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Helping people turn their new home ideas into real plans and then a Prefab home. More ideas about site planning, civil engineering, utilities, septic and more. Are plan service plans usable?
Steve Tuma: We are kind of filling in the blanks because most customers know the house they want but how does it come together? That is what we are able to provide to a customer along with the product.
Interviewer: Hey, folks. And thanks for joining us for Episode 42 of the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. With me as usual is the President and Founder of Landmark Home and Land Company, a company which has been helping people build their new homes where they want exactly as they want across the nation and worldwide since 1993, Steve Tuma. Steve, how are you, my friend?
Steve Tuma: It’s an excellent day. Another great day in the Landmark’s home building land.
Interviewer: [Laughs] Every day at Landmark is good.
Steve Tuma: Yeah.
Interviewer: I thought today we talk about customer needs and how Landmark goes that extra mile to make a panelized home building project as painless as possible for its customers. Nothing is absolutely painless but I know that Landmark is known for easing the process a little bit. So let’s start with availability and responsiveness. Tell us about the support Landmark provides that heck, some customers might not even realized they need.
Steve Tuma: Well, that’s actually a pretty important situation because a lot of people think, “Hey, I just get my plans. I get them panelized to build the house and mysteriously this all just snaps together.” And the theory of that is right but the actual implementation of making things flow and work together are key elements to this whole situation and that’s where we are able to help. And we are very responsive. We work hard. We are knowledgeable. We take the time to work with our customers to make sure they understand what’s going on. It’s just not just the situation of, “Hey, here’s a house. Go build and enjoy.”
Interviewer: Here’s your Legos.
Steve Tuma: Yeah, wouldn’t that be cool? Just everyone just has fun and builds what they want.
Steve Tuma: We do allow them to build the house that they want. But what – I think what you are getting at is the extra mile of what we do is. There is more than just, “Hey, I have a plan idea. Let’s get someone stand some 2x6s up. Let’s put a roof and siding on it.” And suddenly a little while later we call it a house. There are a lot of stuff that we do to help to make sure that the design makes sense, it’s energy efficiency. We can go through get a set of plans that are clear and understandable to the contractors but we will also go through the building department and also make sure that the inspections are easier for our customers. And that’s the part. We are kind of filling in the blanks because most customers know the house that they want. They know what they want the kitchen to look like. They know what kind of siding. They know if they need a one-car, two-car, three-car or five-car or whatever garage.
Steve Tuma: They know if they want a basement or crawl space but how does it come together? That is what we are able to do and help provide that service and knowledge to a customer along with a product being the panelized home package and the full set of plans that they will need. We are very available. We are knowledgeable. We enjoy working with our customers. I think that’s a key element. But the portion that I don’t think customers realize when they first call in or anyone that’s planning a house is there’s a lot more details involved than like some of these shows do. You’ll see some shows, they will say, “Oh, do this.” And mysteriously in 30 minutes, a house is built.
Steve Tuma: Well obviously, there’s a lot more details. It’s like any business, any situation, there’s a lot more details that are much deeper, and that’s where we are able to come in and help a customer along because they may not realize it. One of my customers had a great thing, he said, “Steve, I don’t know what I don’t know.”
Interviewer: Yeah, that’s good.
Steve Tuma: Yeah, and that’s the key. So if you don’t know that your house should energy-efficient, what would make you think about it? If you don’t know that your window needs to be big enough egress in case of an emergency, you wouldn’t think about it. Well, we are there to help people through it, help them with lying out of the home. So our customers will have an idea of what they want in a home but how does it get done? We are kind of there to fill in the portions to move it along and get it taken care of for initial design, engineering, energy-efficiencies, green codes, just building processes, building department issues, delivery of the panelized home package. So we’ve been doing it since 1993. We have a lot of knowledge to help and support our customers that want to go through and build a house.
Interviewer: It’s a lot of fun. We all know the old saying about assumption and when you assume something.
Steve Tuma: Right.
Interviewer: But I am assuming most Landmark customers know what they want basically when they come to you. But how – if somebody comes to you with a design on a napkin, how does that turn into a reality in the planning and building a home? There must be a lot of details that a customer that’s designing has an idea in their head. They don’t even realize they will need help with a lot of things.
