Bond Publishing ‘How to Be Constructive’

Feature Article for 1997 Piedmont Triad Newcomer

How To Be Constructive

If you’re new to the Piedmont Triad and can spare the six to eight months typically needed for construction, you can team up with one of the area’s many qualified builders to create a brand new home of your own.

It’s possible to approach home-building from several directions. Some customers begin by contracting with a real estate agent to represent them as new home buyers. Others start with a call to a developer or a visit to the sales offices in subdivisions they like. Still others get started by choosing the builder and allowing him or her to lead them through the home-building process.

Starting With a Buyer’s Agent

Not long ago, real estate agents represented only sellers of property, even when their primary contact was with the prospective buyer. Now, buyers can contract with real estate agents to represent their interests.

“Probably more than three-quarters of buyers in the market right now have buyers’ agency contracts,” said Diane Thompson, broker/partner with Cornerstone Properties, a Greensboro-based real estate company with a new homes division.

As a newcomer unfamiliar with the local housing market, starting with your own real estate agent can provide some important benefits. “A good agent knows the entire market and, when representing a buyer, can point out both the good and the bad related to a particular location,” Thompson explained. “They can also advise the buyer about plans and elevations they’re considering for their new home in terms of potential resale. A good agent can help the buyer make informed decisions and a sound investment.”

Starting With the Community

If you’ve already identified one or more subdivisions you like and have not contracted with a real estate agent, you may choose to initiate the home-building process through the developer.

“If you’re interested in a particular neighborhood and you don’t already have an agent, I think it can give you a big advantage to start with the developer,” said Vickie Rosenthal, office manager of Sessoms Development Inc., a developer and builder. “As the developer, we know each lot. We know all the covenants. We know exactly what you’re going to get.”

“With or without a buyer’s agent, it’s a good idea to come to the developer’s sales office,” said Martha Austin, real estate broker for Weaver Residential Sales. “We can tell you all about the neighborhood and what’s going on around us and what’s to come in terms of planned future development. Because we know the area and we’ve done our research, we can help you avoid unpleasant surprises.”

“The developer can also help you find a builder,” added Patricia Dowdy, broker for Weaver Residential Sales at Stoney Creek. “Once you’ve determined this is the place you want to be, you can look around the neighborhood and, if you see particular houses or floor plans you like, we can put you in touch with the builders.”

“A good developer will screen builders and make sure the quality is there in terms of the finished product and service,” Austin continued. “By starting with the developer, you can be assured that whomever you pick from our builder team is a qualified builder. After that, it’s just a matter of personality—which builder you feel you can work best with.”

Starting With the Builder

Many new home-buyers begin the home-building process by selecting a premier custom builder in the Triad, according to David Schenck, vice-president of Wolfe Construction. “Bring the builder in early on and establish a relationship,” he advised.

In creating your short list of builders to consider, it is helpful to match the builder to your price range, the degree of customization you want, and the neighborhood you choose. Fortunately, the Piedmont Triad has qualified builders in all categories.

“We’re a production builder, not a custom builder—although we have 27 different homes to choose from and an options list that’s four pages long,” said Jim Eskridge, vice president of sales and marketing for Arappco Homes, Guilford County’s largest builder. Arappco closed on 214 homes in 1995 and anticipates selling 219 homes in 1996 at an average of $120,000. “Building more than 200 houses a year affords us the opportunity to build at a very economical price,” Eskridge said.

“We suggest people start with a visit to one of our seven different sales models,” said Gary Hill, vice president of sales and marketing for Westminster Homes, Guilford County’s second-largest builder. According to Hill, Westminster closed on 196 homes in 1995 and expects to close on 234 in 1996 at an average price of $135,000.

“Using our computers,” said Hill, “we can pinpoint the price range home-buyers can probably be approved for and give them some idea of what they can afford based on their current financial situation. Then we can direct them into the neighborhoods that fit their price range.”

