Can you tell us a bit about your background and when Squash Meadow was Founded?
Bill: I was born in Hong Kong and spent the first 18 years of my life living in Hong Kong and Singapore. My mother had a house on Martha’s Vineyard and my family spent every summer on the Island from the time I was a baby. I’ve been living on the Vineyard year-round since 1987. I started out as a house painter to help pay for college. After graduating from Trinity College in Hartford, CT with a degree in East Asian Studies I got a job wearing a suit and tie off-Island and it just didn’t fit. I moved back to the Vineyard and continued to paint houses. Eventually I started a house painting company and once I learned how to bang some nails I added carpentry into the house painting business. I then learned how to build houses and had Potter Construction. Squash Meadow was started in 2001. In 2007, we switched over to Modular Construction and that has been the primary part of our business ever since.
Why did you make the decision to switch to modular home construction from traditional-build home construction in 2007?
Bill: The market was starting to crash and the competition was very tight – there was not much work out there – and in 2008 the construction industry really started to fall. I thought there needed to be a more cost effective and more efficient way to build houses. In 2001 I did my first modular home and I decided to take a risk and come up with something new. I was also getting into “Green Building” at the time and I started interviewing like-minded modular building companies up and down the East Coast to partner with to build energy efficient homes with Vineyard-style architecture. I ended up partnering with Westchester Modular Homes and since then we have built over 100 modular homes (only one of which was “stick-built”).
Why was it just the one house that was not modular?
Bill: We simply could not get the modular down the dirt road - we could not access the site. Nowadays if we can’t get it down the road we just don’t do it. Except for perhaps a garage, everything is modular.
What are the benefits of building modular versus building traditional?
Bill: Building modular is more cost effective and more time efficient. We’re a design-build company, so we do all the architecture, all the planning, all the engineering, all the permitting….all the way until the homeowners move in.
The last two years have been a crazy real estate boom here, has this translated to your modular home construction business as well?
Bill: Yes, tremendously. We’re getting on average five calls a week for new houses, but we’re booked out for two years. People are going on “wait-lists” or “maybe-lists” if our pricing and availability is agreeable to them. We’re maxed out right now unless I grow, and I don’t want to grow anymore (in terms of more management).
Have prices gone up?
Bill: Yes, everything from materials, to the price of the modular home, to the price of the subcontractors – everything has gone up.
How about supply chain woes that builders faced over the pandemic and now? Is this an issue for you as well?
Bill: It’s not as bad for us because we work with a factory and they have a lot of goods in stock – like windows. The major supply chain issues have not affected us as much as others…but it still does. For example, the last house we worked on had three exterior doors that were back-ordered so we set the house without the doors. We put up plywood over those openings and when the doors arrive, we’ll just install them then.
How many houses do you build a year?
Bill: We build seven houses per year. We start and finish a new house about every 7-to-8 weeks. That said, on any given day there are about four houses going on in various stages of completion. Being in the position that we’re in, we can really pick and choose projects and where the projects are located. For example, anything on Chappy or Up-Island is not preferable in terms of maximizing our time.
What’s the process timeline in general?
Bill: Normally it’s two-to-three months for design work, then we get into pricing and permitting for another two months, and then we clear the lot and put the foundation in – which takes one-and-a-half months. When the house arrives, it is complete about four months after it is put on the foundation. On average, it’s about a one year process – sometimes quicker. We did the Vineyard House (Island housing for men and women in early recovery stages from alcohol and drug addiction) as a LEED Platinum Certified project (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) in 10 months.
What differentiates you from traditional builders?
Bill: Everything is custom, we do all the design work in-house. Just like you work with an architect, you’re working with us. You could have an “idea” of a house, or a picture of a house…. You can have any concept and then with our 3D software we are able to design on the fly. We do all the design work together with the client and we’re all looking at the same computer screen whether it’s remote or in-person. We’re moving walls around, changing roofs, all done in real time and we incorporate pricing into the process – it’s extremely efficient.
What’s the fastest you ever designed a home with this 3D software?
Bill: We recently designed housing for the staff of the Edgartown Golf Club in an hour-and-a-half. It was very simple as it was no frills, but it’s very efficient.
Does your long-term team approach help with your extremely efficient process?
Bill: Absolutely. We use an integrated team approach, where our team is everyone from the people in the factory to our subcontractors – we’re all just going from one house to the next to the next. Everyone has learned the mechanics of the project already and sometimes the subcontractors don’t even have to look at the plans because everything is so similar to the previous project. We have stuck together as a team for the last 20 years. (Including the factory people, our electrician, our foundation person, our excavator, etc….we’ve remained as a team for a long time and that makes the processes very efficient.)
Is there a lot of land to build on now?
Bill: It’s about 50-50 right now – some people are buying land and building and some people are buying a house and tearing it down to build a new one. There is a lot of land out there, just not a lot of land out there for sale.