Coeur d'Alene Press: New Home Buyers Need to Educate Themselves

October 2013 | Press

Story by Lucy Dukes
Coeur d’Alene Correspondent

Building 30 years ago was about service. Now it’s about product delivery. That’s according to Edwards Smith Construction principal Andy Smith, who believes the product delivery approach shortchanges new home buyers.

This is because neither they, nor their builder, have asked and answered the questions necessary to determine what their expectations are — and what products should be selected to meet those expectations. 

“The buyer should ask themselves first, what do they expect out of the performance of their house,” Smith said. “It requires the buyer to be educated.”

North Idaho Building Contractors Association Executive Director Larry Jeffres believes the attention paid to the customer is different from builder to builder, though he is not certain a home-as-product approach is prevalent. The success of builders depends on how they present and perform according to their business plan, he explained. Those business plans vary.

However, Jeffres also said that new home buyers should educate themselves.

“We want smart consumers. It helps to define a better market,” he said.

According to Smith, there is a place for building homes as a product, but buyers need to be aware that this is what they are doing. They have to decide how much they want to know.

However, many buyers simply assume their house will work, said Smith, describing a National Association of Homebuilders finding that “there’s a perception that all things are created equal…and all you’re selecting is color or design.”

But the products that go into homes are not created equal, and a new flood of product choices doesn’t mean all of the choices are quality ones. In fact, Smith said the NAHB has found that entry-level products have a 10-year life span.

“We, as an industry, used to build with the idea that it should last for 100 years,” he said.

Shortened product life spans can be problematic when buyers have 30-year mortgages.

“You start to recognize that the cost of that home is not what you paid for,” Smith said.

There are other ways in which a buyer might not get the home she thought she paid for. Systems in the home may not support the space. The furnace might not be big enough to effectively heat the house, which results in higher energy costs and uneven heating. Or the shower may go cold when the toilet is flushed. 

“This is not an acceptable standard,” Smith said. “We have these products being put in that are very much in the margins of what is acceptable, and what is controlling is the cost.”

Buyers should think critically in the long term and ask “how does a home perform for you,” he said.

The problem, however, is that a lot of builders may not be able to answer these kinds of questions. According to Smith, many modern builders put control of the construction into the hands of subcontractors without tracking what the subs are doing. The builder should know what the subs are doing, Smith said. 

The changes aren’t all bad, though.

On the good side, there have been rapid advances in insulation and heating and cooling systems, and better pre-finished wood floor products are now available. There have been also incredible innovations in water intrusion technologies. The days of musty basements should be gone, Smith said.

“Today, your basement should never smell that way. It should smell like fresh air,” he said.

Lighting and whole home control systems technology has also leaped forward, with thermostats available that homeowners can control with their iPhones.

“The addition of technology to the process has added a lot of value,” Smith said.

Both Smith and Jeffres pointed to energy efficiency improvements as well. Idaho ranks fourth in the nation for energy efficient homes, Jeffres said.

“Most of that was not mandatory regulation. It was simply good common sense building and constructing a product for the consumer that was better for them,” he added.

A very recent change in response to the recession and energy efficiency needs is the building of smaller homes. Sprawling homes are still being constructed by those who can afford them, but middle America has generally decided it doesn’t need as much square footage as it used to think it needed, Jeffres said. 

“We saw this increase in sizes of homes from the fifties into the ’60s that continued on into the ’90s, but we have become more educated and we are better at using space, and energy efficiency has become more of a priority for us. And then there’s the obvious: it’s more affordable,” he said.

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