Springfield, MO

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Photo provided by TRAVIS MILLER
Photo provided by TRAVIS MILLER

A Conversation With ... Travis Miller

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Tell us about your company.
I’ve been in construction since 2000. My dad was a builder. I went out on my own in 2004, and started out building spec homes in the lower $200,000 range for a year or two, then got into the custom home market. I haven’t built a spec home in four or five years; it’s been all custom homes, mostly from $300,000 to $700,000. I’m the only employee of the company. Usually, I’m sitting with clients for the whole process, design to finish … but I don’t draw the plans myself. I usually hire a professional architect to take care of that, but it’s better if I’m involved in the beginning. There are some things (clients) don’t think about during the design, and then they’ve already got a full set of plans, and we can’t go back and change some of those things, because they’re structural.

How has the economy affected your business?
The last few years, it’s been frustrating because I’ve bid quite a few things, but people have the midndset that everybody’s looking for work and everything should be a lot cheaper. … The last few years, people aren’t looking for the best builder. They’re looking for the best price, and I lose out on a lot of jobs because I’m not the cheapest, but that’s been the environment the last few years. I’ve talked to a lot of builders who feel the same way. People are getting five to 10 bids on a home, where it used to be two or three. When building was at an all-time high, I was building two or three a year, but lately I’ve been doing eight to 10 projects – a lot of smaller remodeling projects. I had new homes going, and then, things really started going south on the economy, and I started being asked to do some remodeling. I started finding out that people were staying put and wanted to update the homes they were in. I think if the economy would have been better, they probably would have just built new. … In the last two years, it was 70 percent remodeling and 30 percent new, and this year, it’s probably going to be 60 percent new and 40 percent remodeling.

What do homeowners want these days?
In both remodeling and new, they’re looking to upgrade on energy efficiency. Green building is a popular term right now, and some people are curious about it, and some people really know a lot about it. A lot of (homeowners) want to upgrade their windows. Foam insulation is a big (trend). They’ve heard and read about the positive aspects of foam insulation, and a lot of people are requesting that now. I’ve done some geothermal homes – people like the rebates available on those and the long-term cost savings. I’m doing a lot of home offices. People are really liking the outdoor kitchens. I’ve talked to several people about doing backup generators, and everybody’s concerned about having tornado shelters. A lot of people are trying to design those into their homes, and this has been happening for quite a few years now. People want to make an interior room solid concrete, or at least create some type of safe place where they can go during the tornadoes. Media rooms are popular right now (and they’re) simple to do, especially if you have a basement home.

What is your signature in home building?
I try to utilize every piece of the house, so there’s no space that can’t be used for something, whether it’s storage or a dead spot over the garage that you could finish into a playroom for a kid, or storage or a craft room. … I try to build homes like I’m going to live in them, so I try to make sure everything’s taken care of. A lot of times, my final punch list is twice as long as the homeowner’s when they do the walk-through, because I try to be as particular as I can.

Are you seeing signs of economic improvement?
I think so. I’ve got three different people talking to me right now about building new homes. A year ago, I don’t think that would have happened. I think people were still a little skeptical about the economy and what was going to happen long-term. I think people are starting to get a little worried about interest rates starting to go up. They’ve been wanting to build and have been just kind of waiting it out. … For the price range of homes I’m working on, it doesn’t seem like the economy has affected them as much, especially on the remodeling. 
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