From the entryway to the kitchen, from the great room to the backyard, your new home feels tailor-made for your life. But just think about how it got that way and all the people whose lives — or hands — have already literally or figuratively touched your home in some way, either through a financial investment, creative and analytic input, or physical labor.
To name just a few, there’s the developer, the builder and the architect — plus all their staff — as well as the construction superintendent and project managers and laborers from dozens of trades. Then there’s the sales staff, the marketing departments and, quite often, a design center staffed with professional interior designers.
To shed a little light on the homebuilding process, we asked some of the folks in the field to give us a glimpse of what their job entails and how they go about doing it. We couldn’t talk to everyone involved in the building of a new home, but we’ve covered a number of the main players.
Today, we’ll explore how some of them contribute to the process; in a future issue of NewHomecentral.com, we’ll take a look at some other key players in the homebuilding biz.
A typical home needs walls, windows and water, but what does it need first? Some land upon which to sit, right?
That’s where a developer enters the picture, said Dennis Webb, vice president of operations for Fulton Homes. Besides building homes, this family-owned Arizona homebuilder is also involved in land development, meaning that it acquires and develops the land upon which it builds its homes.
“We buy the raw land, bring in civil engineers to plan the infrastructure and then have the infrastructure put in: the wet utilities, dry utilities, sewer, streets and electrical. We pay much less for the land (this way) than if it were fully developed,” he said.
But development can be tricky. There can be large variations in the cost of acreage — a developer who purchased a parcel 20 years ago, for example, may come out financially far ahead of a developer purchasing at current market prices — but there’s no set formula for knowing when and how much to buy. So it comes down to experience, savvy strategizing and financial wherewithal.
“You don’t want to have too much land out in front of you and you don’t want to have too little,” Webb said.
The other part of land development is entitlement, which refers to the approvals needed for the construction process. All infrastructure, architectural plans and even signage for a proposed housing development must first be approved by the appropriate city or municipality, Webb said, which is usually overseen by both a development review commission and a city or town council. It’s also at this time that the developer can put a piece of land in escrow and do some due diligence in regard to the property.
“We use this time to figure out if the land’s going to get zoned, re-zoned or approved,” Webb said, and as a result, sometimes a sale does not occur. “We’ve had cases where we’ve put land in escrow and figured out it’s not going to make money.”
Chris Haines, Arizona division president of AV Homes, said a builder’s No. 1 responsibility is “to build every home as if we were going to live in that home.” That process compels homebuilders to:
- Be visionary and understand what communities will be in the future
- Develop home designs
- Professionally present the community and plans to prospective residents
- Help prospective residents find the home and community that matches their dreams
- Build beautiful, energy-efficient homes with the latest construction technology
- Facilitate the transaction through close of escrow
- Take care of customers after they move in
For homebuilders like AV Homes that get involved in the development side of things, the process compels them to acquire land in premium locations for residential development and develop land plans.
Haines said quality builders take their responsibility very seriously and regardless of how minor the detail, look at everything pertaining to the construction and delivery of a new home. For example, Haines said AV Homes constantly researches new construction technologies, new products and innovative designs in order to build the best homes possible. As a result, today’s AV homes are more energy-efficient, incorporate higher construction standards and are designed with the latest technologies.
But being a builder calls for more than just construction techniques.
“AV Homes is comprised of educated, experienced and hardworking individuals that love creating beautiful homes and communities that stand the test of time,” Haines said. “We don’t just build homes — we design and build communities. We take responsibility for what the community will mean to future families who live there. To be a builder requires a passion to improve the lives of the people we serve: our employees, customers and stakeholders.”
Before your home was built, it was a set of drawings. But building plans don’t just happen; they come from the mind, heart and hands of someone like Steven Berry, senior vice president of architecture and design for Robson Communities, Inc.
Berry’s portfolio includes everything from single-family residences to multi-million dollar villas in Abu Dhabi. He leads the design process for new-home designs at Robson and is responsible for thoughtful touches such as walk-in linen and guest closets, front porches and kitchens with walk-in pantries and additional workspace.
“Our goal is to create home designs that are economical to build but fresh when it comes to the floorplan and elevations,” Berry said, noting he’s inspired by customer input, the housing market, his travels, the competition and on occasion, trends. “But you need to be careful of trends; you need to look for lasting value,” he added.
In the early stages of designing a home, Berry hand-draws his plans because they’re easier to work with than “a hard, technical drawing that’s just come out of the computer.” He never knows if a design will be popular, but there are ways that winning designs make themselves known. Sometimes, he’ll get a compliment directly from a homebuyer; other times, a floorplan will be purchased before it’s even been built as a model. And then there’s national recognition. The Altura model he designed for Robson Ranch in the Casa Grande area won an award at the Best of 50+ Housing Awards this past January.
“It’s a tribute to the whole team: from Mr. Robson, our executive leaders and their respective teams from construction, sales and marketing to our interior designers who merchandise the models,” Berry said. “Everybody contributes to the process.”