The Emotional Roller Coaster Of Building Custom Homes

The Emotional Roller Coaster Of Building Custom Homes


Greg:    Welcome to this edition of the Louisville Custom Homebuilder podcast series brought to you by Louisville’s leading luxury construction team, Artisan Signature Homes. I’m Greg, your host, and for today’s episode, we are joined by Louisville’s best known and most accomplished custom and luxury homebuilder, Jason Black.

Jason, good to see you. How are you?

Jason:    Greg, I’m doing very well today. Spring is in the air. Always here and happy to talk about what we do on a daily basis.

Greg:    Listen to you, just always the optimist. I love it. Upbeat. Which reminds me, your Instagram feed lately has been rather upbeat. You have seemed, as I follow along, pretty happy, I guess, about some of the construction you’re doing and some different aspects of it. It’s like you’re on emotional high right now. Do you want to fill us in on what’s going on?

Jason:    It’s funny. The homebuilding process isn’t a … I call it … It’s really an emotional roller coaster. We have a lot of projects right now that are at the high stage, which is fun. Homeowners are happy. Subcontractors are happy. The builder’s happy. Basically, unfortunately, it’s not always like that in the home building process.

Maybe I’ll back up and start from the beginning of the process, and just tell folks a little bit about what it is to build a house. It’s a year-long process, most likely, time you start with design to pre-construction meetings to construction to finish. Along that process, as great a guy as I am, as biggest people pleaser I am, there becomes a time when …

Greg:    And is modest….

Jason:    Yeah. At some point in time during this process, somebody’s going to get mad at you for either …

Greg:    Just too many moving parts.

Jason:    There are so many moving parts, and we’re building a custom home. I’ve never built this project before.

Greg:    That’s a good point.

Jason:    Something is going to happen and something’s going to go wrong. That’s what I tell people, is like, “We’re going to make you this beautiful house and you’re going to love it, but somewhere along the line, you’re going to be mad at me for something.” I tell them, “You’re choosing me because I’m going to make it right. Although something may go wrong during the process and you’ll get upset, I will make it right for you.” Whether it’s a trim detail being wrong or just the grade of the house being different than what you thought, there’s countless things that you can never foresee that just happen.

Emotional Roller Coaster Of Building A Custom Home

Greg:    When you call it an emotional roller coaster, are you talking about for you and your subcontractors or for the clients, for the buyers?

Jason:    Honestly, it’s for everybody, but more so, the client because … Let’s just walk through it in a high level real quick. When we’re designing a house and everybody’s new and everything’s … It’s kind of like the honeymoon phase. They’re excited. We’re throwing around ideas. We’re seeing preliminary drawings. We turn those into a contract, then we start construction. You see framing going up. That is the highest point of the process. Everybody’s so excited like, “Man, this house is going so fast. I’m going to be in… you told me it’ll take a year, but it looks like we’re on track to be done in a couple of months. Is that right?” You put the windows and the roof on. Everything’s great.

All of a sudden, it’s like somebody… puts screeching brakes come to a halt in the process. What happens is you start roughing in your plumbing, your electrical, your heating and air. The homeowner who has been excited to come to the project everyday, day after day, starts looking and going, “What’s going on? There’s nothing happening or at least to me, I don’t see any progress.”

Greg:    This is the guts of the house. This is what you’ve talked about on some of your previous podcasts. You want to do this part right, but you’re saying it’s not super exciting for the buyer.

Jason:    It’s not very exciting at all. Now, I do have one client that I’m building for that this is actually the most exciting part. He’s an engineer and really into the nuts and bolts and how the waterlines go and the efficiency of the heating and air system and minimizing bins. That’s the vast minority of the customers that we build for. Most people want to see the pretty stuff at the end, not so much what goes into it.

Anyway, back to the curve, the curve is high when the frame is complete, roof’s on. As those rough-ins go, again, you’ve got … It may take 2 weeks to run plumbing lines. Before anybody else is in there, you’ve got a couple of guys in there running PVC pipe and waterlines. You really see no progress.

Greg:    Is this a situation where no one else gets to come in, so the plumbers are there until they’re done, and then your next sub comes in and they’re there until they’re done?

Jason:    Yeah, pretty much, because the plumbers got to get in there first, because there’s only so many ways a plumbing can flow, and usually, it has to flow down. Nobody can be in his way. After the plumber goes, the heating and air guy goes. He’s doing a lot of stuff in the basement, up in the attic. Again, visually, you’re not seeing much progress. All of a sudden, that’s done. You bring your electrician in. He could be in there for a couple of a weeks pulling wire. You’re not seeing any material changes. You might start on some exterior brick work or siding. Again, we’re starting to near almost the low point. It’s been a couple of weeks, maybe even, at this point, a couple of months since the framing’s been done.

Insulation happens and then we come to drywall. You get a little bump-up of excitement when the drywall goes up because they hang the house in a couple of days, and you get excited, but then you start to put the mud on the drywall and that takes another couple of weeks. Again, there’s no change. You got to let the mud dry. You got to sand it. Put another coat of mud, sand it, more mud. Lack of progress. People are just like, “This is miserable. I don’t even want to go to the house.”

