Walk a jobsite at Woodland Village—Lifestyle Homes' community 18 miles outside of Reno, Nev.—with Jon Delaurentis, the builder's former president, and he inevitably brings up how “clean” the site is: no wasted materials or equipment lying around, no mud being traipsed into houses under construction by contractors. Delaurentis notes in passing that subcontractors police the desert surrounding the construction area for loose debris.
These comments might seem banal, but they speak to Lifestyle's construction disciplines, which have helped this 18-year-old builder to consistently and profitably deliver the Reno-Sparks market's lowest-priced homes, without skimping on the quality of its building materials, labor, or finished product. Its field superintendents are the appointed guardians of Lifestyle's construction standards, guided by a tracking system that the builder devised internally three years ago, which provides them with a steady stream of progress reports on every home. During the 120 days it takes Lifestyle to complete a house, no phase begins until a super signs off that the previous phase is 100 percent complete.
“Lifestyle's supervisors are nonstop, going from house to house, checking on quality. It's a delight to see,” says Don Ellis, who owns Tee Time Greens, a local landscaping contractor. Bill Balsi, whose Valley Concrete has been pouring hard surfaces for Lifestyle since the late 1980s, is grateful that his subs have “such good, efficient support people in front of us.”
Lifestyle cultivates loyalty among its outside contractors—which it uses for plumbing, electrical, landscaping, and foundations—by paying them every two weeks, making sure each phase is ready when it's supposed to be, and allotting contractors areas on the jobsite premises to store building materials and stow their gear, thereby making them more productive.
Lifestyle also exerts greater control over how its homes get built by using its own employees for framing, roofing, drywall, painting, and finish carpentry. Owner Peter Lissner, who acquired the company from his father, Bob, three years ago, says that one of the benefits of having installers on the payroll is more accountable jobsite safety, which translates into lower liability insurance costs. Delaurentis adds that Lifestyle's employee-installers are extremely reliable and rarely leave the company. One framer, Heath Bogle, says he waited two years before a slot he could fill opened at Lifestyle.
Bogle and other framers corroborate Delaurentis' claim that Lifestyle imposes some of the market's toughest construction standards. Delaurentis points specifically to tighter nailing patterns, the precision with which corners align and carpeting is laid, and even how firmly closet doors close. “You can hear quality in a house,” Delaurentis says. The installers, as well as Lifestyle's subs, also know they'll be called back to fix any mistakes they make during construction and are on call to handle post-sale repairs. Lisa Mazza, Lifestyle's customer service administrator, says she fields about 10 repair calls per week from homeowners, and Delaurentis notes that the company still fixes drywall cracks in homes it built a decade ago. “We're right here. We can't hide from our customers,” he laughs, referring to the fact that Lifestyle's current “headquarters” offices are inside a split-level house on one of Woodland Village's streets.
Lifestyle builds a pretty basic house from only 21 floor plans, having eliminated 32 others over the past five years, says vice president of construction Phil Hatch. Those houses range from 1,040 to 2,660 square feet on 8,000-square-foot lots and are priced from just under $200,000 to $323,900, or $20,000 and $30,000 below the competition's comparable models. More to the point, Delaurentis states that competitors aren't matching the “value” that Lifestyle builds into its homes, particularly at the affordable end. Its specs call for 5/8-inch drywall throughout every house, engineered beams for all floor joists, OSB structural-rated exterior siding, and concrete that can meet the market's most demanding code. All of its homes also have driveway access for RVs, 50-gallon water heaters, and guttering.
Lifestyle offers a limited selection of standard options—such as gas lines for barbecue grills, wood trim, tile floors for kitchens, and insulated garages—for cost plus 10 percent. Delaurentis says he's trying to change Lifestyle's image with buyers as an entry-level–only builder by adding more options and emphasizing its community's features, such as walking paths, parks, a middle school, and a soon-to-be-added YMCA and village center.
But getting buyers interested is difficult when house listings last summer were 400 percent higher than the year before. As demand waned, Lifestyle this year cut its completion rate in half, to eight homes per month, and reduced its workforce by 40 percent, to around 60 associates. To help the company reduce its costs, Delaurentis voluntarily left Lifestyle in October and is now a finish carpentry subcontractor. Lissner, who took over as president, has been dipping into Lifestyle's retained earnings to forestall more layoffs, and he's crossing his fingers that the market downturn isn't prolonged.
Lifestyle is about three-quarters of the way through the 2,000-unit build-out of 685-acre Woodland Village. Nearby, in Red Rock, Nev., it's purchased three parcels with 4,300 lots for its next community, where it expects to start building within three years. Regardless of how the market swings, however, Lissner says he won't dilute the construction standards and procedures that are legacies of his father and Vern Hotz, Delaurentis' predecessor. When he was president, Delaurentis reinforced Lifestyle's commitment to producing well-built homes by throwing pizza parties for employees and subs when houses they'd completed achieved error-free final walk-throughs. “It reminds them that perfection is our goal.”
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Reno, NV.