The more things change, the more things stay the same. Despite technology, engineered building products, and a buyer pool that grows more ethnically diverse each year, successful builders rely on many of the same strategies year after year. Here are some of those time-tested trade secrets, along with the year we published them: 1. Stick to capacity (1998). "That sixth start is the loser," said Martin Freedland, president of Organizational Development Associates in Atlanta. "In the short run, it may seem prudent to take it on--after all, sales equals income. But if the sale pushes the builder beyond capacity, then in the long run it's always a losing proposition." 2. Let buyers decide (1998). Don't assume buyers want all the options and upgrades your research tells you that they do, especially in a value-oriented community. "Take it out and price it and ask people, 'Now do you want to pay what it costs?' Given the choice, people will spend the money somewhere else," said Randall Lewis, then of Lewis Homes in California. 3. Written in stone (2001). Brand your homes with a cornerstone. That's what Village Homes in Fort Worth, Texas, does, using a cornerstone engraved with the builder's name and year of construction. "We think it will increase the value in the future," said builder Rob Sell. 4. Green for green (2001). Make energy-efficient homes more appealing to checkbook-conscious consumers by offering Fannie Mae mortgage products that give buyers credit for the energy savings they'll be reaping. 5. Merchandising's new wave (2001). Kids may be cute, but that doesn't mean their rooms in model homes should be cutesy. "We have Latino, Anglo, Asian, and African-American children," said Tim Kane of MBK Homes in California. "Their tastes are varied, sophisticated, and thoroughly modern." 6. Top 10 Web sites (2000). For sharper estimates, visit www.rsmeans.com, "a great site for accurate, timely cost data for new construction." 7. Fast traffic (2000). Two years later, too many builders still ignore this tip. "Put your dot-com name everywhere--on all print ads, for-sale signs, and sold signs," we advised, and it's still solid advice. Builders with extensive Web sites say that prospects that report visiting online tend to convert into buyers faster and at higher rates than non-surfers.
8. Get permission quick (1999). As early as 1999, the city of Palo Alto, Calif., began allowing online permit tracking, saving time and frustration for builders and remodelers. Of course, that's trailblazing California for you, but it's now almost four years later--and time to find out where your local municipality stands. 9. To your health (2000). With mold suits spreading faster than the spore itself, this Web site may be even more useful to builders now than it was two years ago: www.healthhouse.org, which highlights the American Lung Association's Health House concept. 10. Capture leads (2002). E-savvy builders know that e-mail leads tend to turn into buyers faster than the average walk-in prospect. To motivate salespeople to maximize these buyers, offer a higher sales commission for closing e-mail leads.