Beware the internet of things! Words that echo discussions I’ve been having with colleagues, customers and vendors. Appliance manufacturers, High Tech equipment manufacturers, and the media would have us all believe that amazing benefits await us if we’d simply connect everything we use to the internet so we can be monitored, watched, notified, and updated about everything from airline schedules to how much broccoli is in the refrigerator. However, as my high school econ teacher used to drill into us-There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. The cost of all these wonders of the modern world isn’t only money. Truthfully, the money to add a wifi chip to any appliance is immaterial today. Every appliance has a circuit-board, and adding a wifi chip adds a few pennies to that. But, every appliance then has to have a unique address for the wifi router to communicate with it. Without getting into the technical weeds, keeping multiple wireless pieces in stable communication with the router, each other, and the the internet isn’t all that easy-and the more pieces you add to a wireless network the harder it gets to keep each one in it’s proper lane. Some companies that specialize in having such pieces spread thru an installed ecosystem are very good at designing the protocols that keep them straight, but typically these companies sell their wares thru specialized dealers. Our AV vendor – www.k-integration.com – is one such dealer specializing in deploying systems like this designed and built by Crestron Electronics. Many firms are leaping into this space creating products that are priced for the public to deploy. Good luck with that. I can’t think of anything likely to be more frustrating than trying to troubleshoot wifi lightbulbs. Worse, companies like Maytag or Whirlpool that have leapt into the space have no real expertise in networking, internet protocols, online security etc., and have created hardware and firmware that ports into our phones via wifi networks without really considering the need or the security of doing so. Now, for sure, no Chinese operatives care what I have in my refrigerator or if I’m a glutton for microwave popcorn, but they MAY be interested in what’s on my computer or tablet, and an easy way into those is via my home network. One tiny chip inserted onto a circuit-board makes a convenient backdoor for such exploits. Lest you think such a thing is absurd- Apple, the US Government, Major US banks and others found exactly such a tiny chip installed into boards that were sold as part of server systems deployed by these organizations!! So aside from the added hassle of now having to do network troubleshooting for dishwashers and stoves, and the added nervousness of waiting to hear from one’s dryer or microwave, one has to consider that all the boards installed on these appliances come from overseas- and we have no idea what’s on them-
Last night we had the fortune to be named a finalist in the 2017 Cleveland Choice Awards competition in the Custom Home of the Year/Best Outdoor Living Space category for a custom pool and poolhouse environment project we finished in 2016. In talking to some of my colleagues regarding this, I reflected that, while the competition is for builders and is sponsored by the HBA of Greater Cleveland, there really should be recognition that without customers that want us to perform to these high levels, and want our creativity and expertise to be used on their behalf above and beyond the norm, none of the projects submitted would exist. It is these customers- a select few from the hundreds, if not thousands, that hired an HBA member-that wanted a project unique in design, complexity, difficulty, beauty, and, yes, cost that inspired their builder to excellence. It is the existence of these people that we rely on to energize us, to keep us engaged in an industry that is at times trying and unrelenting in its frustrations. So, for every category winner, there is a family, grinning ear to ear, that THEY received a builder’s best efforts and work. That they requested expertise be brought to bear, that training be utilized, and, in exchange, they were willing to reward those efforts. So, while an award may recognize the beauty of an end result, it fails miserably to recognize the family for granting the initial inspiration to reach, and the permission to excel. And, while the winner of each category sent one person up to claim the plaque, each plaque represents an industry-wide wealth of people and knowledge, spanning the generations, that sweated their way through these challenging projects. People unsung in daily life, underestimated by their white collar peers, that exhibit rare expertise in using materials and their hands to craft unique, one-of-a-kind projects that will be cherished for generations both by the people that hired them, and, later, by people that have no knowledge of who these craftsmen even were.
The project we submitted was a very difficult, large scale reworking of about 4 acres of a 6 acre parcel. My team and I were challenged by our clients to create privacy where there was none, and to create a resort-style oasis where there was a windswept hillside. From the initial design to the final touch up and caulking by our staff we, over about 8 months worked through ground issues, weather, logistical issues and the overall complexity of the project to bring it to completion. It’s a guess, but I believe over 200 people worked on this project over the 8 month period. Each phase of the project was orchestrated to dovetail with the phase before and the phase after. For just one example, the well was completed just in time to turn on the irrigation system to water in the transplanted trees, which otherwise would have died. A symphony of dirt, mud, greenery, and carpentry, culminating in a sculptural plastering of the pool. Finally, after all that, filling the pool with water was acceptance that we had completed things, and another family was soon to be grinning about their finished project. Topping it off was a literal symphony of sound-as a concert quality system sent music all around the new environment-bringing smiles to all our faces.
These projects are rare. Not only because of the cost, but also because of the rarity of those people that want to hire great people to perform a great work of lasting art for their families. Too often I hear about how expensive something is, or we are, and that there is someone less expensive that gets hired. That’s ok. For many, ok is good enough. For a few, they want excellence, and, for them, we pour ourselves into these projects and brave the challenges of our challenging industry to produce that awesome finished project. For them, ok is just a starting point, and for us, that’s the green light. The signal, to get the bit between our teeth and to craft something that will be unique and wonderful for this rare family. And, much later, when we’re far past done, if we’re lucky, as a collective pat on the back, our industry will possibly recognize our effort and reward us, 1 night each year. Oh, by the way, yes, we won.