Steve Tuma: That’s exactly it because when you say – sometimes customers come with different perspectives on what they want. Some will come through and say, “Hey, I want this 2000 square foot home on a basement with a 2-car garage built on this lot in this city, in this state. That’s fine. Other people come through and say, “Steve, I don’t even know where to start but I’ve got x amount of money and I need to live in this community.”
Steve Tuma: So sometimes we have to work with them from that angle. Other times, people will come through and say, “I have this beautiful plan for this 10,000 square foot house,” but their budget doesn’t always line up to that. So we look at, “Hey, OK. So you want this big house. What is it that you see in it that you like?” And sometimes it’s something simple. They are like, “I just need four bedrooms or I need a home office or I like the recreation room or hey, there’s a huge kitchen for entertaining.” So sometimes we are able to work with them to kind of find out what’s important because it’s interesting of how you could have five people look at the same house design and everyone sees something different. Someone might look at and go, “Well, that’s easy to build.” Someone might say, “Wow! I love the tall ceilings.” Someone else might say, “Hey, it’s got five bedrooms.” Someone else might say, “Hey, I love the basement. I can put my wood shop down there.” So you can’t always assume that when someone sends you a plan that each of us value the same thing as our customer does. So we try to find out what it is that’s the essence of what they are looking for, because everyone lives differently. Some people are into cooking a lot so they are going to spend more time getting more of a gourmet kitchen. Other people, they are not as concerned with cooking but they want to have a bigger garage or a family room or whatever it may be for family get-togethers. So through these discussions, we are able to kind of get an idea of what a customer wants and then with our knowledge, we are able to work to put it together. So you bring up the napkin. We have literally had people mail us napkins. We have had people sketch things on pieces of paper, I don’t know if they are napkins, but – and then they texted to us or they email it to us.
Steve Tuma: So, these ideas that people can send can literally be just funky little sketch that takes their idea and then we work to bring it to life. Other people spend a lot of time trying to detail everything out, “I want my 3×5 window here and it’s got to be 8 inches from my 3-foot wide door that’s 10 inches from my kitchen cabinet.”
Steve Tuma: So we can work on those details also. But the key point to it is how do you take that concept, the dream, the vision that a person has of what their house should be and turn that into a real house through the planning, the engineering, all the processes that are necessary for building permits in any muni – or in any building permits jurisdiction. But also, make a set of plans so that are understandable by the customers so that they know what’s built. We are trying to make sure that the house is designed to avoid change orders which typically hurt the budge. They are a hassle. They delay things. So we want to put the time upfront in the design even if it starts in a napkin. And we’ve also work with people that aren’t able to communicate as well. One person was deaf. We are able to work through some translation systems to get their ideas and put it on paper.
Steve Tuma: So, we are very open to working with people to make sure that the concept because different people have different types of ability to visualize properly and see what it is. Well, we can take those concepts and put them on paper so it’s clear as to what’s to be built.
Interviewer: That’s a great answer. I mean I think going into something, people have a lot in their head that they don’t realize has to get out of their head to communicate it to everyone else. It’s a pretty collaborative thing building a house.
Steve Tuma: Well, it is. And what’s interesting about this is when people talk about building the house, they talk about the cool stuff, the kitchen, the man cave, the family room. No one sitting there, “Steve, when was the last time we were at a cocktail party and someone talked about the compressive strength of their cement?”
Interviewer: It came up just last night.
Steve Tuma: OK. Well, OK. We will see what type of friend you have. But you know what I’m getting at, it’s kind of like – but that’s an important part. That’s what holds your house up.
Steve Tuma: So those are the things that we can fill in so people can take care of what’s important of them. But we can make sure that their important ideas become a real house that’s built properly.
Interviewer: The magic is in the details. We’ve spoken a lot about the actual design of the home whether it’s on a napkin or not but let’s talk about the actual plan, site plan details, other things such as civil engineering and locating a driveway, septic systems, utility connections, working around drainage areas, those type of details. Let’s talk about that a little bit.
