Resolve Questions during the Models Phase

            The construction of the sales models should be used as a trial-run to identify and solve problems before starting construction of the production units.  The sales models construction is the time to investigate and solve design, scheduling, and coordination problems.

Equally important is the cooperation of the city building inspectors in anticipating and identifying building code and engineering questions on the plans.  The builder should encourage the raising of any questions and issues the inspector may have during the construction of the four or five sales models…so that these are resolved once the construction starts on the 50, 100, or 200 production units.

The builder should take the lead and encourage the debugging of the models through the use of requests for information (RFIs) to the architect and structural engineer, constructability analysis of the plans, and the input of the city building inspector.

If the builder instead rushes through the models construction to get into the start of the production units…unresolved problems only multiply over several units rather than a single sales model floor plan.  If unresolved problems still exist in the plans…a change of building inspectors midway through the production units only exposes some latent/hidden issue that could and should have been identified and resolved earlier during the sales models construction.

The production schedule can then be held up resolving problems on several repeating units…sometimes affecting several trades…creating a ripple effect of debugging part-way through the production phase rather than problem resolution confined to a single sales models unit.

Finally, for multi-unit production tract housing and condominiums…changes to the sales models in terms of problems identification and resolution…and owners changes to the floor plans…should be memorialized in revised sets of plans re-submitted to the city or county plan checking department…so that plans reflecting the changes and corrections can be ready for use when the production phase begins.  Some cities or counties will not allow the production construction to begin until revised plans are complete…so that their inspectors are looking at the revised plans rather than old plans plus a number of architectural or engineering field memos or “cut-sheets”…which get to be too confusing for the building construction and the building inspectors to follow.

Sell the Sales Models As-Is

Sales model units receive thousands of prospective buyers throughout the course of a large multi-unit project.

This amount of traffic creates wear-and-tear in these units in a variety of ways.

The builder should sell the sales models on an as-is basis.  Most sales models are decorated with wallpaper, wall treatments, optional decorator features, and upgraded flooring.  Sometimes sales models are purchased with all of the furniture.

For these reasons the sales models prices are often negotiated with the homebuyer.  Like a demonstration automobile with low mileage at a car dealership…the homebuyer must understand that the sales models are slightly used.

The builder wants to avoid a purchaser demanding that entire areas of vinyl flooring be replaced in the kitchen, for example, because of a small cigarette burn discovered after move-in and occupancy.

The builder should not intimate to the buyers that the sales models will be brought up to the standard of quality of the new…untouched by sales traffic…production units.

For the negotiated sale of a models unit to have any meaning…the words as-is in the sales agreement must mean as-is.  This should be the arms-length understanding…even when the builder engages in final prep repair work in converting the models into livable units.

Carpet Maintenance for the Sales Models

Several things can be done to prolong the new look of carpeting in the sales models…in spite of the wear-and-tear from sales traffic.

The first thing is to place wipe-off mats at the entry doors to each model.  These mats should be washable, and they should be cleaned often.  Mats at the entry doors intercept dirt before people can track it into the models and onto the carpeting.

The second thing is to schedule cleaning of the sales models on Fridays and Mondays of each week.  Models are cleaned in anticipation of increased weekend sales traffic…and the weekend wear-and-tear to the flooring is then followed up with a Monday cleaning…which also benefits the lighter sales traffic generated during the upcoming week.

Carpet manufacturers recommend frequent vacuuming as one method to help maintain carpeting.  Not only does the Friday/Monday cleaning schedule get the sales models looking their best for the busiest sales period of the week, but it also gets the carpets vacuumed before and after the heaviest foot traffic period.

Carpet manufacturers also recommend having the carpets professionally cleaned periodically.  Because of the abuse that sales models carpeting takes from all of the foot traffic, the builder should consult with the interior design center (or the flooring contractor) and the carpet manufacturer directly to determine how often the carpet can be safely cleaned to keep it new.

Warranty Work

            For a multi-unit, two or three-year production housing project…the builder should consider budgeting a contingency dollar amount for the one-year warranty period between the builder and the homebuyers…for the converted sales models and the empty inventory units that are sold and occupied long past the completion of the construction.

After two or three years, some subcontractors might be out of business and not available for customer service repairs.  Some repair items might be due to the wear and tear from the age of the units sitting empty…which would not come under the subcontractor’s or manufacturer’s warranty.

The issues of what is warrantied between the builder and the buyer of sales models…and the length of time the subcontractors are responsible for warranty repair work…needs to be addressed contractually…for units that may be sold beyond the standard 12-month warranty period at the close of the construction, for example.

Maintenance for the Sales Office

Periodic maintenance, repairs, and repainting of the sales office should be included in the project budget.

