Home Building is about TEAM Building

28 May

Okay, between traveling and “breaking” trucks (we just broke another one –  Oy)…

I’m up to my neck in alligators. So I’m going to reach into the mailbag and pull out another gem;

So… fasten your safety belts,  extinguish all smoking material and bring your seats to an upright position. We’re about to take off…

Dear Ronin;

Thank you for your books and your blogs! We’ve benefited so much from your insight.

We’re building our ISBU Home!

Okay, we’re beginning “building our ISBU Home” by looking for the team we need to make it possible. We have the lot. It’s PAID FOR! 🙂

But we’re running into a wall, here. It’s hard for us to find an architect, designer or contractor who has actually built a Shipping Container Home where we live. We’ve talked to people in a 500 mile bubble with no success.

We’ve found a team that is willing to help us but they have ZERO background in ISBU construction. They told us that;

“A home is a home. They all go up the same. No worries.”

They have drawn several renders of our ideas and the renders look pretty good. If they can draw it, they can build it, right?

We haven’t paid them anything  yet. They’re eager to proceed and we have a development contract on our desk. Before we put up our hard earned cash, we wanted to ask your opinion.

Is it okay to invest in a “rookie” when building your home? We’re nervous.


Lost in Space… Corten Space…


Dear Space Travelers,

Wow. Just “wow”.

“A home is a home. They all go up the same. No worries.”

Folks, if ANYONE every told me this (especially at a project development meeting), they’d be talking to my back as I picked up my folder and my laptop and left the room as quickly as possible.

That’s absolute nonsense. That’s like saying;

“I built a go-cart once, so I think I’ll build a Space Shuttle next.”

RUN. Seriously. RUN.

Building a home (especially an “alternative home” like one built from ISBUs) comes with “perils and new places”…

So, rather than dwell on the “ridiculous” (“A home is a home…” That’s rich!), let’s talk a bit about the team you guys need to assemble.

You need a good design and good planning.

Here at RR (and at CHC – our business site) we’ve gone on and on about that for years. A good design and good planning insure success. The people that help you draw your lines will define your future.

They’ll define it for you and they’ll define it for the contractors (and sub-contractors) that will actually BUILD your home (or key elements of it- if you’re investing sweat equity).

IF they have experience in the type of construction you’re going to be doing, you can be assured that they know the spaces you’ll be creating, the materials that you will be using and the pitfalls that will be encountered along the way.

They’ll know where the “danger areas” are and they’ll use their considerable experience to insure that you don’t fall into any traps. They’ll PROTECT your building budget like it was the “Holy Grail”.  The insights and expertise that they bring to your project will more than pay for their participation.

If they cannot guarantee you this, they’re the wrong guys. Instead of finding the “Holy Grail”, you’re gonna get a “Holy Fail” – as in;

“Holy Crap! Where did all of our building money GO?”

Homes based on designs and planning based on people that have (a) never done it before, or (b) aren’t interested in you for anything but profit and a “Portfolio Queen” are destined to fail. You’re probably going to get a “pig in a dress”, if you get anything at all.

Can you invest your trust in a “rookie” who has never actually built your  type of housing before?

In my experience, that answer has been “NO”.

In my “day to day” – I see TONS of plans and renders drawn by teams wanting to get into the ISBU building world.

Sure, they may post article after article on their blogs about why they do what they do, but it’s just “touchy feely nonsense” if they haven’t actually DONE it. Ironically, most of these guys have never touched a welder or even been inside an ISBU. From the looks of things lately, most of these guys aren’t even educated, licensed tradesmen… they’re “fly by night unlicensed designers” with no actual experience building anything remotely resembling what you’re dreaming of…

Folks, I can read and then write about brain surgery or rocket science, but that doesn’t make me a Neurologist or a Physicist…

There are serious differences between “theory” and “application”.

Now, I admit that some of the stuff we see from those “rookies” is pretty good, but after close examination and a few discussions with the originators of those concept projects, it’s just LINES ON PAPER.

“Building with boxes” is harder than it looks and it’s a process unfamiliar to most. If you don’t know what you’re doing – you’re swimming with sharks.

Beyond that;

You can’t afford a “novice”.

