Furniture Polish Cabinetry stands out by standing alone.

Even with all the sinks and appliances, it is getting increasingly difficult to distinguish kitchen and bath cabinetry from living room furniture. That's because cabinetry has gone solo--or at least just appears that way. The typical cabinet unit has taken on the appearance of freestanding furniture and features glazing and finishes that are usually found on bureaus, antique end tables, and consoles. This year saw the explosion of the French country look and the emergence of rub-through and distressed finishes. Wrought iron hardware and knobs and cabinets with furniture feet are also hot.

One purveyor of the cabinet-as-furniture style is The Furniture Guild, whose new bath and kitchen pieces look like armoires. YesterTec introduced a stand-alone pantry that functions as a separate unit or can be incorporated into a conventional kitchen layout. American Standard took a more contemporary path to the freestanding unit with its pared down Brook console for the bath, while the cracking, worm holes, and scraping of Crystal's cabinets give them the appearance of an antique found in a grandparent's attic. The design of the furniture might vary from region to region, kitchen pros say, but the stand-alone style is hot everywhere.

Sales Focus When times are good anyone can sell, but as the market softens, sales software can help builders sharpen the way they manage documents and sales leads.

Most builders have some kind of accounting software, but what's really lacking is organization on the sales side. When business is good, there's less incentive to automate. But if the building economy slows down in 2004, builders can't afford to have their salespeople disorganized, losing paper notes, misplacing contracts, and scrambling for background information about the company's latest models.

Sales software from companies such as Builder1440, Sales Simplicity, and Homestore's Computers for Tracts should have strong sales from builders looking to organize their sales staffs.

Some of the smaller builders may opt for one of the sales products as an individual point solution, but larger builders with an established back-office operation will work closely with their back-office software vendor to decide on the best fit for their organization. Here's a quick scorecard: FAST has a relationship with Sales Simplicity; TOMS and NewStar have their own sales systems; Homesphere's BuildSoft Enterprise integrates with Sales Simplicity; TrueLine has its own sales system but also integrates with Builder1440; and Timberline integrates with Builder1440 and Sales Simplicity.

Housing and the Hill

Fannie vs. Freddie

Fannie Mae
Established: 1938 (became privately owned, publicly chartered in 1968)
CEO: Franklin Raines
Maximum loan: $322,700
Single-family mortgages purchased: $800 billion (2002)
Stock: FNM (NYSE)

Freddie Mac
Chartered: 1970
CEO: Gregory Parseghian (serving while board searches for a replacement)
Maximum single-family loan: $322, 700
Single-family mortgages purchased: $548 billion (2002)
Stock: FRE (NYSE)

Fannie, Freddie, and the Federal Home Loan Banks find themselves in regulatory limbo, thanks to Freddie's accounting woes.

The NAHB leader simply can't believe Congress' timing. "Of all the times in the world to mess with the housing sector--when it's the only bright spot we've had in the economy," Jerry Howard, NAHB's CEO, says in disbelief.

He's referring, of course, to a proposal to move virtually all oversight of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the 12-branch Federal Home Loan Bank System from HUD and its related financial regulators to the Treasury Department, an agency that hasn't always been housing-friendly. As such, the proposal could have serious ramifications for housing if it passes Congress, as it could by 2003's end. Many in the housing community believe Treasury's oversight of these government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) could result in fewer dollars and less innovation, especially in affordable housing, for housing finance in the future.

After the Freddie Mac mess of 2003, though, even the proposal's critics say something must change. Executive shake-ups, dubious accounting, and a potential earnings restatement of $4.5 billion-plus provided an opening for Fannie and Freddie critics, who charged that the two mortgage giants had become too big, too complex, and too risky. Bad news on the day of an important congressional hearing from both Freddie and GSE cousin Federal Home Loan Bank of New York didn't help the GSEs' cause. Neither did Fannie's own $1.1 billion accounting error.

Still, it does seem an odd way to repay "The Houses that Saved the World," as The Economist declared in a 2002 cover story about housing's support to the faltering economy.