If you’re interested in finding a qualified custom builder, start by asking for recommendations from satisfied homeowners. “Ask everybody you know, talk to a couple of builders they recommend and ask each builder for references,” suggested Schenck. “Then choose the one you’re most comfortable with in terms of the quality of building and how he or she works with people.”

Once you’ve identified two or three builders and have a good idea of the type of house you want, you may be inclined to make your final builder choice based on price. Most custom builders advise against that approach.

“Most people’s natural instinct is to get several builders to give them a price,” said Kerry Avant, president of Avtex Properties. “But it’s almost impossible to get truly comparable bids.”

Trust is most important. “You’ve got to trust your builder,” said Schenck. “If you don’t, you can count on a miserable time.”

Plan on Planning

According to the conventional, albeit exaggerated, wisdom, building a home always takes twice as long and costs twice as much as originally anticipated. Bad weather, labor shortages and change orders can cause delays and increase costs, but even though you can’t control the weather or the area labor force, you can minimize costly, time-consuming changes through good pre-construction planning.

“Because of the exhaustive planning we do, we average three or four change orders on a typical project, and they tend to be elective,” said Schenck. “We spend several months planning the construction process and having the customer pick out all their materials, cabinetry and fixtures—right down the line.” Schenck’s advice: “Put in two or three times the energy you thought was going to go into the planning stage.”

The Home-Building Experience

As your home is being built, visit the site from one to three times weekly, depending on the stage of construction. During your visits, Schenck recommends you voice any concerns immediately. “The builder may be putting in exactly what’s specified, but it may not be exactly what you expected,” he said. “If you have any concerns, or you want to know why something’s being done a certain way, speak up.”

Your first “official” visit will probably take place before grading begins, when most builders meet with their customers at the building site to discuss how the lot will be cleared, and how the home will be situated on the property. “Before we clear the home site, we like to show the buyer where the house is going to be placed,” said Hill. “We also talk about trees that can be saved and trees that will be cut.”

Once construction begins, the average builder building the average house needs about six weeks to complete framing and to have electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems roughed in. “Many of our subcontractors have been with us since the company started,” said Everett “Sonny” Jarrett, president of Jarrett Construction Co., which has been building award-winning homes for 37 years. “Our supervisors are licensed contractors who understand it is imperative that they visit each home under construction at least three times a day to build the best house possible.”

“After the house has been framed and just before the sheet rock stage, you come out for another inspection,” Hill continued. “The purpose of this walk-through is to inform the buyer about what goes on behind the walls of the new home.”

From this stage, it typically takes another six weeks to complete the home, at which time Westminster schedules an orientation meeting with their customers. “After our own preliminary inspection, we meet with the buyer to show them the different parts and pieces of the home,” said Hill. “At that meeting, we show them things like where the breaker box is, how to cut off the water and how to care for the countertops, floors and fixtures.”

During a final walk-through before closing, you and your builder will create a “punch list” of tasks to be completed. In addition to the evaluation before closing, Avant asks his buyers to provide a second evaluation after living in the home for a month. “We ask that they live in the house for 30 days and find all the things you would never find during a walkthrough,” Avant explained. “We have them send that list in after their first month in the house. Then we mobilize the subcontractors we need.”

There’s No Place Like Your New Home

Although the Piedmont Triad’s home resale market is thriving, builders report they’re staying busy filling the healthy demand for new homes throughout the area.

“For a newcomer to the area who needs to get settled immediately, there simply isn’t time to go through the building process from start to finish, and they may have to content themselves with a re-sell or spec home that is almost finished,” observed Thompson. “But for the client who does have the time and who has developed a good relationship with their builder, the custom building process can be fun and very rewarding.

“As the owner works with the builder and makes all those countless decisions—as they create the core structure and add the details and the finishing touches—the home becomes an extension of the owner’s personality,” Thompson said. “That gives the home a personal character you just can’t duplicate when you buy an existing home. There truly is no other place like it.”

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