Steve Tuma: Well, that’s becoming more and more important. Some areas, they are actually getting very deep into the site planning because as properties flood or as goofy little issues arise where someone builds a 5-bedroom home and then they have a 1-car garage with a driveway that isn’t easy to access. There are a lot of things we want to look at to make sure that the fits on the land properly. A lot of people think in the way of, “Hey, I got a lot. It’s 100 feet wide by 100 feet deep. My house is 40×20. It should fit.” Well, theoretically, it could, depending on setbacks. But what if for some reason the middle of that lot had a drainage ditch going through it? You can’t just go fill it in.
Interviewer: Right. Right.
Steve Tuma: So you got to make sure it works. You got to make any civil engineering issues – where does your driveway go? We had a customer in New York. They were building this house and they were saying, “Oh, it’s great. I’m just going to do this and this.” I said, “What’s this thing on the site plan on my Google Earth? What is that?” He goes, “Oh, I forgot to tell you, it’s a river.”
Interviewer: Just a little detail.
Steve Tuma: I got a great deal on this piece of land. It’s a river. It’s kind of land-like. I can’t get to it. Well, suddenly, we have to engineer a bridge.
Steve Tuma: Not a big deal. But it’s nice to know that before you had started building and before you apply for permits that this is going to be part of it. You got to make sure your driveway is right. How can people access it? Can it be built? Different situations like that. So depending on the lot size, where it’s at, the contours of the land, different things like this can limit or enhance your use of the land. So if you are on the side of the hills, sometimes your septic system gets a little more restrictive as to where it can be placed which may limit where your driveway is, where your house is, and other components of the property. Utility connections, making sure that it’s there. How does it go? Do you have gas there? Do you have – is it propane? Is this all electric? Are you going to work with solar situations? Different things like that. And then drainage. It seems that you can turn the news on at any time and there’s some freak of nature, natural event happening that should never happen but it seems like you turn the news on and it’s happening.
Steve Tuma: So you got to make sure that your house is – if it’s in a flood plain or some issue, you know about it. Now, most jurisdictions will label that. They will have you do different work. But there are details that we need to go and design and engineer into a home for different flood conditions. So there’s a difference of a flood if it’s a river compared to if it’s a hurricane. So there are all these different details that have to be put together, typographical details to make sure that the house fits on a land.
Interviewer: Or you have to design a bridge. [Laughs]
Steve Tuma: Yeah. Yeah, that was one that was like, “Whoa!” That’s a curve ball.
Interviewer: That still got me going. Really? OK.
Steve Tuma: Well, this guy was literally on his own little island. Just this little island. If you were sitting there, you would be like, “Oh, nice dream.” Until you realized it kind of locked them in.
Steve Tuma: So – but then that brings up – we worked on big islands off of Washington State. We’ve had a variety of projects where there is a – literally, there are different islands. There are different concerns on working on the islands, designing on the island, building restrictions, some of them have certain design elements that make sense. And then also some of the people that choose to live there, they’ve got certain lifestyle, active bikes, kayaks, diving, swimming, whatever it may be, that people have different situations that they like to work with. So, we are seeing more and more getting involved with civil engineering in their projects to make sure that they don’t flood, to make sure that the house sits on the land. Basically, civil engineering in simple terms is taking your land and designing it so that the house will fit there within the zoning building codes. Make sure you can access it with the driveway. Make sure your septic will fit. Make sure power – make sure everything kind of goes together. So it’s …
Interviewer: It seems to me like more and more, you guys are designing lifestyles as much as you are houses. In the days of our parents and grandparents, you just put a house up. Now, it’s like you’re working around like you said, kayaks and man caves.
Steve Tuma: It’s a lot of that. But also, people are living in different places. Some of them are infill lots in the city, some of them are rural lots, some of them are oceanfront or lakefront or some of them are just in the plains. They just want to be out there. But more and more people are seeing that, “Hey, we need to take care of this as well as our building departments.” So the key to this is we go beyond saying, “Hey, Mr. Customer, Mrs. Customer. Here is your house. Figure it out.” We say, “Hey, let’s make sure the house works on the land and for the building department,” the make sense component of this as well. Make sure that it’s planned out so that we are doing all of this on paper and people understand what’s happening instead of just saying, “Hey, here’s the house. Go figure it out.” And then you’ve got someone trying to balance all these. So we have the full knowledge of working with civil engineers, septic designers, geotechnical people, geologists, whatever people may be involved. Now, I’m getting a little deep into some of these. Not all building departments require it. Not all sites require it. But if someone needed that level of knowledge, we are fully capable of doing it. And we enjoy doing it. It’s actually really cool to go get a challenging situation and figure out, “Wow! Look at what’s happening here.”
