There are two basic approaches to building a home on your land: the first is the DIY approach, and the second is to hire a professional homebuilder. Whether you do the job of the builder or hire someone who does it for a living, there are many elements to the builder's job that you need to be aware of. In the first case, it helps to know what you're getting into. In the second case, it helps to know what to expect from your builder.

Here's a quick overview of the builder's job.

Scheduler

The builder sets the basic timeline for work on your house. He knows the sequence of work and how to manipulate that sequence to maximize efficiency despite all the inefficiencies of the process. Once the basic timeline is built, the builder starts scheduling contractors a couple of weeks out.

He will adjust that schedule continually as the build progresses. It's always fluid, and it requires a great deal of flexibility and creativity to keep the flow going week after week. Weather, minor problems, and the vagaries of contractor schedules creep in and try to derail the plan. No matter how good the week's plan looked on Monday, most of it will change by Wednesday.

Relationship builder and maintainer

I think this role might be the most critical. Yes, a builder needs technical knowledge so he knows when things are done right. But the builder also needs to have strong relationships with key people: contractors, suppliers, and other professional service providers like bankers, title companies, land surveyors, city officials, etc.

Let's face it: The builder isn't going to be swinging a hammer or pulling any electrical wire himself, so he needs solid working relationships with people who are good at those things. The better and more extensive his industry relationships are, the smoother the building process will go.

Here's a great example. Several years ago while reviewing a set of plans provided by the customer, our framing contractor noticed a design issue that made the second floor bonus room inaccessible. There was a roof valley that would intrude on the stairway and leave only about four-and-a-half feet of headroom in the middle of the stairs.

Had that framing contractor not been a trusted member of our team with an investment in the relationship with my company, he might not have taken the time to study that house design so early in the process. Because we had a solid professional relationship, he had our back, and by extension he had the customer's back. The customer decided not to buy that set of plans.

In other instances, I've had plumbers and heat and air contractors make design suggestions that have saved my customers thousands of dollars. You just don't get that kind of input from contractors who don't have a big investment in the relationship.

Cat herder

There are so many variables and moving parts in building a house that the builder often finds himself herding cats. The cats come in many forms: contractors, bankers, building inspectors, decorators, suppliers, and yes, customers.

There are several skills the builder needs in order to be effective, one of which is the ability to build relationships as mentioned above. But another critical skill used in cat herding is the ability to think on one's feet and seamlessly shift from scheduler to negotiator to problem solver. It also requires endurance, as herding cats is a job that never ends.

Buffer

Unless you're just into self-torture and learning expensive lessons on the fly, you'll value the builder who provides a buffer between you and contractors and their associated drama. Despite the builder's best efforts and many of the contractors' best efforts, there are daily problems to be solved during even the simplest and most straightforward building jobs.

Sometimes the problems are caused by unforeseen design issues, such as problems getting a clear path for ductwork around structural framing members. To the uninitiated, such problems can seem overwhelming. To the professional builder, they're simply part of going to work every day. It's part of the deal. The great thing about the builder doing his job as the buffer is that you don't have to hear about every little problem. For every problem you hear about, there are 99 the builder solved as a matter of course.

Overall, the professional builder wears many hats. I didn't mention some others such as negotiator, building code interpreter, and marriage counselor, but I think you get the idea.

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