Creating cutting-edge home warranties
To some builders, a perfect world is one where they get through the warranty period without issues, then don’t hear from the homebuyer again until it's time for another new house.
Greenville, S.C., builder Todd Usher calls that shortsighted and has begun differentiating his company with a bolder approach. Usher is founder and president of Addison Homes, which builds 15-20 semi-custom homes per year, and he is rolling out a series of technology enhancements that will provide homebuyers with value for years after the sale.
The first enhancements will consist of sensors that monitor critical home systems and alert Usher or his staff to potential problems that require follow-up. It's the seed of what will eventually grow into a long-term warranty program that will benefit his buyers and bring in extra revenue.
What has given him the confidence to offer such a program? He gives much of the credit to ongoing training in high-performance building for himself and his employees, according to the Energy and Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA), of which Usher is a member.
Usher got the monitoring idea from the auto industry.
"GM sends me monthly updates on my truck's health and tells me when it needs service, so I thought 'why not do that for homebuyers?'" He realized that, done right, monitoring and notification could help him build and maintain brand loyalty.
He started with a crawlspace humidity sensor. Crawlspaces are common in the South, and Addison now installs Ultra Aire's Sentry product in all new homes. It measures humidity and temperature and sends an alert if the numbers fall outside of pre-defined parameters. The sensor sends the data to the cloud (via the homeowner's wifi) then to a handheld app that Usher can use to keep track of multiple homes. He alerts the homeowners if anything looks like it needs a closer look.
Addison will eventually outfit homes with equipment that monitors a variety of home systems, such as the main water supply, tankless water heating systems, the heating and cooling system and rooftop solar panels.
The ultimate goal is to offer extended warranties on all these systems. He will supplement this with warranties on additional items — for instance on termite damage if the homeowners sign up for an annual termite inspection and treatment.
The company will eventually give new homebuyers free monitoring for two years then offer to continue it, along with warranty protection, for a monthly fee.
"If you promise a durable home with no moisture or indoor air quality problems, you better learn how to deliver on that promise," Usher said.
Usher's training has included Southface's Earth Craft House program as well as training on RESNET's Home Energy Rating System (HERS) and Energy and EEBA.
Learning how to build high-performance homes makes it possible for him to offer value-added services he would not have otherwise considered, Usher said.
As a bonus, the monitoring service is also helping improve his product. For instance, the crawlspace moisture detector on one house was sending alerts during heavy rains. He investigated and found that while there weren't problems, the foundation drain wasn't emptying as fast as he would like.
"It told me that I needed to pitch the drain a bit more on the next house," Usher said.
Usher wants to grow Addison's annual volume to 30 or 40 homes over the next couple of years, and he knows referrals from customers will play a big part in that growth.