Interviewer: From what I’ve heard, I mean it can’t be that tough. I mean doesn’t structural engineering just happened by pushing a button on a computer? Aren’t computers doing most of your design work now?
Steve Tuma: Yeah, I wish that were true. That’s that magic button. Bam!
Interviewer: Well, isn’t there a house app that just kind of builds it for you?
Steve Tuma: Yeah, I wish there was something like that, but no. Amazingly, there the belief that computers do all this work. And yes, computers do an incredible amount of work. We rely on them for work. But you still need the human element. You can’t take a plan and push the button and it automatically knows about your land and the structural engineering concerns. You still have to have the human element. And that’s what we work with to go through to make sure that the house fits on the land, works with the civil engineering, works with the structural concerns, works with the energy concerns, and then the other concerns that may be on the site. And that is a key element. This is a pretty cool that you brought this up because that gets to the one-stop shop where you can call up and say, “Hey, Steve, I need to put this house over here and this is how we want to get it put together.” We can work to get all those details filled in so that it’s complete, so the customer knows what’s going on, understands what’s going on, but also so it’s clear to the building department and the builder. So I wish there was that magic button. We haven’t been able to find a computer no matter how much it costs that has that magic button. It takes people to sit there and understand and work and tie it together, and we are those professionals. We’ve been doing it for a while. We have the support system. We have the knowledge. We’ve done it pretty much in every single building condition. We’ve done below sea level, above sea level, flood zones, oceanfront, lakefront, plains, city lots, big cities, little cities, unincorporated areas, big rural land. We’ve been able to do it. So we’ve got a very broad but also deep understanding of how to help a customer get their house put together.
Interviewer: Right. Well, I’m going to throw a hypothetical at you just to give people an idea of how deep you guys get into and how much Landmark really is able to help people with their projects. So let’s say, I have some plans from a plan service and the planning service tells me I can go ahead and use them to submit to a building department. And then I tried that but the building department would not take the plans. What’s the next step? What do I do?
Steve Tuma: Well, the next step is send us the plan, because I’ve seen that situation and a lot of those plans and we are even seeing more comments on building department requirements that if they are mail-order-plans, bring them to a pro to get them done. It’s not that those plans are necessarily terrible. It’s that they are not complete. And the application of what they drew isn’t likely to work where you are.
Steve Tuma: So, most of those plan services, I would say, almost all of them have disclaimers saying that, “This house was designed for here but you should take it to a local architect, structural engineer, knowledgeable building official, building department to fill in all the details.” And that’s the point where people don’t think that. They are like, “Well, I got them online. They were 500 bucks. I saved some money.” Well, I don’t know that you did but it’s at least a starting point. That actually just happened to me today. It probably happens to me twice a week where people get the plans and they are frustrated because they thought that the plans are there. What people don’t realize is not all plans are the same. So plans are not just walls, showing were a wall is, where the garage is, where the kitchen is. It’s what the details within there. How is that house going to stand up? Does it apply – does it meet or exceed codes? Are there energy efficiency standards? So the plan services are in the business of having a plan that you purchase and continue on with your dream. We are in the business of taking the idea of what you want to build and making sure that it can happen. And that’s the difference. So for example, like we’ve talked about a variety of times, if you took a one home, just some home, and said, “I want to go build it on Key West.” But then said, “No, I’m moving. I’m going to go move into the middle of New York City.” Then he said, “No, you know what? I want to go live in Leadville, Colorado.” Then he said, “I’m going to move myself to Lake Tahoe.” Each of those building locations even though it’s the same house will have a completely different set of structural concerns, finishing concerns, building department requirements. And that’s where we come in. We are the specialists that take that idea of what you want to build and help make it a reality.
