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Quality, not quantity key at Landers Custom Homes

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by Jan K. Allen

SBJ Contributing Writer

Ozarks native Len Landers got his start in the construction business in 1974. Prior to beginning his life's career as a builder, Landers majored in psychology at Southwest Missouri State University in the early '70s.

"But I always knew I was going to be in the building business," Landers said.

He said he feels his psychology background has been an asset, because the housing trade requires people skills as much as it does technical knowledge. Helping people fulfill their dreams, Landers said, is the thing he loves most about the business.

Shortly after leaving SMSU, Landers worked as a framer and did some remodeling jobs. He remodeled the Baptist Student Union complex, located across National Avenue from SMSU, in 1976.

When his wife, Cheryl, was hired for a teaching position in Stockton, the couple moved to the Stockton Lake area where he continued to do some remodeling and built some spec homes.

He worked in the lake area for about seven years, where he got his first taste of building custom homes.

"Back then, if you were a carpenter, you did everything," he said.

The late '70s was a time when Springfield experienced a home-building slump, but the slowdown hadn't affected the Stockton area, so Landers stayed busy.

Landers moved back to Springfield in the early '80s, and he gradually began to concentrate on building custom homes, working directly with his clients.

He had found his niche.

He started using a computer before it became the norm. In 1984 he got his first system, which he used to draw plans and keep records of materials so he could make accurate bids quickly.

"I've always been technically oriented," he said.

Although most buyers want to push for completion of their dream home, Landers likes to take it slow and make sure all changes that need to be made are made when it's the easiest while the house is still under construction.

"I tell them, they're going to live there 30 years, let's take an extra month," he said.

Like many custom builders today, Landers has seen a lot of changes in the last few years in both tastes and trends. Specialty rooms, such as media rooms, and glass enclosures are very popular these days.

As far as electronics goes, upper end houses are state-of-the-art, according to Landers. Everything is designed for ease and comfort.

Buyers can have zoned heating, a mixture of soft and hard water available, water purification systems, instant hot water and, of course, wiring for computer systems, extra television sets and phone jacks in every room.

Master baths are given a lot of consideration, he said. They are bigger, with more features, and many people want large windows around the tub area to create an open, outdoor look.

Landers builds on a set-rate basis. The owner knows all costs and has access to every bill connected with a project. A good contractor will earn his fee in the savings he provides by knowing where to buy and what subs to rely on, Landers said.

"Generally, a buyer will not be aware of what things should cost, but the builder does," he said.

In the last few years Landers has built few homes in subdivisions. Most of his clients want estates on large acreages. Some people already have the land bought when they come to him, but often he helps with the site-selection process.

This is preferable to him because the lay of the land doesn't always fit the house the client wants to build, he said.

In any case, every decision is made by the buyer. Landers will offer guidance and advice, but the property belongs to the owners, and their complete satisfaction is his goal, he said.

Landers said he has had very few problems, all of them minor, with the houses he has built in the years he has been in the custom home business.

The biggest problem is the misconception about the nature of building construction. People think their home is going to be perfect, he said, but when you are working with raw materials that can change with age, you may find a hairline crack or a slab that settles slightly over time.

Most of the business that comes to Landers Custom Homes is referral business. Landers said he does very little advertising, and the majority of his buyers come from outside the area.

From this influx, Landers keeps busy. He had as many as six or seven houses under construction during the peak in '93 and '94, but he doesn't like that much pressure. With too many projects, a lot of the on-site decisions had to be made by supervisors, and Landers had less time to spend with each owner.

He now has three houses under construction at prices ranging between $250,000 and $350,000. Three houses, he said, is the optimum comfort level for the way he operates.

Regarding the future of the market, he said, so many factors affect the construction business, it's hard to make a prediction.

"The coming spring should tell us something," he said.

Recently, he managed to work in the completion of his own two-story, country-style home, nestled among the trees on a 10-acre tract near Nixa.

The spacious house, featuring large rooms and high ceilings, is shared by his wife, Cheryl, and their three daughters Amy, 18, Angela, 16 and Amber, 13.

In terms of local organizations, Landers said he is not much of a joiner, nor does he pursue any particular hobby.

His work and his family, he said, are his life.

INSET CAPTION:

Landers likes to take

it slow and make

sure all changes that need to be made are made when it's the easiest while the house is still under construction.

PHOTO CAPTION:

Len and Cheryl Landers built their own home at 1170 Hickory Ridge Ct. in Nixa.[[In-content Ad]]

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