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Ep. 12_Customizations in Your Home with Thao Loh & Rob Poole

Monday October 19, 2020

Ep. 12: Customizations in Your Home with Thao & Rob

When you dream of your new home, do you find yourself wondering how others could possibly be able to capture your same vision? On this episode you will hear from two John Houston Custom Homes Sales Managers as they share their experiences working with clients on the customizations of their new homes.

 

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Intro: [00:00:03] 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: [00:00:18] Hey everyone, thanks for joining us for another episode of the Welcome Home podcast. I'm Whitney and I have Chelsi Frazier here with me. How are you doing, Chelsi?

Chelsi: [00:00:26] I'm good. How are you today?

Whitney: [00:00:28] I'm great, loving this cooler weather.

Chelsi: [00:00:30] Yes, it's so nice. I'm super excited to talk about customizations with two of our awesome Sales Managers.

Whitney: [00:00:40] Oh, great, who are they?

Chelsi: [00:00:42] We have Rob Poole and Thao Loh. They have both been with John Houston Custom Homes for several years. They've probably seen it all, done it all, and still get surprised every now and then. They've worked with a lot of clients on customizations, which is something we haven't really talked a whole lot about. I'm excited to hear some of those interesting things that people do that's outside the normal everyday floorplan.

Whitney: [00:01:08] Yeah, absolutely! I think when people hear custom home, they think, "oh, gosh, can I do this?" They have so many questions surrounding it. I'm super excited to have them on the show today to demystify it, explain the process, what people typically customize, what's that unique thing that they do, and figure out really what they can and can't do with customizations.

Chelsi: [00:01:30] Welcome to the show Thao and Rob!

Rob: [00:01:33] Thank you.

Thao: [00:01:34] Thank you for having us, this is so exciting!

Chelsi: [00:01:37] Have you ever been on a podcast before?

Thao: [00:01:39] This is my first time, what about you Rob?

Rob: [00:01:41] First time for me too!

Chelsi: [00:01:45] Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. We'll just start with you Rob.

Rob: [00:01:51] I've been with the company from the beginning. I've experienced a lot of fun times, a lot of challenges and changes. The most fun part of my job really is being a part of something that starts at nothing and then ends up as a house. If you think of just that part of it, it's pretty amazing. It's really what's kept me going and kept me energized all these years.

Whitney: [00:02:14] Yeah! A little fun fact - Rob has been here so long that his email address is just rob@jhoustonhomes.com.

Chelsi: [00:02:24] That's a big one!

Whitney: [00:02:25]  It is,  all of the other email addresses have their last name in them. Rob is just Rob. There's no other Rob!

Rob: [00:02:30] I'm kind of proud of that, actually. I like the Rob thing.

Whitney: [00:02:33] Yeah, you should be!

[00:02:35] I'm a little jelly! 

Whitney: [00:02:37] Yeah, why can we not just get a thao@jhoustonhomes.com?

Thao: [00:02:40] Right, there's not another Thao here.

Rob: [00:02:42] I say yes!

Chelsi: [00:02:42] It's like that celeb status where you don't need your last name.

Whitney: [00:02:47] It's just your name, Rob!

Chelsi: [00:02:49] Thao, what about you? Tell us a little about yourself.

Thao: [00:02:52] I've been with John Houston Custom Homes for about 3 years now. I am the community sales manager for South Pointe in Mansfield, TX. It's been really, really exciting. My background is actually way different. I majored in Science and then I became a teacher. 

Chelsi: [00:03:13] I bet you were a fun teacher.

Thao: [00:03:16] I really was a fun teacher!

Whitney: [00:03:16] What grade did you teach?

Thao: [00:03:19] I did Corporate Training with Tarrant County College, that was really fun. I was with them for about 8 years. I then became a flight attendant for American Airlines for a couple of years. I then started working for John Houston Custom Homes, so very random, I would have to say.

Whitney: [00:03:37] I feel like all of those experiences really help with customer service, knowing what makes people tick and building those relationships.

Thao: [00:03:47] It definitely has, especially being on the plane and different personalities. Traveling is stressful, in general, but it's a shorter amount of time. In a sense, with home building, it's a longer amount of time and the stress level is about the same.

