EYA and the Perfect Build

John Fahey says the key to EYA’s high rate of customer satisfaction in the Washington, DC area is the people it employs

John Fahey has a lofty standard to meet every day he goes to work at EYA, an urban infill developer of townhomes, condominiums, and multifamily communities throughout the Washington, DC area.

“In 2014, our mantra was defined as ‘a defect-free home,’” says Fahey, who is senior vice president of construction and warranty service. “Over the past decade, we have reduced our warranty costs by 30 percent and over the past 15 months, we have enjoyed 100 percent customer satisfaction ratings by our purchasers. The mantra seems to be paying off.”

EYA isn’t short on practice, either. The company, which launched in 1992, averages 150 to 200 homes per year. Fahey says that in 2015, EYA built about 150 units and expects to be within range of that number again in 2016.

In his role, Fahey oversees the construction, warranty, procurement, and architecture departments. As he has vice presidents atop the procurement and architectural departments reporting to him, he says he puts more of his focus on his construction and warranty responsibilities.

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EYA’s Westside at Shady Grove Metro development will include 350 townhomes and about 1,200 apartments, as well as retail and restaurants.

“But where we feel I bring value is in the overall organization of all the operational departments to make sure we have the right organizational systems, the right people in place, and [the] repetitive processes to do their jobs,” Fahey says.

With 11 years at EYA under his belt, he says the company’s consistency in retaining personnel has helped improve customer satisfaction on a year-by-year basis.

“Our expertise does not reside with one person,” he says. “It’s about organizational teamwork, effective processes, integrated technology, and making sure people are trained on how to build homes and deliver the customer experience.”

Training is a big reason EYA employees stay put. The company is also constantly soliciting feedback from its employees, and then uses that feedback to improve customer service and foster innovation. Fahey says EYA needs out-of-the-box thinking from everyone at the company to handle its unique challenges within the beltway.

“The process of getting our projects approved here requires a lot of interaction between EYA and the local neighborhoods, community groups, local government authorities, and certainly the planning and zoning departments of each area,” he says.

As its business is focused in the DC metropolitan area, EYA has managed to develop a strong local reputation. When EYA wins a project, Fahey says the communities, local governments, and business partners understand they will get a high-quality development that balances both community input and social responsibility.

“It’s all about making sure we strike the right balance between what we envision as a really beautiful, livable, walkable neighborhood and what the neighborhood groups and municipalities want,” Fahey says. “We also still have to get something done that makes economic sense.”

Nevertheless, the urban locations in which EYA builds can present complications.

“Our expertise does not reside with one person. It’s about organizational teamwork, effective processes, integrated technology, and making sure people are trained on how to build homes and deliver the customer experience.”

John Fahey, Senior VP, Construction & Warranty Service

“You don’t have a lot of room to spread out your construction activity,” Fahey says. “Typically—around the perimeter of the site—we are surrounded by houses, shops, restaurants, and occasionally a small parcel of open space, but you may not have access to it. So there are the logistics of bringing in materials to a very confined space in a just-in-time fashion.”

In its time in the area, however, EYA has proven adept at navigating these and other challenges.

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Westside at Shady Grove Metro also will provide terrace lounging options for its tenants.

“It starts with the people with the right attitude, and having the right process and organization around them,” he says. “We feel we’ve perfected that. We devote a significant amount of time to training. Our construction and warranty groups attend targeted training on areas of quality, which impact the customer experience, warranty costs, and customer referral ratings.”

EYA’s training, which Fahey says is also provided to trade partners and other operational groups, is extensive. Employees in the construction group, for example, learn and review the finer points of concrete foundations, air sealing and insulation, and building envelope. They’re also taught how to make each home the company builds LEED-certified. Fahey says these efforts are important in striving to achieve that longstanding goal of building a defect-free home.

“I think our attitude is, while we are happy today with what we have achieved, there are always improvements we can [make] to improve our customer experience,” he says. “The recession really caused us to rethink ourselves. We started to look at our technology, for instance, and now we believe it really distinguishes us from other builders.”

Every EYA employee in the field is armed with tablets or laptops, all of which are linked together via a cloud-based project management system that allows for project updates in real time. The system keeps everyone from upper management to subcontractors on the same page.

That synchronicity is important when a company is striving for perfection. In fact, it’s not that different from the metro-area lots on which EYA builds—there’s not much room for error.


 

NEW DIRECTION = NEW PROJECT

John Fahey and EYA are currently engaged in a major mixed-use project that reflects the company’s recent evolution.

The 90-acre Westside at Shady Grove Metro project near Gaithersburg, Maryland, is further from Washington, DC’s urban center than most EYA projects. By the time the project is completed in about 10 years, the development will have 350 townhomes and about 1,200 apartments.

Usually, EYA works in tight, urban spaces, creating new housing that is within walking distance to restaurants and retail along with transportation hubs and metro stations.

“This is the one case that the community is a little bit of a greenfield, because it’s at the end of a metro line,” Fahey says. “But because it’s adjacent to a metro stop, we elected to go ahead and develop it.”

As a solution, EYA will also develop retail and dining spots within walking distance to create the neighborhood and develop a strong sense of community.

Apartments are also a relatively new concept for EYA. About four years ago, the company gained a new equity partner that allowed it to expand into condominium and multifamily housing construction.

By the time the build-out phases are complete, Fahey says, this kind of large, complex mixed-use project will likely be old hat for EYA.