Word last week that D.R. Horton wrested the No. 1-ranking among home builders in the Orlando market—eclipsing Lennar for the first time in as long as anyone can remember—serves as a likely strategic template for big builders’ operational behavior in market after market over the next 24 months.
As long-time fans of this coliseum-like clash of the titans, we believe this next stretch of housing’s painstaking dig-out is going to be fun. But, it’s not going to be pretty, as volume-hungry, cash-flush public behemoths flail around Sumo-style, as private powers try to counter mass with nimbleness, heft with agility and speed.
Earlier this year in May, Horton paid $210 million for private Crown Communities in the Atlanta market, which when combined with its already sizable divisional footprint, added up to just-shy of 15% share. What’s more, as Horton pushes to up its fledgling Express line community count, its ability to iterate and scale in more and more markets in its operating band grows more potent by the month.
Horton's bid to claim market share primacy in its divisional operating areas reflects its leadership’s conviction that, while higher-end demand for new homes may not be exhausted, dynamics in the 2014 housing market have shifted.
Hard-won performance and profitability goals achieved over the past 24 months thanks to product-mix and price elasticity now look like the housing recovery’s low-hanging fruit, the first harvest of which has been picked over.
Now, the recovery plot-line calls for a big builder action plan that puts pace and volume on an equal par with gross margin gains. Companies large and small can only hope that operational “lessons-learned” and overhead efficiencies gained can now take hold as the unit count pedal gets pressed to the metal.
Lots in farther-flung “path of growth” peripheries now come into play in a big way, as deals with subcontracted labor teams get stress-tested, and materials and manufactured products logistics processes shift down from “best” to “better” and “good.” Efficiencies depend on reliable, iterative, high-velocity systems and communications workflows so that jobs get done as planned, on time, on budget, and right the first time.
Market share provides clout, both where there’s uncertainty around labor capacity and urgency around acquiring lot positions and horizontal development skill-sets and on-the-ground capability. Divisional share solves for lean, scalable, hive-like systems, be it with local permitting officials, construction crews, marketing teams, and new land pipelines.
We’ve already seen D.R. Horton and Lennar begin to flex take-no-prisoners muscle in their operating arenas, and Pulte’s now working like an awakened giant to play its Centex card as a market-share-grabber in many outposts in its geographical empire.
Meanwhile, coming up fast as a home builder unencumbered by land legacy or the conservatism that comes of multi-cycle experience of big ups and downs, is LGI Homes, the one who’s taking on the titans toe-to-toe in the entry-level segment.
Here’s a quick look at the progress Horton’s achieved as it levers its size and power into a more normalized balance between higher-end and lower-tier new home offerings.