Rob: [00:04:04] Can I just say something? Thao, you look like you're 22. How is it possible? You are so young! 

Thao: [00:04:08] I get 12 sometimes. When I used to fly for American, people always asked me, have you finished High School? 

Chelsi: [00:04:22] Thao, you built a John Houston Home before you came to work here, too,  is that right?

Thao: [00:04:29] Yes, I actually built in South Point before I started working for John Houston Custom Homes. The experience was so amazing. I got hired on by the sales manager that built my house. She needed an assistant. It just happened so perfectly because I finally feel like I found my niche, what I was supposed to do when I grow up. That and being able to be the buyer and have the buyer perspective, has really helped me with my future buyers and what I went through as a buyer. It really helped me as a sales manager to get through those hurdles or things that stress people out, while going through the build.

Chelsi: [00:05:16] Rob, how many houses have you built total in your life?

Rob: [00:05:20] I think I'm on number 7 right now. We're actually building right now.

Chelsi: [00:05:26] Oh, that's right.

Rob: [00:05:27] We're about to move in about 2 weeks. 

Chelsi: [00:05:33] All of that knowledge and experience is a huge reason why we wanted to talk to you both today. We wanted to get some of those stories out there and to be a resource to people listening on what can you customize and what that process look like?

Rob: [00:05:46] Most of the time, people feel more secure about building something they can see first, but they don't know how to ask all the questions. It helps when you've been through this a few times. When someone isn't really engaged or they they feel like they're having a hard time making a decision, asking the right questions, helps them cross over that bridge to, "oh, yeah, that would really make my wife happy or that would solve the problem that we have with the Master Suite. What we do, is spend time modifying the plans we already have, but every  very once in a while, we get an opportunity to to do full custom home. It's pretty fun. 

Whitney: [00:06:32] Thao, how do you feel that experience goes for the customers that you work with?

Thao: [00:06:37] First of all, I find the floor plan that works best for the customer. If they're wanting to adjust a room or there is something that they don't like about that particular floor plan, I just make the adjustments. For example, adding a 5th bedroom option in addition to the study. Some people don't want to take their study and leave the office space, so they want to add an additional bedroom. I've also had people want to add a third car garage for a longer boat, a bigger truck or even a workshop, just extending that third car garage another 5 or 6 feet. Doing custom things like that really gets the buyers so excited. They say, "oh my gosh, I got to build this custom home!" I think one of the biggest things that people think when they hear custom that is it's expensive, it's out of my range or out of something I can do. I feel a lot of times when I'm sitting down talking to buyers, they're saying, "this is doable. The price is not as bad as I thought it was going to be." That gets people so excited and emotionally invested into this home that they're going to be building. For me, it's so exciting to get to be part of their journey.

Rob: [00:08:08] I think I'd buy a house from her.

Whitney: [00:08:10] She has that energy!

Chelsi: [00:08:18] I think it opens that door up, to just ask. That's what we want listeners, that are listening today, to just ask, because if you don't, you don't know. I think for me, it comes back to that semi-custom term. We could take an existing floor plan that we have and make changes to it sometimes, and it works for what you're needing. It's not as big of an undertaking as you would think or as Rob said, "sometimes from the ground up." I want to talk about some of those later in the episode, too.

Whitney: [00:08:50] Could you give us an overview of what types of custom homes we can do? I feel like there's 2 different types. There's the type where we take a plan and we customize it from from that plan. There's also a true, custom home, where you're working with an architect and there is not another plan like it that exists. Rob, can you tell us about the true, custom home and Thao, could you let us know a little bit more about customizing from a floor plan?

Rob: [00:09:23] A true, custom home is when you set up the meeting between the customer and the architect. The customer gets the opportunity to meet with the architect and have  one-on-one time where they can really give more detail and input to what they're wanting to build. Usually, it's a style that's just a little bit different than what we're normally doing or something that's bigger. I primarily build on the acre lots. When you are on the 1-acre lots, you have more potential for change because there's so much more space. When people start weighing out the options between building a 5,000 square foot home on land or building it in a community, it doesn't always make sense financially to do it, as far as comparables, however, it's still less expensive than building out on land because there's usually unforeseen costs. Things that come along with developing a raw piece of dirt vs. developing a lot that's already formed.

