Montana Students Prepare 41st Home for Sale

Filed in Construction Industry, Home Building by on December 8, 2016 0 Comments
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Billings students move materials on the jobsite.

High school students in Billings, Montana, are about halfway through building a new home that they’ll be ready to sell right about the time that the seniors on the project graduate in 2017.

The HBA of Billings, whose members mentor the students and ensure that the quality is top-notch, will plow the profits from the sale of the home back into the building program.

Student building programs are part of a number of HBAs and NAHB Student Chapters all over the country. But here in Billings, they’ve been doing it for 40 years.

The HBA even has buyers waiting for the next one. One potential home owner was particularly interested in the 2015-16 home, but her husband’s oversized pickup truck couldn’t fit in the standard garage, recalled Billings HBA EO Kimberly Welzenbach. “If she’s still looking by the time we’re done, she may want the one we are working on now,” Welzenbach said.

The almost-completed kitchen in the students' home.

The almost-completed kitchen in the students’ home.

The HBA typically builds a five- or six-bedroom home on a developed lot that it’s already purchased: the HBA already owns the lots for projects through the next couple of years.

Side-by-side with an HBA-member engineer and architect, the students choose the home’s design, discussing ways to include current design trends while keeping the price that’s reasonable for the market and for the neighborhood: somewhere between $360,000 and $400,000. “The price range we play in sells really quickly,” she said.

During the school year, nearly 100 students come in groups for morning and afternoon shifts that encompass “everything from the ground up,” Welzenbach said, from the foundation to the framing, drywall, paint and landscaping. During each phase, the students are mentored by member companies that specialize in each trade.

It’s a tightly managed budget: For the last project, the HBA took an administrative fee of $23,000 to handle the paperwork, public relations, work with local real estate agents, the school board and title company.

Each year, the profit from the home’s sale is plowed back into the following year’s project and to other workforce development efforts: Welzenbach and the current group of HBA leaders are in the midst of developing apprenticeship programs. “We want to transition these kids into some of the trades so they don’t have to leave the area to find jobs elsewhere,” she said.

The home-grown jobs program has other benefits as well. The HBA’s incoming president is a huge supporter of the high school program because he was a student builder himself, she said.

For additional information about the Billings program, contact Kim Welzenbach. To learn more about NAHB Student Chapters, contact Greg Zick.

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