When Mark Fischer has more work than his subs and staff can handle, he knows whom to call: HOMExperts, a company that provides specialized home services to builders and consumers. “If we're overloaded, we use them as the fire department,” says Fischer, senior vice president at The Grupe Co., a Stockton, Calif., home builder that relies on HOMExperts to perfect its homes for closing and help with warranty requests.
That's exactly what Owens Corning, the $5 billion building materials company that owns HOMExperts, wants people like Fischer to do. “Builders like to build,” says Dave Brown, CEO of Owens Corning. “This is a flexible pool of labor that allows them to build more homes.”
The business is a relatively new one for the Toledo, Ohio–based company. Established by Owens Corning in 2000, HOMExperts has grown in size and scope after the 2002 purchases of Home Finishes, a California firm providing skilled labor to builders, and Odd Jobs, a Chicago handyman company. Today, the HOMExperts division employs 550 people and generates $85 million in annual revenue from its various offerings: handyman services for consumers, installations for The Home Depot's EXPO Design Centers, basement refinishing franchises, and the builder services.
With the builder services, Owens Corning has tapped into a pressure point for builders. That freedom to build the next house, rather than fiddle with a completed home, matters in the heated housing market, where nearly 3,000 new homes were sold every day last year. But HOMExperts offers builders more than a specialty temp service. It also lets builders better manage their costs, schedules, warranty expectations, and potentially, liability issues. “HOMExperts understand what the builder needs,” says Steve Biller, who is director of customer care for Taylor Woodrow Homes in the San Francisco Bay area. “I can customize what I need for my department and give homeowners the best feeling about their new home.”
That holds powerful appeal for big builders, who have turned to HOMExperts for everything from prep-and-detail to warranty calls, citing employees' skills and professionalism. The company's customers include Pulte, KB Home, Shea Homes, and others. For David McCann, vice present of operations for Richmond American in Northern California, HOM-Experts closes the gap between a completed house and one that's ready for a customer. “When you're a production home builder, you just don't get the house glossed off so you can turn it over to the homeowner without outside help,” he says.
Why not keep prep-and-detail laborers on staff? Some builders do, but it's “very costly,” says McCann. Salaries for these jobs aren't terribly high—perhaps $32,000 annually—but the cost of employing such workers is expensive, given the inherent inefficiencies. Sell lots of homes, and you'll have a crazy month where the closings workload outstrips your work-force, perhaps after a slow period where your detail crew waited and waited for work.
Hiring an outside company to handle such work solves that problem, but smart builders still keep a close watch on the costs. McCann, for example, budgets for a day-and-a-half to three days of prep-and-detail services per house, depending on square footage. (Costs generally run about $500 per house.) “With some superintendents, this is like candy to them,” he warns. “They don't make subs do what they need to do.”
Not all HOMExperts services only work in a pinch. Among its new, more long-term products is Life of the Home, a home maintenance program. Many builders use Life of the Home with new homeowners, giving them four hours of handyman services within 30 or 60 days of move-in and then offering recurring services at different points during the year. Now Owens Corning also wants to offer Life of the Home to consumers, providing various home maintenance services for $700 to $1,500 annually. A fringe benefit: maintenance records, which are now legally important documents. “This is a big deal for builders now that [California's right-to-repair law] has brought this issue to the forefront,” says Chuck Stein, vice president and general manager of HOMExperts.
The Grupe Co.'s Fischer applauds the approach. “If you buy a car, a three-year warranty comes with it, and you know when you buy the car that certain maintenance items will have to be done. But in home building, we haven't done a good job of educating homeowners about what they need to do,” he believes. “As an industry, that's changing.”
To learn more about HOMExperts, go to www.builderonline.com and click on “The Magazines” tab and then “Builder Article Links.”
Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Francisco, CA.