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Home Our Story BLOG: The Story Ep. 9_Building Homes - Not Just Houses (with Will Marks)

Ep. 9_Building Homes - Not Just Houses (with Will Marks)

Monday September 7, 2020

Ep. 9_Building Homes - Not Just Houses (with Will Marks)

On this episode of the Welcome Home podcast, we chat with John Houston Custom Homes Construction Manager Will Marks about life on the job. We talk about how he got into the construction industry, the process of building a home step-by-step, included features in every John Houston home and more!


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Will Marks: [00:00:01] I love seeing the kids playing in the driveways or riding their bikes in the neighborhoods, so at that point it goes from a house to a home. I think if you've worked at John Houston or you know someone who has, that's what we care about. We don't want to just build houses, we want to build homes.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:00:16] That was the voice of Will Marks, Construction Manager at John Houston Custom Homes, telling us about his favorite part of the building process with our homeowners. You're going to love hearing from Will today. He's been with us for many years. He started as an intern cutting grass, now he is one of our top builders for John Houston Custom Homes. Join us today on the podcast Welcome Home.

Intro: [00:00:42] Welcome Home, a podcast brought to you by John Houston Custom Homes. Join host, Chelsi Frazier and Whitney Pryor, as they walk you through the exciting adventure of your home buying and building journey.

Whitney Pryor: [00:00:57] Thank you for listening in today on the Welcome Home podcast. Chelsi, who do we have at the kitchen table today?

Chelsi Frazier: [00:01:05] Today we are with Will Marks who is a Construction Manager for John Houston Custom Homes. We're going to talk to him about what it's like to work with the homeowner in their build process, what questions he answers on a daily basis and what people can really expect while they're building with John Houston Custom Homes. Welcome to the show. Will, how are you?

Will Marks: [00:01:24] I'm doing good, thank you for having me. This is my first podcast, so thank you for allowing me to check that off my bucket list. I'm very excited to be here today.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:01:35] We wanted to start off with learning a little bit about you. How long have you been with John Houston Custom Homes?

Will Marks: [00:01:41] I interned with John Houston when I was in High School and College. I think my work interning might be, how would you say, maybe a stretch? When I interviewed after I became an adult and graduated College, I really beefed up my resume with interning with the company , but really what that entailed was weed eating ditches in new neighborhoods for hours upon hours

Chelsi Frazier: [00:02:06] You have to start somewhere.

Will Marks: [00:02:07] I started with weed eater and now I'm a Construction Manager, so if you're wanting to sit in the seat that I am, grab a weed eater and get to work. That's how it started. I was weed eating. That was before we had Erosion Control Company or anything like that, so I was weed eating. If it ever rained or anything like that, I would get to hop in the truck with one of our Construction Managers, ask questions and ride around as they were doing it. I slowly started to learn terms and different things, the order of how you build this, and why you do that. When I went off to college, I pursued a different career, and then really felt like God was calling me to do something different. I interviewed here and got hired on as a Construction Manager. I will have been with the company right at four years this Summer.

Whitney Pryor: [00:02:54] That's awesome! You came along before we had that program of the Build Waxahachie Project. To give you a little background, Build Waxahachie is a program where we work directly with the High School and the Building Trades Program. We teach those kiddos what the building process is like, take them out to our job sites and show them how to build a home from scratch. It sounds like you did the precursor to that by getting out there, weed eating  and picking up knowledge and the process. 

Will Marks: [00:03:32] Exactly. It is a lot of learn by watching and asking questions.

Whitney Pryor: [00:03:34] Yeah, awesome!

Chelsi Frazier: [00:03:36] What is your favorite part of your job?

Will Marks: [00:03:38] I always tell people, I love what my job allows me to do more than I love construction itself. The two biggest things that construction and building specifically allows is- I get to be with people every single day, interacting with a multitude of people from different backgrounds, and I get to see things progress every single day. Very rarely is a house sitting and if it is, it's a bad thing. We always want to be progressing and getting closer to that finished product, and that's what I love. My personality, I don't like to sit still and I don't like to just stay with the status quo. When you're building a house, you're talking with the homeowners, the contractors, sales managers, and your employees, all while pushing the house forward towards that final, finished product. What I love the most, is dealing with people and seeing something move and progress every single day. Every house is different- same floor plan, different color or same elevation, different brick so, matter what we do, very rarely is it the same thing. For me, that's probably one of the most fun things.

