‘Work Day’ Works Wonders

Eight weeks after closing, Maryland builder Marvin Ausherman schedules a single day when all trades return to wipe out warranty list items.

By Bill Lurz, Senior Editor | August 31, 2003
Marvin Ausherman (right) and vice president/operations Stuart Terl require all employees and trades to wear plastic booties if they go into a customer's home after closing.

Eight weeks after closing, Maryland builder Marvin Ausherman schedules a single day when all trades return to wipe out warranty list items.


Building in the distant Maryland suburbs of Washington, Marvin Ausherman knows it's not wise to force buyers to stay home from their jobs for multiple warranty work appointments. His customers, primarily two-income move-ups, commute long distances and resent every warranty work intrusion into their lives after the first one.

"That's why we want to get everything done all at once, in one day," the NRS Award winner says. "So eight weeks after closing, we send each customer a letter asking for a list of items in the home that they think should be fixed. When we get that back, within a week we schedule an appointment to have warranty service walk the house and inspect the items.

"While we're there, we schedule the 'work day' - about four weeks later - when all the trades and our technician will come back and try to get everything done in one day. Then we issue the purchase orders to all the trades, specifying the work they will be expected to do. On 90% of the houses, we're able to get everything done in that one day."


Customer Contact: Sales Agent

Ausherman Homes sells detached homes to move-up families, townhouses to a mix of singles and young couples, and condominiums to active-adult empty nesters. Its highly structured customer-care process begins in the model home.

"Our sales agent is our primary contact from first inquiry right through to settlement [closing]," Ausherman says. "We train sales to understand the whole process, from contract to selections and all the way through construction.

Top Five Difference-Makers
  1. Adequately cleaned after warranty work (warranty service): 90.33 (average: 69.07)
  2. Explained construction process (project superintendent): 92.39 (average: 72.43)
  3. Completed work in a timely manner (warranty service): 83.33 (average: 63.63)
  4. Provided quality workmanship (warranty service): 90.22 (average: 70.57)
  5. Was responsive to your concerns (project superintendent): 90.00 (average: 72.04)

"There's no real relationship with the super, although he walks the house with the customers at a pre-drywall orientation, at what we call the 'systems explanation,' five days before settlement, and at the settlement inspection. All those are also attended by the sales agent."

At contract, Ausherman also presents the customer with a Customer Care Guide, a book that contains descriptions of what to expect at each stage of the home buying process, answers to frequently asked questions, and phone numbers for the salesperson, the vice president of sales, the production manager, the vice president of operations and Ausherman.

"Our policy is that every phone call will be returned within 24 hours," Ausherman says. "We also have a 'customer concern form' that they can fill out in the sales center. We guarantee to have a written response back to the customer within a week."

Within 30 days after contract, customers go through Ausherman's design center to take care of all selections from a long list of standard options. For $50, the firm will consider purely custom changes requested before construction starts.

"After we start, it costs you $250 just to ask," Ausherman says.


Promised Completion Dates

The company uses a highly computerized slot scheduling system for construction. "As soon as we go to contract, we begin processing toward the slotted start date," Ausherman says. "All selections have to be complete two weeks before the start date. If not, we swap them out, and they lose the date."

Ausherman also sets a completion date.

NRS Award:
Ausherman Homes
Headquarters: Frederick, Md.
Communities: 10
Product: Detached homes, townhouses, condominiums
2002 closings: 244
2002 revenue: $63.5 million
Employees: 40
Chief executive: Marvin Ausherman

Award classification: Production builder, 100-500 units
NRS Index score: 177.28
Homeowner satisfaction: 84.72
Recommend scaled score: 92.55

97.9% of homeowners "would recommend"
87.2% had made at least 1 positive recommendation
25.5% had made 1-3 referrals.
36.1% had made 4-6 referrals.
8.6% had made 7-9 referrals.
17.0% had made 10 or more referrals.
Average referrals per surveyed customer: 4.66
Expectation difference: -0.52 (current satisfaction minus expected satisfaction)

"One-and-a-half weeks after we start, our title company sends the buyers a letter informing them of the closing date," Ausherman says. "We haven't missed one in four years."

To make sure homes are delivered defect-free at closing, Ausherman severely limits the number of trade contractors working his jobs.

"We want our specs and standards to be well-known by everyone on the job, and we build to very tight schedules, updated every week," Ausherman says. "You can't do that if you're constantly changing trades."

Consistency of product helps keep jobs humming. Ausherman builds only 10 single-family house plans, two townhouses and two condos.

Ten workdays before the final walk with the customer, Ausherman has an inspection specialist walk the house with the super.

"The supervisor then has five days to make the house perfect," Ausherman says. "When we walk the customer through, the house is spotless, ready for move-in."


Customer-Care Team

During warranty, Ausherman's customer-care team takes over. That's a manager, who fields all the calls and does the visits to inspect items, and two technicians, who roam around in vans and do many of the simple jobs themselves.

"We hold trades accountable, but we won't bring them back for 15 to 30 minutes of work," Ausherman says.

At 11 months after closing, Ausherman sends another letter, informing the buyers that the warranty period is about to expire and asking for a list of items.

"About 50% send something in," Ausherman says. "We schedule a visit, and if the work is warrantable, get it done within four to six weeks. After warranty is up, if they call, we go back to the house to assist if there's a major concern. But we rarely perform any work because our process brings us to a point where there's nothing at the end of a year."

Ausherman Homes
Wow Factor/Rapid Response - all warranty work completed in one visit; employees and trades wear sanitary booties in buyers' homes for warranty work
Smooth Transition - sales rep with buyer throughout building process; construction schedule provided to buyer and, if necessary, updated for buyer
Relationship Value - sales rep with buyer throughout building process
Setting Expectations - detailed Customer Care Guide