In recent weeks, Thurman Custom Homes of Fort Worth, Texas, has become more proactive in helping its customers sell their existing homes.

This builder had been one of the first in Parker County to offer a guaranteed purchase program. But owner Lee Thurman says his company rarely has to buy its customer’s house. Instead, Thurman Homes is now working with buyers to help them price their homes realistically to market conditions.

That assistance includes directing buyers to contractors that, at builder cost, will make any needed repairs and upgrades to get the existing home into sellable shape. “A house that screams ‘1990’ is not going to get a lot of money,” says Thurman, who notes that his clients are typically spending between $3,000 and $5,000 per house on presale improvements. (Thurman also lets its customers purchase materials from its suppliers at wholesale rates.)

News about this program was first reported in the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram.

By offering this service, Thurman Homes “not only keeps our subs busy,” says Thurman, but also keeps prospects from looking elsewhere in this hotly contested market. One of Thurman Homes’ salespeople is a real estate agent who has struck agreements with brokers for listings “and to help out customers get top dollar for their houses,” says Thurman. For those owners who want to explore renting their existing houses, Thurman offers instruction in property management.

Local builders like Thurman Custom Homes need every competitive edge in a Dallas-Fort Worth market where home starts last year fell to their lowest levels since 1991, and where new-home sales continued to slide from the previous year in spite of a strong fourth quarter. Thurman closed 25 homes in 2009, compared to 40 the previous year. And Thurman tells BUILDER that pricing pressures are likely to force his company to pull off the table a 50-year warranty on its houses’ foundations, which Thurman Homes has been offering to buyers for the past few years and which has contributed to its reputation for producing a quality product.

Foundation integrity is a very big deal in Texas, where the plasticity of its clay soil causes it to expand and contract, which often leads to foundation failure. Thurman estimates that 30% of the foundations of homes in Texas are “substandard. And I didn’t just pull that figure out of midair, either.” To counter this problem, Thurman Homes builds all of its houses with “Max Design” foundations.

For a 2,000-square-foot house, the builder drills 40 rebar-reinforced piers 15 feet or more into the ground. The piers constitute “another layer of rock,” explains Thurman. “You could dig all of the dirt from beneath the house and it wouldn’t move.” The foundation, which sits on (but isn’t attached to) the piers, consists of 12-inch wide by 30-inch deep reinforced concrete beams, on top of which lies a five-inch thick reinforced slab.

The foundation system costs about $28,000, or double a conventional post-tension slab on that size house. This cost is nothing to sneeze at when Thurman Homes’ selling prices range from $250,000 to $350,000. But Thurman is convinced a certain percentage of customers are going to gravitate towards quality construction. “We have a Japanese mentality about this.”

That mentality is also what’s driven Thurman Homes to replace conventional housewrap with a foil wrap radiant barrier that has an R-10 value. This wrap adds about $1,000 to the price of the house, but it also “dramatically improves its energy efficiency,” says Thurman.

The radiant barrier has been a standard feature on all of Thurman Homes’ houses since Jan. 1, 2008. Indeed, Thurman makes the point that his company offers a range of standard features—including crown moldings, rock fireplaces, and lifetime warranty faucets—that is wider than what the builder’s competition is promoting. “You’d have to try really hard to do an upgrade in our houses,” he says.

John Caulfield is senior editor for BUILDER magazine.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Dallas, TX.