Spring is here. Even though the weather in Washington has gotten so crazy that we sometimes have 70 degree days in January and snow in April and the birds never seem to fly south anymore, we can still tell when it's spring. There are the cherry blossoms, of course, and the ubiquitous azaleas, but there are also the sounds of heavy equipment and the sprouting signs announcing “New Homes for Sale!”

This past weekend (it is still March as I write this), I visited a couple of projects about 40 miles south of Washington in Virginia. Some years ago, Prince William County was considered to be a pretty long commute into the District of Columbia, but these days many folks make the daily drive in from even farther, from Stafford and Fredericksburg and beyond. The traffic to and from the city is horrendous and getting stuck on I-95, the main route to D.C., can be a nightmare. On the rare occasions I've had to make that trip during rush hours, I've always said to myself in frustration, “Why on earth would anyone choose to do this?” But the answer is simple. In a nutshell, it's because that's where the new homes and communities are that these commuters can afford.

But on this beautiful, spring-like weekend, all those thoughts of interminable commutes and eventually getting home—beat, barely in time to tuck the kids into bed—are decidedly not in evidence. Instead, families traipse excitedly through the models, marveling at features that catch their eye, such as family rooms next to the kitchen and large master baths. Kids run about and claim their rooms, and moms and dads stand, looking out the window over the sink and exclaim about the playground in the interior of the block, where they'll be able to keep an eye on their children while making dinner.

And it's not just the prospective buyers who seem delighted with the new community. Families already ensconced in their new homes are outside, enjoying the day. Boys and girls are on the sidewalks, trying out the rollerblades they got for Christmas and haven't been able to use before now, with dads half-watching nearby, hood up on the car and tools and rags at the ready for some warm-weather maintenance. In this only partially completed project, the finished streets no longer have the feel of a construction site. They are simply home to the families who have already moved in.

So life goes on. And so it should for you, as well. Sales, starts, and prices are down, the numbers are inescapable, but what are you going to do about it? People who need a house are still going to buy one—not as many as did in the last couple of years, to be sure, but for those on the market, you need to be ready to give them what they're looking for.

Now is the time to make every one of those sales count like never before. How? By rethinking, retooling, and fine-tuning every process in your system, beginning with sales and continuing through to construction clean-up. Honing your processes will help you to keep more of those dollars in your bank account instead of just throwing them away. And I mean this, in some cases, literally—there may be cash in your dumpsters. One of the best practices featured this month in our annual Field Report (see “Open for Business,” page 76) offers tips on waste disposal that can save you money on landfill fees and hauling charges, as well as provide a way to create mulch, fill, and soil amendments from your own construction debris that you can reuse on your sites.

Other sections of the story feature cost-saving opportunities in options and upgrade sales, back-office software, and pre-measured and precut flooring systems. Each one of the sections provides actual dollar-amount savings or additional income generated by these innovative ideas.

Take advantage, as our profiled builders did, of any down time you may have to get your own house in order. Your bottom line will be the better for it.

Denise Dersin, Editor

e-mail: ddersin@hanleywood.com

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Washington, DC, Kennewick, WA.