By the way, we have had customers that into the project that transferred or moved so we’ve had to take a house that was initially designed for say, St. Louis and have it built in Dallas. So we are able to do that, if for some reason a person comes into it. And that’s the key thing. Sometimes those canned plans, they are a good starting point. But unless you have a very unsophisticated building department, it’s not likely that they are going to be accepted. Even so, sometimes they don’t have the details or structural concerns for your builder to understand. So we realized it’s not just getting the building department to approve and inspect and approve again, it’s making sure that the builder knows what’s going on and you as the consumer should also know what you are getting. So if there’s a set of plans that isn’t clear, they need to be clarified. And that’s what people don’t always realize that there might a situation there where something is not clear. Is there a cathedral ceiling here? Is it a flat ceiling? Is there tray ceiling? What’s going on? And sometimes people say, “Well, the builder will figure it out.” I’m like, “I’m sure that that builder will figure it out. But you as a person paying for the home, shouldn’t you know? And maybe shouldn’t you get what you want?” If someone says, “Hey, it’s easy for them to put a flat ceiling but you wanted a cathedral ceiling, shouldn’t that be detailed upfront?” And that’s where we could come in. So if someone does have standard plans or plans they drew themselves or plans their local designer used, we can take those and further detail them, do structural design, do all these different details so that they can then go through and build a very cool house.
Steve Tuma: So that happens a lot. People are of the opinion that any plan will work. I say not all plans are the same. It just isn’t that way. They don’t necessarily have the details. Many of them have big disclaimers about codes and different loadings and different things. So you really need to know how to work with these to make sure it gets put together. And it’s not that hard. It’s not that expensive for us to take that idea and move it forward.
Interviewer: Something I want to ask you in the last episode but I think I can squeeze it in here. The guaranteed cost, why is guaranteed cost important to a customer and why is it important to the budget?
Steve Tuma: It’s very important because people – just like we are talking about these plans, if the plans aren’t accurate and they go somewhere and they say, “Oh, it’s going to cost x amount of money to build this house,” and the plans aren’t accurate, how do you know what you are getting? So a guaranteed cost when we give a quote and we say, “Hey, this house package, the plans engineering of this cost …” that’s the price. We don’t come back and raise the price. So it helps in your budget. It helps in your scheduling. It helps in just dealing with the headaches of building. You can control the cost of one of the biggest components of your home. So, a lot of people come to us and say, “Well, why should I work with Landmark? This guy down the road that I met at the Fish Fry told me that it should cost x amount.” And we will be like, “Well, wait. What does x amount mean?” I don’t know. “Did he put it in writing? Is there a guarantee to what he is saying?” No. “OK, that’s very open-ended. You don’t want to build a house without knowing what it cost.” So that’s a situation we are able to go through and say, “Hey, for what you need, the plans, engineering, energy codes, green codes, whatever it is, the panelized home package delivered is a solid and known cost upfront.” That’s the key element. There are just too many variables where if someone doesn’t understand their budget, it will come back and bite them.
Interviewer: Yeah, it makes sense.
Steve Tuma: We want to avoid that. And we believe in do your homework upfront so you know what you are doing so it’s a lot easier for you to build your home.
Interviewer: Yeah. Well, when you just said, “I want – we want to avoid that,” and that seems to be one of the hallmarks of Landmark is the ability to help people from – keep people from making bonehead mistakes that they would probably make if they didn’t have – I mean I originally thought that Landmark just provided panelized homes. But it’s so much more comprehensive than that. Landmark helps with plans and that they are a great support system and a guide sort of the – guide people through that whole maze and just the knowledge resource. It’s amazing. You guys must really be happy that you are providing customers with that whole new level of confidence.
Steve Tuma: It’s actually the most rewarding part of it, helping people get houses is rewarding. It changes their life. But just this week, I had three people send me extremely complimentary text saying, “Steve, you got back with us. You know what you are talking about.” And the coolest thing, they said, “Steve, you explained it so now we understand.” That is the key element. Have you ever been in a situation where you’re asking for help or you are trying to figure something out and you say, “Hey, what about this, this, and this?” And the response is, “Yes.”
Steve Tuma: It’s like OK, so what did you just tell me? Or did you just add to the confusion and aggravation where we spend a time to go through and …
Interviewer: So you’re not yes man over there.
