Yeah, yeah, I know.
The answer to the question posed in the title of this post — or at least the first half of it — seams pretty obvious. It’s sort of like asking if the Pope is Catholic, if the Kennedy’s are gun shy, or if bears poop in the woods. Before you click away, consider this: have you ever actually seen a bear poop in the woods?
I rest my case.
Most people I know are smart enough to land on the notion that new home construction is the process of building a house, literally from the ground up. What they may not realize is everything that is involved: the short list includes lot/land preparation, excavation, pouring a foundation, framing, roofing, window and door installation, plumbing, HVAC … honestly, the list is longer than the line for t-shirts at a 70’s Kiss concert. Add to that the time it takes to plan, engineer, and permit a new house and some might consider it a process that will never end.
Production vs custom.
When you drive down the street and notice that the old Peterson barn has been torn down and the strawberry fields are now covered with hundreds of homes, chances are you’re looking at the work of a production builder.
Large national companies, like Lennar and DR Horton — along with a few smaller local outfits — specialize in constructing neighborhoods out of moderate land parcels. They buy several acres at a time; bring power, water, and sewer services to the lots they develop; and build the same three or four house plans over and over again. In this way, the plans and engineering are simply being replicated and the permitting process is streamlined. They are able to repeat the process many times in communities all over the country — which helps them tie up a lot of labor, finish projects quickly, and keep costs down as low as possible — costs that they come to know, right down to the penny. It’s a good business strategy for publicly-held companies with serious financial backing, and one that appeals to a number of prospective buyers who like new stuff, want to be in by Christmas, and don’t mind seeing their house plan repeated three or four times on the way to the mailbox.
By contrast, custom builders like Fazzolari earn their business by working with architects, designers, and owners to create homes that have never been built before — anywhere. From initial conception to final inspection, our homes are completely unique and built to meet the needs of discerning clients.
As we like to say, every project we take on is a prototype. As such, we don’t really know exactly how long the project will take to complete, or exactly how much it will cost. Trust me, we’d like to, but unlike the other guys we don’t spit these things out like Tic Tacs that have lost their sweet candy shell. Creating a quality, new home takes time, patience, and the collaboration of a great many people. In the end, this is the bentwood coatrack inside the front door that we hang our hats on.
Speculation vs client-financed projects.
Each time the large nationals turn Ma and Pa Peterson’s farm into a neighborhood in the way described above, they are rattling the dice in the bottom of a yellow plastic cup and hoping they roll Yahtzee! Throughout 2018-19, it’s been all sixes for them as they’ve bet — or speculated — correctly that their homes would sell.
There is nothing preventing small builders from gambling on spec homes. In fact, many of us did just that in the early 2000s only to suffer the effects of the housing market crash in 2008. Fortunately for us, our company survived while others were not so lucky. It was an invaluable learning experience.
My dad likes to say good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from poor judgment. In the years since 2008, we arrived at the conclusion that we are no good to our clients unless we are still in business when they get the keys to their new home. For that reason, our business model is primarily focused on client-financed projects. It’s one thing to build unique, quality custom homes. It’s another to still be in business to ensure that your client’s new home is all they dreamed it would be.
A fit for new construction.
The idea of moving into a new home is one that many people find attractive. Being the first to warm your buns on the porcelain thrown in the master bathroom certainly has some appeal but it’s not for everyone.
For starters, whether you choose a production home on the old Peterson farm or a custom-built castle looking down on Whoville, you must deal with the chore of moving. For some, that’s a deal-killer — they’d simply rather stay put and remodel what they have, rather than go to the trouble and expense of moving a lifetime of possessions.
On the other hand, if you think you can survive a move, consider whether you want to move into something that is already — or nearly — built, with material and color choices that are either limited or made for you, or if you’d prefer to build something truly unique over which you have input into every decision that gets made.
If you choose the latter, be prepared for a long ride. Hey, we’re not trying to scare you. In fact, we’d really like your business. We are expert in building for clients who want something more than a production house. We just want you to know that planning, engineering, and permitting take a loooooooong time, and we can’t get close to understanding pricing until every construction detail is explained in the plans and every material selection has been made on every surface of the house. This means you will be faced with an overwhelming number of decisions that you and (maybe) your better half must agree on, a fact that can lead to the most expensive part of a construction project: the divorce.
As Victor Hugo said, great buildings, like great mountains, are the work of centuries.
What, a builder can’t read? Please.