The other day I was reading an article by a builder lamenting about his homeowner who refused to play by the rules stated in the building contract. It was obvious from the tone of the piece that the homeowner was “one of those clients” — we all have seen them before. But what if we could ensure the homeowner would play by the rules and be part of our system and team instead of an adversary? Maybe the homeowner was not following the rules because the rules were never clearly defined.
Looking back on that problem client, what could have been done better? As a professional home builder we know what it takes to successfully build a home, but why do we assume the homeowner understands the same? They are not builders. Homes are not their business. That’s why they hired you.
Most builders have clear procedures spelled out in their building contracts. They have probably added paragraphs and addenda over time to address specific problems that have arisen over time. But once that contract is signed, how many homeowners (or builders for that matter) have a copy of it available for quick reference? The contract usually is filed away and rarely referred to once the ink is dry. Under the best of circumstances, “quick reference” can be an oxymoron because the contract is written in the language of legalese.
So what is the solution? As experienced professionals we owe it to our clients to define the actual process we follow to collect information about the home and execute a finished product. Our obligation is to pull the thoughts and dreams of our clients out of their heads and help them articulate their hopes for the finished project. It is up to us to make sure the process is clear and easy for the homeowner to follow.
Yes, the building contract defines the rules of the legal relationship, but homeowners must have a clear, written checklist to back it up. We should explain their responsibilities. It’s what good communication is all about.
Clients are loo
ing for guidance and direction; we fail the homeowner if we have not defined a clear road map to success. Many builders don’t have a road map. Many builders don’t have a process. If you think you have a process, ask yourself if it is clearly defined and written down. If it’s not, then you don’t truly have a process.
Building the Process
Step one is to write it down. It is not enough to give the homeowner a schedule for making selections. Before you do this, answer these questions: How do clients make those decisions? Who does the homeowner talk to? Where do they shop? Who is the contact at that vendor? Which employee on our staff is responsible for assuring a complete decision is made? What constitutes a complete decision? What other decisions have to be coordinated with that initial selection?
At the end of the day, your process road map — or lack thereof — will define your success as a custom builder.
A homeowner’s guide or homeowner’s manual given at the beginning of the project is an easy first step to creating a black-and-white process for the client to follow. Explain what happens during the entire construction cycle. Explain when decisions have to be made. Explain why the decisions need to be made at that time. Explain what constitutes a complete decision. Explain what the builder does with the decision and how your team executes that decision.
Explain it all. Make the homeowner part of the system and part of your team.
Once the process is defined and written down, give it to your client in a simple narrative or checklist format. Assign a specific individual on your staff to ensure the homeowner adheres to the process and understands the system. Hold the homeowner’s hand if necessary; provide professional guidance and an understanding shoulder to lean on but always make sure the process is followed. This is your responsibility as the leader of your company.
At the end of the day, your process road map — or lack thereof — will define your success as a custom builder. An additional benefit is the ability to show the process to potential clients, and the chance to use the process as a sales tool. Ultimately you will sell your process instead of your product and you will attract clients who understand the importance of the rules and structure, and they’ll be more likely to follow them.
Here is an example of how to document the product selection and purchasing process.