Steve Tuma: This is interesting. This is in a place, in a community where the lots, it was up by San Francisco. And the specific question they were asking saying, “Steve, do I need a surveyor to tell me where to put the house on the lot?” And previously, people had told them, “Yeah, you should get one.” Other people say, “No, you don’t need one. You can measure it yourself.”
Well, let’s just say if you’re in a really confined lot and your house is exactly on a building line. So let’s just say the rear lot line is 10 feet from the lot line, that’s the closest you could build your house. Now, a lot of people would think that, “Hey, I got a tape measure. I can measure 10 feet.” You measure 10 feet. You dig your hole. You put your foundation. You build your house.
And then the building inspector comes out and says, “What’s up with this? You’re at 9 feet 6 inches. Your house is too close.”
So we went through and explain to them why you don’t want to do that. Yeah, you might save a little money but the potential problem and the high likeness that you will be wrong, the outcome of that just isn’t positive. So you want to get a surveyor in very tight areas to locate your house on a lot line. So the situation here wasn’t necessarily to be a discussion of surveying. It’s to be a discussion of how we help that person understand the situation so that then they can make the right decision and move forward. In this case, it was extremely helpful. And as they went through and found it, they found out that there was a neighbor’s fence was on their property. So …
Interviewer: That’s interesting. It would be a nice thing to know that your neighbor’s fence is on your property.
Steve Tuma: It just proved the point.
Steve Tuma: Because if that person who put the fence in took a survey, they would have put the fence on their land.
Steve Tuma: So those are the types of things that come out of them. But what I wanted to show there was more of the support that we are able to go through. So if someone sitting here saying, “Steve, should I go with the mini-split system or a regular furnace?” Or, “Hey, how does this installation help me?” Or, “Hey, why do I want to have my house face south when I’m installing solar?” Different things like that.
Steve Tuma: I think people will really appreciate because I’ve been in this situation myself where you just don’t get help. I was looking at purchasing a car and asked the person what the weight capacity was and the person looked at me and said, “A lot.”
Steve Tuma: I was like, “Can you tell me how much a lot is?” To an elephant, a thousand pounds is nothing. To an ant, a thousand pounds is a lot.
Steve Tuma: So what is this? And that’s not what we do. We would go through and explain the situation and get the person the answer. That’s the key element. That’s what Landmark is about is helping the people and situations they may not realize, they may not understand, or situations that arise and suddenly it’s like, uh-uh. We work through. But the best thing to do is work with us to get the plans done right to avoid as many of those issues as possible.
Interviewer: Well, this has been a really fun and informative episode. I always learn stuff when I’m talking to you. But sometimes I like getting into smaller details and more precise details than generalizations. And yeah, that’s what this episode seemed to be about. So …
Steve Tuma: Well, that’s the key element. Anyone can say, “Oh yeah, we can help you build a house.” We are wanting our customers to understand what’s going on so they know how they are spending the money. They know how they can control their project. They know that they can get the house that they want to build.
Steve Tuma: That’s key.
Interviewer: OK. Well, that about wraps it up for us today. But before we go, Steve, as we do with every episode of the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show, let’s tell the listeners how they can get a hold of you guys over at Landmark Home and Land Company and your great team and what’s the best way to reach you.
Steve Landmark: Our website is always available at LHLC.com. We are Landmark Home and Land Company, LHLC.com. The website is always there. There are plans. There are videos. There are different topics that are reviewed. You can contact us through there. You can call our, 800-830-9788. Mike will work with you, get everything taken care of. I’m also available if you need anything. You can email me at Landmark@LHLC.com. And I’m Steve Tuma. And we will do whatever we can to help whether you are buying today, tomorrow, and 10 years. We want to get you positioned so that you understand what’s happening and how we can help you. We’ve got videos on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter. We are around but ultimately, the key is you can contact us. We will take the time to talk to you, understand your project, help you understand how we can help you so that you build the best house you can and also enjoy the process.
Interviewer: Well, there you go. Well, for Steve Tuma and myself, thank you again for listening in to the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. And be safe out there, people. Happy building and we will see you next time.
Steve Landmark: Have a great day. Thank you.