Do Austin Production Builders Differ in Quality?

by Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX on January 9, 2014 · 2 comments

new-home-builders-austin-txBuyers will sometimes ask “is Builder X a good builder?” My answer is that your builder’s brand name doesn’t matter enough to make it a decision point in your new home purchase decision.

In other words, if a hypothetical buyer is torn between two similar to-be-built home options in the same neighborhood, I will tell that buyer that the brand name of the builder should NOT be a deciding factor. There are more important things such as the lot itself, the floorplan and standard finish-out.

But I read some bad reviews about Builder X?
Ignore those. You cannot protect yourself from a bad builder experience by ruling any builders out, and you cannot increase your chances of a good builder experience by limiting which builders you consider. Researching builders is folly. The same builder can build two houses side by side, and those two different buyers may have completely different experiences. In fact, one project may go smooth, and the other has a lot of problems. Each build is its own standalone project with its own unique and different problems that will arise, because the lots, floorplans and buyers are all different. That’s normal and expected.

In Texas, as in most Sunbelt states, all the “production builders” use the essentially same pool of subcontractors. It’s not that different from the PC you buy (Dell vs HP), or even many appliances and cars. Drive through the neighborhoods and you’ll see trucks from Casa Mechanical and Chistianson Plumbing working in the same subdivisions on different builder’s home. Few builders have in-house framing crews anymore. All sub out the roofing. All trades get subcontracted out now. It’s these subcontractors that do the work, not the “builder”, which isn’t really a “builder” in the strict sense of the word, but a construction management and marketing company.


Your home is marketed and branded by a “builder”, but not “built” by a builder. In fact, it’s being “built” by unskilled labor with improper training, insufficient supervision, and probably less than 2 years actual trade experience. Mistakes abound, no matter your builder. This is what consumers wanted, cheap housing, so that’s what gets built nowadays in most planned unit developments and starter home neighborhoods. Even in the higher end “move up” subdivisions with nicer homes, there can be a guy on the stucco crew who is working his first day, with no training or experience at all.

I recently walked a new home inspection with my buyer and his inspector. No deal breakers, but lots and lots of dumb mistakes and errors that needed correcting. The “construction superintendent” was brand new to the company. His prior job was an assistant manager at Office Depot. A nice enough guy, very customer service oriented and attentive, but completely overworked with too many homes to keep up with simultaneously, and essentially acting in the role of troubleshooter and CS Rep.

This is not the grizzled and abrasive 25 year veteran “Super” of old, who is obnoxious and curt, but knows everything to know about construction and doesn’t tolerate mistakes and errors from his subcontractors. His motivation comes from pride or quality. Those guys are disappearing because it’s cheaper for the builder to recruit a pleasant 20-Something from Office Depot and teach him how to run checklists.

If you want to protect yourself from a bad builder experience, get a good advocacy-oriented Realtor as your buyer agent, who knows the process and can coach and guide you through the various stages, managing your expectations and helping you know what things to worry about and which things to not get distressed over.

And a good code inspector to inspect the project at slab (not always needed), frame (pre-sheetrock), and final stages. Most new home buyers do not get an inspection. I can’t think of anything dumber than not having your new built home inspected at all phases. I have not ever had a new home inspection that didn’t reveal problems that needed fixing and which would have cost the buyer money down the road.

Bottom Line
The “brand” builder you choose in is 100% meaningless and irrelevant in the production builder category in Austin today. (Again, I’m not talking about Custom Home Builders, that’s a different story). The quality of your construction experience and final product will be solely determined by you, the buyer. Your level of expertise and understanding as a buyer, and knowing how to hold the builder accountable for the mistakes, is what will matter. Errors, problems and delays should be assumed and predictable from the start of your new home building process. That’s the reality of how it works today. By understanding the process going in, and knowing how to mange its faults and imperfections, you will increase your chances of having a better experience and ending up with a good, well built home.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Victor January 9, 2014 at 11:26 am

What about the various custom builders around town? Are you familiar with Newcastle Homes? I’d like to explore the idea of building on the eastside, and they seem to be dominating the area.

2 Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX January 9, 2014 at 11:44 am

Victor,

In East Austin, I would:
a) You and your Realtor tour homes under construction by the custom builder you are considering. If you and/or your Realtor know what to look for in a home under construction, there is evidence of how organized (or not) the customer home builder is.

b) Have your Realtor pull homes already sold and occupied by the builder, go knock on the door and talk to that buyer and ask questions about any warranty issues and/or post move-in problem.

c) Meet personally with the builder and size him up.

I don’t have any personal knowledge of Newcastle.

Good luck,

Steve

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