Whitney Pryor: [00:04:41] Speaking of homeowner communication, can you walk us through where that starts, what type of meetings you have with homeowners and what they learn in those meetings?

Will Marks: [00:04:52] Yeah, absolutely. Pre-set meetings, at least with us here at John Houston Custom Homes, which maybe unique to us or maybe it's industry standard, we do roughly four to five scheduled face to face meetings at the beginning. We do what we call a preconstruction meeting, where the homeowner sits down with their Construction Manager and look at all of their plans, selections and designs. We verify that it is the accurate information because anything that's documented or on a plan, we're going to build off of that. We definitely want to make sure the paperwork, the drawings, everything is matching what the homeowner is expecting, that way, there's no wrinkles along the way. The second one we'll do is what we call a pre-sheetrock meeting. Before we start putting sheetrock or drywall up on the walls, we want to get the homeowner in the house and go over all their electrical options, AC options and locations. Once you put sheetrock on, it's a little bit difficult to move things without making a mess. Our goal is to not make a mess. We'll get the homeowner in there, meet with them and then we really won't meet with them face to face, from a scheduled standpoint, until almost the end. We like to say the house will be about 95% done and that's when we're going to do your homeowner orientation. We're going to walk you through the house, explain to you your warranty coverage, talk about the features in your house, how to use them, where they're located, what cleaning products to use. We use Bona Products. We'll go over all of this information, which really just makes people good homeowners. I tell people in that meeting is we've always done a good job at building houses at John Houston, that's never been a problem. What we really weren't doing a great job, probably even, you know, two years ago, was helping people be good homeowners. We realized there is a big difference between a good homeowner and a bad homeowner. We want to help people be good homeowners because we only do so much. We build the house, then we give the keys to a homeowner. It's up to them to really kind of help that house perform, look and function as best as it can. We do some stuff in that meeting and going forward to help equip homeowners on how to be good homeowners. What to clean with, what to look for, how to check things and stuff like that. That way, they're taking care of the house passed the construction side of things and still getting the dream home that they always wanted. That's kind of the set agenda, but all throughout there is sprinkled in different layers of communication. We'll call you every single Thursday. Your sales manager and the Construction Manager, they're going to sit down and do a weekly phone call. For the most part, it's on Thursday. Some people vary, but every week you're going to get a phone call letting you know what the expectations are for that week and in the coming week. Maybe this week we're bricking and we're starting sheetrock. The next week, we're going to do tile and then paint. We never want a homeowner to be surprised, because that is the worst thing that that can happen as a homeowner. The house is probably the most expensive investment you're ever going to make. We never want you to be caught off guard. We always want to be up front, over communicating and letting you know if there is a problem, that  we're aware of it and this is our solution. We want to be proactive. Most builders, with their Construction Managers, are going to be texting you, sending you pictures and stuff like that as the construction process moves on so you can be a part of it. Some people have the flexibility to be present and in the house every week, every day. Everyone doesn't have that luxury. They're working crazy hours at work or they've got kids soccer practice so, not everyone has the freedom to look or maybe they're even out of state. Everyone doesn't have that luxury to be hands on. We want to bridge that gap through technology to really let you feel like you're there and a part of the house as it's progressing.

Whitney Pryor: [00:08:38] There's a lot of knowledge that goes into owning a home, especially first time home buyers. People that have rented for a while, might not know all of the things that go into owning your home. You have to change your air filters every so often. I know from my side of receiving phone calls, I get some of those questions. There are common ones like how do I change the air filter or where is it? My pipe busted in the middle of Winter. Those are things that we ,as a company, try to educate the homeowners on before they move in so that they know, in the Winter, you've got to wrap those pipes up. Here are your air filters, make sure you're changing them so, that your HVAC System doesn't break on you.

