WITHOUT A DOUBT, the face of the home building industry is changing. Impacted by another year of devastating hurricanes, recent Fed changes and rate increases, and a tightening land supply, big builders coast to coast are adjusting for what could be a rougher ride in the months and years to come.
To give top-level perspective on the matter, BIG BUILDER arranged a power panel of industry execs at this year's BIG BUILDER '05 Show in Las Vegas. David Hill, Larry Webb, and David Weekley, each in charge of one of the nation's top privately held home building companies, respectively, gave thoughtful and often passionate insight into the state of the industry. From people power to land positions to growth strategies, here's what they had to say.
THE HOUSING MARKET WEBB: We've been through, in my mind, the best five years of my 25 or 30 years in the business. I am nervous about the future. I don't anticipate next year will be as good as this year, but I'm still sitting with the best results John Laing's ever had. I worry, but I'm still managing the company for the future.
HILL: I think it's pretty easy to say that this is the beginning of the end of the housing bonanza. I don't think there is any question that the Federal Reserve, after the new chairman comes in, is still going to carry the rates a little bit higher. We are going to see somewhat higher long-term rates.
Inevitably you are going to see a little bit of cooling. But the August and September numbers aren't definitive at this point. It really begins to look at which markets you are in and what's happening in those markets. It will be good next year, but it won't be as good as this year or last year.
WEEKLEY: It's challenging to look at these national statistics and try to come up with an analysis of my company. It all depends upon what happened last week. The sales continue to be good.
So to say it depends is not very definitive, but it really does depend whether you're in California or Florida or Texas or wherever. You know Texas has to be a bubble when we're building it just a little bit over cost.
So I really do think that the markets are very local in their nature. I do agree that it will be off some next year, but I'd be surprised if it's off more than 10 percent.
MARKETING DURING A DOWNTURN HILL: We have all lived through major recessions in different markets. But it has been uniquely wonderful over the past 15 years.
Just brace yourself. Many of the old tactics that you have been able to live without are going to have to be dusted off. You are going to have to start looking much more carefully at a broader range of uncertainty. It is going to make it more interesting, but it is going to make it more challenging.