Building Homes: Life In The Real World

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I’ve always wanted to build homes and make a business out of it. I started getting serious about this around the year 2000. To accomplish the goal Cheri and I started a construction company and hired our son-in-law as the general manager. I was to learn that there are few things more basic than building a home.

Dirt.

When you build a home, you develop a heightened awareness of ordinary things, like dirt. You are always dealing with dirt. Dirt has to be removed and put some place while you dig holes and trenches. You’re constantly moving dirt around.

Then you start dealing with opus caementicium, or in other words, cement. Cement is crushed rock that has additives to make it hard. You pour cement into the holes and build cement walls in the trenches, because a house has to have a foundation to stand on before it can be built.

After you build these cement walls, then you’re back to using the loose dirt to cover the sides of these cement walls, so no one will see the walls. You feel a sense of accomplishment having built theses walls, but you realize you haven’t even started building the house yet, and what’s more, no one will ever see these walls. Your most basic accomplishment will never be seen.

No Abstractions, It’s All Real

When you build a home, you are making something that is tangible and real. It’s not an idea, it’s not an abstraction like a mathematical formula, it’s a real honest to goodness something. You can touch it, you can see it, you can use it.

You know the cost of every piece of wood, every nail, bolt, screw; every single inch of siding, every foot of railing; every gallon of paint, varnish, and wax.

It’s A Home.

And when someone comes to you and says, “Oh, how nice, I want to buy that home,” you pause and think back to when that home was just a bunch of dirt. That’s the moment you feel like you know everything you need to know about business and economics. You make something that really exists, you sell it to someone who likes what you have built, and pays for it. You make a profit that you put in the bank, which helps you start building more homes. What more needs to be known?

Honestly, I am convinced that unless you make something, you cannot possibly know it, even if you use it. There is great satisfaction in knowing something inside out, as a result of making something that is tangible and material.

That is especially the case when you have spent your adult life working with the non-material, non-tangible world.

Breaking With Abstractions

That was kind of the life I was leading when I decided to build homes. My life was built around abstractions. I was a management consultant, who showed executives how to create strategic plans. I taught them what a vision statement was, what a strategy was, etc. But I had absolutely no direct contact with the actual thing for which we were creating a strategic plan.

That’s when I made a conscious decision. I’m going to start a company that makes something that I’m directly involved with, that I see going from nothing to something. I’m going to know something exists. I’m going to experience it with my hands and eyes. And, I’m going to see the value of every piece of that something, because I’m going to pay for it with my own money. From dirt to dwelling was my war cry.

Then, I’m going to know the person who buys what I have made, how much they are willing to pay for it, and how much profit I make and see it appear in my account.

When I started doing this, these were good days for me. I knew something because I had made it. I had directly experienced it. There was nothing abstract. I was basking in reality.

Reality Sits On Your Head

What’s even more real is when the house does not sell. There is no abstraction in such a moment as this either. It sits there. Day after day. It’s not just an image in your head. It’s something that is really real. It does not go away. It does not change just because your thinking changes. You cannot wish it away.

That happened to me in the 2007 housing meltdown. At that point our construction company had built four homes, had purchased two condos, had purchased a piece of raw property to build on, and was managing and finishing a luxury home.

I had hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars of personal financial exposure on the line. To add to this, one day while at home I was served with a lawsuit, making our company liable for the cement that had been laid on two of the homes we were building. We had paid the cement contractor for the cement. The only problem, he had neglected to pay the cement company for the cement. He made off with the money, filed for bankruptcy, and left us holding the bag.

On top of that we couldn’t sell one of the homes, and were having challenges getting financing for those who wanted to buy two of the homes. The market had caved.

Things were so real I wished I were back in the world of the abstract where nothing is real. Sometimes reality is so real you want to climb into bed, pull the sheets over your head, and go to sleep for a year.

. . .One Day At A Time

Anyway, there were so many things coming at me that the anxiety of it pulled something from me that helped set me on a better course emotionally. In the midst of all this, I said to Cheri and Dallin our general manager, “we’ll deal with one issue at a time, one day at a time.”

That seemed to do it for me. I am sure Cheri and Dallin already knew this and were acting accordingly. But I wasn’t. I was obsessing over these challenges. My mind was like a clothes dryer, tumbling over and over on these issues.

There’s nothing like working in the real world, with real things, and with real problems.

Over the period of eight to twelve months, we finally secured the financing for those who bought two of the homes. We rented the third home, sold the two condos, settled the lawsuit, kept the piece of property, and ended up selling the company to Dallin. The company is now called Hybrid Construction. It continues to grow.

One issue at a time, one day at a time. Life in the real world.