I had the opportunity to tour an amazing home in Cleveland Heights last night. Several things made the home amazing to me- first was the impeccable way the owners had restored nearly everything in the home, saving the pieces that froze the home into the early 20th century- things like what had to have been one of the first intercom systems- and undoing some of the unfortunate “upgrades” of previous owners. What truly struck me, though, was the original worker’s attention to detail. Hand carved and custom made corbels for transition points in walls, custom carved bits for the stairway newels, hand fabricated caming in leaded glass windows throughout the home, and thoughtful floorplan elements that created private and public places inside and outside, all around the home. Hand crafted doors both interior and exterior, with beveled glass that creates visual points of interest all around the home. Everywhere you turn, there’s something that a craftsman born in the 1800’s cut, sanded, beveled, installed, or finished with great attention to detail and personal pride. The home was built like a fortress, standing guard on a 2 acre corner for over 100 years, sheltering it’s occupants from the First World War, the Depression, the Second World War and all the history that came since. To build a home in this manner today can be accomplished, but at a cost north of the $10 Million mark. Of course, the craftsmen that knew how to do such fine leaded glasswork, or custom carving of plaster and wood are long dead. Their work, though, lives through time-echoing throughout our industry as a reminder that, many years ago, homes were built by artists.
This home is for sale, and if you are of a mind to become a caretaker for this piece of liveable artwork, here’s a link to the Realtor website to make an appointment. Arlington Road for sale
Several years ago there was a study done based on exit polling from model home visitors on what they thought builders make on each home. This was done in the context of a national survey by the NAHB (National Association of Homebuilders) on what builders actually make. Most people believe that builders make over 20% on their products. Nationally, builders were actually making between 0 and 5%. The cost of running the business was 10% of gross revenue. Recently, another such study was done. The cost of simply running the business has risen to 12% of gross revenue, and overall profitability dropped those same 2%. What this means is that building companies, nationally, are under tremendous pressure to stay profitable while still satisfying their customers. We see this pressure every day. Since we started Myers Homes in the early ’90’s, most of the builders that existed when we started are gone. Their staffs scattered, their customers orphaned, and their vendors cast off. Since 2005, nearly 70% of the builders in our market have vanished! We, though, are still here. Our customers still get a return call if they need information or help with something, our vendors are still here, and we’ve retained most of our staff over the years. Often, especially in a bid situation, we are asked to change our business model to accommodate the pricing structure of others. We’ve recently lost a few jobs because we wouldn’t/couldn’t get low enough in our pricing. I’ve found that price is paramount only for the shortest moment of the transaction- right up until the contract is signed. For the rest of the duration of the transaction- which may last for a year or more of plan development, construction and more years of warranty support, price isn’t an issue at all, but service becomes the most important thing. In fact, most of the people I meet that had bad experiences building or remodeling with another company never talk about the pricing choices they made and are only reflecting on the bad products or service they received in exchange. Maybe that’s why we still work for our customers many years after the initial sale. Call us- give our way a try. It’s much more relaxing!
For at least 20 years that I can remember, the purveyors of technology have promised us thinking, automated homes. From the ’90’s until today we have been inundated with promises of automated thermostats, self stocking refrigerators, and an easy-to-use remote control that would allow us to easily select from about a thousand channels from multiple sources. Well, the truth has been that for every new control gadget we got, there were a ballooning number of sources that required yet another gadget to control. Sure, HVAC firms have remote control thermostats, but up until recently, you had to use a separate remote to use them. Smartphones and apps have helped a lot lately- at least now you can download an app for that thermostat or toaster that could allow you some degree of control, but the universe of controllable things has, so far, dwarfed the the solar system of controllers. And, most of these things require some degree of technology savvy on the part of the end user, who may be required to drill through a list of FAQs on a website, or, worse, an instruction manual folded into about 7 different languages shoved into the box. All, my friends, is not lost, though. Last fall one of the industry leaders in this sort of technology, Crestron, rolled out a game changing piece called Pyng. Pyng acts as a programming hub for pieces designed to be integrated into the technological landscape it creates, and that’s a lot of things. Lighting, Audio, HVAC, security, and as we move forward, video. Crestron is the gear that’s used in robust, automated buildings such as Apple’s headquarters, or the new Goodyear World Headquarters building in Akron. Brought into the home, Crestron finally created an easy-to-build infrastructure around its wireless gear, with Pyng as a hub, so companies like our sister company K+ Audio and Integration (www.k-integration.com ) can easily retrofit homes and install nearly any subset of sources and control for the family. Want sound on your back patio? That’s no problem at all. Best, the control is as simple as an IPhone app. Crestron is not a do-it-yourself system-like any other system with a simple interface, the gear and set up behind the scenes is fairly technical and complex. But the gear is bullet-proof. It just works.