Will Marks: [00:09:23] Yeah, absolutely. The example I always give homeowners during orientation is, if I give each of you all a brand new 2020 Chevy Tahoe. If I checked on you in five years, that car could look, smell and drive completely different than the other, all based on who took care of it. Maybe you wanted to or maybe you just didn't know what needed to be done. Whitney, what you're saying is exactly true. We want to make sure people have the information so, they can take care of what they have and it can last and perform the best it can. Those are important things that we definitely cover here and want to make sure that homeowners are aware of.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:10:00] What are some things that you wish homeowners would ask?

Will Marks: [00:10:04] I always appreciate, as a Construction Manager, when homeowners ask questions. Whether we say yes or no or we can do that or not accommodate that, I like it when people ask questions. There's no silly question, but it shows that you care. It's not that we don't care, but we're never going to look at it the way that a homeowner will, because it's not our home. We care about it and we want it to be the best, well finished out, constructed house that we do, but we're never going to see things the way the homeowner, that's just the reality. I'm not thinking about the bookcase, the futon, the chair and the picture of your Auntie, Grandma or Me Maw that you're going to hang over the fireplace. I don't know all the finish-out products that you're subconsciously thinking of, so maybe to you it's straightforward. This is going to be like this or that's going to go there, but for us on a construction site, we don't know that. The more of those kind of perspectives or thoughts or questions that we can receive, not only can we fix it or be aware of it, but we in turn know questions to ask. If we know that you're wondering about this or you're wanting to know that, then we will know to ask this question to provoke or get them thinking about certain things that we now know they care about. Circling back to your question, some of the things that I wish homeowners would know or ask questions about, varies. The biggest thing I think that some people don't think of is landscaping because some people have preferences on landscaping. To us, you get to trees, shrubs and X amount of bushes. Our landscapers are going to place those wherever they drew them up on your landscaping plan, however, some people have a preference. I don't want a tree in front of a window. I don't want it in front of my column. A lot of people don't think about asking those questions, but some people know exactly where it goes, and a lot of that's personality based. If you care, you care, great. If you don't know, no big deal, but the more questions that a homeowner can ask, the better construction manager I can be. I think the biggest advice that we could give homeowners is ask questions, seek information and really be hands on whether you're there in person or not. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't be afraid to think that it's silly or don't assume. A lot of times ,homeowners might assume that they know what's going on and where that's going to be when in reality, they don't. That's not a knock to them, they just don't know or maybe they thought they did based on a previous builder that they worked with, but maybe we do it differently here at John Houston. That's why we say communication is the biggest thing on our job. It's really the number one thing that we if we can do a good job at, it's going to dramatically affect someone's experience.

Whitney Pryor: [00:12:47] What are some things that we offer in our homes that you see that other builders might not offer or install in their homes?

Will Marks: [00:12:54] I think there's a lot of things we do. I think, first off, it's who we are as a company- our beliefs, how we value people, how we communicate. I think that's probably the foundational thing that I think sets us apart. From a logistical side of things, I think our selections from flooring, paint color and tile, I think we really have a broad selection that people can pick from whether their style is Modern or French Country. You all know the terms way better than that. Farmhouse, that's the big one right now. I think we have a really broad selection that people can pick from. Another one is our security system. I think we do a really good job. We have a base security system that includes a motion detector, exterior magnets on your exterior doors- which is going to include your front door, your back door and your garage door, that way if those are ever popped open, that's going to sound the alarm. You have smoke detectors. You can upgrade if you want have a little bit more security, different layers. You can put magnets on your windows and then even additional keypads. You get one keypad in the house. It's typically going to be located by your garage door, but we prewire. We want to help homeowners achieve and accomplish the things that they want to do, not just when they move in, but maybe for future endeavors or projects. We're going to prewire to additional locations for a future keypad. If you want one by your front door, we're going to prewire. The wiring is going to be in the wall and all you would have to do is get an electrician to install the keypad. We also do one at the Master Bedroom. If parents want a little bit more security to set or disarm that when they go to bed or leave the bedroom, you're going to have a prewire location in the Master Bedroom as well. This is also the same thing for ceiling fans. You get a ceiling fan in your Master Bedroom and your Living Room. Some people want ceiling fans in every room. We're going to go ahead and prewire that and include the switch when you do that, so all you would have to do is install the fan. You're not going to have to rewire, punch a hole in the wall, do this or do that. All you have to do is install it. We try to be future minded and say, "hey, these are common things that homeowners want to do. Let's spend the extra dollars on the front end to make it a lot easier on them on the back end." I think those are probably some of the big things that homeowners appreciate, whether it be the future thought process of things they might want to do, the security system with that little extra layer of security for our homeowners, and the availability to pick out the different options that are going to help them reach that kind of dream home that they're trying to get.

