From Spec Home To Superstar:
One Builder’s Journey

Gut instinct. It’s as integral to a builder’s success as basic carpentry, sales and negotiating skills. William Gaudiano, 39, honed his over three decades, starting out of high school building decks and graduating through the trades in the intervening years to remodeling upscale homes in the high priced neighborhoods of Stamford, CT.

He successfully jumped to multi-million dollar spec home construction in the last three years, building big, bold and beautiful homes using modular technology from Signature Building Systems (Moosic, PA).

“I design these myself and it is pretty much gut instinct all the way,â€? Gaudiano says, referring to a growing list of successful spec homes that have ranged from 5,500 to 8,500 sq. ft. with equally impressive price tags—usually around the two million mark. “Buyers in this market want open floor plans, very large kitchens, family rooms, bonus rooms in the basements or over the garages. All my homes feature extensive crown molding—up to nine inches in some instances, and custom cabinetry that is done by a carpenter friend of mine.â€?

Guarding His Reputation
Guadiano’s business model for his home building business, called Exclusive Homes, is to work with Roe Franchina, a Real Estate broker with William Raveis Agency (New Cannan, CT), to locate suitable sites. In Stamford that means ‘scrape-offs,’ demolishing poor quality ranch-style homes built in the 1930s and 40s.

Once the site is cleared, Gaudiano sets out to create something far more artistic than what was there before. Sometimes he designs the house himself, a few times he has clients who have come to him with plans or ideas of their own. Regardless, Gaudiano knows his reputation is riding on what he creates. So he is as selective with choosing his clients as he is with the designs he agrees to build.

“Their criteria and needs have to match mine. If it doesn’t meet my quality needs, it’s over. It’s that simple,â€? Gaudiano says. “I won’t build a square box for someone. I’m focused on building stately homes of high quality. When I hang my sign up, it will be an exclusive home when it’s done.â€?

It’s an approach that is working and working well. His latest effort, a 7,000 sq.ft. home with another 1,500 sq.ft. in the basement, was recognized as “Home of the Yearâ€? by Signature Building Systems. The company recognized Guadiano’s home not only because of its size, but because of its artistic turnkey execution. “We may provide the cake. But he’s the one providing the icing,â€? says says Jere J. Brill, vice president of sales and development at Signature. “He does unbelievable gorgeous work, a lot of attention to detail.â€?

For his part, Guadiano says that by using modular technology he can save his clients on average about 10% on the sale price without sacrificing features, style, quality or comfort.

The primary appeal of Signature’s modular system lies in its speed. “I would have lost four or five months on the schedule if I tried to site frame this home,â€? says Gaudiano. “Plus I’m building in winter months. Using modulars I can get the house closed-in in a matter of days and then get my guys at work in there doing electrical, mechanical and trim work. In a matter of a couple of weeks you’ve got a nice warm home to work in. If I was site framing, a snow storm could roll in before the roof is on and you’ve got a whole new set of problems—wood getting saturated, then it freezes and everything starts popping and twisting.

“I am really enjoying myself. I can give my clients more square footage for their money using this system. My margins are a lot easier to predict as well, with the modular portion of the home accounting for 60% to 70% of the cost of the project. I can rest easier at night knowing what my costs going in.â€?

Trusting Signature to deliver the modular sections of the home to arrive perfectly square, straight and true is also important to sleeping soundly. “My confidence level is very high in their product,â€? he says.

Perhaps it’s because Signature takes the time to test tolerances of each modular section within their 47-foot high, 82,000 sq. ft. $4.5 million production facility. For example, four bridge cranes test set the complicated roof systems required for today’s custom homes before they are shipped to the site.

Another innovation is that modular sections are only moved once a day—in the morning. In most modular operations, the modular sections move station to station every few minutes. At Signature, this formula has been changed in favor of moving men, women and materials. In this way, the modular sections endure less vibration during drywall set up and cure time.

“We gave a lot of thought to every aspect of this operation when we designed it,â€? says Victor DePhillips, Signature president.

Builders are responding to the company’s attention to detail. Since building their new facility in 2001, the company’s sales have grown 60% in the last two years. “Our business has been all over the map,â€? DePhillips says. “We’re building a wide spectrum of houses today. We enjoy the more custom and large homes because of the challenge they bring along. But we also do simple 5/12 ranches too.â€?

Not A Remote Control System
Gaudiano advises other builders contemplating this system to not regard it as a way to build by remote control. “Once the modulars are set, I would advise them to be on the job site every minute till the job is done. The homes I’m doing, I am done with them in less than five months. But I take that time to focus on the quality. I’ve tossed my fair share of guys off the job who don’t meet my quality standards. That’s key to why my homes are selling and others aren’t. When you have your own money invested in a project, you tend to have that level of interest.â€?