The Cure for Change-Order-itis

Home buyers might seem to have their act together and know what they want when they sign up to have their dream home built. But what they really have is only a vision that is pleasing to dream about. The problem with visions is because they’re in the distance, they’re not in focus.

As home buyers get deeper into their dream home projects, design and product details become much clearer. Upon hearing comments such as “Oh my, that’s not what I thought it was,” or “I don’t want those!” the builder’s ordering and scheduling headaches soon begin.

If a buyer’s vision becomes clearer as the project proceeds, why not sharpen his focus long before construction begins. Give him/her the “big picture” that depicts all construction phases, in chronological order, the way a buyer’s mind wants to see things.

Because people today are busy professionals, who are accustomed to sound bites on television, attention spans for reading are short. So try checklists that are organized and concise. These allow eyes to jump around to what interests them. In the comfort of a home buyer’s own surroundings, he can study and discuss large and small details. This is a double-edged sword because the complexity can feel overwhelming. But having it all concisely presented, in order, gives him a sense on paper that he can actually enjoy taking this journey in a manageable way.

Another motivator to get home buyers to think through details in advance is an example of how one decision can affect others. Adding a traditional skylight in the master bath may create the need to add or eliminate another window. In addition, because a skylight can increase solar gain and conditioned-air loss, the number of supply vents may need to be changed. A home buyer might not see this connection unless someone explains it to them in terms they can understand.

Home buyers are grateful when builders carefully go through their contract, before they sign, making sure they understand each policy. It’s a shame that buyers sometimes lose trust in their builders because they think the builder is gouging them with a mystery charge. It should help builders immensely to remember that every detail agreed to before signing sets a realistic expectation for the duration of the project. Every detail discovered after contract signing will be an unwelcome surprise and potentially create resentment.

Short and sweet
Has your relationship with buyers ever felt similar to a marriage? There’s a first date, a courtship, a marriage contract, a honeymoon, and then life sets in. For those of us who have experienced the real thing, what makes the “life” part successful is effective, persistent communication. It is important to get from “I’m right, you’re wrong” to “I see why you’re concerned, but we also have to solve the problem that this idea creates for me. Would it work for you to do this or that?”

Another analogy is buying a car. In this process, we either ask for a test drive, or study brochures. The more we study, the more we discover features we didn’t know to look for or avoid. By the time we make our decision, we understand what features we want, and which cars deliver the right package for the right price.

What happens when home buyers enter a design showroom? Simply having beautiful products on display is not good enough. It feels like uphill work to find out what buyers need to know about each product. How are they to choose a dishwasher? Unfortunately, most consumers and many design center staff members don’t know. In addition to the obvious criteria of brand and sound level, it is important to look at how each model’s rack configuration accommodates the dishes that will be washed daily. If a family has 12 cereal bowls to wash each day, it makes sense to avoid models that don’t accommodate the family’s needs, and focus on those that do.

Every product should have its features and benefits clearly labeled, so buyers don’t have to ask for them. Many buyers would spend more — much more — on higher quality products if they knew the benefits that each provided.

Reading an electrical plan can be tedious, but the pain of having receptacles in inconvenient locations, or completely missing, when the “unplanned-for” plugs will end up connected to an unsightly power strip, will last much longer.

Buyers are motivated to walk through each room and do their electrical needs inventory, which should include phone, cable, network and A/V outlets, when they understand that wiring is relatively cheap and easy to install before wallboard is up, and so difficult and expensive to install after the fact. Examining each blueprint with this level of care can cause the number of change-order requests to shrink dramatically, which benefits everyone.