Scott Sedam, president of TrueNorth Development (, spends most of his time working in the trenches with builders, suppliers and trade contractors. His Lean Builder blog appears weekly at He welcomes your feedback at

A la carte insanity – Could it happen in home building?

November 30, 2010

It’s hard to say who has taken the “a la carte” mentality to the most absurd level, the airlines or the rental car companies. Pay for food, pay for sodas, pay for bags, and one of the discount airlines is now charging for both checked bags and overhead storage.  This is beyond the pale. If you show up at the gate with your briefcase or backpack and a roll-a-board, you are paying $45 to take it on with you, but “only” $40 if you check it. Add that $80 - $90 round trip to the cheaper fare and the deal becomes no deal. What’s next, charge for bathroom? Don’t laugh; the president of Ryan Air, the big discount European airline, has proposed just that. Just one more insult in an incredible litany of gimmicks to make the web comparison price the cheapest. 

I would like to say people are smarter than that, but last weekend an old friend was bragging about the cheap fare she got on the offending airline cited above to the same city I had just traveled from. I purchased my ticket on Southwest and I could take on a roll-a-board and check two bags, if I wanted, at no additional cost. This made my ticket cheaper than hers, I explained. She just frowned. 

Car rental has become so ridiculous that last week in Denver I had a genuine “angry-voice” confrontation with a counter agent. First, my name was not on the “Fast-Dude” board and I had to go inside and wait in a long line. My profile clearly says I do not want the “Optional Collision Damage Waiver” (CDW) and when the agent said to me “you’ll be wanting the CDW,” I told him I shall indeed not be wanting it. Then he began the speech about how I was risking my life, not to mention violating basic ethical standards and my responsibility to the my family, my community and my country. I told him not to worry, my credit card I use for travel (for 22 years now) had it covered. Then he replied, with sincere sarcasm, “Sir, YOU are renting our car, not your credit card company.”

Then I had to listen to his speech about how I should buy the whole tank even though I planned to travel less than 40 miles (and spend $85 for $10 worth of gas,) because theirs is $8.99/gallon if they fill it. Then he explained that if I wanted to use the Denver outer loop tollway, I had to pay in advance, at double the rate charged by the toll road. Nice little profit center. If I did not pay in advance, then I would be charged $27 for each toll both I passed! Incredible profit center! How do I get in this business?

I just stared him down until he finally said he’d print it out for me. So he presents the contract with all the circles for initials and the X where to sign, and as I am scribbling, I notice that it says I DO want the CDW! That is when I got a little, uh, testy. Among other things, I asked him at least five times just how big a spiff he received for selling Collision Damage Waivers. He would not answer. The rest of that conversation is not fit for print, as I assumed you signed your own CDW (Conversational Damage Waiver).

Generally, except when a customer rep is being intentionally nasty or deceitful, we have to remember that they know that their company policies are just as ridiculous as we do. They are simply caught in the web, having to represent their employer with the straightest-possible face. Just imagine what it’s like to go home after a full day of defending your deranged employer to frustrated and angry customers. But at some point, everyone has to make a decision about how they're going to spend the one-third of their hours on Earth they are working. I hope not many chose to do it for companies that are as dishonest as these.

These experiences have me asking: Could this trend also take over homebuilding? Or maybe we are seeing aspects of it already. I see some manifestations of the “everything an option” approach, but I thought I’d ask first what you are seeing. Do you have examples where buliders have gone too far and put things as options that should be basic requirements of the home or the process? Post a reply here, or send them direct to I’ll do another post in a few weeks with your input.

Scott Sedam is President of TrueNorth Development, Inc., an international consulting firm specializing in Lean Process & Methods implementation and a frequent contributor to Professional Builder Magazine and You may reach him at or 248.348.6011.

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