knowing all the other variables, creating an unrealistic expectation in the homeowner’s mind. It’s best to go to the builder, who will contact the supplier (or send the homeowner to the plumbing showroom) and then apply all markups and discounts.

The point is that, on well-run jobs, workers and subs defer to the builder. In fact, most tradespeople prefer not to be asked a lot of questions because it puts them in an awkward position: they want to be polite to the homeowners and provide good service, but they also work for the builder and are committed to following the builder’s policies.

A custom home has a lot of moving parts and keeping them all moving in the same direction is easier with one person at the wheel. That’s why it’s crucial to use the builder as the primary contact. Doing so ensures a happier experience for everyone.

Building Success 101

Categories: Build Process, Building Success 101, Newsletter | Posted: December 26, 2017

Q: Why do builders sometimes send another company on a service call?

A: Increasingly, new-home builders rely on a variety of trade (or specialty) contractors, such as electricians, plumbers, and heating and cooling experts, to help build your new house. Part of their contract is servicing their work; who better than the person who installed your faucet to fix a leak? While the builder is ultimately responsible for making sure warranty work is documented and performed, he will rely on trade contractors to make warranty service call on his behalf, to his standards, and to your satisfaction.

After the Home is Built…

Categories: Build Process, Newsletter | Posted: December 19, 2017

What ever happened to customer service?

Today, simple respect and responsiveness seems to be more the exception than the rule … especially after the sale. How a homebuilder manages after-sale service, also called warranty service or call-backs, is a key indicator of the company’s overall professionalism and ability to meet (and ideally exceed) a homebuyer’s expectations.

The goal of the professional builder is to quickly and completely respond to and resolve issues that come up during the time a home is under warranty. As a critical part of providing great housing value and achieving customer satisfaction, professional builders encourage questions from homebuyers and respond to their concerns in a timely and respectful manner.

Typically, a builder’s warranty addresses specific issues with a home related to its structural components (such as the foundation and frame), basic electrical and other mechanical systems, and the quality of workmanship for a set time period. How a builder responds to warranty service inquiries varies depending on the policy offered and sold with the house: some are defined and managed entirely by the builder, while others are defined, at least in part, by independent agencies (such as an insurance company) and administered by the builder.

Specific warranty language and procedures benefit both the builder and the homeowner. Simply, a well-defined and properly communicated warranty service policy helps eliminate confusion about who is responsible for issues, concerns, and other call-back items that may occur in the first year or so of occupancy.

While there are specific differences among builders, a superior warranty service program includes:

Documentation. A documented process for responding to call-backs and customer service inquiries creates a “paper trail” that ensures that questions and concerns are properly communicated, managed, and resolved. A professional builder will document the details of the warranty policy and keep track of inquiries, response time, and specific types of service calls from the first call to follow-up to help ensure the homeowner’s satisfaction.

Response time. Responding to a service call is more an issue of timing than time; the key is to understand which calls will be addressed immediately, and which may require or allow more time. No one likes to wonder if or when a call or email will be answered; if homeowners can depend on getting a reply from their builder within a reasonable (or better still, stated) time frame, chances are better that they’ll be satisfied with how the issue is resolved.

Collective calls. Even if a builder responds to a warranty service call within a day or so, making a visit to the house to resolve a non-emergency situation may be timed to coincide with other scheduled work at the house. This “collective call” minimizes the number of times an owner needs to be at home to make the house available to the builder’s warranty service team. Of course, emergency calls demand immediate attention, but collective calls can be a more convenient and reliable way to address a variety of concerns or maintenance issues at the same time.

Scheduled visits. Professional builders are becoming more proactive in how they address scheduled service and other routine maintenance work while a house is still under warranty. In many cases, a builder will schedule a visit and “walk through” (or tour) a new home within a month after occupancy. These visits are opportunities for homeowners to ask questions and for the builder to document or schedule service work covered by the warranty. Such visits also help builders refine their warranty service processes based on a homeowner’s feedback.

No builder follows exactly the same policies and procedures for warranty service, inquiries and incidents. Our goal as building professionals is to provide each client with the best new home buying and living experience possible. How builders refine and improve their after the sale process goes a long way toward delivering superior customer service and buyer satisfaction.

Building Success 101

Categories: Building Success 101, Design, Newsletter | Posted: December 12, 2017

Q: Which cabinet door costs more?

A: Doors and drawers fall into two general categories. Overlay styles lap over the cabinet frame at the edges, and inset styles sit flush to the frame when closed. Both include high-quality products, but the tighter tolerances required by the inset method tend to raise costs by 10 to 20 percent.

Counter Intelligence

Categories: Build Process, Design, Newsletter | Posted: December 5, 2017

Which of today’s best-selling countertop materials to choose for your new home? Here’s a short buyer’s guide.

Countertops have a lot to do with how pleasant your kitchen is to use and how easy it is to maintain. And of course, they play a big part in the first impression the space makes on visitors. It’s worth taking the time to choose the countertop materials that work best for you.

Homeowners have more choices today than ever, but let’s consider the four most popular materials: laminate, solid surfacing, granite and quartz. Each has strengths and weaknesses.