Whitney: [00:10:28] I'm sure with building on your land, a lot of people don't realize the cost of how far away the nearest electric pole is located. You're going to have to pay to bring that to your land and service that. There are all of those costs involved, on top of building the house and purchasing the land.

Rob: [00:10:45] That's exactly right. 

Whitney: [00:10:47] It's a different loan program, right?

Rob: [00:10:49] Right. You have to go get your own Construction Loan. When you buy the land, you're the owner, so you have to get your own financing to finance the project. When you do a custom home in our one of our communities, we are the bank for you. You deal with us with our purchase agreement, forming of the plan, the specifications of the home and then we build it for you.

Whitney: [00:11:13] We can do that in some of our 1-acre communities, where customers can really customize that plan or customize from the ground up, so they don't have to do everything on their own. They pick the lot and then they get to do the fun part of customizing the floor plan, right?

Rob: [00:11:32] Yeah, we still have to follow the guidelines of the community, as far as, architectural control and that the home fits in with the look of the homes that are already in that community.

Whitney: [00:11:43] Do they have to go through an approval process if they change anything on the outside of the home? Can you make small changes without having to go through that? Can you tell us the process?

Rob: [00:11:53] In a community, if you do something new, you have to get it approved. Even the plans that we're building have to be approved by architectural control.

Whitney: [00:12:02] They can make customizations to the outside, but it does have to go through that approval to make sure that is looks okay?

Rob: [00:12:09]  Correct.

Whitney: [00:12:10] Thao, can you tell us about the other side of custom home building, which is, taking a floor plan we already have and and building what they want from that.

Thao: [00:12:23] I primarily do more semi custom. We start out with a floor plan that the buyer is interested in. They make an appointment with me, it's basically a redraw appointment ,where we sit down and redline all the changes that they're wanting to make. Then up front, they have to pay a redraw fee which pays to the architect to start that redraw process. Most of the time, it is just sitting down with buyers to make adjustments, such as, adding more cabinets or extending something. A lot of our floor plans don't have a formal dining room anymore. They're taking the breakfast nook and extending it out to get the  formal dining feel. I get that very often. Adding a 3rd car garage is another great example. Extending it for a workshop, oversized truck or bigger size garage door.  I get adding a 5th bedroom all the time. We really just sit down and make adjustments. I call it redlining. I send that in to the architects. A few days later, they'll send me back the actual blueprints and then I'll meet with the customers again. We'll review all the changes. Any adjustments that need to be made, I'll red line that blueprint, and then send it back for a final blueprints. Once the customers are happy with those changes, then they'll sign off and then we go to contract.

Whitney: [00:13:55] They get a couple of times to really look at over and make sure that is exactly what they want?

Thao: [00:13:59] Yes. One of the things I always tell customers is just be honest with me. What are you looking for? What are your plans for making these changes? What are your future plans? When you have that open discussion, I may have some really good ideas to help with their idea and then make that come to life. It's really exciting to have those meetings and conversations with the buyers. A lot of time, it's their parent that's older and moving in with them. Building that second master suite and making sure their mom or their dad is feeling comfortable, it's really exciting to be part of that journey.

Whitney: [00:14:43] It's funny you mention the garage door. I know most people in Texas have bigger vehicles. We've got big SUV's and  jacked up trucks. You wouldn't think, hey, I want to buy a home. "Okay, what type of vehicle do you drive?" However, that is something that comes up, so really going into detail about what your lifestyle is and what your living situation is, can make a big difference when it comes to buying that home. 

Thao: [00:15:11] Everyone lives very differently, so just to have that open discussion, I think really helps the sales person. Okay, that's your plan and here is how I would go about it, what do you think? The more open you are, I feel like the better your plan turns out to be.

Whitney: [00:15:34] Yes, probably the more that you love that because you don't want to move in the first day and not be able to park your vehicle in the garage.

Chelsi: [00:15:43] I love that you said everyone lives so differently. I think that's such an important thing to be aware of. What are some of the more unique or different things that you've done in customizations? Thao, we can start with you.

