Big Mountain Builders LLC
Located in the Flathead Valley of Montana near Glacier National Park, Big Mountain Builders LLC has prospered even during the recession. It builds custom homes ranging in construction cost from $300,000 to $1.5 million, not including land.
The style of the homes sometimes depends on where the homeowner is coming from – literally. Clients who are new to Montana want a Montana-style home that resembles a cabin, with heavy use of wood and perhaps even logs.
But those who have lived in Montana a while or are natives of the area tend to prefer what Big Mountain Builders owner Marc Daniels calls “mountain modern style.” “The people who are from here or have been here a long time have been going away from the “Montana Style” and doing something either more contemporary or “Pottery Barn”-style, because they’ve been around Montana style for so long,” Daniels reports.
Big Mountain Builders LLC builds most of its custom homes around Whitefish, Mont., in the Flathead Valley. “Whitefish has been a very busy place the last few years, even while most of the Northwest was in a deep recession,” Daniels notes. “I believe the reason for this is that Whitefish is a destination location and people want to be here.” The company also has built homes in Kalispell and Somers, Mont. “There isn’t as much building in those areas, but we still get some contracts in those areas, just not as much as Whitefish,” he reports.
Big Mountain Builders does not have stock plans from which its customers select their home. “Most of our customers will start pretty much from scratch,” Daniels says. “Most of the residential homesites we’re building on are designed specifically for those homesites. For some of the smaller homes, people just have their own ideas, and we’ll incorporate their ideas.”
Although the economic downturn is winding down in Daniels’ area, he finds his customers are still economically conservative. “We were busy through the downturn, surprisingly, but those extras have been cut back on quite a bit,” he declares. “The houses are still super-nice, but people are really budget-sensitive still.”
Daniels estimates only 25 percent of his clients hire interior decorators for their homes. “It’s a great way to go if they can afford it or they want to pay for it,” he says. Most Big Mountain homes are designed by Kevin Treece Residential Design Inc., and the Big Mountain office staff will refer clients to an interior designer if they are interested in one.
Daniels uses e-mail and phone calls to keep in touch with customers during the construction process. “I send them pictures four to five times a week, and they communicate back to me if there’s any changes that need to be made,” he says. “Some customers want the play-by-play every day, and some don’t want that much communication. They just want us to get it done, and we’ll communicate every week or couple weeks with them.”
Big Mountain Builders does not self-perform any work on its homes but instead relies on a team of approximately 20 subcontractors. “We can do it all,” Daniels insists. “I have some of the best craftsmen in the area working with me. I do try to stay loyal to my subcontractor base; I feel I get much better service that way. It’s a team effort. I make adjustments to my team only if it’s necessary. That can happen once or twice a year only, if that subcontractor starts to not get along with other team members, or if I get a complaint from a homeowner.”
It takes Daniels about four months to build a custom home that costs around $300,000, and up to 10 to 12 months for ones costing $1.5 million without the land. He tries to keep change-orders to a minimum. “We will not nickel and dime our customers, so we will only charge them for anything that would be considered beyond minor,” he says.
Big Mountain Builders has not built LEED-certified homes but supports green techniques. “We do practice as much green construction as possible, but going too green can be costly to the homeowner. So it really just comes down to budgets,” Daniels says.
Because Whitefish is west of the Continental Divide, the area usually does not receive as much snow as areas east of the divide. “For the last five years in a row, we started a home right after Christmas,” Daniels asserts. “That involves extra expenses for the homeowners, and they know that upfront. It’s about $7,000 for heating the foundation for curing. We still work all winter. We haven’t had a winter off since I moved here seven years ago. We started the company at the end of 2008.”
Winter temperatures are in the high 20s and low 30s F. “We will not work outside if it’s less than 15 F, because the compressors don’t – they freeze up,” he says.
Big Mountain Builders has the wall panels and trusses for its homes built off-site by Western Building Center. “We get the house dried in a month faster than if we conventionally frame the walls,” he notes.
Daniels believes in being a hands-on owner. “I am one of the guys on the job,” he maintains. “I do whatever I can to make sure the guys on the site are happy, too, because it’s a team effort. I do the cleanup. I walk around the job and see what needs to be done. I do all the supervision myself – I’m in the field all day.”
That attention results in high rates of customer satisfaction, Daniels insists. “We have a really simple outlook,” he says. “Our goal is to make sure our customers are 100 percent satisfied during the process of construction and after the home is complete. We enjoy what we’re doing, and I think it shows. My goal is to be friends with my clients when we’re done, and I would say on every project, that has been the case.”