Pat Curry. . . .2/1/2005
A detailed inspection systems and realistic expectations puts many contractor homes on top for quality and customer satisfaction.
QUALITY ASSURANCE IS A major topic for every home builder, and the inspection process is receiving close scrutiny. Greenbriar Homes Communities, based in Fremont, Calif., incorporates quality assurance into every step of the process, from plan design through warranty service. As a result, Greenbriar won Eliant's 2003 overall quality award for large-volume builders, which is measured at the end of the first year after move-in.
“Our philosophy is that quality is not only the standard, it's the entire process to get to the standard,” says Carol Meyer, Greenbriar's chairman of the board.
Earning the overall quality award is tough, says Bob Mirman, CEO of Eliant, a provider of home buyer satisfaction solutions. The award comes from totaling quality scores at move-in, five months, and 10 months. Getting the award means that the builder has good internal processes, good trade contractor relationships, and clearly defined and maintained buyer expectations.
“You can have great quality and still get lousy scores because buyer expectations are allowed to wander upward,” Mirman says. “Greenbriar put procedures in place to manage the expectations of buyers in reasonableness and accuracy.”
The key to Greenbriar's success, Mirman says, is a system structured to track performance throughout construction and the warranty period, and a top-down commitment to quality.
“They call every buyer to thank them or to fix the problem,” Mirman says. “They're very responsive… . They are just consistent to beat the band in quality scores.”
Trade contractor training is a big part of the process. They're trained on the company's quality levels and the service that is expected. Each trade contractor gets feedback from warranty calls and Eliant surveys. Products undergo similar scrutiny.
The same commitment to quality is expected of Greenbriar's employees. New hires are made based on the applicant's commitment to quality, and bonuses are based in part on customer satisfaction surveys. An 18-month construction management education program for all employees covers such topics as bidding, trade contractor evaluation, and how to read blueprints.
The quality system at Greenbriar starts with a 12-week design review of all new plans by the architect, the engineer, the project manager, the vice president of construction, a marketing representative, customer service director Richard Gilmore, representatives from the major trade contractors (foundation, framing, HVAC, electrical, and plumbing), and a forensic architect.
That step alleviates costly, time-consuming rework in the field. For instance, one plan had a tub floating in the bathroom against three windows. The plumbing contractor identified insufficient space for venting, and the plan was redrawn.
That step also results in a stronger, higher quality house.
“The electrician doesn't drill through key beams, HVAC gets a design that results in a better system, the roofer gets a roof that easier to build and less likely to have leaks, and the houses go up faster,” Gilmore says. “It also gets us a complete set of plans that every key sub understands. Then you don't get mavericks in the field thinking they'll change something because they all know why it's there.”
Once site preparation begins, a detailed system of inspections and standards kicks in. It starts with compaction and concrete slump tests. After the slab is formed, an engineer checks the position of the rebar.
“When we first started doing this, the foundation subs were complaining,” Meyer says. “Now they're raving. They don't get called back out because there are no problems.”
Additional inspections include framing, tie downs, sheer wall nailing, second floor nailing, and the roof. The design engineer takes precise measurements of each house to make sure the field installation meets the intent of the plan. Plus, a third-party inspector examines the framing for mold. In total, an average of five hours is spent on inspections per 1,000 square feet, in addition to building department inspections.
It helps reduce deficiencies and down time, and it results in faster sign-offs from city building inspectors. Plus, Meyer says that Greenbriar's warranty costs are approximately 25 percent below industry average.
Engaging The Buyer
After the mold inspection and before the drywall installation, the home buyer is brought to the site for the first of a series of meetings to watch the building process. It's done at that point because some options have to be installed before the walls go up. That meeting includes the options coordinator and the job superintendent to verify that the options they selected were installed, “and so they can see why a light can't go exactly where they wanted it,” Meyer says. “It helps set their expectations.”
Then the house is closed. A third-party inspector checks the roof and the waterproofing. Window installations also are certified by the manufacturer. “If there's a problem at the window, we have one person to call to fix it,” Meyer says. “That's been a godsend to us. It's a comfort level that's been well received.”
Six to eight weeks before delivery, the home buyer reviews the installation of flooring, countertops, and cabinets. A week to 10 days before closing, the options coordinator verifies the products were installed according to the order and specifications. Then, a customer service representative does a pre-walk of the house with an assistant superintendent.
“This is their chance to make sure anything that is wrong is fixed,” Gilmore says. “It's still construction's responsibility then.”
A customer service representative does two final walkthroughs with the buyer. The presentation walk is done three days before closing. Any deficiencies or areas of concern are documented and reviewed with the construction team, which corrects the issues before the orientation walk on the day of closing. At that walk, the buyer confirms that the problems were addressed. They also go through the homeowner's manual and product warranty information.
Service calls are required 60 days, mid-year, and 12 months after closing. Monthly training classes give homeowners the basics on maintenance. Arecent class demonstrated how to caulk showers. A semiannual newspaper also provides maintenance tips and reminders on warranty responsibilities. At year-end, a property evaluation is done to make sure the homeowner is successfully complying with required maintenance, Meyer says.
That ties in with new state regulations, but it's a good practice in general because homeowners often think that since the house is new, it doesn't need upkeep.
“We try to establish expectations and educate the homeowner,” Meyer says. “Everyone uses the expensive car analogy. We point at the car and ask, ‘How much do you spend on the maintenance of your car?' We refer that back to the house.”
Courtesy of: http://www.bigbuilderonline.com/industry-news.asp?sectionID=378&articleID=96905