Russ Anderson is the owner of Anderson Homes, which provides high-end quality homes with modern amenities such as media rooms, wet bars and commercial-style kitchens at a price that is below market value. Anderson began building homes in 2003, and has since built more than 200 homes, commercial buildings, and multi-family units. He approaches each home as an artist would a canvas, crafting a masterpiece.
MO: As a builder, what inspires you when you’re building a home for a client? Is it different for each home?
Russ: When I’m building a spec house, I’m inspired by things I like and things I see around the country; I travel and research trends. I also use the feedback I get from my customers. I can draw inspiration from things as small as a veranda porch or a fireplace, and that can be the theme for an entire house. When I build a custom house, on the other hand, I listen very closely to what my customers want and what inspires them. I ask a lot of questions: What do they do in their spare time? What’s their average day like? I try to help design a house that will cater to the person or family’s lifestyle.
MO: Building a luxury home can be exciting, but it’s also big step for people to take. How do you make the process easy for your clients?
Russ: There are several steps. One is simply breaking down the steps of the process and informing the customer what those steps are. Meeting with those clients personally to help them pick out tile, paint colors, finishes, and things like that can help them a great deal. We give them a guaranteed price upfront; we call it “peace-of-mind pricing,” where we bid a house and guarantee that the final price will not exceed our bid number unless the customer has changes throughout the process. All those things simplify the process and alleviate some of the concerns and fears that people have during the process.
MO: Some homebuilders listen to their clients 100% on what they want for their homes, but sometimes, they might not know what the best option is. How do you help your clients create their dream homes?
Russ: A lot of people will say, “I want this” or “I want that,” never having been through the process of building a house. I’ll give you a really quick example: I had a customer who went into Lowe’s and picked out a tile grout several years ago. I’d used that tile grout before, and it appears tan on the color sheet, but when you install it, it comes out peachy and looks terrible next to tan tile.
So, a lot of times customers will come in and say, “I want this,” but they don’t know how to describe it, so again, I listen very intently to the customer and how he lives his life. I determine what’s important to him, and then I use that to help give him what he really does want. Oftentimes, a customer won’t know exactly what he wants – he doesn’t understand the lingo or verbiage, the things we live with as contractors, so he doesn’t know how to communicate.
It’s like going to another country and expecting to communicate with the people there without any translation ability. We deal with houses every single day, and we’re very in tune with that kind of thing. I had a customer who wanted a distressed white cabinet for her lab. The cabinets on display were all distressed, but they were heavily glazed and had also been sanded through. She didn’t like them and thought they were too dark. Well, the reason they were coming off too dark was because they’d sanded through the white and you could see the stained wood underneath. So we actually created a sample of the same color without the sanding. It’s not just hearing what they say, but listening to what they mean.
I often ask my customers for pictures that inspire them, and that also tells me a little about what’s important to them. I say, “Tell me what you like about this picture.” I spend a lot of time trying to understand what that person wants and then get into his head and provide it for him.
MO: You worked in real estate development for 8 years prior to starting your own company, Anderson Homes. How has your real estate background helped you as a builder?
Russ: Something that’s very important to me, that’s never been a focus for many builders, is that homeowners have some equity and are in a good position financially when they find a house. I spent 8 years buying and selling real estate on a commercial and residential level. I made a good living buying raw ground, rezoning it, platting it, and getting it approved for subdivisions. It’s very important to me that homeowners are not backward on their house. It’s not uncommon for homeowners to build a $400,000 house through a custom homebuilder and have it only appraise for $380,000, simply because they had chosen things that sent them over budget, with no return on their investment. I’m constantly reminding my customers, as we go through the process, that my desire is to put them in a situation where if, for any reason, they had to sell their homes, they could pay the realtor fees, get out from under the house, and not owe any money.
MO: What is some advice you can provide people who are thinking about building their dream homes? What are some things they need to think about before they take that step?
Russ: Each customer has to decide for themself what’s important. There are builders out there who do a great job with the process, but they can’t offer you any help with the design. So, you need to find out what’s important to you. If you need help with a design, do you have an idea already in place? Finding the ability to trust is probably the most important thing. It’s important to talk to your builder, understand what’s important to him or her, and then check references.
If your builder has only been building for two years and can’t give you a reference from somebody who has lived in a house for more than a year, that’s not good. Major problems don’t make themselves known immediately. Was the builder willing to cut back during the warranty period? I’m happy to go back and address those types of issues for my customers, but some builders aren’t. Make a list of the things that are important to you, and then find a builder who suits those needs. In fact, I work with people all the time whom I suggest go to other builders. They might not be best suited to work with me.
MO: Anderson Homes prides itself on being family-oriented. How do those values and your company culture translate into how you do business?
Russ: My perspective is that the most important things in life are faith, family, and friends. These are far more important than profit, any kind of financial success, or fame, so currently we have two employees. Both those employees have ownership in my company; we also have a small side company where we buy rental property every year. All those rental properties are on 15-year mortgages, and all my guys have large ownership in that company. They own half, and I own half.
I work really hard with all my subcontractors; I care about those guys. I talk to them about their jobs; if they can’t make a profit on our jobs, we’re willing to up the price we pay those guys. Everyone in the process needs to be paid equitably and fairly. They also do a better job when we do that.
Some builders can cut corners and try to get out as fast as possible because they can’t make money if they don’t. Will their project pass the inspection for the city? Possibly. But are you going to have problems down the road? Possibly. There are a lot of things, as a homeowner, that you can’t see when the house is finished. We’re not going to do that kind of thing. There’s a right way to do business, and a wrong way to do business, and just because something can save you a little bit of money doesn’t mean it’s worth it. That product isn’t going to last.
We care about everybody in our process individually, and we care about the people we build houses for. We’ll do anything we can do to help those people, not just in the house-building process, but in their lives. We stay in close contact with the people we build houses for; we’ve gone back after we built houses and helped them with issues, whether those are with drainage or new projects they have. We make sure they get something as cheaply and affordably as possible to keep their houses in good condition.
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