Last month, I attended NAHB’s midyear meeting in Miami and had the pleasure of sitting in on a presentation by Daniel Swift, president and CEO of Des Moines-based architecture group BSB Design.
Are You Flexible and Fast on Your Feet?
High-end home building has been Don Lytton's specialty for most of his 25 years running job sites.
Name: Don Lytton
Company: Brian Bailey Homes, Austin, Texas
Years as superintendent: 25
Customer willingness to recommend: 100%
Units carried per quarter: 11
Days ahead/behind schedule: 3 ahead
Homes delivered last year: 14
Value of homes delivered: $23.8 million
Hard-cost variance: 5% to 7%
High-end home building has been Don Lytton's specialty for most of his 25 years running job sites. He had been a framing contractor. During the past few years with Brian Bailey Homes, he has overseen homes with prices starting at $1.5 million. The big difference between doing a few custom homes and dozens of production homes is that the builder usually works around the trades' schedules instead of the other way around. Another important difference is the almost daily contact required by custom home buyers.
"We really don't use a critical-path type of schedule," Lytton says. "We deal with homeowners who don't always make selections on time, so we have to be flexible. A lot of subcontractors can't be here when you need them, so you have to schedule around them to get them back in."
Keeping the customer on track: Lytton meets with buyers on site weekly during their yearlong build. On room-by-room tours, he updates them on work that has been completed and provides a written list of decisions they must make during the coming week. Phone conversations are frequent.
For Lytton, this level of communication prevents mistakes that can cut into profit, and it enhances customer satisfaction.
Lytton also makes it a rule to "never let the customer feel like they are wrong" and to listen carefully to what customers say. Lacking a construction vocabulary, they might ask for one thing and mean something very different. "Customers are always right, and you try to make it happen the way they want it to."
A passion for quality homes: Lytton says his greatest satisfaction is driving by homes he built 20 years ago and seeing that they are holding up well. He holds all work to one standard: how he would want it done if it were his home.
Strong construction knowledge: Lytton credits the experience he gained working for his general contractor brother and later as a framing contractor for providing a depth of knowledge most superintendents lack. That experience gains him instant credibility when he offers an opinion to any trade and explains why his judgment is so strong on such issues as when a job will be ready for the next trade. It also is re-flected in how he values trade partners.
"Any good superintendent will tell you the same thing: It is the subcontractors that you deal with. If you are good to them, they are good to you. And they help you put out a better product, and they are loyal to you."
What the trades say: "He is just on top of everything. The job is always ready. What makes a good superintendent is one who is organized. They are the ones who help us make money. He makes us money. He's very honest. If Don tells you something, it is going to happen. A good supe can also get answers to your questions. He gets the answers." -- Karl Wilson, Karl Wilson Custom Trim, Austin, Texas
Don on building good relationships with subcontractors
Don on scheduling
Don on overcoming weaknesses
Don on do's and don'ts for new superintendents