Thursday, August 2, 2007

Building a Custom Home 101

As a Project Manager for Shaw Builders, I've had the opportunity to see a lot of the issues that drive up costs and throw a project off schedule when building a custom home. Here are a few ideas that will help keep a project on track and within budget.

  1. Design is Everything!

    90% of homes built in the United States are built without the help of an licensed architect. This is a huge mistake for a number of reasons. Everything starts with a drawing. I wouldn't build a birdhouse without a good set of plans.

    "On the fly design" can be a disaster and adds huge cost overruns and delays to a project. Money spent on an excellent set of plans is worth double the cost when it's time to build. Spend your money on the best architect you can find. If you need help finding an architect, just ask. We've worked with some of the best. Look for a style you like and get to know the architect. Visit some of the architects' previous projects. Make sure your personalities click and that you feel comfortable handing off ALL design decisions to the architect. Don't try to second guess the design. The architects are the design pros and they need the design freedom to accomplish the task at hand.

    Spend as much time as necessary to hammer out ALL of the details associated with the design. The more information the builder has when the plans are received, the more accurate the estimates and time frames.

    With an excellent set of plans, everything is clearly specified. This includes a detailed site plan, an engineered framing plan, an engineered mechanical and electrical plan, detailed floor plans, exterior elevations, interior elevations, a detailed window and door schedule, interior and exterior trim profiles and all selections (type of flooring, tile, appliances, etc.)

    No matter how detailed the plan, changes and issues are going to come up. That's inevitable. However, a great set of plans keeps the issues to a minimum.

  2. Be truthful (with yourself) about your budget and resources

    Make sure you understand the costs and payment schedule associated with the finalized design. All builders are going to require prompt payments (typically monthly) to pay sub-contractors, pay for materials and cover job related expenses.

  3. Keep change orders to a minimum

    What you perceive as a slight change can have a great impact on cost and time frames.

    There is a great movie, Mr Blandings Builds his Dream House, starring Cary Grant that includes a priceless scene on the cost of change orders. Watch this movie!

  4. Unscheduled site visits kill production

    Scheduled site meetings with the homeowner, architect, engineers and designers are fine. However don't just drop in during working hours to see how things are going. I've seen complete crews come to a standstill because of a design question posed by a curious homeowner looking at half finished work.

    I know of one high end builder that will not allow any unscheduled visitors on the job site. This includes the owner.

  5. Be a constructive and positive team player

    These projects are long term (often 18 months plus for our typical projects) and it takes a team of talent to bring the finished project to completion. This team typically includes the architect, interior designer, mechanical engineer, structural engineer, civil engineer, landscape architect, project manager, electrician, plumber, framer, finish carpenters and the list goes on. There are a LOT of personalities involved. Clear communication between all parties is essential. All of our projects are managed by a dedicated Project Manager. Communication is handled with the help of a custom web application that allows you to be actively involved, from anywhere in the world, on a daily basis if desired. As with any team, keeping a positive attitude and respecting the opinions of all of the professionals involved is a key element to success. When problems arise, step back and allow the team to solve them. We've probably solved a similar problem before.

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