If you’re unorganized, you shouldn’t be in the home building business, says David Lesser, owner, Windstar Homes in Tampa, Fla. That’s why Lesser created a customized software program he calls Polaris, to integrate and organize the design/build process like no one has ever done.
Polaris is Windstar’s project management system that integrates every facet of the business. To create it, Lesser bought a UDA builder software program, stripped it down and kept the shell, he explains. The UDA software makes up about 10 percent of Polaris. “I’ve never seen anybody generate specs and budgets as quickly as we can, and as accurately. Every person we’ve shown the system to couldn’t believe it,” Lesser says.
Polaris connects to Windstar’s accounting and estimating processes, so a cash flow analysis is generated with any schedule adjustment. The system has streamlined paper flow using PDF files. All CAD files are bucketed in a place that anyone in the company can get to, any time, he says. “You can build quickly and with quality only when you have the right information to work with.”
Lesser is driven to improve Windstar, a philosophy he shares with Bobby Gross, Windstar’s co-owner. “We, more than other builders who are out fishing, playing tennis or golfing on weekends, are always making our company better,” Lesser says.
Part of that improvement is reflected in record profits, thanks in part to protecting margins through contract management. “Before the market went nuts, the fixed-cost contract was great. You didn’t share any budgets with clients. But then the market goes crazy, and we’ve seen material price increases and shortages that are mind-boggling,” Lesser says.
By utilizing unit pricing for commodity items, Windstar has maintained its profits while sticking to a mostly fixed-cost contract. “Starting with framing through drywall and interior trim stages, you have to protect yourself. We give clients the drywall board price, or the yard price for concrete, and provide robust and generous allowances to cover major price increases,” Lesser explains.
“We protect ourselves with the way we use allowances,” Gross says. “It all ties in with setting proper expectations. Clients like to say, ‘I didn’t know what that allowance would get me.’ But because we’re a design/build firm, and we control everything down to the interiors, it allows us to educate our clients on the front end as to what the allowances will get them. It takes longer but it puts their minds at ease.”
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