Laminate comes in several quality grades. Although most people may think first of the inexpensive grades common in rental units and entry-level homes, there are high-quality, preformed laminate counters with three times the durability and no edge seams. Homeowners can choose from a variety of colors and patterns, including some that mimic the look of stone. On the downside, even these better products can scratch and burn under some circumstances–damage that’s difficult or impossible to repair.

Solid surfacing has lost market share in kitchens but remains a top choice for bathroom vanities. Made from a blend of acrylic and polyester, solid surfacing can cost three times more than basic laminate, but it looks more stylish and doesn’t have any surface or edge seams. Homeowners can choose from a wide range of colors and patterns.

Although solid surfacing isn’t immune to scratches and burns, a skilled installer can often repair the damage. The material is also nonporous, so it’s less likely to stain than laminate.

Some people like the fact that solid surfacing doesn’t feel as hard or cold as granite, although others find it looks too artificial for their taste.

Granite has been hugely popular in custom homes for years. That’s no surprise, given this natural material’s beautiful flowing patterns and mottling, as well as each slab’s unique look. Most homeowners enjoy visiting the granite supplier and choosing the specific slab they want their countertop made from.

Costs for granite are slightly more than for solid surfacing.

Granite stands up well to heat and isn’t easily scratched, but its hardness means that ceramic dishes or cups can easily chip or break when dropped or bumped against the surface. Raw granite can also be stained by hot grease, so it needs to be sealed during fabrication and resealed at intervals recommended by the fabricator. Its heavy weight means it may not be the best choice for cabinets with particleboard frames.

Granite slabs are 9 to 10 feet long and 5 feet wide, so if you want something bigger you will have a seam.

Quartz has recently passed granite in popularity among custom homeowners, even though it costs 10 to 20 percent more. Made from a blend of crushed stone and resin, this material is harder than granite and impervious to stains, including those from cooking oil, wine and coffee. Quartz has a rich, attractive finish and a regular surface pattern. It comes in 8 x 4 feet sheets, so anything bigger will require seams.

These descriptions are just an introduction to today’s most popular countertop materials. Other options are marble, wood, stainless steel, concrete and even soapstone counters. Your professional builder can help you sort through the pros, cons and pricing of whatever materials you are considering, so that you choose the right ones for your new home.

Eliminate Surprises by Clearly Defining the Job

Categories: Build Process, Newsletter | Posted: November 21, 2017

Building a new home is one of the most important investments a family will make. In many cases it represents the single largest financial investment. The home is designed and built to provide years of pleasure, comfort, and security. It is the physical manifestation of “family” and the place where celebration and joy are expressed and experienced.

No wonder that when it comes to building a home, no one likes surprises. The document that spells out the detail and helps sets expectations for both builder and client is the contract. The contract is the roadmap that defines the destination, describes the detail of how the project will proceed, and steers everyone clear of obstructions and delays.

The contract is crafted so that it protects both builder and client, and clarifies everything about the job. It is organized into a number of sections, including information about the project location (address, lot number, etc.), permits, contractor insurance and licensing, project timetables, and payment schedules.

While all of these details are important, most builders find that if conflicts arise during construction, they’re usually caused by misunderstanding over the “who, what, and how” of the job, and an effective contract works to clarify these issues.

Who makes the decisions?

One very short but important section names the owners’ representative. This should be one person–for instance the husband or wife, but not both–who will act as the builder’s main contact for approvals, changes, and questions. Having one owner as the representative helps eliminate confusion and makes communication more efficient. Similarly, the language should define who on the builder’s team can sign off on changes–whether it’s the company owner or the owner plus the site manager or superintendent.

What, exactly, is the client buying?

The project description defines exactly what the homeowners will be getting for their investment. The more detail the better. Most contracts accomplish this by referencing the project plans and specifications.

The plans are the visual description of the new home, and include floor plans, elevation drawings, and all electrical and mechanical systems. They should note who prepared them and when they were signed. The plans should include all necessary changes–for instance, from the building department and the zoning board.

The specifications, or “specs,” are the written description of what will be done. They list all items that will be installed in the home: the carpet, flooring, door hardware and light fixtures in each room; the model numbers of kitchen appliances, furnaces, and water heaters; the brands and colors of paint and roof shingles. The project price is based in part on the specs, so clients should study these carefully to confirm that they understand what they are getting before signing the contract.

How will discretionary funds be allocated?

Discretionary funds include allowances and change orders. It’s important both be crystal clear. Allowances cover parts of the job that haven’t been fully specified yet, such as when the homeowner has yet to decide on types of flooring or faucet fixtures. The allowance should specify when the decision is needed.

The contract should also clearly explain the builder’s change-order policy, including what types of changes can be made at each stage of the project, who can sign off on changes (the owner and builder reps), and the administrative cost for preparing change orders. It’s in everyone’s interest for even small changes to be documented in writing.

A contract that clearly defines the who, what, and how of the job steers the project clear of the most common minefields. This will help ensure that the homeowners get the home they want, on the timetable and for the price they were expecting.

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.