Thao: [00:15:56] I would probably have to say the Carter bathroom that is in my model. People want to take that master bath and add it to every floor plan. It's not always possible. We then have the discussion of if it's possible in that particular floor plan, then we can move forward. If the space is not there or if the space isn't there but adding the square footage gets too expensive, then we talk about taking the original floor plan and making adjustments to it. What are you looking for? Why do you want the Carter bath? Is it because of the vaulted ceiling or is it because you just want a bigger shower? If it's just a bigger shower, we can alter the plans to where you'll like it more versus the standard master bath.

Whitney: [00:16:45] I know if you have not gone to see the Carter model home at South Point, you definitely should because that bathroom is gorgeous. I get millions of calls on it.

Thao: [00:16:57] I just get to work in it. I don't get to live in it, though

Chelsi: [00:17:00] Okay, let's set the visual. Tell us what's so cool about this bath?

Thao: [00:17:05] When you walk into the master suite and walk towards the master bathroom, it kind of splits. If you go to the left, you have this oversized, Texas sized master closet that everyone talks about. If you go to the other side, it's vaulted ceiling and goes up to about 14 feet. It is open and bright. Then you see a tub in front of a car wash shower, that's what I call it. It has 2 shower heads and it really pretty. There are 2 vanities on either side. It really gives that wow factor that people are looking for. The way it's decorated, people can imagine this being their spot and never wanting to leave their house, that's what most people say. They say please make this bathroom work for me and I definitely try. If not, then we think of other solutions to what they're really looking for in that shower.

Chelsi: [00:18:14] It's open on both sides. It's a walk-through?

Thao: [00:18:17] It's a walk-through.

Whitney: [00:18:18] It's a tub with a wall behind it and opens on both sides to go behind the shower.

Chelsi: [00:18:27] It's beautiful!

Rob: [00:18:28] I have added the Carter bathroom to many of my houses. In fact, someone will start a sentence and I'm like, "you've been to the South Point model, haven't you?"

Whitney: [00:18:46] You already know where that conversation is going.

Chelsi: [00:18:49] Besides the Carter bath, what are some really unique or cool things that you've done with families?

Rob: [00:18:55] I think the biggest thing that comes to my mind is just creating space. When you customize a plan, it's usually because a room isn't big enough, the ceiling isn't high enough or something like that. We built a house in Legacy Estates, that has the Carter bath. It also has an upstairs game room with a 16 foot ceiling with picture windows that are looking over the backyard. We've done some pretty cool stuff. We're actually building a house right now that has a little room under the the staircase. I've built safe rooms behind staircases before.

Whitney: [00:19:36] I think we heard about one recently. A Homeowner that wants to put this giant fish tank in their house and you guys customized that space for it?

Rob: [00:19:46] Yeah, we met with the company in Dallas that is building the tank for them. They gave us all the specs. I tell people all the time that you really don't have to know everything, you just need to know people who do. 

Chelsi: [00:19:58] I love that, so true.

Whitney: [00:20:00] It's true. It's about the communication, that extra step. Not all builders will want to deal with the hassle of having to work with another company or another product, but taking that next step and being able to communicate with other people, is really important.

Rob: [00:20:21] It enriches our life too. When you learn something and do something new, it takes you to another level of understanding and solving a problem. It's pretty cool to be part of that.

Chelsi: [0020:35] Rob, I want to talk about the model that you're officing in right now in Legacy Estates. I feel like from our conversations and a lot of what you've heard over 15 years, this floor plan showcases what type of customization we can do. Could you talk to us about some of those things? The thing that always comes to my mind is that doggie door gate. It's a pocket door, so just little things like that your model home offers.

Rob: [00:21:10] You hit it right on the on the nail, when you said it really is a compilation of models either that I've worked in or I've seen. Over time people say, "I wish this just had a powder bath or I wish you could get into the laundry room when you first come in the garage if you're carrying dry cleaning. I've heard so many comments that it just added up to the Legacy Model. Another model that we had once that I loved was in Cabot Estates in Mansfield, TX. I remember walking in that model the first time and I thought, wow, this feels like I could live here! As soon as I walked in the door I thought, we're going to do another house like that but we are going to make it a little bit bigger and a little bit better.

