Self Taught MBA: Empowering Homeowners at ArmchairBuilder.comcomments (1) November 13th, 2012 in Blogs
There are two obstacles for the do-it-yourselfer: tools and know-how. The home-improvement center has made most tools available and inexpensive books and magazines provide how-to advice. But for the bigger projects, from a room addition to home building, a few tools and books won't suffice. Nonetheless, many homeowners would prefer to save money and enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes from acting as contractor and craftsman. A few builders have tried to mine this niche for a business opportunity, providing inexperienced do-it-yourselfers with expert advice. Most notably, the UBuildIt franchise promises local expertise and a little project management, holding your hand while pointing the way along the construction process for a fee ranging from 4% to 10%. I don't know how successful they are, given that many contractors assume full responsibility and do the whole job for about the same.
Recently, I found another approach to serving the DIY niche with expertise. This one provides expertise online and for free. Michael Luckado, a builder with 17 years on the front lines, created ArmchairBuilder.com to help owner-builders "save money and avoid the hassles that sometimes plague our industry," Luckado told me by email. Unlike UBuildIt, which charges a fee and boasts local connections, Luckado's web-based business makes money by offering advertising space. "We work with sponsors and relevant partnerships. We also sell products through our ESTORE," said Luckado. Those products are forms, such as a package of trade-by-trade scope of worksheets, bid sheets, budget sheets, and guides, such as "Build a New Home Process Overview" ($7.99) and "Troubleshooting Guide for Homes" ($14.99), just in case you make a mistake.
Luckado, who earned an MBA as well as degrees in engineering, project management, bases his approach to guiding homeowners on his experience as both a troubleshooter in the warranty department of a national homebuilder, and eventually as an executive in charge of hiring and training new employees. As he explains it, "Many of our eager employee candidates didn't necessarily come in with true construction experience. The good news was that throughout my career, I had created and refined systems and procedures to help get new employees up to speed quickly. The idea being, with the proper checklists and procedures, any bright, hardworking person can build a quality home."
On his website, Luckado provides help through blogs and videos for small and large DIY projects, such as installing a glass-tile backsplash or replacing a roof. On larger projects, such as whole-house construction, he recommends that homeowners hire out as much of the work as possible, acting as general contractors to save time and money, and picking only a few projects to handle personally. "I think homeowners can get the best price and outcome by choosing which projects they would like to do themselves either because of the savings or just because they like doing it and have the skills," said Luckado.
Based in Hawaii, ArmchairBuilder.com has a following throughout the United States, Canada and England. "The UK has a major push to get people to build their own home. They are coming up with ways to make it easier for people to tackle the home-building process, as it was in the old days. Hopefully the U.S. will see how successful this is and follow their lead," Luckado said. He no longer takes on projects personally. "We will give guidance, but we don't take on specific local projects," Luckado said. "We are too busy at the moment creating content for ArmchairBuilder.com. Our philosophy is that through the Internet, we can help thousands (or hopefully hundreds of thousands) of people versus just a handful working one-on-one."
ArmchairBuilder.com launched in August of last year, so it's impossible to know now just how successful the business model will prove, but the concept lines up with a trend toward consumer empowerment that has already altered the fields of financial investment, medicine, law, and real estate. In Luckado's view, "There is a huge need for good-quality, trustworthy information about building, remodeling, and repairing homes. The building business doesn't have the best reputation. Our goal is to provide good information so people can save money and get exactly what they want without unnecessary hassles. So, yes, I think this business model has huge potential to help people, and if we can accomplish that, we have a business."
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