Monday, March 18, 2013

"Builder" Article is Old News

Several of my readers sent me a link the Builder article of March 14, 2013 entitled "The Labor Factor Revives the Component v. Stick-Built Debate." 

As I read the article I expected to see the word "modular" somewhere in the article especially since it was about the dwindling labor pool and how more home builders are using components but alas it was not to be.

Then I went back and reread the article again and sounded like it was written a long time ago and just taken off the shelf and updated. I am a huge component and modular home fan and always have been. In my GC days I built all my houses with panelized walls, trusses and floor trusses. I trusted the component manufacturers to deliver product that was accurate and met all building codes and they did.

Here is the NAHB's own 2009 video about components showing million dollar investments in the machinery to build walls, trusses and floors.

A lot of big national builders, regional builders and local builders are using panels and trusses. Any savings that might have been realized by stick framing or rafter building is offset by the time and labor components save, which to them is money in the bank. Many of these huge builders owned their own panel and truss plants but many were sold or closed when the housing crunch hit in 2008. The article mentions that many panel plants are mothballed and when asked when they might reopen, Mike McCrobie, vice president of installed sales for 84 Components responds “that’s the million-dollar question.”

Reopening mothballed factories depends on when single family housing will return to the numbers of pre-2008. That might not happen for another decade.

So, getting back to this article. Why was it written like it was something new? If the writer wanted something new to talk about, he should have written about how modular construction is to components as components is to stick framers. It's an evolution that will inevitably come. However, the downside is the residential modular industry itself. No one is championing the benefits of modular.

Neither the NAHB's Building Systems Councils, which is totally useless in promoting our industry nor the MBSA which hasn't updated its website in years, are carrying the modular home banner into battle. I understand that the MBSA is getting ready to relaunch their efforts and again champion all things modular.

Bottom line to this article is that when looking at the future of home building in the US, Builderonline is no different than the rest of the housing industry. They simply don't care about modular. Correction - they do care about commercial modular construction because the commercial modular factory owners promote themselves and their product 24/7 with press releases, national and international meetings, seminars and shows.

Keep sending me articles about residential modular housing and I'll print them but honestly it won't happen because there aren't that many to be found out there.


Jimmy Treaster said...

First you took on Michelle Kaufmann, then you started on Blu Homes and now it's the NAHB.
I agree with you about the System Built Council doing nothing for the modular home builder but I wonder if you should start watching your back. I hear hitmen may be involved...LOL

Josh Margulies said...

Mid Atlantic is a large, regional, merchant builder.

How much of overall manufacturer volume in "normal" times is from small custom home builders 10 a year tops. How many 5 house a year guys are there and what % do they do overall?

I do not believe associations supported by parties distant from the foot soldiers are quite effective in serving the interests of these first line players.

Are we not mostly Custom Home Builders? We build a home on your lot. Whenever possible we like to do that with your money or money that you have borrowed from a bank we know. We build a home on a lot owned by you and financed by either you with your sack full of gold or a bank with their sack full of gold.

Some of us employ modular technology. I love the stuff myself. I've set 75 houses. "Set" what a silly word. I put my own foundations under most of them. I graded all them that I put a foundation on. On all them that got a foundation there was a fellow digging a hole (not too deep, not too shallow) he is called an Excavator and he installs septic systems as well. Gee there was a wall crew and tarring and tiling and ground works and well you know ... cool stuff! But SET they were and finished to the extent i was to finish them all by their own contract. And no two of them the same color. Everyone of them a fine custom home . . . BUILT by me MHBR#207. I am by law, responsibility, morality and contract no less exposed then had I MHBR#207 built all 75 by stick. I am a Custom Modular Home Builder at your service. I think I am anyway. Maybe I can sell it a different way I don't know?

Now if this is an accurate category of players, pawns, queens, kings, actors, fools, infantrymen, beserkers, oh do take your pick, do then let me know. But we are a type of home builder ok?

It gets thornier. For those who are builders employing the modular technology we work with manufacturers. We get the boxes from manufacturers. We buy these components, these large fractional, 3-D, BIG volume looking mammie Jammies from y'all! (manufacturers). You build em like we want em per the client's desires. The ones with the lot and the money. For this now we, the builders, are also called "dealers." Comforting no? I'm buying from factory and adding value down the line selling to end user. That adding value part is also some times called being a General Contractor. It gets interesting. A General Contractor need not be the Dealer and vise verse. I think it helps if they are one and the same but stuff is changing all the time. Am I still a Builder if I've not bought the boxes? Maybe just in Maryland. Virginia too I am a builder in Virginia if I've just "GC ed" the setting of boxes though sold through me. It will soon be significant the Builder, Dealer, General Contractor and now Designer and Architect. It is a more complicated division of labor in an increasingly complicated process. More opportunities to make money. More opportunities to screw up. This next little dance as builder will require extraordinary political skill. I do love this business.

Now the guys who do hotels, motels, schools, specs homes, reality TV specials or giant subdivisions (you know, the national and regional guys). I'm not them. They are someone else.

Is there anyone else out there?