A “novice” isn’t going to save you money. Here’s why;

  1. They’re going to make mistakes based on a lack of knowledge of the materials.
  2. They’re going to cost you space because they won’t understand the spaces being built.
  3. And, they’ll lack experience in actually dealing with those tasked with actually building your home using these “new” materials”.

THAT is a recipe for disaster.

I’ve read a lot of “pie in the sky” stuff posted by people breaking into ISBU design and construction. Most of it is nonsense. ISBU home building is a different process than the one most builders are used to. They’re gonna have to figure things out as they go. And Guess what? YOU are going to pay for both that “education” and the delays” that it causes.

I won’t even address the  costly mistakes they’re going to make along the way.

You’re only going to get “less home and more trouble”.

The ONLY way that I would use a “novice” or “virgin ISBU team” for my home build is IF I already had established a qualified “oversight consultant” to insure that we stayed on track and that quality and safety issues were met. And that consultant would be involved from day one.  And, he’d have final authority over whatever came out of the design shop.

When looking for architect/designers or contractor/builders, you want;

  1. Years of experience,
  2. Good communication skills (If you leave a meeting puzzled or confused, they haven’t done their jobs),
  3. Noteworthy Homes in their portfolio and…
  4. Success driven guys and gals with an eagerness to build something unusual and of quality.

If they can’t explain it to you, they can’t build it. And an architect or a designer who doesn’t understand your needs is just a CAD operator. If they can’t communicate with you clearly and concisely about your goals, how can they build your home?

You need experienced “first string” guys.

Are they going to COST more? Probably. But, if they really know their stuff, they will SAVE you the cost of their involvement, especially when compared to the “others”.

And as established Architectural Tradesmen or Builders, they have great banking contacts.

They work hard to keep that channel clear of obstacles. If YOU can’t finance your build, it doesn’t get built in the first place, right? If you don’t build, they don’t get paid.

Most ISBU builds to date have been “out of pocket” because the banks were afraid of them. However, as more and more homes get completed, the positive press and the availability of “comps” (comparable properties) makes this process easier in some locations.

A good bank can save you THOUSANDS of dollars. Let me repeat this;

As “Altie homes” get more popular, there are more “comps” to weigh them against.

In some locations, this makes all the difference in the world. A home that would never qualify before (because there were no similar homes to look at for “value”)… now looks interesting in these forward thinking locations and that makes them viable to the bank making the loan.

There ARE banks that will work with you, but you have to really go out and look for them. There WILL be a courting process, so do your homework and provide as much information (including renderings and detail drawings) as you possibly can.

Your loan is going to be reviewed by a “committee” and you WANT them to want to participate.

You don’t have to pay 20-25% down-payments, either. Some banks will work with you for less.

Here’s an example;

I’m told that in Texas, BBVA Compass–only requires a 10% down payment for construction (and you may find that your lot value covers this amount). A 10% down payment is a giant difference from the 20 to 25% other banking institutions require and this gives you some cushion in your budget.

BBVA Compass DOES ISBU Home loans. I know it’s true because I personally know of an ongoing ISBU project funded by… BBVA Compass in the Houston area.

BBVA also builds in a 10% contingency funding line (emergencies and overruns cash) into the construction budget. This means that if you have bad weather, a production overrun or an unexpected budget crunch, it won’t kill your build. Your project is still completely funded and protected. Better still, if you don’t use that extra (emergency) credit line, you just eliminate it. It’s just insurance to make sure that your building project succeeds. That’s totally  awesome! 🙂

In conclusion;

Home Building is about TEAM building.

You don’t want “benchwarmers” or “Armchair Quarterbacks”. You want serious players with serious skills. I’ve seen a lot of  “ISBU Cheerleaders” lately. They stand on the sidelines and make a lot of noise (and some of them even look “pretty”) but they are just a distraction to the real game being played on the field.

Unless you have that solid team, a team that knows the drills and can execute flawlessly behind you… you’re gonna lose the game.

I guarantee.

Till next time,

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One Response to “Home Building is about TEAM Building”

  1. bjcowgirlup May 29, 2013 at 6:03 am #

    I’ve been following you for awhile now – great stuff. Thought you might get a kick out of this picture (how NOT to build). Cheers, Bo

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