Setting Great Expectations

Set the expectation level high and people will rise to it. This is what happens at On The Level Inc. in Chaska, Minn., which expects customers to complete their selection process before the design stage is finished. The builder expects it, and the homeowners do it, says Chris Thompson, president.

“Sometimes it seems like a dream come true, because it’s definitely difficult to achieve,” Thompson says. “We decided it would be worthwhile to set this goal. We anticipated it would be difficult to sell because homeowners would have to put more money up front. But we sold it by telling them there’d be fewer surprises during construction if they put up the money early. But that’s difficult too because one person thinks spending $100,000 on appliances is significant, and others think $20,000 is a lot, so it’s hard to set allowance levels.”

Selections aren’t always 100 percent complete when construction begins, he says. Exceptions typically include landscape designs. But for the most part, selection has been completed.

There has been no resistance to this selection policy, Thompson says. The staff has embraced it. “The staff never doubted it, but knew it would be time-consuming. It has made our estimates more accurate, and benefits us because there are fewer change orders, which makes for a happier client. It’s actually a selling point with our clients.”

Another expectation of On The Level staff, its subcontractors and vendors, is to work with its online project management tool. Online project management is not new, but it is new to On The Level, and plays a role in making the builder a local leader.

“When we first heard about the online management tool, we were in the process of redeveloping our daily logs. For liability reasons, it’s important to log who was on a site, when, what they did, and include as much information as possible. If my guy doesn’t show up we log why.”

On The Level’s vendors love the online tool, and use it regularly, Thompson says. Of all its vendors, only two were a little resistant as they were not computer savvy. Once shown the ropes, they were fine. “As an owner, I think of liability. Keeping accurate records in one place in case you need something a year or two down the road, is important. It has streamlined our processes.”