Bus loads of builders toured other builders’ homes in Austin, Texas, during the National Association of Home Builders’ Custom Builder Symposium in late 2008. One of the perennial favorite events, the home tour, sponsored by Lutron, once again was a highlight of the annual gathering of custom home builders.
Builders attend the home tour for reasons ranging from scouting for design ideas to simple curiosity. The style of homes in Austin differs from many builders’ native cities, but for Phil Randolph of Randolph Construction, Deltaville, Va., the ability to see homes in unfinished stages provides a glimpse into building techniques he can apply back home.
“Each builder has idiosyncrasies and we borrow those differences from each other,” Randolph says. For example, the outdoor living areas in Austin tend to be more practical than in Randolph’s neck of the woods. He picked up a few ideas both inside and outside the house. “Even things like the closet and clothing storage setup we picked up. And some features we’ve never incorporated in our houses, like the mirror with the TV behind it. Any time I go to these conferences, I compile my notes and file it so I can look back later to see if there might be some idea I can use.”
Lain Chappell of Solid Rock Custom Homes in Cascade, Colo., always takes at least one or two ideas away from each home tour. “I like to come out of it and see how people are doing things in their area. Some of it I’d like to bring back and apply to get an edge on my competition, to stay ahead of them. For example, in one of the Austin homes, a builder included a built-in Miele coffee maker. I took a picture, showed it to one of my clients who then ordered the same thing for his house,” Chappell says.
The Austin style of home is similar to those designed and built by Jay Brannen, president, Brannen Design & Construction in Fort Collins, Colo. “We were taking photos to take back to clients, show them specific design ideas we liked and we insert them into the selection process with our clients.”
Brannen was particularly impressed with the way ceilings were treated in the homes on the Austin tour. “They did a good job on many of those homes with the way they treated the fifth wall. That’s what I liked the most. I saw some really great stuff with beam work and drywall. Those builders worked hard to treat those ceilings very nicely. I think creative ideas like that are in high demand, and are difference makers when you see that in a custom home, and it’s something that makes it feel like a custom home rather than a semi-custom home.”
The NAHB and tour sponsor Lutron do a good job of organizing and operating the tour, Brannen says. “They do a good job of allowing us to see homes in different market segments. We saw an infill project, an urban area, and then you had a neighborhood with a scrape and redo project, and then a classic new subdivision with that sort of style. Finally, we also saw a far-out remote site. It was a nice variety,” he says.
Lutron Makes it Happen
The home tour would not run smoothly without the hard work of NAHB staff and staff from tour sponsor Lutron. It takes about one year to plan the tour, says Erik Anderson, builder sales manager.
“During the day we are able to interact with the attendees and listen to what they say about the homes they are touring. Items they find interesting at each of the locations provides us an interesting perspective of what is important to focus on during the construction process,” Anderson says.
Eavesdropping on interaction between attendees from various regions is always interesting, he adds. “The Lutron people involved with the tour always pick up great tips about the construction process and the industry. Our goal is that this be a two-way interaction so we can provide helpful guidance on technology solutions available for builders to use in their homes,” he says.