Twice as Nice

The goal is a unique, one-of-a-kind house that reflects the client’s personality perfectly. It might take the form of suspending an airplane from the ceiling, a scholarly looking library or expansive outdoor space. Customization is the name of the game and Rockville, Md.-based Visnic Homes plays it well. So well, in fact, that the company was named NAHB’s 2011 Custom Home Builder of the Year.

Two-time winner Visnic Homes first received the honor of Custom Home Builder of the Year in 1995. The award is sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based Propane Education and Research Council ( Receiving it again in 2012 was exciting. Several months into the company’s reign, Ted Visnic, chairman and chief executive officer of Visnic Homes, describes himself as elated. “It is quite an honor,” he says.

Visnic, however, is quick to pass the credit to his staff. “I have such an incredibly dedicated staff,” he says. “They’re the ones who really had so much to do with this. They should feel individual pride.”

Paul Lobien, vice president and chief operating officer of Visnic Homes, has been involved with Visnic Homes since it was founded in 1990. “We were very pleasantly surprised,” he says. “It was a big breakthrough for us in 1995 to win the award. To receive it again is great for our current team and a terrific affirmation of our dedication to building great houses.”

The design/build Process

Visnic adopts a design/build approach in which he works collaboratively with the architect throughout the entire process. “I know of situations where architects design and then hand off for bids,” he says. “If a bid is that much more important than execution, it’s probably not a good situation for us because if you want to have good people and good subcontractors you’re going to want to pay a little bit more. I consider just about everything design-build. Working together is a wonderful thing so we can put together the best home we can for a family.” Although Visnic Homes does not have in-house architects, Visnic says there are some architects he has worked with for 23 years while there are still times he meets new architects. “We have worked with probably 10 or 15 of the best architects in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C., region,” he says.

Lobien explains the careful communication dynamic between clients and builders to achieve the maximum result. “We listen carefully to what our clients’ objectives are and how we might be able to serve them in the custom process,” he says. “Some already have a design in mind. We help support that design and develop that into something special. If they’re just getting started and have only some basic thoughts, we go in another direction and help them develop some initial schematic plans and bring their inclinations to life.”

Sometimes clients already have their lots picked out while other times Visnic Homes assists in the process of finding the right location. “I think our greatest challenge is finding just the right place for our clients to build their house,” Lobien says. “It first starts with what’s most important to our client. For some, it’s finding the right school district. For others, it has to do with a commute and with realistic parameters about how they want to live. For example, do they want a large, private lot or a smaller lot in town? It’s about helping them find the right balance between their lifestyle and location priorities. Sometimes those things don’t add up very well and we have to help them understand what’s available. Of course, budget is also a consideration. We have to help them make all of those things balance.”

Visnic Homes views a home as a unique art form, which it achieves through making each house a reflection of the client’s personality. “The homes are as different as the clients are,” Lobien says. “Each one of them has an opportunity to bring their particular style or put their fingerprint on the houses we build.”

Visnic agrees. “They all want their own identity in their home,” he says. “It’s a joy to watch architects give clients the latitude to do that.”

Relationships and Projects

Part of being a good builder involves building good relationships. Visnic enjoys working with people, seeing the home evolve from an idea to a realized structure and continuing those relationships with his clients. “I can look back on homes that have been around for 22 years and can remember the experience of meeting for the first time to talk about building, and then the relationships that are established as a result of that,” he recalls. “It is a very relationship-oriented field. Not everyone is into dealing with people. Some people who love to build just can’t handle all the personalities, but I really like it.”

Lobien also enjoys working with varying personalities. “There’s never a dull moment,” he says. “It’s a constantly creative process and we are always adapting to one-of-a-kind situations. The creativity and wide range of people we get to bring together and work with in order to build is great.”

There is no shortage of unique situations and houses in the custom home market. Lobien and Visnic recall working on a 25,000-sq.-ft. all-concrete home, built for the aesthetics and also to combat the harsh winds across the Chesapeake Bay. Lobien also recalls suspending airplanes from ceilings. “How do you forget hanging an airplane in a house and building around that? We’ve actually done that three times,” he says.

Visnic Homes gets much of its business from referrals and repeat clients. The past several years have been difficult in the economic climate, but Visnic and Lobien have found referrals to carry them through. “Doing a good job and having a good reputation creates enough business to get by,” Visnic says. “Each home becomes an opportunity to prove ourselves and an opportunity to have that success communicated.”

In addition to referrals, Visnic Homes also has several repeat clients. “It’s memorable to be able to go back and remodel a house that we had done 10 years before,” Lobien says. “We’ve had several clients where we’ve actually built another house for them. We see their kids grow. It’s almost like being part of the family.”

“I’m a real humble sort of guy so awards are nice and all, but what we’re really working toward is the satisfaction of the clients and doing things right,” Visnic reflects. “I just want to continue to do a good job.”