Artistic Inspiration A Virginia mixed-use development takes its cues from art and literature.

Don't look for any ships at Port Warwick, a mixed-use development in Newport News, Va. The name given to this former brownfield has a literary, not nautical, pedigree.

At build-out, Port Warwick will feature a total of 91 single-family homes, all grouped around four residential squares.
Courtesy Port Warwick At build-out, Port Warwick will feature a total of 91 single-family homes, all grouped around four residential squares.

"When I conceived of the project, I sought to name it after a famous person or historical event in the city's past," says developer Robert "Bobby" L. Freeman Jr. "I came up with the idea of honoring author William Styron, who is a Newport News native." Port Warwick was Styron's name for Newport News in his book Lie Down in Darkness.

The 150-acre project, once an Eveready Battery industrial site, includes a half-and-half mix of residential and commercial units, all placed around a number of public squares. The master plan calls for about 50,000 square feet of shops and restaurants (about 15 are already open) that will be located near the central Styron Square. The development is halfway toward completion, with total build-out forecast for 2005.

"When it's finished, more than 1,000 people will live here, and about 500 people will work here," says Freeman. "There will also be five pieces of monumental sculpture located throughout the project along public streets."

Outdoor Attention Inspired design ventures outside the home.

It takes more than just a lawn and a few saplings to make a truly livable outdoor space these days. As lots diminish in size, builders and architects are merchandising every inch of the great outdoors with trellises, spas, courtyards, barbecues, pools, breezeways, and greenhouses. In the best projects, the embellished outdoor area is tied to the interior, making the break from inside to out less apparent.

"What you see is people really integrating the outside with the inside, often carrying the same floor material from the inside out," says Gary Wyant, an architect with Calvis Wyant Luxury Homes in Scottsdale, Ariz. A custom home his company built in Whisper Rock, a high-desert community in Scottsdale, features all the bells and whistles that luxury empty-nesters have come to expect: a pool (naturally), spa, water feature, and fireplace, all tied together with slate and Sedona Brown rock.

We Asked ...
Office Work
Builders say they will get the most bottom-line impact from the following productivity technologies in 2004:
Back-office software 36%
Options selection software 16%
Wireless handheld applications
for punch lists and/or scheduling
Lead generation software 8%
Other including CAD software
and Web site technology
Source: BUILDER Survey

Network Research Looking to strengthen the home technology market, builders will team with the Internet Home Alliance and major retailers to study consumer trends.

Builders know their buyers want home networks, but don't always have an effective way to sell home technology beyond the fear factor of telling people they need to "futureproof" their homes with structured wiring.

Tim Woods, a vice president at industry consortium Internet Home Alliance, says builders need to sell less on fear and more on the benefits of home networks.

"When builders sell a community, they're selling a lifestyle," says Woods. "The network is less about the technology and more about how it can impact a homeowner's lifestyle," he adds. "That can be using security cameras to remotely check up on your children and pets or having a home office with access to the network at work."

Woods says the alliance will team up with leading retailers, such as CompUSA and BestBuy, and builders Arvida, KB Home, and Catellus Development Corp. to study how builders can sell home networks more effectively.

We Asked ...
Upgrade Action
Builders say home buyers most often upgrade:
Flooring 60%
Appliances 11%
Bath fixtures 5%
Lighting 2%
Other including kitchen
countertops and kitchen cabinets
Source: BUILDER Survey

Market research group Zanthus will start by conducting interviews with home buyers at builder design centers to find out which applications consumers want, how the builder sales cycle differs from selling consumer electronics in a retail store, and how builders can offer home technologies and make a profit.

Woods says Zanthus will report back by next spring with suggestions on how builders and retailers can work closely together to sell home technologies, as well as learn which technologies consumers are interested in after they've had their networks for a few months. Examples could be practical items such as security cameras, HVAC controls and lighting, as well as home theaters and distributed audio.

Part I

Part II

Part IV

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Virginia Beach, VA.