Whitney Pryor: [00:15:23] Yeah. Another thing that we offer that I thought was surprising was the insulated garage door.

Will Marks: [00:15:30] Yeah

Whitney Pryor: [00:15:30] I don't think a lot of other builders offer that as a standard feature. I never thought that was such a necessity in Texas, but it is.

Will Marks: [00:15:39] Yeah, it is. The garage in general. If you want to go a step further, probably 5 to 10 years ago, finishing out a garage, painting it, texturing it and putting baseboards was not industry standard. Some builders still don't, but here at John Houston Custom Homes, the standard of what we do is texture your walls in your garage. We're going to paint them. You're going to get baseboards all along the garage walls, and then, yes, you do get an insulated garage door. All of our CrossFit people, are going to use that garage as a gym and are going to appreciate that in the Wintertime. Even from a noise barrier, you're going to really appreciate that. The garage doors are insulated instead of just metal, so from a sound wise, it's a lot quieter. A lot of people , I think maybe overlook that, but when they realize it, they really do appreciate, I think, the thought behind those small details.

Whitney Pryor: [00:16:33] Definitely. I mean, in Texas, your garage is basically your second living room, right?

Will Marks: [00:16:38] I've never parked a car in my garage, never.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:16:40] No, never.

Whitney Pryor: [00:16:41] Yeah, that's so funny.

Whitney Pryor: [00:16:43] If you think about the whole building process, what would you say is your favorite part of the process of building a home?

Will Marks: [00:16:52] It's kind of like when someone asked me, "what's your favorite movie?" I ask, "well what genre, you know what I mean? Movies are all so encompassing and I think building is too. You've got, the beginning, where you're born. The joke is when you build a house, your house starts looking really big, then it looks really small again and then it's really big again, in all different phases. I think from an experience standpoint and what I enjoy, it varies so much. I love sitting down with the homeowners at the preconstruction meeting for the first time and see their eyes light up and say, "oh, man, this is becoming a reality. We're about to have our house." Whether it's a first time home buyer, an older couple retiring or a young family, that's finally moving into that bigger house they can see themselves in for the foreseeable future. When you sit down at that meeting for the first time, you really see the excitement in those homeowners. I love when we frame the house, seeing the wall stand up, getting a walk in the house and see the floor plan for the very first time. That's really exciting, too. The end's a little bit harder because people are getting antsy and want to get moved in. You start dealing with a little bit more details, as far as, touchup, this and that. It's a little bit more encompassing and extraneous, but, man, it's so fun to see homeowners get excited and start moving in. I love stopping by a week or two weeks later to see how they're decorating the house and making it unique to who they are, so that's always fun. This is going to sound cheesy. I've got three kids, so this is, you know, me pulling on the heartstrings, but I love seeing the kids playing in the driveways, riding their bikes in the neighborhoods and stuff. At that point, it goes from a house to a home. I think if you've worked at John Houston or you know someone that has, that's what we care about. We don't want to just build houses, we want to build homes. a place where people can come home to every single day, spend time with their family, make lifelong memories. That's what's fun, is seeing people finally get to live and experience that. I think those are probably a couple of the highlights. I can't pick one, it's too hard.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:18:53] So many.

Will Marks: [00:18:54] I think those are a couple of the big ones that really stick out to me.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:18:58] I love that. It makes me want to go work on the construction site.

Will Marks: [00:19:01] Come on. I got a hard hat.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:19:03] OK!

Will Marks: [00:19:03] Come on!

