No sales model is perfect, regardless of who builds it. Even modular home sales models have minor imperfections.
What I Learned about My Modular Home Sales Models
Soon after starting my business, I built a two-story model home with several upscale features. For example, I dressed up the first floor with oak trim and doors, all finished in clear polyurethane, so that my customers could see what this option looked like. The first customer who ordered this upgrade called me soon after we set his home, very upset. He said that some of his oak moldings had a much darker grain pattern than the others, which he felt was not the case in my model home. Without first looking at my model, I went to his house to see what made him unhappy. When I saw the variation for myself, I ordered replacement moldings. Unfortunately, the new moldings came in with as much variation as those installed in his home. Finally, after ordering three sets of replacement moldings, we were able to match all of the moldings in his house almost perfectly. (In retrospect, I cannot believe that my manufacturer provided me with all of these moldings for no additional charge.)
A couple of months later, the manager of a custom woodworking shop visited my model home. I told her about the problem with the oak moldings, and I showed her the rejected moldings. She then walked me through my model home and pointed out that it had the same “problem.” Even more surprising, she said that all of her high-end, custom stick-built customers had the same “problem” when she provided them with naturally finished wood moldings. She added that most customers actually prefer this natural variation.
Notice the Imperfections in Your Dealer’s Modular Home Sales Models
In addition to teaching me about the natural qualities of wood, this experience taught me how easy it is to miss the true appearance of a home’s features. Over the years, I’ve noticed that while most customers do not look closely at our modular home sales models, they put a microscope to their own home. And when they do, they see both real and imagined imperfections that they do not realize are typical of all homes, including their dealer’s modular home sales models. I strongly recommend that you make an effort to notice the imperfections in your dealer’s modular home sales models and expect them in your home.
Over the years we’ve built modular homes for several customers who had stick built their previous home. Since most of them were happy with their home, it’s interesting to consider why they decided to build a modular home next. Invariably, it was because their stick building experience was marred by substantial cost overruns or considerable time delays – usually both. It doesn’t take much to convince these customers that modular homes promote planning discipline in a way that makes them less likely to suffer from sizeable cost overruns and missed deadlines. In fact, they often start the conversation by telling us why modular homes offer better protection against these costly extremes.
One Customer’s View on Why Modular Homes Promote Planning Discipline
“Building a modular is going to force me and my wife to make good decisions up front. Although we’ll lose the opportunity to make changes as our home is built, this will protect us against ourselves. We were our own worst enemies the last time. We signed a contract without knowing all the details. The builder gave us allowances for many of the important materials, such as cabinets and floors. Until we started making decisions, we had no idea that what we wanted cost thousands of dollars more. Not only did the costs go higher and higher, construction took longer and longer. We even got killed with several additional months of interest payments to the bank. I will gladly give up the opportunity to make changes on the fly to ensure greater control of my budget and schedule.”
Another Customer’s View on Why Modular Homes Promote Planning Discipline
“I admit I didn’t spend enough time thinking through the design of my home. Almost immediately after my builder started framing the interior walls, I noticed some design flaws. First, I discovered the foyer closet was too small. Then I decided it was better to make the dining room smaller so the kitchen could be bigger. Next I realized the door to my study was swinging into a bookcase. And it didn’t stop there. Since I couldn’t live with my mistakes, I asked the builder to make the necessary changes, which included tearing down the walls he had already built. Needless to say, he passed all of the additional costs on to me with some very pricey change orders. And by the time these and several other changes were completed, we were several months behind schedule.”
Why Modular Homes Promote Planning Discipline
Compare these experiences with what you will have to do if you build a modular home. You and your dealer must complete almost all of the planning steps before beginning any construction. That’s because your manufacturer can’t begin construction without knowing what it’s going to build and how much it’s going to charge. This forces you and your dealer to make final decisions about your home’s design and its building specifications. If you’re pressed for time when stick building, it’s very easy to start construction and postpone the meetings and decisions to a later date. The temptation is to think you and your builder can make things up as you go along. Modular dealers would be just as prone to do this if they could get away with it. The fact that modular homes promote planning discipline is a major advantage to you. As most banks will tell you, poor planning almost always leads to cost overruns and construction delays.
You’ve probably read or watched a few stories about why green construction is the way to go. If you’re like most of our customers, you’re asking if the benefits of a green modular home are really worth the cost.
What a Universal Design Modular Home Has in Common with a Green Modular Home
This reminds me of my experience with Universal Design (UD) homes. In the early 1990’s, my company built a model home to UD principles. Following these makes a home more user-friendly for everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. Over the years we’ve sold several UD homes. But few of our customers have selected the complete set of UD options. So it might surprise you when I say that offering these features helped many customers who weren’t interested in UD before visiting us.
