Ease Your Warranty/Home Maintenance Hand-Off
Some customers get so used to handholding throughout the sales and construction process that they expect their home builders to take care of them and their houses even after the warranty period expires.
“Many people who buy new homes have never owned a home before and don’t know how to take care of it,” says Lucy Katz, vice president of customer service and client relations at Katz Builders in Austin, TX. “You need to stress to them that they’re no longer renting, and that the home is theirs to maintain.” Katz Builders does this with procedures and documents that tell home owners what to expect from their homes and the materials they’re built with. Those upfront efforts make the warranty/home maintenance transition absolutely painless. And, by promoting proper home maintenance, they protect the home owner’s investment and protect the home builder from lawsuits. Here’s how you can do it, too:
- Educate home owners. “During the design phase, we tell them about different characteristics of the materials and products they are considering for their home so they can understand the nuances of each one and make intelligent choices,” says Katz. “We also tell them what kind of maintenance those materials and products will need down the road.” The company advises customers on materials to avoid for certain applications or exposures. “That goes a long way towards preventing people from calling later on and saying a product failed,” Katz says.
- Put it in writing. Katz’s customers receive 114-page home owners’ organizers. Among other information, the binders include selections records, vendors’ contact information, an explanation of how the products and materials selected for the home will perform, contact information for every person who worked on their home and a home maintenance schedule.
- Explain the warranty. Customers receive warranty manuals at orientation. Katz explains how the home builder’s warranty period works and what is covered. She and the home owners also go over the separate warranties for each product in the home since, as she puts it, everything has a separate shelf life.
- Tell home owners what to look for. “We explain how the house will ‘live,’ ” says Katz. “Depending on the climate, wood and sheetrock expand and contract at different times of the year, which can produce cracks. We tell them that we’ll come out and fix those cracks the first time, but after that it is a home maintenance responsibility.” Katz goes over the home maintenance schedule with home owners to make sure they know what items to keep an eye on. “We tell them to treat all leaks like small fires; ignore them, and they’ll only get worse,” she says.
- Stay in contact. Call home owners now and then after the warranty period expires. For example, when there’s a freeze threat during the winter, Katz Builders calls all of its home owners to remind them to let their faucets drip a bit to prevent frozen pipes. This isn’t handholding — it’s subtle marketing and good business. Managing the warranty/home maintenance hand-off with systems and procedures not only streamlines the process; it’s also good for your image.
“Many home building companies are small, but you’ve got to recognize that you’re not a mom-and-pop organization,” says Katz. “You need to run your company like a big corporation even if you’re not a big corporation. People respect you when you run an organized business with standardized procedures.”