It's common for folks to build their dream log home several hours away or even in another state, making the opportunity for daily site visits and frequent face-time with the builder impossible. And with such a significant financial (and emotional) investment, its easy to understand why the long distance can leave some with an uneasy feeling.
To lower concerns and stress levels, it's vital that the homeowner have an open and effective level of communication with the builder and/or general contractor. Its really the key to any successful and satisfying custom home building experience. As one example, we'll illustrate how we communicate with our clients, especially for those who live far away.
This seems unnecessary, but remember what happens when you assume. We'll have a dedicated discussion about how we plan to communicate with each other during the building process for things like progress updates, questions/concerns, financial information sharing, etc. And maybe the most important item is how we'll follow up and follow through if there are questions or issues that need to be addressed. And if requested, we'll include the communication plan details in the contract. First we'll determine what methods work best for both of us, email, phone, etc., the frequency of communication, scheduled conference calls, daily-weekly email updates, etc., define timetables to follow-ups to questions that works best for all. Having this conversation does two things, sets clear expectations and begins the openness that creates the foundation for a good working relationship. And finally, what other useful technologies can be incorporated to enhance communication such as the use of smart phones, tablets, photos, video, social media, etc.
There will be key stages during the construction of your home where it's critical for the homeowner to make onsite walk-through's with the builder such as after the logs are stacked, the roof system framing is complete, pre-electrical and plumbing rough-ins. These milestone events are a great time to review the build thus far, look at product samples and review your selections that will be part of your new home. That's also a perfect time to update the project schedule and answer all the questions. We'll typically prepare an agenda of things to accomplish during the visit so the time together is informative and productive.
More than ever today, homeowners wish to do some of the work themselves and we're happy to accommodate them, in fact we encourage it. However, due to the fluid nature of custom home building, schedules and timing can sometimes get out of sync. If the communication is working then the timing issue is minimized through revised scheduling, especially necessary if there is a long distance involved and travel plans are booked well in advance. We'll review and discuss projected date(s) in the schedule, review how much time it will take each task based on experience level of the homeowner, review the sequencing of log home construction again and provide work-with and work-around options to keep the project on schedule.
The one dimensional floorplans look great on paper, but once the log home starts to go up we have the advantage of seeing your design in 3-D. We're continuously evaluating the build to identify potential areas where the planned design can be improved for better function, identifying potential cost savings or head off potential design conflicts. We believe it's our responsibility to communicate our thoughts, but it also allows the homeowner the option to make important choices. In fact, very few projects are completed without some degree of change. Often we'll communicate our findings through email with photos and/or video and provide potential options, followed by a phone conversation to discuss.
There's nothing more effective than face-to-face communication, but if you live 2,500 miles away (like our current client who lives on the west coast) that's not possible, so the phone call (or Skype video call) is the next best choice but can be enhanced when accompanied by photos and/or video that illustrate the topics. We discuss how often to have scheduled conference calls accompanied by an agenda listing the discussion topics so the calls are an effective use of everyone's time.
Financial tracking tools are essential to keep the homeowner informed of cost-to-budget for the project. If there's a financial institution and title company involved, coordinating draws, waivers and project cost reporting, sharing that information with the homeowner is vital. Therefore, we provide our clients a cost tracking spreadsheet with all the financial data involving their project. It's typically sent on a predetermined intervals or at the time of each draw. As an alternative, we've used secured sharing programs such as Google Docs or Dropbox so the homeowner can access their financial information in real time. We also review the costs-to-budget and cost projections at the time of each draw request.
So these are some of the ways we do it. We hope this provides you some insight about the importance of effective communication between you and your builder. Based on the feedback from our clients, they love it.
The Take Away: Before you sign the contract with your builder make sure you have a written project schedule, an agreement about which areas of the build you'll do yourself, discussion about the scope (overview) of your project and have agreed upon communication plan.
By The Leelanau Log Home Company
Copyright 2012 Under the Influence of Wood Blog