Thursday, March 27, 2014

Hot Dogs and Houses

Courtesy FoodnessGracious!
Ordering a hot dog packed with all kinds of good stuff, and building or remodeling your home have at least one thing in common - they are both transactions. But the similarities end there. True, you start with a raw product (either the "dog" or an empty lot) and you add things as desired. But one takes literally seconds to produce, and the other months. Therein lies the difference. Production time raises some interesting issues.

If building a home were as simple as slapping a dog on a bun, squirtin' and spoonin' some great tasting condiments on it and calling it good, friction between parties involved in the transaction would be absolutely minimal. But time has a way of adding emotion, and emotion sometimes fractures relationships. Performance plays a much larger role in building/remodeling than it does at the hot dog stand. So does cost!

Understanding that it takes longer and costs more to build your home than it does to decorate your "dog," here are some tips for surviving the longer transaction period:

  • Building a home is like putting together a gigantic size jigsaw puzzle. It's not just dog, bun, mustard, ketsup etc., it thousands of parts which must be put together in a very specific order. Being highly organized helps! Hiring professionals that are highly organized and have a specific administrative plan for putting those pieces together, will cut down on mistakes and improve efficiency.
  • Do your part! Whether it's deciding if its as simple as ketsup, mustard and/or relish, make your housing selections decisively. Remember, construction is like a "big ball" - if it slows down or stops waiting for you to make a decision, it's very hard to get the ball rolling again.
  • You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. A positive, fun, engaging personality attracts a lot more attention than negativity. Basic human nature says that we would all rather work for someone who is nice and fun than for an 'ole sour puss!
  • "Hold things loosely, and people tightly." A house is a "thing," but the people putting it together have eternal significance. Focusing on the workers and realizing imperfect people make mistakes ensures that value is placed in areas having eternal significance.
We all want what we want. Sometimes getting it requires a little bit more time and effort. Next time you order a "dog" just the way you want it, be grateful it's a simple transaction, easily corrected if it falls on the floor!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Managing Expectations

A call came in recently from an interior designer who is interviewing for a position on the Project Team with a new client of ours. We're big on Project Teams! Matter of fact, I've written a whole book on the subject. Time and again the most successful projects in which we have ever been involved all have had a Project Team. There's no substitute for hiring your professionals early in the process, charging them with responsibility and parameters, and managing their creativity. Saves all kinds of time (read: you don't have to "re-do"), and money - promise!

Anyway... before giving our new client a proposal for her services the interior designer wanted to understand how we like to administrate our projects. In other words, what are our expectations. Huh...imagine that. Someone willing to invest some time in the project BEFORE getting hired to better understand what our needs, desires, and expectations might be! If I get a vote - she's hired!

Every client that walks through our office door comes with a full set of expectations. They may not realize it at the time, but sure enough, once we get down to brass tacks those expectations are right there. 'Building our home shouldn't take more than 6 months, should it?' 'What does it cost per square foot to build our home - you can do it for $125psf can't you?' 'I'm going to live upstairs while you remodel the downstairs.' Some of the expectations are just as obvious as these while some are much more subtle. 'Once the project is under roof we don't expect you will have any weather delays.' 'Surely you won't mind if we provide all of the ceramic tile for our home...' Or even 'you'll have someone on-site managing our project at all times, won't you?'  Hundreds, maybe even thousands of expectations come with every project. Everyone paints pictures in their mind of how situations will turn out. Without sitting down and hashing it out, a formula for disaster has just been defined!

Builders should all do what our wives want us to do more of anyway - COMMUNICATE! A healthy dose of ANTICIPATION doesn't hurt either. We need to be about the business of trying to understand what our clients expect.

Homeowners also share in the responsibilities of communicating and anticipating, yet because they are not seasoned building professionals they often don't know what questions to ask. Not knowing what questions to ask speaks to the heart of building a Project Team. Though unclear about what information may be necessary, most people "know people," and that's precisely what makes up the Project Team. By selecting your architect, builder, interior designer, and landscape architect based on natural chemistry, an advantage will be gained by hiring advocates who will guide you through the oftentimes scenic journey of building or remodeling. These professionals will also help you define your expectations. And not only "define," but shape those expectations into realistic goals for your Project Team. 

I know, I know....slowing down to take the time to build a Project Team is like ripping the wrapping paper off a highly anticipated gift only to find out that you must fully assemble it before you truly know what it can do! We don't live in a world that likes to wait on ANYTHING!! So add one more thing to your contrarian list in life - the less project planning you do upfront, the more time energy and money you will spend on your overall project! 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


The old saying goes, "you don't know what you don't know." So when you're building that home of your dreams, or remodeling the one you love, how do you know what you don't know? It's a fair question. In today's highly competitive housing market how do you know you're getting what you paid for when half the stuff you are paying for is covered up?

Substantiated rumors are floating around town that builders are using apartment grade plumbing on million dollar homes. But how is the consumer supposed to know about the quality of the pipes being installed behind the walls? When your water lines are decomposing or being eaten by bugs five years down the road its really too late to start questioning the integrity of what your builder is using on your job! And trust me, it happens everyday...

"Specifications don't mean anything in residential construction anymore," groaned one lumberyard vendor recently. Architects may draw it, and structural engineers may specify the materials necessary to make it strong, but some builders are changing lumber grades, product spacing and materials to cheapen costs and improve profit margins. No single construction item is more prone to homeowner deception than lumber. Why? Because ultimately everything is covered up! "Builder are wanting to get through their warranty period (with a homeowner) and that's it - period!" With the abundance of products available to a builder, changing the grading stamp on a ceiling joist, varying the distance between framing members, or even swapping out a specified plywood for OSB (oriented strand board) can make as much as a 10% cost difference in the cost of a framing package. And 10% of the cost of the single largest commodity going in your home can mean thousands of dollars in the builder's pocket!!

On a shorter leash you may not know that the $7,500 allowance your builder gave you for plumbing fixtures needed in your million dollar home will barely do the Master Bath. But you'll figure it out when you go to Ferguson Enterprises to select fixtures for the whole house and spend $25,000! By then the ink will be dry on the contract and it's too late to renegotiate. Can you spell "cost overrun?"

In tight economic times where way too many builders are competing for way too few projects, many believe the name of the game is 'get the contract signed, and make it up on change orders.' Builders feel they can deal with the fallout later. After all, who doesn't build a house understanding that there will be some cost overruns?!!

Recently we were hired to review the specifications for a couple's "dream home" after some problems arose between their builder and the bank. Budgets seemed low, and parts were definitely missing. To be safe we had our guys bid the work. Our estimate was 82% higher than the couple's builder, who, it turns out, had just declared bankruptcy! Forget the dream home, the couple purchased a nice pre-owned and have settled in comfortably.

Sensationalism you say...maybe until it's your project, but then it has a way of becoming all too real.

Disasters such as these can be avoided. Consider these tips before you build or remodel your next home:

  • Build a team of professionals (architect, builder, interior designer, and landscape architect) and empower them with the specific scope of work required. Part of that scope of work needs to be a realistic budget.
  • Challenge the team to not only work with the parameters you've outlined, but also "value engineer" where possible to produce the same product for less money.
  • Demand total accountability and absolute transparency by requiring weekly reports detailing each team member's progress. This type of communication ensures that everyone associated with your project is singing off the same sheet of music.
For more practical tips, pick  up a copy of my book, UnHinged - A Homebuilder's Secrets for Saving Time & Money (Amazon), and my app, BuildCHX (iTunes or Google Play).