Are You Ready for BIM?


Building Information Modeling, or BIM, is one of homebuilding’s biggest potential game changers. Being able to link a 3D home model to an array of underlying databases—estimating, product specifications, engineering and more—brings lots of benefits. Designers can quickly see and correct structural problems before they reach the field, and changes made in the design center can instantly update takeoffs and cost estimates. The builder enjoys lower design costs, more accurate estimates, fewer change orders and easier sales.

The production builders I know who have successfully added BIM to their toolbox say that while getting it fully implemented requires intense and time-consuming work, it’s worth the effort. It’s like running a marathon: the process can be painful and there are points where you will be tempted to quit.

I recently spoke with the head of a 250-home per year company who spent two years implementing BIM after assigning two full-time staffers to the effort. I asked him if knowing what he knows now he would do still choose to go through the process, and the reply was an unequivocal yes. Like all builders I know who have been successfully implemented BIM, he considered it a good investment.

For builders who start and never finish, the cause is often the same one that leads marathon runners to drop out halfway: they failed to properly condition themselves. 

Unfortunately, builders’ success rate with BIM is far lower than runners’ with marathons. Based on my experience as an industry consultant, which includes work with BIM providers, product manufacturers, builders and trades, I estimate that no more than 10% of North American homebuilders are taking full advantage of this technology.

What defines those who succeed? One often-overlooked fact is that they have taken the time to make their companies ready to profit from the effort. BIM is like any other business process improvement in that the better one prepares for it the greater the chance of success. This preparatory work is just a series of well-defined small steps, but getting through them takes real commitment. 


If you want to go down this road you need to start by deciding exactly what you want BIM to do, then aligning your processes for that goal.

Say, for instance, that you want to it to streamline structural analysis and to update takeoffs and pricing as customers choose options. Before buying that shiny piece of BIM software, decide which plans you want to put into it and take a hard look at the processes that go into configuring and pricing those plans.

Builders use different approaches when deciding which plans they want to make BIM ready. Some focus on their best sellers, while others set a goal of converting all the plans in one community.

Either way, the work needs to include the following:

  • Calculating how much revenue those plans will likely generate over the next 24 months. This includes analyzing how much revenue and profit on those plans are driven by various elevations and options.
  • Removing options that don’t actually make the company money, in particular those options that require you to reconfigure the home’s footprint.
  • Analyzing how efficiently your company is using and managing materials. Builders tend balk at this work, but in my experience material waste costs most of them between 2 and 6 percent in annual profits, a loss that will dampen any benefits from BIM.

Fleshing out this information requires a collaborative dialogue among various departments, including general management, architecture, land acquisition and development, finance, purchasing, design center, construction, sales, marketing, quality assurance, warranty and material management. In all these discussions you should explore ways to build high-quality homes that better serve customers and cost less time and money to build.

After completing those discussions, the next step is to create a document that defines and quantifies what the company wants BIM to solve for, such as delivering lot-specific 3D plans in the sales center and making the home 35% faster to build for 25% less cost. It should also outline how you plan to make those goals a reality.

You also need to solicit input from your architectural and engineering providers. If your internal discussions have determined that customers want decorative bump-outs but don’t want the extra framing cost, ask the architectural firm for ideas on how to get the same effect for less money. If your architectural firm doesn’t use BIM you have a choice: help them get up and running with it or look for another firm.

Working through the above steps will give you ideas on how to improve sales, save money and increase velocity. For example, analyzing how your crews use materials will shine a light on that hidden waste that has been eating at your profits, while also identifying what’s behind that waste—whether it’s inefficient material usage, shipping errors, inaccurate purchase orders or poor trade partner scheduling. Your conversations with design pros and material suppliers may give you ideas on how to use less costly materials without sacrificing quality.

Again, I don’t advise spending a lot of money on software before going through these exercises. The builder mentioned above discovered this the hard way: while he was happy with the outcome, he didn’t optimize his processes before diving into the BIM implementation and, as a result, the process stretched out for a couple of years. It’s a testament to his commitment that he got through it, but three months doing the above prep work could have cut that time in half.

Clark Ellis is principal and co-founder of Continuum Advisory Group in Raleigh, NC, a consulting group that works with production builders. An earlier version of this article appeared on

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