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You can’t see Quality – Warning I might offend you

Posted On: December 2, 2011 | Posted In:

I have model homes for people to walk through and people always say the same thing.  “I want to walk through your model to get a feel for the Quality of your houses”.  You’re an idiot and you just told me so  (see I warned you). I went to one sales seminar when I got into System Built housing because we have a retail location and weather I like it or not there is a sales element to it.  Lesson 1- Identify the buyers buy decision and sell to it…. The biggest builders around the country all learned a long time ago that to “sell” to people you need to build to what they buy.  Why? Because people are idiots…..(see I did it again) People BUY finishes so that is all you need to be concerned about, the rest of the house you can cut a lot of corners on. In no other industry is this as possible as it is home building. If Mercedes cars were really poorly built with lots of fancy stuff on them the public would know this.  Because they are an international brand and the buying public has resources to find this information out.  Sadly these resources don’t exist for home builders. So to make money in this industry the best path is to put a lot of high end finishes (Quality) into an inexpensive house and sell it for a lot of money. I visited a number of very high end houses this past weekend in a regional parade of homes where builders opened up houses they had built for the public to walk through.  All of them were very expensive homes with lots of beautiful features.  Most of them were exceptionally well built.  A few were gorgeous and junk. Picture a 4 bathroom house with all the cosmetic upgrades you could dream about and enough hot water to take two showers before waiting for the tank to recharge.  You could see daylight in areas you would never want to (around the fire box) and not in areas where you need to (the soffits were stuffed full of insulation, yes that roof will leak this winter but they will have some awesome looking icicles for the holidays).

The point is quality is behind the walls, under the floor, up in the attic and somewhere under the foundation, it is not in the quality of kitchen faucet and the amazing appliance package. Buyers need to dig deeper.  The secret is to talk to older customers of a builder, someone who has lived in one of their houses for 3 or more years  Most workmanship (quality) flaws do not expose themselves until long after the warranty has expired.  On the front side learn to ask the right questions. I thre together a list.  Not all of them apply to all houses but it is a good way to show your builder your smarter then their average buyer and the way the answer them will help you get a sense as to what is important to them as a builder. If they have no idea what you are talking about or how to answer your questions….move on.

  • What is the process you use to design a septic system?……the answer should involve and engineer
  • What is the compaction rate you look for under the foundation? ……..it should be 95% or build only on virgin ground
  • What slump do you pour your concrete walls at? ………the answer should be under 7 but slump testing is not critical just as long as the contractor is not pouring soup into the forms because it is easier
  • How do you adjust for low spots in the top of your foundation walls?……… no one gets concrete to pour perfectly level, some shimming of sill plates is required to make it perfect followed by no-shrink Grout to fill in
  • How do you Seal your windows? ……..Ideally the answer is foam but fiberglass works as long as the guy doing it does it with some care.
  • What is your typical air changes per 24 hours on your houses?……The code is 7 Max and energy star is 4 but most builders will have no idea
  • How do you seal ledger boards against the house for decks?…….copper flashing or Grace paper both work
  • How do you assure no ice back up on the roof?……. the key is ventilate ventilate.
  • How much Ice guard do you put on the eave of the house?…… the code is enough to hit a line drawn vertical 24″ in from the inside of the outside wall

I could go on forever but there is little point. Chances are you will know after 3 questions if this is the right builder.  It is important to note that doing these things right does not add more cost to the house.  You can build a really inexpensive house and meet all of these criteria, and the code requires most of them, however, you cannot count on code enforcement to see these thing. This is just a matter of the mindset of the builder.

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