High Standards and Honest Estimates

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-By Claire Suttles

Urban3 Developments was founded by a carpenter who couldn’t get enough of his work. “I built one house,” Tony Siciliano explains. “One turned to two, two turned to four, four turned to eight, eight turned to sixteen.” Now, five years later, his company is bringing in $20 million a year through both residential and commercial construction projects. The company develops, builds, and renovates all over South Australia with projects ranging from first time home buyers’ houses to multi-million dollar homes to commercial shopping centres. “Anything to do with construction, we do,” Mr Siciliano reports. And, in spite of the leap from independent carpenter to industry leader, Mr Siciliano’s original motivation hasn’t changed. He just wants “people to enjoy [their new building] as much as we have enjoyed building it.”

Urban3 is involved in the entire construction process, from original planning to turnkey. “The client doesn’t have to worry about anything,” Mr Siciliano explains. “We finish off everything. The air conditioning, window dressings, carpets. We’ve taken the headache out of it for them.” By covering the complete construction and development process from start to finish, Urban3 is also able to maintain control over all of its projects. And, Mr Siciliano believes that having complete control over each project ensures that the company can carry out its guarantee of high quality work.

Projects begin with in-house architects and designers who are able to provide the information needed to accurately predict timelines and final costs. The company also takes care of all the necessary approvals. Mr Siciliano believes that the planning stage is one of the most important in the construction process, and invaluable in providing clients with all the information they need to understand the final cost. Urban3 analyses each project and advises on what the return on the client’s investment will likely be, what level of project is appropriate for the client’s budget, and if a proposed project is even feasible. Mr Siciliano explains, “Nine out of ten times it is feasible, but sometimes you won’t get a return on your money.” For example, “You might need to get water from down the road and then realise it will cost more. Urban3 believes that unexpected costs like these should be uncovered before a client commits to a project, not after construction is already underway. “We want [the client] to have a return on their money. We make sure they know exactly what it’s going to cost them.” To ensure full disclosure, Urban3 won’t sign a contract with a client until all planning and approval is complete and the true cost of the project is known.

Urban3 strives to remove hidden costs from all of its construction projects. “When we build, we actually price [the building] for the absolute turnkey product, from the TV antenna, to the landscaping, to the fencing. And our price is true. There are no variations. We know exactly what we have to build and [the client] gets a guaranteed fixed price.” Mr Siciliano believes that Urban3 is able to offer accurate estimates partly because there are no salespeople or industry outsiders involved in the process. “With us you are dealing with builders,” he explains. “That’s a very big advantage.”

Urban3 has only ten employees, each of whom knows the ins and outs of building. Most of the actual construction is contracted out, and the company relies on the same core group of people to complete all of its projects. In this way, Mr Siciliano explains, “we can be sure of the same quality each time.” And Urban3 prides itself on the quality of its work. The company’s homes have higher than average ceilings in every room, for example, chrome rather than plastic floor grates in every bathroom. Typical add-ons such as carports and garages are included in Urban3 homes as part of the standard price.

Mr Siciliano believes that the company’s high standard of work speaks for itself and doesn’t advertise, depending instead on referrals. He also elects not to have a show home because many clients can’t afford the add-ons that show homes display. He prefers instead to customise each client’s experience by walking them through what they can afford, rather than disappointing them with news that their budget can’t replicate what they have seen. Mr Siciliano also shies away from advertising in order to stay true to his vision for the company. He believes that advertising would increase business beyond what his small, hands-on team could handle. Instead, Mr Siciliano wants “to keep it small to keep the personal touch” and ensure that clients continue to interface with builders, not salespeople.

In addition to a knowledgeable workforce, honesty, trust, and integrity are foundational principles for Urban3 – principles that the company believes lead to superior service, reliability, and cost containment. “We expect to be a credit to the communities we serve, a valuable resource to our customers,” the Urban3 mission statement declares. “We will not only listen to our customers but embrace the idea that the Company is at their service.”

Sixty per cent of Urban3’s work is for the government, building or remodeling disability housing, affordable housing, indigenous housing, or community housing. Each of these projects has its own unique challenges and demands. Disability housing requires careful planning to accommodate a range of special needs. “You have to think,” Mr Siciliano explains, “’Are they in a wheelchair? Are they in a crane? Are they paraplegic or quadriplegic?’ You’ve got to be very proactive.” Doors must be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs or hospital beds. Bathrooms need non-slip tiles and fittings must be lowered to wheelchair height. Appliances need special side-opening doors. Sinks must be open underneath for wheelchair accessibility. With indigenous housing, the remote location of the build is often challenging. Access to the site and to utilities can be problematic, and harsh weather conditions can delay or complicate construction. But Mr Siciliano says that the most important factor when building indigenous housing is “to understand the Aboriginal culture and respect it.” For Urban3, this means employing construction workers from within the indigenous community for whom the house is being built, and allowing the future homeowner to take an active part in the project.

Mr Siciliano cites a lack of finance availability as the greatest challenge facing the building industry today. “People still want to build houses,” he explains, “but unfortunately it is a big hurdle to get over the finance approval process.” Urban3 hasn’t suffered from the slow economy, however. In fact, the company has had to decline some jobs. The team isn’t afraid to refuse projects, believing that dedicating itself fully to each client and project is more important than how many contracts the firm signs.

Mr Siciliano credits the company’s continuing success in a slow economy to diversification. Because Urban3 works across virtually every area of construction and development, the company has always had more than enough projects to sustain it at any given time. Mr Siciliano plans to diversify even further by increasing the company’s commercial renovations. This has been a lucrative area for Urban3 because many older office buildings need renovations in order to meet new occupancy codes. Urban3 also includes a landscaping division, which not only adds diversification, but gives the company greater control over each project.

Urban3’s diversification isn’t just about business strategy. The company is run by people who truly love what they do, and who want to be involved with as much of the industry as they can. The simple “satisfaction of building a home for someone to enjoy” drives the team forward. “It’s a good feeling to build something for a purpose. It’s an achievement,” Mr Siciliano reports. “And we have fun doing it.”

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

September 25, 2020, 9:00 PM AEST