Chelsi Frazier: [00:19:04] Sorry, Whitney, I'm gone! We get to talk to people on the phone or at events, but you actually get to see their dreams come to life from foundation to finish with decoration. I think that's so cool.

Whitney Pryor: [00:19:19] Can you tell us a little bit about what redlining is and when that happens?

Will Marks: [00:19:29] Redlining is when you take your floor plans, elevation plans, or anything that has to do with your plans and you take a red pen and you draw a line. You're annotating or making notes of something that you want to change to that plan. Why I laughed at the beginning is because once we get those plans printed, the goal is that we're not changing anything and that everything that's printed is correct. If we need to make a change, whether that incurred an additional cost or it was an error on our part, we don't really want to red line. We want to send those back to our architects and have those redrawn. That way, there's no confusion. The plans are redrawn and corrected from the base level. Now, we red line all the time, but we want to circle back and kind of get those redrawn so everyone has the updated, accurate information. The term itself, redlining, it's just taking a red pen and making a change or annotating stuff on the plan. Some examples of that could be: you have a house that has an optional second sink and a hall bathroom. We're going to red line and circle that second sink to make sure that our plumber and our framers and people know this is getting a second sink. A third car garage that has maybe a specific detail on the door, we're going to red line it. A mud bench, if someone said, "hey, we're going to do a mud bench on here." If it's not in our paperwork, then we're going to circle back to a change order with our sales manager. We want to make sure that it's on our plans. We're going to draw that or circle that and redline that into the plans. Maybe it wasn't there during that preconstruction meeting, but we want a red line, make a note and make sure that we get it added. That's why that preconstruction meeting is so important. We're setting the groundwork, that foundation for everything that needs to be installed in the house. We follow that up with paperwork and payment, to make sure that those are in the house as we progress through the construction process.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:21:29] That is a great segue into our next question. What are some unique customizations you've done?

Will Marks: [00:21:36] Yeah.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:21:36] I think that some listeners may not know. I call it the hybrid approach, a semi-custom home, because you can take a floorplan that's already been drawn do and do something just a little bit different, whether it's a bigger bedroom or a wall being moved. You probably have ,over the past four years, seen some really unique customization. We were curious, what are some cool things that you've seen, interesting customizations or changes that you've seen?

Will Marks: [00:22:09] That's a great question, honestly, because like you said, we do kind of have that hybrid. For those of you who don't know, there's a difference between a Production Builder and a Custom Builder. Production is sticking to a set floor plan that you get a couple of options to pick from. A Custom is full on, tell us your dreams, what you want, and we'll go make it happen. That's a really cool thing about John Houston Custom Homes. We do all of it. We go from Production to Semi-Custom to true, full-on, "hey, I own land. I want to build my own floorplan. I want to do this." We really do all of it. I think that's fun for us, at least. We get to work with all types of homeowners and have a broad net of the people we get to do business with, because we do dabble in a little bit of everything.

Will Marks: [00:22:56] We are doing a house in Legacy Estates Phase 2, where a person has a giant,four foot by two foot long, rectangle, double sided aquarium tank that you can see from the sitting area and the hallway. That's pretty cool. We've done secret passageways or fake closets  that open up.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:23:23] Secret Passageways?

Will Marks: [00:23:23] Yeah, it's a cabinet front that looks like a bookcase. You open it and it goes into a secret closet.

Whitney Pryor: [00:23:30] Nice. We've got James Bond living in our community!

Will Marks: [00:23:30] Maybe a secret passageway, I'm not talking Bat Cave, but definitely some different compartments and stuff that homeowners are wanting to accomplish. We've done walk in wine cellars underneath stairs that drop down eighteen inches and you truly walk down into a wine cellar. That's kind of the true custom side, more of the semi-custom where I've got this floor plan, but we want to do that. We had this one couple, a husband and a wife. In Texas, you've got to have giant closets because we just have so many clothes because everything is bigger and our seasons are so different. Our Winter is 80 degrees and our Summer is 103 degrees. I say that jokingly, but the plan they really wanted only called for one Master Closest and they had to have two. The guy said, "man, I've got my shoes, I've got my jackets..."

Chelsi Frazier: [00:24:23] Two Master Closets?

