Custom-Home Builders: Nip Client Misconceptions in the Bud

Homebuilders can create stronger relationships with their homebuyers by dispelling misconceptions early on and clearly spelling out what they should and should not expect.

May 01, 2008

Creating realistic expectations before construction begins and reinforcing them during and after the build helps ensure a positive customer experience and should be part of every builder's philosophy. Because clients come to us with so many misconceptions about custom building and, to a degree, distrust of our profession, we must work hard to make sure they understand what we will and won't — or can't — provide.

Some of the unrealistic expectations that clients bring to the table include:

  • The process will be smooth and fun.
  • All of their dreams will be fulfilled.
  • They won't make any changes.
  • They can save money by doing some of the work on their own.
  • They can avoid two moves by timing the sale of their current home to the completion of the new one.

Custom builders know these are fantasies and can lead to real problems, yet they are reluctant to dispel them. Carefully crafted responses will go a long way toward the beginning of a successful partnership with the customer.

Additional issues must be clarified and reinforced before and during the construction process. Explain, gently but firmly, that:

  • They must be willing to pay for what they want. You and the others involved in the construction process are in business to make a fair return on the work and value that you bring to the table.
  • Selections and decisions must be made on a timely basis to keep the project on schedule. Delays will cost not just time but money as well.
  • You're in charge of the project, and although the customer is the ultimate "boss," the execution of the work is your responsibility. They are not allowed to supervise or direct subs and suppliers.
  • Change orders during construction cost time and money. Make a concerted effort to have the project well-defined before starting construction.
  • Allowance overruns are common no matter what the amount of the allowance.
  • Construction delays are normal and factored into the schedule. This means that sometimes nothing will happen on their particular job on a given day.
  • Unless customers are willing to pay for a full-time, on-site construction supervisor, you or your staff will not be on their job all day, every day.
  • Problems during construction are inevitable. You, along with the vendors, trade contractors and customer, will work through the issues as they arise. It's also important to stress that while we strive for perfection, it simply isn't possible in any construction project.

The final piece of a good customer service program is warranty work. Three warranty nightmares need to be headed off at the pass:

  • "I want to do some of the work myself." Avoid this at all costs. Explain that they won't save money and you can't be responsible for problems their work could cause.
  • "I want to buy materials or products and have your subs install them." Just say no.
  • "I know a plumber (electrician, framer, etc.) and I would like them to bid on or to do the job." Unless you have a relationship with that trade contractor, explain that a construction project requires practice, respect and experience working together.

Making sure that the warranty process is well-defined in the warranty manual and reinforcing your company's policies during the warranty period will help increase customer satisfaction. But the most important thing a custom builder can do is to finish the home and finish it right before the customer moves in.

Tom Stephani,

Author Information
Tom Stephani, MIRM, GMB, MCSP and CAPS, is a nationally recognized speaker and trainer who specializes in custom homes; infill housing; light commercial projects; and developing commercial and residential land. You can reach him at [email protected].

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