Building alliances: a well-oiled partnership can make a job go swimmingly

Building alliances: a well-oiled partnership can make a job go swimmingly – In Depth

Rebecca Robledo

There was a time, not too long ago, when custom home owners wanted a fairly simple pool to be built on their properties. Not any more; now clients want outdoor spaces to be as well appointed as indoor ones. “They’re realizing that [the waterscape] can be a work of art and … in a lot of cases it can be one of the most important parts of the project,” says Miami pool designer and builder Brian Van Bower.

In the spirit of extending the indoors to the outdoors and creating a backyard room, many designers are incorporating several water elements such as pools, ponds, and fountains into the home’s plan. Pools also are becoming more intimately connected with the home itself, sometimes even sharing a foundation.

As a result, more and more custom builders are forming alliances with individual pool builders, avoiding the low-cost temptation of bidding each project. This can yield a loyal team player who not only fits effortlessly into a well-oiled custom home machine, but who also can refine the architect’s original concept. “I think the reason we have gravitated to one pool builder over the years has a lot to do with the fact that that’s our niche,” says Don Crowell, president of custom home builder Crowell Inc. in Austin, Texas. “Pools are very much a part of the overall design of the house, and we just have to rely completely on the pool builder’s knowledge.”

To keep the pricing honest, home builders may bid a project out to two or three pool contractors. Some pool builders demand at least this much loyalty. “If I’m not doing every project that [the home builder] is doing that I want to do, then I’m wasting my time doing bids,” says Joe Deisenroth, owner of Valley Pool & Spa Design & Construction in Palm Springs, Calif.

As with any successful partnership, the relationship between a home builder and a pool builder must be based on mutual respect. For home builders this means realizing that a pool contractor can be more than a vendor who delivers on time and at a fair price. The expertise offered by a top-notch pool specialist can take the job to a higher level. By teaming up with the right specialist, a home builder can deliver a work of art that goes beyond even the architect’s expectations.

In the best cases, partnering with the right pool contractor can boost both parties’ reputations. In some markets having a respected pool builder on the team, for instance, can add prestige to the whole project. Crowell will only work with one pool builder in his area. “He just stands so above the rest of the pack that he actually is an asset to me,” he explains. “A lot of homeowners know of him and his reputation, and they know they want him to do their pool.”

For pool builders, a relationship with a custom builder “gives you access to projects you might not otherwise have,” says Deisenroth. “On homes like that, [the homeowner is] not going to build the home, then come in later and build the pool. The entire project is finished to the last bush and pebble before the customer moves in.”

There are other advantages to partnerships between custom builders and pool builders. They give each the chance to learn the other’s style, so they know what to expect and how to react in just about any situation. Pool builders also are able to establish familiarity with other subcontractors on the builder’s team. With pools becoming more structurally integral to many custom homes, the trades need to be able to rely on each other. “If you’re doing interior water features, you might be working with the engineer or the cement contractors to make sure all your plumbing is in place prior to [their] work,” Deisenroth explains.

With a trusted partner, a home builder can turn a chunk of the project over to the pool sub and virtually forget about it. Pool builders, on the other hand, have an opportunity to increase the depth of their services, since many custom builders look for contractors who can do as much of the backyard as possible. Several custom home builders in the Washington, D.C., area turn to Lewis Aquatech for just this reason. “Our builders want to have one single source to general contract the backyard,” says Don Gwiz, vice president of the Chantilly, Va.-based company.

Just like any subcontractor, pool builders need to earn their spot on the custom home team. That can be tough sometimes, especially given the preconceived notions that some custom builders have about the pool trade. “We’ve run into general contractors who view us as the enemy,” says Lou Downes, president of Lou Downes Swimming Pools in Wheeling, Ill. “When you get down to it, they had a bad experience–a job that turned out poorly or dragged on forever.”

These disenchanted builders expect the worst from the outset, Downes says, so they resist getting involved in the project. “All they want to do is satisfy the customer’s request that a pool be built,” he says. “They’re just looking at `I want this size, I want it over here.’ They don’t want to talk about limestone or bluestone decking. It’s just, `What’s the cheapest?'”

It takes some time, Downes says, but these home builders can be turned around. “when I run into that, I say, `If this isn’t a good time, I’ll come back, because we need to spend some time.’ I usually spend 1 1/2 to 2 hours talking about all the details.” That conversation is followed by performance, of course, with impeccable design and engineering, met deadlines, and flexibility when change orders come around.

For their part, custom builders can protect themselves by looking into a pool builder’s reputation and checking his past work and business practices. “If I’m meeting somebody for the first time, I go see their work at different stages–see the formwork, the steel, look at the quality of the work,” says Walter Daggett, president of Walter Daggett Construction in Miami. He also finds out how the pool builder structures his firm, especially what kind of workforce is on board and how it is treated.

After hiring a pool builder, a home builder can provide the tools needed to get the job done: detailed plans, access to the architect and homeowner, a realistic timeline, and on-time pay. “It doesn’t need to be an adversarial situation; it can be good for both of us,” Downes says. “That’s pretty much the goal.”

COPYRIGHT 2002 Hanley-Wood, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group