Chelsi: [00:22:00] When you say "we're going to do," did you mean you and Donna?

Rob: [00:22:03] Yes, my sweet wife usually helps me out in one way or another. She's actually the designer who has done a lot of our model homes, as far as, decorating.

Whitney: [00:22:15] She decorated the Legacy Estates Model, correct?

Rob: [00:22:19] She did. That model was in the Dallas Design Magazine, too. We had a really nice write up in that.

Whitney: [00:22:26] Yeah, it is amazing. We always get comments on it. People look at the 3D model tours on our website and call us and they're like," now that Legacy Model!" I say, "yes, it's beautiful!"

Rob: [00:22:41] You know what's cool, was that the the heading of that article was called a Slice of Heaven. I don't think we had anything to do with that. They just came up with that on their own. It's pretty cool.

Whitney: [00:22:54] Now, to switch gears for a second, I want to talk about the relationship side of our business. People call us or we see through social media people posting pictures of best friends building in the same community or multiple family members building a home in the same community. Even as far as having built 2 other or 3 other John Houston Custom Homes and building now their 3rd or 4th John Houston Custom Home. The relationship side is a huge part of the home building process. Rob, can you go into detail of what that's like and and what it means to you?

Rob: [00:23:35] Sure! When we're building homes, first of all, it takes a bit of time. When you're starting from the beginning, 6 or 8 months, you experience life with people. People are constantly bringing either family members or friends into the models to meet their sales guy. You just get to experience life. Sometimes it's really good and sometimes it's really hard and because of both of those extremes, you just get to know each other. For myself, I, I think I have 3 different families who have built 3 houses with me. To me, that's the greatest thing, that and getting hugs in Wal Mart. Those are probably the best.

Whitney: [00:24:21] Is that what you are going to do in retirement? The Wal Mart greeter?

Rob: [00:24:25] I don't know that I'm going to commit to that. Hopefully, I'm going to keep doing this until the end. U

Chelsi: [00:24:33] Before I even came to work for John Houston Custom Homes, I met Rob just out in the community. I was so excited to tell him, "hey, I'm coming to work with y'all!"

Rob: [00:24:42] I was excited that you are coming to get the feeling was mutual.

Whitney: [00:24:48] Yes, sunshine!

Chelsi: [00:24:50] You're very well known and a lot of our sales managers are, if not all of them. You hear about these people before you come to work here. Even after you do, you hear from customers ,"oh, we love Rob, we built with Rob" or "oh, Thao helped us in South Point and now my cousin's coming in to to build over here." We see so many people on social media that are Thao's clients, that post videos and share their journey. I think just like you said, it's a long amount of time. It's a long commitment. You can say thank you. You helped me. That's a beautiful thing. I think that's really cool that you've been able to see that over 15 years. How many houses do you think you've built?

Rob: [00:25:36] Somewhere over 800 homes.

Chelsi: [0:25:39] Wow!

Whitney: [00:25:40] Wow!

Thao: [00:25:40]  That's incredible!

Chelsi: [00:25:43] Thao, we want to talk to you about that, too, because I see so much of a social media presence with a lot of your clients. That's just what we see. There's so much that we don't see. How is that been for you and having those relationships? I feel like you truly are friends with everybody. I feel like everybody knows you and there's such a connection there.

Thao: [00:26:06] The relationship aspect is so important to me. With all my clients, it's more than just a business transaction. We are literally living life together. If their parent passes away, they're coming into my office and letting me know. If their son is graduating, they can't wait to come in and tell me.

Chelsi: [00:26:30] I love that.

Thao: [00:26:33] I love that too. For me, it's even more so because I live in the community that I work in. These people that I'm contracting or building a house for , their my neighbors. I tell them all that. At the end of the day, I really feel like people just want to be cared for and they just want the time. They want to feel like you're going to listen to them and listen to their concerns. When you do that, it just makes the the whole process so much better because people feel cared for. They trust you and they trust you with such a big purchase. It's expensive. It's was the biggest check that I ever wrote, when I built with John Houston. For me, I have that really close relationship with my customers because I really, truly do care for them. Being able to live life with them, it's just been a real blessing.

