HIDDEN VALUE: Design and construction changes that JMC Homes made several years ago are paying off in lower warranty complaints and higher owner satisfaction.

Photos: Dave Adams Photograpy 530 795 2529

HIDDEN VALUE: Design and construction changes that JMC Homes made several years ago are paying off in lower warranty complaints and higher owner satisfaction.

When J.D. Power & Associates unveiled its annual Customer Satisfaction study last week, the winners were mostly the same big public and private builders that have come to dominate this ranking year in and year out.

One of the few exceptions could be found in Sacramento, Calif., where John Mourier Construction—which markets itself as JMC Homes—ranked first in overall customer satisfaction and new-home quality.

Even JMC Homes’ general manager, Bruce McAlister, was taken aback by the recognition. “I’ve never been a big fan of J.D. Power,” he tells BUILDER. “We don’t give money to them as a company. But we were real surprised” by the results.

The Roseville, Calif.-based JMC Homes has been serving the Sacramento market for more than three decades. During the last housing boom, the company saw more than its share of competition, as 80-plus builders once were operating there, according to The Gregory Group, a local housing consultant.

McAlister jokes that one of the reasons why JMC Homes ranks so highly among customers now is because “a lot of that competition just packed up and left.” More seriously, he attributes the honors to the family-owned company's “culture of customer service that’s really important to us. We all have been around here a long time and live here. I know it sounds a little self-serving, but it’s true.”

Earlier this decade, in an effort to reduce warranty complaints from its homeowners, JMC Homes “tore apart” its house plans to conduct what McAlister calls “preventive maintenance” that would improve the quality of their construction. The builder focused on moisture intrusion, which he admits is not something a lot of owners think about until they have a leak in their walls. “If I were to tell them about our stucco moisture barriers, they’d look at me like I had two heads.” Such improvements add to the cost of the house, too, but the builder decided to stick with them even during the downturn. “And our [warranty] calls have gone way down.”

HOLDING UP: JMC Homes expects to close 20 homes this year, or about the same number as in 2009. Its prices range from $220,000 to $750,000.

Photos: Picasa

HOLDING UP: JMC Homes expects to close 20 homes this year, or about the same number as in 2009. Its prices range from $220,000 to $750,000.

JMC Homes' recent J.D. Power ranking might also be related to the company’s decision not to reduce its customer service department during the downturn. It still has three people in the field and three in the office. In fact, McAlister makes the point that every person in the company who interacts with a customer can influence its reputation for quality and customer service. That reputation is enhanced by the fact that the company is turning sales into closing within 45 days, on average, which McAlister says is low compared to local competitors.

When trying to explain why customers singled out JMC Homes for quality and customer satisfaction, McAlister points to “cosmetic flourishes,” such as arches and doors that are bigger than standard, that distinguish its homes’ designs. “Ninety-five percent of what we’ve sold in the last two years are homes that we’ve just completed,” meaning that they include such features as granite countertops that JMC Homes has made standard. “These used to be options, but we just decided to add them,” says McAlister. “Plus, you get a much better deal from subs when you’re doing production [construction].”

Despite the competitive attrition in Sacramento, McAlister says “it’s still a dogfight” to drum up business. JMC Homes expects to close 200 homes this year, about the same as it did in 2009.

John Caulfield is senior editor for BUILDER magazine.