Of course, these customers didn’t express interest initially because they didn’t know what UD features could do for them. Once we demonstrated how the features worked in our model home, many of our customers selected them. For example, when we showed those approaching retirement age a low-curb shower or a step-less front entry, we found that many of them felt these features were a necessity. So too with customers who had elderly parents.
Today we have more customers than ever interested in UD specifications. They’ve become more important because aging baby boomers value their performance. Even so, if we forget to demonstrate our model’s UD features, we have far fewer customers interested in them. We also have far fewer customers who select these features when we require them to select the entire package. Not surprisingly, most customers want to select some of the features – but not all.
Select Only the Features for Your Green Modular Home that You Want
Our experience with UD homes is repeating itself with green modular homes. Most customers don’t know if they want green features until we explain the benefits to them. These include (a) energy efficiency, (b) healthy indoor environment, and (c) environmentally friendly construction. Even after appreciating the benefits, customers typically assume they can’t afford a green home, since they think they need to buy the “complete green package”, which is costly. That’s why we allow them to select green features à la carte style.
Not surprisingly, most of our customers prize utility savings and quite a few value healthier home interiors. Although many of our customers care about the environment, only a few have a budget that allows them to do all they would wish to protect our planet. On the other hand, by selecting energy efficient and healthy home features, they actually are helping to protect the environment. And by using modular construction, they are building a home that is inherently green.
Select a Modular Dealer Who Can Clearly Explain Your Green Modular Home Options
Here’s what you can take from our experience. When shopping for a modular dealer, find one who teaches you what a green modular home can do for you and which options provide the best benefits. Make sure the dealer lets you select only the features you want as opposed to their vision of a “complete” green modular home. If your dealer can’t explain green features, find a dealer who can or research them on your own. Then select what you can afford. It could be a couple of energy efficient enhancements and low VOC materials – maybe less, maybe more. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking green features are an unaffordable extravagance.
For a more detailed answer to the question, should you build a green modular home, see Why Build Modular in my book The Modular Home as well as this detailed handout on the benefits of green modular homes.
In my last post I said you need to receive four things from your dealer: legalese, modular home drawings, scope of work, and specifications.
Modular Home Drawings
The modular dealer and factory are obligated to build your home to match their drawings. You are obligated to accept what they draw when you “sign-off” on their plans. If your home matches the drawings but is not what you expected, neither the dealer nor the factory will be responsible for correcting the “mistake” at their expense. They also won’t be receptive to your claim, “But I told you . . .!” or “I’m sure you said that!”
The best way to protect yourself is to look very closely at your floor plans and exterior elevations before approving them with your signature. This means that each detail on the plans needs to be correct and that all important details are entered on the plans. A missing detail is a potential mistake. To save time, you will sometimes have to write notes directly on the final draft to ensure they contain every detail. One example of a detail that is easily missed is the location of a ceiling light fixture. Make sure the plans indicate whether you want it centered in the room or centered over an offset table.
Require the general contractor to provide complete plan and elevation drawings for the on-site work. Knowing what your garage, deck, porch, finished basement, etc. will actually look like is clearly important.
Modular Home Scope of Work
Make sure your contract lists all tasks (scope of work) required to complete your home. If you sign a contract that doesn’t include every task, the dealer will come back to you for more money after they begin construction of your home. For example, if you want your porch to be stained, make sure this is written into the contract.
Modular Home Specifications
Look closely at how the contract proposes to complete each task. A dealer can offer a much lower price by selecting a less expensive set of building specifications or by not listing any specifications at all for some tasks. If you sign a contract that doesn’t list the construction specifications for every task, the dealer has the right to select whatever materials he wants when it comes time to build your home. For example, if you want two coats of an oil based stain for your porch, make sure this is in writing.
Modular Home Exclusions
Require the dealer to include a written list of any tasks that are not included in their contract. This is especially important for those tasks that are needed to obtain a certificate of occupancy , especially if you might reasonably expect them to be included. The most complete estimates include these “exclusions” so you aren’t left guessing what you could be responsible for. (If you were an expert in new home construction, you might not need this list because you would know everything you need.) For example, it’s fine if building permit fees and landscaping are not included, but your contract should tell you this, since both will be needed.
Modular Home Allowances
Pay attention to” allowances”. Make sure the dealer only uses them when he can’t know the cost of a particular task. An example is the cost for drilling a well, since a dealer can’t know in advance how deep he’ll need to drill. Builders prefer allowances for two reasons. First, they don’t have to spend as much time preparing their proposal, since they don’t need to know the price. Second, and more importantly, allowances protect builders’ profits, since they make you responsible for all additional costs. If there are too many allowances, you are at risk for significant cost overruns.
The Details Matter for Your Modular Home Drawings, Scope of Work, and Specifications
Finally, make sure you understand the details. It won’t help much if you get what you signed for, but didn’t understand what you were getting. And when the dealer uses unfamiliar construction jargon, ask him to explain what he means.