I’m building a house with my wife. We love building houses. This is like our 10th house we’ve moved into. We enjoy the process, but it got to the point, with the drywall stage and mud, for her, she’s like, “I don’t even want to go to the house.”

Greg:    “Call me when something else is done.” Right.

Jason:    Yeah. “I want to see something else. I’m tired of seeing drywall and dust.” Again, low point, dry wall, mud. All of a sudden, that emotional roller coaster that you’re on the bottom of the track, it starts creeping up because interior trim work starts happening. You start to see a little bit of progress, a little glimmer of hope. Maybe they set the doors, start putting up some crown molding, and then the tile work goes in. You’ve selected your tile work way back months ago before we’ve even gotten started. You’re finally seeing that and you’re like, “It’s starting to feel like a house.” Again, getting a little bit more excited.

Greg:    And a personal house, this is the first time that they get to see their personal choices, their personal finishes come into play, right?

Jason:    That’s right. All those Pinterest boards and Houze pictures they’ve been looking at …

Greg:    They’re coming to life.

Jason:    They’re coming to life. Again, the homeowners are little more excited. You see a little pep in their step. They want to come see. They’re at the house, sometimes, 2 to 3 times a day, as you’re laying a master floor. You picked out some cool herringbone marble, and you’ve been dying to see it. You see them lay a little. You’re like, “I’m going to go back to work and come in after work, and I want to see more done.” It’s pretty exciting stuff.

Greg:    Is this where they’re happy to see you again after a month or so of being a little …

Jason:    Absolutely. Jason’s looking like a hero. Everybody loves me again.

Greg:    In the beginning and the end, you’re the man.

Jason:    That’s right. During the middle… maybe I’ll just go on vacation during the middle of the process. Anyway, the trim goes up. The tile goes up. Painting happens. Again, you selected all these colors early on. They start painting the walls, painting the trim. The outside is starting to finish up. You might paint some on the outside. The cabinets go in. Once those cabinets go in, to me, that’s like … It almost … I relate it to Christmas morning as a kid. I think, you said you saw some of my posts on Instagram.

Greg:    I think one of them might have been cabinets, and one of them was lighting fixtures.

Jason:    You’re seeing … It’s almost the jewelry of the house go in. It’s not so much a dirty construction site anymore. You’re getting a little more fine-tuned with the cabinets, lighting. When your floor goes in, it’s like bam! It’s starting to look like a house. All those decisions I’ve made, I’m really feeling good about those. Like I said, the lighting goes in and floor goes in. That emotional curve, you’re starting to peak again. You’re getting up to the top.

Artisan Signature Homes installing cabinets

We’re going to finish with putting some landscaping on the outside. We do a final walkthrough. Everybody, Realtors come in. Homeowners are happy, excited about moving in. That is really the high point of the project there is all that hard work. Again, 12 months, year, year and a half later, you get to move in to see that final stage. It’s pretty exciting.

Greg:    Wow. I think it’s really interesting that you really do have … You map this out that there really is an emotional up and down, and you’re prepared for it. It sounds like you help your clients get ready for it and prepare for it, that it’s not just something that … Because I have heard people drive by homes and they’re like, “That’s been sitting there. Nothing’s happening.” It sounds like part of the process.

Jason:    With the custom home that, it’s a year-long process, there may not be a lot of work going on on certain days because there’s only so much you can do to get to one stage. You got to have a certain subcontractor doing that particular spot or job before the next 3 or 4 trades can get in there.

Again, there’s one of the times that I skipped over is once we’ve … Before we’ve drywalled, we’re waiting on inspections from the city or the county. Sometimes, it may take a week or 2 to get all of our final inspections. We’re inspecting electrical systems, heating and air, framing inspections. There’s some time lag that there may not be any progress on the inside. We might be able to do some stuff on the outside.

Greg:    I know that inspections are necessary. Over the years and years, they’ve helped create bigger and better homes. Where on the emotional scale does waiting for inspections fall?

Jason:    That is at the absolute bottom. That’s when I’m …

Greg:    Pulling hair out.

Jason:    They’re like, “I don’t even want to see my builder or talk to him right now. He’s telling me it’s going to be done, but there’s no progress.”

Greg:    All right. Well, I really appreciate you letting me stop in. That’s a really interesting way to frame, so to speak, the thought of a house in the conversation. It helps me put a picture to the whole process.

Jason:    I do have a little graph. Maybe I’ll share with you, and maybe we can post it out there somewhere. If somebody is thinking about building, it is an awesome experience. The emotional curve is part of it.

I have had a couple of customers in the past that some people are like, “I may not ever build again,” but most have enjoyed the process. I have, again, several that are sad that the process is over.

Greg:    They will come back in a couple of years, won’t they?

Jason:    That is the goal. A repeat customer is the highest form of flattery. That’s for sure.

Greg:    Sounds awesome. Thanks again.

Jason:    All right, Greg. We’ll see you next time.