Credit: Courtesy Risinger Homes
Matt Risinger moved to Austin, Texas, seven years ago to start a custom home building firm. He previously worked for a big production builder in the Washington, D.C., area and then for a smaller company that did semi-custom houses in Portland, Ore. “I practically didn’t even know what an architect was,” he chuckles. Now, Risinger estimates that 90 percent of his business originates from architect referrals. “We decided to focus on an architect-driven business model in 2008,” he says, “and we’ve been growing since—even during the downturn.”
“Right after I moved to Austin, I met Peter Pfeiffer and heard him speak about green design and building science,” Risinger recalls. He knew he wanted to focus on green principles in his work, so he hired Barley & Pfeiffer Architects to design Risinger Homes’ first house—a spec project. It went so well that Risinger joined the Congress of Residential Architecture to build relationships with other architects in the area. Shortly after joining, he met the architect who introduced Risinger to his first paying client. “And that was my first experience with an architect- and client-driven project,” Risinger says.
Positive relationships continued with area architects and in 2008, Risinger and his architecturally trained project manager, Eric Rauser, made a decision to base the company’s entire business model on architect referrals. “We said we should become an architect’s builder,” Risinger says, “and the process has been great for us and our clients.” Even though the past three years have been difficult for most builders, Risinger Homes has expanded to nine full-time employees and has more clients approach the company than it can handle.
Risinger strongly feels the architect-driven business model could work for other small custom builders. “Reach out and find those architects that you fit well with both personality-wise and in terms of building science philosophies,” he suggests. Demonstrating that you won’t override the architect’s design or undermine them with the clients also is important, he adds. “Show that you can build to a high quality and respect their design intent. Once you’ve been through a project and treated them as an equal team member, it goes a long way toward referrals and repeat business.”
Working with an architect is an involved process, but the benefit is that from the beginning you can help clients meet their budget goals without taking away from the design. The result of forging and maintaining these relationships has been a reliable source of income for Risinger’s company. “It’s fun and incredibly rewarding,” Risinger says. “We’re doing houses that address quality and detail, and where the feel of the space is much more satisfying.”