Most builders manage change orders as a hodgepodge of verbal communications, faxes, and disparate Microsoft Excel spreadsheets stored in the local hard drives of their construction supers and office staffs.

For Dixon/Kirby, a custom home builder in Cary, N.C., getting control of change orders is even more important, because handling customer changes above the standard allowances set in the initial contract is the lifeblood of the custom home business.

“By increasing the level of communications with BuildLinks, we now handle changes in a fraction of the time,” says Kirby. “This let us maintain our revenue at the same time that we were slashing starts and cutting staff,” he says.

Change orders in BuildLinks are now managed via e-mail. Customers are instructed at the beginning of the construction process to check Build-Links periodically for the various work deadlines. For example, if April 25 is the deadline day for decisions on appliances, customers are asked to e-mail any changes prior to that date.

Mark Kirby, the company's president, says that by using the change order management system from BuildLinks, the company made the transition from being a production company that built 45 homes a year with nine employees to a custom home builder that builds 10 homes annually with three employees: Kirby, vice president Brian Dixon, and a project superintendent, Steve Wade.

So if a customer wants to change from a General Electric appliance to a Wolf, he or she communicates the change to project superintendent Wade, who then e-mails back the model number and pricing of the new unit. If the customer approves of the new unit and pricing, he or she clicks “approve” and an e-mail is sent to Wade prompting him to order that appliance.

“This system removes much of the confrontation and stress in the home building process,” says Dixon. “It's far better for me to manage my change orders over the six- to nine-month cycle of building a house as opposed to hitting my customer with a $20,000 or, worse yet, $70,000 lump sum bill for all the change orders at the end of construction. We now welcome change orders as a profit opportunity.”

BuildLinks is great for customers, but it also makes Kirby, Dixon, and the project super more efficient, as well as the company's subcontractors. For starters, Dixon says he now can pull up all the jobs on the books for his cabinet installer, print out the schedule, and send them on by fax or e-mail for the subs with computer access.

Wade now has an electronic schedule for all the activities in the construction process and has online access to all the product selections the customer makes. If he wants to communicate the paint specifications, all he needs to do is print out that page and fax it over to the painter. He also has the option of printing out the specs and tacking them on the wall, a technique he uses a lot with the electricians, since the laundry list of tasks electricians typically need to complete can get very detailed.

“BuildLinks cuts out about 10 phone calls,” says Dixon.

“In the past, if the super had a question about a change, the super would call me, I would call the interior designer, who would then call the customer, and the chain would have to go back down the line,” Dixon says. “This way, if the customer looks at the paint code and approves the items, all the responsibility goes back to the customer—we can simply move forward with the job.”

To learn more about Dixon/Kirby or BuildLinks, visit our web site at, click on “The Magazines” tab and then “Builder Article Links.”