For the predominantly patriarchal organizations that home building companies large and small are, the late 1970s Fleetwood Mac anthem “Don't Stop (Thinkin' About Tomorrow)” never carried so critical a chorus line.
Today's brutal credit environment, an oncoming global economic slowdown, and housing's seemingly self-perpetuating spiral of foreclosures and price declines converge to create two simultaneous realities. One is how to make it through to the other side. The other is what you do when you get there.
Neither is less important than the other. Why? Because while cash conservation through these leanest of times may demand greater focus as a survival tactic, cash generation via sales of homes is still one of the only ways for us to pay down all the debt slogging around in housing's vast economic complex. Cash generation via sales of homes will earn some a ticket to recovery, and once they arrive there, cash generation via sales of homes will come from selling a lot of different kinds of homes.
Our two simultaneous realities work like this. One is joined at the hip with repeating cyclical economic trends, and the other is attached to non-repeating secular industry trends. Housing has always had and will always have ups and downs. Exuberance during the ups may make us forgetful of the pain of the downs; but euphoria won't make the downs go away.
At the same time, profound secular change is well underway. Many of today's home building titans came of age at a time when almost eight of every 10 households in America were married couples and six of every 10 were marrieds with children. Today, around half of households are married couples, and less than a quarter are marrieds with children.
So exiting housing's slump will be an entry into a new era of new-home building—as is true of any industry slump. Car companies that can't develop the much more fuel-efficient models that energy- and budget-challenged Americans want to buy will die. Publishing companies that can't develop topic-driven business and enthusiast communities based on knowledge-sharing that bursts beyond the boundaries of print magazine pages will die.
Very basic secular change is coming to a home building landscape near you, too. Once the glimmer of rebound appears on the edge of the darkened horizon, your advanced knowledge of sticks and bricks, moving them efficiently to sites, managing labor squads like Swiss clockwork, finding the farmer or the forest owner ready to sell, setting up the finished lot terms and take-down schedule, cutting the curbs, merchandising the sales models, and even training the bejesus out of your sales team—all of this will get you only so far.
Just as the cyclical math dictates that home builders change once and for all the way they calculate and correct for risk to their pro forma assumptions, the secular math is crying out for change in what home builders actually build for customers.
So this issue's focus is on the powerful, signal change that different customers—who will want and need different rooftops over different homes within different neighborhoods—mean to your future as participants in fulfilling American Dreams. Those dreams are forming in the minds of young adult women, for whom owning a home largely will define opportunity for what you do when you traverse the abyss to recovery.
The editors of BIG BUILDER developed this single-themed and single-sponsored issue from cover-to-cover with complete editorial independence, as always. However, we were able to make the time and resources available thanks to the vision, generosity, and support of our good friends at American Woodmark Corp., makers of Timberlake cabinetry. We salute them, and we gratefully thank them for allowing us an opportunity to bring you this issue.