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Lessons from an Austin Home Builder with 30 Years in the Business

Growing up a military brat and the last son of 5 boys gave me a sendoff into the world with a great background for being a builder. My upbringing taught me to use creativity to solve problems because there was never an abundance of money to wash problems away. Being raised by parents born and raised in the depression was certainly good training ground for not wasting anything.

A hailstorm in 1969 was the event that got me involved in roofing at the age of 12. That taste of nailing shingles down on our family home made me want to become a builder. I was fortunate to be a good student and was accepted into a Building Trades course.

I will never forget my teacher, Mr. Davis, he liked me because I really wanted to learn how to be a builder. The year-long study included site selection, market research, and plan design to a specific niche.

During that training we actually set forms, dug ditches, poured concrete, framed the home, roofed it, worked with licensed plumbers, electricians and HVAC contractors. Once that was accomplished we trimmed the home, built the cabinets and assisted in tile setting, bricklaying, carpet installation and finish out. Upon completion of the home we went to the local furniture store and placed furniture in the home. We went to the Cadillac dealer and put a new Cadillac in the driveway. We even threw a preview party for Realtors and worked through the sales process. Needless to say I loved that course and still owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Davis.

Most of the lessons I have learned since then as an Austin home builder have been rooted in that early influence.

  1. Site selection is key. The site determines the housing product offerings and never vice versa. On site selection, you should work the numbers backwards to see if the land price is proper. If I can build a well-appointed home for a fair price in places where people want to live then we will succeed. If we overpay for the land and have to skimp on the home size or finishes in order to build homes that people can afford then it’s time to pass on the deal and move on.
  2. Design floor plans that are innovative and work for the customer. Make sure you know who your customer is and what they want and balance that with what they can afford.
  3. Hire great people, train them well and empower them to take care of the customer. I personally strive to emulate the Lexus model of taking care of the customer.
  4. Develop a team of suppliers, subcontractors, vendors, a title company and work together to have a system that is easy to navigate for each member of the team. When things go smoothly and a repeatable process is honed in then the real job of pleasing the customer stays at the center of the business.
  5. Learn and seek honest feedback from all the stakeholders in the process.
  6. Good times are always just around the corner. So are tough times. Prepare for both.
  7. It is vital to know all of your costs. Sell below your cost and you will go out of business quick. Overestimate your cost and the resulting price offering won’t bear the market and you will go out of business.
  8. Never lose the thrill of helping a customer achieve their goal.
  9. Keep asking questions.
  10. Never give up.

Here’s a testimonial from a homeowner who recently bought one of our homes in Star Ranch. These testimonials help me to keep focus on what matters most: the customer.

“My wife and I moved into our CWB house in Star Ranch a few weeks ago and we wanted to let you know that we are very happy with the house and the building process.

Debra Krist is the best sales person with whom I have ever done business. She was very patient, made helpful suggestions and was open minded to our wishes. We never felt the slightest pressure to make a sale. Her professionalism was in stark contrast to some of the other salespeople in the north Austin area.

If I had to describe Scott Standhart’s performance in one word it would be: Outstanding. You surely already know that he is your key asset in getting the building done quickly and professionally. He goes the extra mile to ensure your customers’ happiness and operates in a very fast, effective, businesslike manner – often in situations that are frantic.”

– Ray and Mary

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