Will Marks: [00:24:24] Two Master Closest, one was not big enough for the both of the. What they did is they red lined. We went back and followed up with paperwork and architects. We drew in a second Master Closet. How we did that is we ate into the back patio. We basically took down the wall that separated the master bedroom and the back patio, made a door and then we framed in a closet. They sacrificed probably six to eight feet going into their patio and made that a closet. They had a smaller back patio, but the husband really got to lay out all of his shoes, jackets, jeans. He got his own walk in closet.

Whitney Pryor: [00:25:07] He didn't get his two inches of space?

Will Marks: [00:25:10] No, he stuck up for him. I was proud of him!

Whitney Pryor: [00:25:12] He stood his ground.

Will Marks: [00:25:14] He stood his ground and he said, "baby, if you're going to get it, so am I."

Chelsi Frazier: [00:25:16] I loved, in this instance, the husband is the one that required closet space.

Will Marks: [00:25:23] We get a lot of the other way where the husband gets the hall or guest bedroom closet. It's 2 feet by 4 feet wide with one rod going across. It's like the Harry Potter closet. This is my for the little bit that I have, then the wife gets the Master. That's probably more common, but in this one instance, we had we had to hook our guy up. We made his own secondary closet in there. That was outside of the original plan, but like you said, we're able to make it happen.

Whitney Pryor: [00:25:56] Speaking of Harry Potter closets, I've seen that in a few of our homes. People putting their pets den area or living area under the stairs. Have you seen that?

Will Marks: [00:26:09] Yeah. As a Construction Manager, I'm really just a builder in general going all the way to the top. You never want to waste space, whether you set it aside as an optional closet underneath the stairs ,because we have different layers. Everyone doesn't want to pay for that additional option. They don't need it. Some people want it. We never want to waste space if someone wants to take advantage of it. A lot of people will use that space underneath a closet, especially if it's a staircase that's not one straight shot, but goes up, then you have a landing that turns back up and wraps back up towards that initial way. Where that landing sits, that's a lower profile area. You can't really fit a normal 6'-8" or an 8' door, so we'll put in a 3' or 4' door there that gives that Harry Potter closet feel. Some people use it for storage. I've seen people put little desks in there for their kids to go hang out in. Some people have made it where they put their dog beds or the cat beds, which ties in the utility room where their food pans are. Yes, we've seen that. We've put in doggy doors that are similar to a pocket door that folds up into the wall. You can pull it down and it's a gated doggy area. We definitely have some pet lovers that we try to accommodate as well.

Whitney Pryor: [00:27:24] That is awesome! Are they able to put a pet door as a back door?

Will Marks: [00:27:29] Yes, a lot of people have asked if we could put a cat or a doggy door going off the back door. It's currently not an option that we provide. We recommend is if you can find the doggy door or the cat door, we will get with our lumber company who provides all our doors and at least get you in the right direction or try to set you up with people who can do that. That's really across the board. Anything that we don't offer for whatever reason, we never want to leave them high and dry. We want to at least connect the dots and kind of pass the baton to the future person that could help them out. We're realistic. we don't do everything. That's just not in our wheelhouse maybe, but we still want to help them get and achieve what they're wanting. That's one thing you can expect as a homeowner is, if we don't know the answer, we're going to find it. If we can't do it, we'll find you someone that will.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:28:16] Will, thank you so much for joining us today. I have learned a few new things that I wasn't aware of. I just really enjoyed laughing, talking with you today and learning about our homeowners and their journey. I will be submitting my resume later today for the construction side, so just be on the lookout for that. Thank you again for joining us!

Will Marks: [00:28:34] Yeah, absolutely. Thank you guys so much for having me. I'm excited to listen to it!

Whitney Pryor: [00:28:38] Thank you again for joining us on this episode of the Podcast. If you'd like to join the conversation, you can find us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. If you have a question that you like for us to address on the show, email us at or call us at 866.646.6008.

Whitney Pryor: [00:29:01] Thank you for listening in to this episode. We look forward to joining you again in a couple of weeks on our next episode.

Whitney and Chelsi: [00:29:08] Welcome Home.

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