On one particular project, the sales office was a separate structure from the sales models…assembled out of two double-wide trailers…joined together in the middle…which resulted in a 40 x 60 foot office.

The exterior doors and windows were wood sash with glass panels…and the woodwork was stained a dark mahogany color with a clear lacquer sealer.

After a couple of years, the lacquer finish started to peel off, and the stain on the wood faded.  The carpeting showed signs of the constant wear and tear of homebuyer traffic.  Several other items needed fixing…including the water leaking underneath thresholds when it rained…and doors binding against each other.

The builder in terms of budgeting might look at a temporary sales office as a one-time expense for the initial construction…without considering the repairs and maintenance costs required to keep s sales office looking nice for several years.

The painting or staining of exterior woodwork, the interior painting, the doorknobs, and the carpeting or other flooring might not last the two, three, or four years required to sell-out a large project.

Paint Touchup for the Non-Model Units

            I once worked as the jobsite superintendent on a 22-building, 282-unit condominium project…having a sales model building of 12 units, with 5 of the units being furnished and decorated sales models, and the remaining 7 units being empty inventory units.

The 7 non-model units could not be occupied until the end of the project, when the entire sales models and sales office complex was converted into regular production units for sale.

The point of this post is to simply point out that the builder needs to budget for the amount of work that is required to bring the non-models…which may have sat empty for a few years while the project was in construction…up to the level of the quality that is standard for the other new units.    

            On this particular project, the 7 non-models sat empty for three years.  The enamel paint on the interior doors and jambs turned yellow in many of the rooms, and the exterior doorknob hardware became badly corroded.  The builder had not anticipated the expense of having to repaint large portion of the interiors of all of the 7 non-model units, along with many other minor repairs.

Each project is different.  A 250-unit housing tract with 5 sales models will fence off the 5 models and complete the production units for occupancy.

A 100-unit, three-story condominium building that is one long connected structure with an open courtyard, for example, will have a sales office and sales models on the first floor…while the rest of the units in the complex will be occupied as they are sold.

At the completion of these projects…no empty non-model units need repair at the time of the conversion of the sales models.

A 12-unit condominium building…for example…containing 5 furnished and decorated sales models and 7 empty non-models…cannot sell and occupy the 7 non-model units because of the conditions surrounding the sales models complex…including trap fencing, sales models signs, and landscaping potted plants in the streets as barriers to control automobile traffic.

The sales models complex for this type of project is thus different from the sales models for other projects in terms of how to handle the empty non-model units.

Timers for Lighting for the Sales Models

The builder should consider the use of clock timers for the sales models lighting during the construction.

The electric bill for leaving the lights on continuously in four or five models can become expensive…but it is too much work having the sales staff going through the models turning the lights on at the start of the day…and turning them off at the close of each day.

If the sales office opens at 10:00 AM every day, and closes at 6:00 PM, the timer could be set to turn on the electricity to the models at 9:00 AM, and off at 8:00 PM.

Any alarm system would need to be on a separate system (such as connected to the electrical meter ahead of the clock timer) so it could run 24 hours per day.

Sales Models Hours & Exterior Lighting

When the sales office is separate from the sales models…and the sales office hours extend past darkness…the homebuilder should consider exterior lighting leading from the sales office to the models.

In one particular case, the sales office stayed open until 6 PM.  With daylight savings in October, darkness began at 5PM.  Enough exterior lighting had not been provided for homebuyers to walk safely from the office to the models.  A few lights were finally added between the sales office and the sales models…using extension cords.

Reverse the Locks on the Garage Man-Doors

            For sales models…the doorknob hardware on the firedoor that separated the interior of the garage from the interior of the house (the man-door)…should be installed in reverse while the units are sales models.

Prospective homebuyers walking through the models cannot accidently close a locked door behind themselves while entering into a garage…that also has its garage door padlocked on the exterior (not uncommon for sales models).

On one particular project, a husband and wife locked themselves inside the garage of one of the sales models when sales traffic was light.  After yelling for help for about 30 minutes…the husband put his should to the locked garage man-door and busted their way out…knocking the door through the door jamb.

If the hardware for this door is reversed…with the finger turned latch on the garage side of the door…and the keyed half of the doorknob on the house interior side…people are then prevented from entering the garage from the house…and accidently locking themselves inside the garage.

Keys for the Sales Office & Models

As the sales models grand opening day approaches…the builder should determine how many sets of keys are needed for access to the sales models complex.

People needing keys include the sales staff, main office management, field construction staff, interior plants maintenance, and the cleaning crew.

The keys to the sales complex should be different from the master key to the empty inventory units and the units under construction.

Plan ahead for this activity of providing keys for those people who will need continuing access to the sales office and the sales models…so this does not become a crisis along with other last-minute issues.