Why Do Home Builders Live in the Nicest Homes?

Have you ever visited a really nice neighborhood and admired the community landscaping, the upscale architecture and the beautifully tree lined streets. Then suddenly, a home appears on the horizon that seems to tower over all others, has special appointments and details and looks like it was built to a higher standard? That well built home with all the upgrades is typically owned and inhabited by a home builder. Why is that?

Besides the local funeral home or the “old-home-renovated-for-a-law-firm”, the nicest house in the neighborhood is usually the residence of a local home builder. The fact that the home is grander than any of those around him or any of the homes he ever built is not lost on the builder or the community. In fact, builders typically use their homes as a sample to show-off their skill and craftsmanship. Too bad the actual product is far from what is advertised. Even real estate agents admit that home builders’ homes are better than those subpar versions reserved for you and me. How many times do you see a property listing that boasts “builder residence”. Why should that matter? Should I only fly in airplanes that are built by pilots or sail in boats designed by fishermen? Maybe!

The reason that home builder houses are better than yours or mine is not that they put extra care into their own homes. On the contrary, it is because they don’t put proper care into the homes they build for you and me. Yes, home builders are probably the best skimpers, scrapers and penny pinchers on the face of the earth. If they can a build a home with nails that cost a 1/100th of cent less, they will. No matter that the nails are flimsy, will probably rust and rot the wood studs from a galvanic reaction. Who will know? You probably won’t. At least not until another year or two after the warranty and the home builders responsibility has expired.

If we are honest, can any of us be sure that every wall cavity in our home is filled with insulation? Do we know if every stud is 16″ on center? Are we sure that the floor sheathing is attached to every joist? And what about all that extra material required during construction? Shouldn’t a builder know how much material is needed to build a home? The amount of waste generated at a home building site is staggering. And when one home site wastes too much, builders typically get “extra” materials from another project down the street. That “other” project could be your new home.   

Ask a builder about the cheapening of their product and they will tell you it is to save the homeowner money. That is a hard pill to swallow as historic material cost fluctuations never really seem to make it down to the homeowner. The material that makes up most American homes is wood. Wood prices have gone from a historic highs to historic lows over the past decade yet home construction costs (based on cost per square foot, not overall home prices) continues a steady, rapid rise. Where is that extra money going?

Yes, there are some very good home builders on the market. Just like there are some good used car salesmen and Ginsu knives. But to quote a famous philosopher from the 1960’s, “times they are a changing, my friend.” Builders aren’t building “spec” homes any more, many builder residences are up for sale and people who can build a new home are in total control. Quite a change from just a few years ago. 

Someday the economy will improve and this new age home buyer will rise from the ashes of this current downturn. A new home buyer that has more control over the building process and will dictate how they want their home built, how much it will cost and when it will done. This buyer will demand the latest in energy saving construction, the best construction practices and possess a set of construction documents that details every facet of the building process while monitoring material usage, managing labor efforts and scheduling just-in-time deliveries. This reenergized home buyer will demand that the builder follow their home plans in every detail and produce the home they have dreamed of and saved up for years. Because let’s face it, we all want to live in the nicest house on the block, too.