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Feature: The Twain Shall Meet

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The story of home builders' struggle to make it from 2010 to 2011 was of a tepid, anemic, trying path out of the depths of misery. Many exhaled in the first half of last year and learned it was too soon. The kindling of stimulus, expected to start a fire of demand, flickered out and went cold. Strides forward became a stagger backward. Conviction shifted to caution, which gave way to panicked paralysis. Growth trajectories flattened, chopped up and down, and yielded to the gravitational forces of job and income stagnation on one side and excessive and expanding vacant dwelling units on the other.

There are problems and challenges home builders cannot solve, at least immediately, but not having an action plan is not one of them.

Having an action plan is a home builder's lifeline—and we at BIG BUILDER believe that having an action plan improves your chances of wresting share away from foreclosures past, present, and future; from resale; from multifamily rental; and, yes, from one another.

Just now is the darkest moment before the dawn. Too much capacity. Too little capital flow. Too few buyers to even represent a healthy fraction of the demand pool that will overwhelm capacity when it returns to its norm.

A way toward tomorrow is to change as you have been doing, to become leaner, better, and, while the going is slow, greener. Customers, investors, municipalities, counties, and the federal government are all heading toward increased preference, and ultimately demand, for sustainable new-home communities.

Part of what to get out of this slow period of home building's cycle is to get ahead of the curve of consumer and governmental demand. So, Big Builder Virtual 2010 focused on learning the lessons and disciplines, not only of price sensitivity but of cost-of-ownership sensitivity that drives and will drive home buyers in the near and longer-term future.

What we know from our experience is that, while recovery will occur one home at a time, one property at a time, one homeownership dream fulfilled at a time, the actual way to recovering is not the home but the neighborhood.

This is why we were especially excited about the ideas, the disciplines, and, ultimately, the deliverables of the two multi-company, multi-disciplinary teams who assembled in Denver and Washington, D.C., to help us develop two real world learning modules around this challenge of finding the “critical balance” between affordability and sustainability.

Green home building on a scaled basis has two financial barriers to entry: One is learning it, and the other is doing it. Front-loaded with costs as the challenge is for home builders, we're especially gratified that more and more are plunging in, committing the resources, and learning how they can build business around smarter, more energy-conscious, water-stingy homes.

This is why BIG BUILDER is pressing to bring the learning forward and outward to all of the business community's players. For just as it would be preposterous for home builders to build and try to sell homes priced today at 2007 price points, we believe it is equally ludicrous to build and sell homes that would fail in their part to keep neighborhoods sustainable for decades to come.