To say a lot has changed in the building business over the last 15 years would be an understatement. Late 2006 into 2007 everyone experience the downfall of the residential home market. Builders were forced to redefine their business plans, expand their markets, and deal with a more skeptical and informed consumer.
The one thing that hasn’t changed is what excites Mike Cain, owner of Millstone Homes, Inc. As a third generation home builder, he knows that building relationships with customers is still the most important part of what we do. Building a home, remodeling a home, or simply finishing a basement can be a consuming task for the customer and the builder.
“Over the months or weeks that it takes to complete a project, you experience life- not only yours but the life of your customers,” Cain stated in a 2006 interview. That is still true today. You experience births, you experience death, illness, first day of school, graduation, etc. As customers become friends, you learn about their kids, their passions, and their expectations. Managing those expectations is still an integral part of the building process.
In 2005, when Mike left the family building business and started Millstone Homes, Inc., the residential home market was booming. Success was given provided you built a good product, sold at a fair price, and you treated people fairly. All of that would change in two short years. Lending institutions tightened regulations for borrowing money. There were not as many buyers or folks wanting to build homes. The market changed and in order to stay in business, builders had to change as well.
“I used to only build new homes, maybe finish a basement here or there, but primarily build new homes. I realized I had to diversify my efforts in order to provide for my family. Through God’s provision, I was willing to do anything related to building. No project was too small, none too large.” In 2009, Mike was given the opportunity to be the project manager for his church as they built a 22,000 square foot children’s addition, which was by far the most challenging project to date.
Mike Cain is very methodical and precise in his building. He has always operated best in a very organized and structured environment. Home building is a process; one must follow the correct steps or things can go terribly wrong. Mike loves the challenge. One favorite piece of architecture is the Tri-Delta house on Milledge, as he loves the painted brick and straight lines. Having grown up in the south, he loves the classic southern homes with large front porches and large rooms. He also loves the look of a French European large home, with high pitch roofs built with stone and brick. Each project is unique and represents what his customers want.
Today’s customer is different as not everyone desires to build a new home. Sometimes that decision is financial, sometimes its sentimental, and sometimes “it’s just the right thing to do.” More and more people are opting to remodel their homes rather than build a new one. The process is the same, the subcontractors and supplies are the same, and the difference is you are now working in someone’s home. They live there. A daily inspection by the homeowner, restricted work times, and the intrusion into the customer’s personal space adds a new dynamic to the building process.
“The change in the market has really made what I do for a living more exciting. It challenges me. You have to be knowledgeable. You have to be engaged in what your clients really want,” Cain said. With the introduction and success of home renovation and remodeling shows like Fixer Upper and social media like Pinterest, Facebook, etc. the customers have seen what they want. They used to arrive with a three inch notebook crammed full of pictures from magazines, now they arrive with iPads or other devices with literally thousands of pictures of what they want. Sometimes, those desires are much more expensive than the client inticipated.
“My dad taught me a long time ago that the majority of what we do is project management. This includes managing the customer’s expectation. In today’s market, that includes getting them what they want within their budget. This can sometimes be a challenge, but in order to stay competitive in the market, you must adapt,” Cain said. Millstone Homes, Inc is no longer just building homes. They build and have completed multiple remodel projects and additions. They are also currently building multiple custom homes for clients.
Mike worked with his father for three years and it was then he knew he wanted to be a builder. After ten years of being involved with the pharmaceutical industry, he realized this was his calling. In 2005, when he went out on his own, his ability to provide clients with the home of their dreams allowed him to experience success early in the process. The fact that Millstone Homes survived the recession in 2007-2009 is another major representation of success. They persevered through the worst housing recession he’d ever experienced in his adult life.
Mike loves the interaction he has with his clients. He is constantly adapting to them and their wants and needs, but attention to detail is what he strives to focus on for every job. He realized a person’s personality shines through the architecural style they most like. His desire has always been to build relationship with them, long lasting relationships that go far beyond the completion of a project. “When a customer refers me to a friend or family member, there is no greater satisfaction for me. It confirms that we are ‘Doing it Right.’ God continues to provide the opportunities; our desire is to honor Him by doing what we say we are going to do.”
It is unique to the customer and how they do life. For me it is large spaces where families can do life together. I love the current trend for the kitchen, great room and breakfast area to all be one large space. To me it represent the family spending time together. Life is so busy these days, families need time and space to just be together.
Laundry rooms on each level of the home, bathrooms for every bedroom, open cell foam in the attic for insulation, hardwood floors in all “major traffic” areas. These are items that make sense to me. Especially since folks are electing to stay in their homes longer.
Mike and his wife, Suzanne, live in Oconee County. They have three children, Sarah Ellen (18), Will (16), and Grace Anne (10). Spending time with his family is of major importance to him. “I love my wife, I love my kids. They are my greatest blessing. When I am not working, I am a coach, I am a cheerleader, I am a counselor… I am a dad and I love it.”