Home Tour Gets Builders Talking

For some builders, the annual home tour is the highlight of the NAHB’s Custom Builder Symposium. The 2007 event in Naples, Fla., was no exception for many attendees who walked through homes in various stages of completion, of differing sizes and built by assorted builders.

Those who attended the home tour — many of whom make it an annual must-do — find it beneficial to see how home builders do things in different parts of the country, as the Symposium moves around the United States each year. “I believe I’ve walked away from each tour with something I can use back home. It’s one of the highlights for me,” says Taco Schmid, project manager, Carlson Homes in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“Every year you see things that catch your eye. This time, it was interesting to see the way they had to treat their construction being in a hurricane area. And the wiring was so much neater than what we do here, with their plastic zip-ties. It’s really not something we would do out here, but it prompts a discussion for how to neaten up the way we do the inside of the home during construction. It shows clients how you can go the extra mile,” Schmid explains.

The Florida builders’ ceiling detail impressed Ted Janka, president, Janka Builders in Pewaukee, Wis. “I saw a lot of multiple-tray ceilings, and it all looked very nice,” he says. “I do a lot of listening on these tours each year, but I try to get involved in discussions, too. I find I have lot of common interests and a lot of unique ideas we can share.”

As someone who has been on many Symposium home tours over the years, Janka has realized the impact of the rich European heritage and craftsmanship in his home state, Wisconsin, which he says is second to none in the country. “When we go on tours, obvious things jump out that we can’t market in our area and that’s the detail in the finish carpentry. We’ve seen a lot of basic work on these tours and almost all of it is painted millwork. You don’t have to be too fussy when using painted millwork. You can’t see how tight those miter joints are. When houses are old, that will show up,” Janka says.

Local Builders Step Up

There would be no home tour if not for the generous local builders who allow strange builders to walk through their jobsites.

One of those builders on the Naples tour was Randy Kurtz, president, Kurtz Homes, also in Naples. Kurtz has been involved in one of the NAHB’s Builder 20 groups for years, so he has seen the value in helping fellow builders by opening their businesses to others.

“It went well. We got a lot of positive feedback. And the guys on the tour said they were very grateful we opened up our house. Knowing I was helping the industry by allowing other builders to see our homes was a nice feeling. And I was able to encourage a lot of builders to join a Builder 20 group,” Kurtz says.

Many of the frequently asked questions from builders on the tour focused on how Kurtz’s business was set up, how he received work, and how he selected jobs. “I, too, am interested in their businesses and I like to ask how they are set up, the management structure and how their supervision works. The interchange of ideas on these tours is valuable,” he says.

Sponsor Support Critical

Providing sponsoring support for the home tour was Lutron Electronics, which manned the buses with tour guides, and placed staff in each home to answer questions about the Lutron products in the homes, or the homes themselves. Eric Anderson, builder sales manager, Lutron, says the conversations between Lutron employees and builders on the tour were the highlights of their involvement. “We heard their thoughts on each of the homes, and what’s important to them, and they were able to ask us what we have to offer. It was a sharing of best practices they can take home and implement,” Anderson says.

An Annual Highlight

Ask those who attended the tour if they would participate in the future, and most likely the answer will be yes. “I strongly encourage it. It’s a great opportunity to go out there and see how other companies do things,” Schmid says. “And you’re not on a competitor’s jobsite with fear of a competitor spotting you. You’re actually invited to walk their jobs because you’re on a tour. The builders who take part in the tour give great presentations of what they do and who they are, and they do it in a friendly environment.”

Janka has been on between 15 and 20 tours in his career, and the Naples event was one of his favorites, he says. “I say that because we saw a finished product, homes that were nearly finished, and those in the early stages of construction; it was very valuable. And I was impressed with the hospitality of builders involved whose homes we toured. That last builder [Kurtz] took the time and expense to shut down that house for a day just to accommodate us. Then he staffed it! He was ready, willing and able to help, which also shows the owner’s trust in the builder. I was really impressed,” Janka says.

Participating Builders