Like kudzu, computer tablets are quickly spreading over the home building landscape, eliminating fax machines, hard-wired telephone lines, office space, file cabinets, and the ubiquitous milk crates on the front seat of superintendents' pickup trucks. Unlike kudzu, they are beneficial, cutting costs and build time, increasing efficiency, and even helping to sell homes and options. In this second part of our series, we will look at a number of home builder case studies to explore how the devices are changing businesses.

As Vintage Homes began issuing iPads to its building superintendents, the milk crates began to disappear from the front seats of their pickup trucks.

“They are able to access all the info they need without having to have the milk crates anymore,” says Cindy Christian, information and technology officer and controller for the Cordova, Tenn.–based builder, No. 186 on Builder's 2011 top 200 home builders list with 97 home closings.

Here’s what Vintage Homes is using iPads for:
*The superintendents have access to all job information—purchase orders, plans, customers’ selections, and various construction check lists via the Builder MT’s Superintendent Portal. The company’s server is accessible directly through the Cloud.

*They pay vendors via the device after walking the job, checking off completed items using Adobe Standard for iPads, then the trades and the superintendents sign them and forward the checklist to accounts payable. “No invoices, no printed checklist, no dead trees,” says Christian.

*The company’s new-home orientation specialist (warranty) person can access Punch List Manager on his iPad to check service order status and homeowner information. He can also access the Superintendent Portal to log claims. The specialists, too, have a checklist on the iPad that they use during the several walkthroughs they have with customers, which get sent into the office and uploaded into the customer’s portal so the homeowner has a copy.

*They use the iPads to take photos of construction issues that need to be discussed with trades and of happy new homeowners moving into their houses, which are posted to Facebook.

*Sales executives are able to access Sales Simplicity software to log in leads by using the company’s website to type in lead information under the “contact us” form, the same form outside Internet leads use to leave information.

*The company’s executives were the first adaptors of the iPad, and the CEO pushed to create a system so he could use his iPad rather than laptops from wherever he was. That took a bit of doing, says Christian, but finally they were able to figure out how to use a "log me in" app that allows the executives to access their laptops via their iPads from anywhere.

The iPads have undeniably saved the company money, says Christian, though it’s difficult to quantify how much. The savings range from the concrete costs of printer toner and paper to less measurable, but perhaps even more valuable, time savings.

Vintage Homes aims to build all its houses within 40 days after they are released in the field, a schedule so tight that any delay can knock the build seriously off schedule. Because the iPads are logging information into a system that updates immediately, delays can often be eliminated or minimized, Christian says.

One example of how the devices have helped keep the schedule on time is the ability of the iPads to photograph a lumber drop and immediately send the photo to everyone so that it can be determined if the framing package is complete. An incomplete lumber package could mean that a framer has to come back a second time, rather than finishing the job in one session. That can add up to big delays if the framer goes to another job and waits until that one is complete before coming back.

Keeping build time short has translated to increased sales because it makes Vintage competitive with existing-home sales move-in times.

“Once we start we are like a machine,” says Christian. “It’s been a huge benefit for us. We are able to entice [real estate] agents to look at new homes for their clients when they can get in [the homes] in five or six weeks.”

Teresa Burney is a senior editor for Builder.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Memphis, TN.