The Silent Relationship Killer…

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When you decide to build a home you aren’t just entering into a business transaction, you are actually initiating a long term relationship. When you embark on the journey to build a custom home you are about to enter into a long term relationship with your builder. A marriage counselor giving a seminar asked her audience what the biggest cause of divorce was. A participant’s hand shot up quickly to answer the question, “Sex, money, and communication!” That’s an obvious answer but not actually the right answer. It’s deeper than that. The same thing applies with the home buyer/home builder relationship.

The Relationship

Building a custom modular home is more than the 4-8 week period from the time the home arrives on your site until you move in. It takes months and months of planning, obtaining financing, permitting, & site prep. After you move in there is a warranty, usually a minimum of one year. In many cases structural warranties can continue for up to 10 years. When a home buyer and home builder start a relationship, it is likely to be for a minimum of 2 years and often even longer.

The actual relationship starts well before the contractual one. A home buyer needs to feel comfortable that their custom home builder is really a trusted advisor. A person or company that freely gives advice and counsel to assist them in successfully building their new home.

What’s the Real Answer?

In all relationships; marriages, friendships, and business relationships there are ups and downs. While the obvious, but incorrect, answer to the marriage counselor’s question above doesn’t apply to the home buyer/home builder relationship (or at least 2 out of 3 don’t), the correct answer does. The participant’s quick answer only addressed the symptoms of the real issue. The silent killer of almost all relationships is missed expectations.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re the home buyer, the home builder, a subcontractor, a lender, or the [insert role here]. Having unmet expectations is lethal to everyone. No one in the custom home delivery process is immune.

So…what’s the solution?


Here are two scenarios to illustrate:


The home buyer and home builder work together to design a new home. Plans are finalized and agreed to. Colors and options are selected. The application for a building permit is submitted. The construction loan application is submitted. Within two weeks a building permit is received. A few weeks later the construction loan closes. The new custom modular home is ordered and the subcontractors begin excavation work and then install the foundation.

Your new modular home arrives as scheduled and is set on your foundation the next day. Everything is in the home exactly as ordered and exactly as you had imagined. Your home is connected to power and water/sewer/septic connections are made. Inspectors show up as scheduled and five weeks after your home arrives your moving company shows up on time with all of your belongings to place them exactly where you imagined everything would fit.


After 4-5 revisions of the home plan, everything looks right. Colors and options are selected. The tile color has been discontinued and it’s discovered the cabinetry color and style chosen have a 7 week backorder status. One last document that the lender needed for the construction closing scheduled for tomorrow is missing and has to be resubmitted.

The permit office is running behind and the building permit is issued just two days before the excavator was going to have to get started or go to a different job. The foundation is in place but it calls for an 80% chance of rain the week your new modular home is scheduled for delivery and set. The home gets set the following week and upon walking into it for the first time, it appears that the four kitchen cabinet doors that were supposed to have glass fronts have solid wood doors. The service team replaces the doors three weeks later and after a few inspection delays, your new home is ready for move-in 6 weeks after it was delivered to your home site.


While this is a very elaborate illustration, it paints a picture. The picture of what our expectations can be like versus what building a home (and life) is actually like…what we observe. The fact of the matter is: Building a home is a process. The process of taking 10,000 parts, people, and expectations and combining them together in a compressed schedule to deliver what is most often the biggest investment many will ever make. When expectations go unmet, frustration results because of it.

Antonio Banderas says it best, “Expectation is the mother of all frustration.”

Establishing Expectations

Here are some ideas to help eliminate missed expectations:

“A picture is worth a thousand words” – The old adage is very true! Today there are websites where homebuyers develop expectations based on pictures. Sites such as and Pinterest provide home buyers with lots of ideas. Instead of describing what was seen, share the picture with the builder. A picture of the actual expectation goes a long ways towards actually meeting it.


Read the Contract – The contract is the document that is the basis for what will actually be provided. For many, it is lots of words and “standard”. READ IT! Many homebuyers don’t actually read it until the first expectation goes unmet only to find that it was covered in the contract. The time to discover it and then ask questions is before it is signed.

Execute Change Orders Immediately – In construction, operate under the assumption that if it isn’t in writing, it was never said. Construction is busy with lots of moving parts and lots of people involved. Committing changes to writing requires the new expectations to be better defined and exactly priced.

Standards versus Options – Understand standard versus option. Just because it says standard on a marketing piece doesn’t mean it is standard at the time a contract is signed. Manufacturers and suppliers are changing “standards” every day. Make sure you understand the standard when you sign your construction contract.

Two Things

If you have these two things you can successfully build your new home with the least amount of stress: A good attitude and the right home builder. Lack of communication is one of the key symptoms leading to missed expectations. Read everything and ask questions. A good builder will advise you of possible pitfalls and help you understand the impact of your decisions. A good builder does this every day and shares their insights with you that have been gained through years of experience.

When you build a custom home, things will go wrong. There are just too many pieces to the process. Knowing you are working with a good builder goes a long way towards minimizing things that will go wrong with will help with having a good attitude. At the end of the process, you will be living happily in your new custom modular home.

About the Author
Ken Semler

Ken Semler


Hi, I am Ken Semler the founder of Express Modular. I am passionate about this industry, our company, and the products we provide. Modern modular construction provides the ability to deliver healthy, safe, and energy efficient living spaces. Express Modular is a licensed builder/contractor in almost every state. I believe that modular homes provide the best way to deliver virtually unlimited design flexibility at the greatest value.

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