NAHB Remodeler of the Month

Jeremy Farber, CGR, CGP, CAPS

Maplewood Building Co., Durham, N.C.

Maplewoodbuilding.com

Title: Owner

Year Founded: 1996

Number of Employees: 1

 

Who started your company? I started the company with a good friend who owns a successful hardwood flooring business. Our first project was a beautiful spec house that lost money because we overbuilt what the market would pay for. After that, we decided to use other people’s money, so we went into remodeling. My partner got very busy with the new homes during a housing boom and did not care much for dealing with homeowners, so I bought him out after about two years.

When and how did you choose this career? When I was about 14, my family spent the summer building a rather simple cabin on a quiet river in Ontario. It was remote and off the electrical grid. Not owning many power tools and not wanting the noise and smell of a generator, we built the entire cabin with hand tools. While in college, I enjoyed the various summer jobs I had in construction, including flipping an old row house with my father in my hometown of Lancaster, Pa. Construction was fun work, but more importantly, I loved being my own boss. I was planning to make a career out of construction after I completed college. Unfortunately, I graduated in 1981, just in time for a recession with huge (21 percent) interest rates that pretty much meant I would not be able to make much of a living in construction.

How has the remodeling profession changed since you’ve been involved? I think it has gained more respect in the community. With the increasing interest and necessity of sustainability, the public is understanding that remodelers are the true green builders. We recycle houses. There are more remodeling contractors, who, like myself, are not particularly skilled at the trades. We know how to develop and manage projects, and can add a lot of value to the process of recycling, upgrading and adapting homes for our clients. Remodeling has gotten more complicated and demanding as the understanding of building science progresses, new products come and go, and people’s access to information and misinformation has increased. Running a remodeling company requires more professionalism than it has in the past.

What is your favorite item in your office? That’s easy. Because my office is in my home, I keep a dog bed next to the desk. We have two sweet, yellow Labradors and at least one of them is sleeping in here when I do office work.

What is the best advice you’ve received in your career? As remodeling contractors, we need to mark up our costs a lot more than we may think the market will bear. Unlike new home builders who offer a product, remodeling is the service of delivering a customized construction project, which is what frees us from competing on price. If we try to be price-competitive, we will drive ourselves out of business. It takes a leap of faith to ask more. Take the leap. There is no point in delivering a beautiful project to someone and losing money in the process.

What does being part of NAHB mean to you? To say that remodeling is a tricky business is an understatement. By providing a forum where remodelers can learn from each other and from outside experts, the NAHB helped me to survive my first few years in this business and every step along the way. It is important for a profession like ours to unite and work together for our common interests. NAHB Remodelers provides the framework for this. We also need to be aware that there are issues where remodelers’ interests oppose those of new home builders and vice versa. Our HBA has been increasing its focus on the issues that remodelers have in common with new home builders. Remodelers have worked hard to earn the same stature as new home builders. It has been quite satisfying to watch that happen.

What motivates you every day? I am humbled that my clients trust me with their homes and large amounts of money. Disappointing them would be unbearable. On the other side of the coin, it is quite satisfying to steer business to my suppliers, subcontractors and architects. Because I only do about a half million in business a year, I know that I’m not a huge part of anyone’s livelihood, yet I find that I get treated well by treating others well.

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