Whitney: [00:27:34] I'll never forget when I first met you. I went to the South Point model and you were carrying a tote of snacks up the stairs. I was like, "what is she doing with a tote of snacks, going up the stairs?" It was because you guys were doing a preconstruction meting in the media room. You actually had the iPad projected on the projector in the media room. I thought, "what a great experience buying a home, getting to sit in the media room and go through your your plans. How awesome is that? That's a true experience right there!"

Thao: [00:28:08] Yeah, the customers really enjoy that. They're sitting on the couch and it feels like they're about to watch a movie, but we're just going over their blueprints. They eat snacks and we have real conversations, such as, this is how we're going to build your home. Do you guys have any questions? I really, truly enjoy the entire process and  really getting to know the buyers. I have a lot of people that are building their second home with John Houston or family members or best friends. I have a lot of those in South Point. It's such a blessing to have that referral, "hey, you need to go build with her. She's going to take care of you. She's so sweet!" Things like that you hear from people. It's such an honor to hear that. It ,takes my my week, my month. It's just really exciting to be part of that.

Chelsi: [00:29:04] Like you said, you finally feel like you found your calling and what you were going to be when you grow up. To get that confirmation that you're doing a good job, it kind of just brings it back full circle too.

Whitney: [00:29:15] Before we wrap up, Rob, I wanted to ask you one more question. You've been here since the beginning. What would you say is the constant, not only for homeowners and what they're wanting in their home, but also for our company? What would you say is the thing that's changed and grown with the company and with homeowners?

Rob: [00:29:35] That's a good question. I think the constant is the fact that our company really strives to do what we say we're going to do and that we value people over money. That's really my hope, is that when someone is finished building their house, that they feel valued as a person and not just as a customer. I think that's a big difference. sometimes we get wound up in the The business side of what we do that we don't make the connection. My goal is to always to make the connection, so people don't feel like it was just a transaction. Really the constant, is that I don't feel that that's changed. We've been that way from the very beginning. We have always tried to put out the very best product that we can. As people are shopping through the different builders that are out there, they see a significant difference. I do now. I still walk our houses, obviously, that our are competitors homes to make sure that we're offering something that stands out and stands above because everybody builds good homes. You just have to find things that make you a little bit different. I think those 2 things have stayed the same. The challenge of being a part of a growing company is just so many people, so many backgrounds and the melding of ideas. How I used to do it or how this looks or works a little bit better. Sometimes you make those changes and it isn't better. You learn and you grow, but the the biggest challenge has also been one of the biggest blessings to you.

Whitney: [00:31:29] You've built 800 homes or close to 800 homes, but that's not just a number. You think of how deeply you're impacting each family's lives. I think our our podcast producer, Rob, has also built a home with you. You deeply impacted his family and his life. He's told us that story before. You do that with every single family. When you think of it on that level x 800, it's a relational business. It's not about building your home. It's about relating to people's families, the lives that they're living and the impact that we have on that is incredible.

Chelsi: [00:32:09] Thank you both for joining us. I think that's a great note to end on. Thank you, listeners, for joining our family of co-workers. For taking the time to listen to us talk about what we do, how we do it and how we can help you. Rob, thank you again for joining us.

Rob: [00:32:26] You're welcome.

Chelsi: [00:32:26] Thao, thank you so much. 

Thao: [00:32:27] You're so welcome.

Whitney: [00:32:29] Yes, thank you both for joining us, sharing your stories and the stories of your families that you work with every day.

[00:32:36] Thank you, listeners, for joining us today. Please be sure to click the description for episode notes and a link to our website. For more information about our company, you can visit us at johnhoustoncustomhomes.com You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or even Twitter. For any questions or comments about our podcast, please give us a call at 866.646.6008 or e-mail us at info@jhoustonhomes.com. If you have a question about customizing your own home, please reach out to us. We're happy to answer any questions and walk you through that process together. Thank you for listening in today.

Chelsi and Whitney: [00:33:19] Welcome Home.

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