Last year, only seven of 22 builders received grades above B on the BIG BUILDER Report Card. This year, 13 firms earned an A+, A, or A-. And none scored below a C.
That’s the kind of year it was in home building. After a disappointing 2014—when new home sales hit only 437,000 after jumping to 429,000 in 2013—closings finally broke the 500,000 threshold (reaching 501,000) in 2015.
Public companies participated in, and to some extent, fueled this resurgence. In 2015, closings rose 16.3% for public builders. Compare that to a year ago, when they only increased 9.2%. New orders improved from 11.9% to 20.7% in the same time frame.
Even as closings increased in 2015, the number of public home builders actually declined. After four new public companies debuted in the 2014 Report Card and five in 2015, the past year saw the total number of publics ebb, as Standard Pacific and Ryland became CalAtlantic.
Regardless of the number of companies covered in the Report Card, the aim remains the same—try to provide an “apples-to-apples” comparison of the performance of the public home builders. To do this, we mapped all disclosed company data to a calendar year, so our numbers may differ from those reported in fiscal-year earnings reports. As in the last nine years that we’ve produced the Report Card, our grades are not to be taken as qualified evaluations of company financial management.
In previous editions, the editors used financial data to grade each company. Last year, however, we changed the format. Now the companies are ranked from first to last in each of the four major categories—financial, land, operations, and sales and marketing. Each rank is then given a score. Scores are weighted and added together to produce a final rating.
One last comment on grades: The judges further honed the scoring system this year, which generally led to lower numerical scores across the board. But, since performance across the sector improved, the letter grades rose.
Finally, a note of thanks to the team that culled the data for filings and ranked and scored the companies. That group included Sarah Bilheimer, Kylie Berrena, David DeFreest, and Christine Zoerner—members of the Accounting, Business, and Economics Department at Juniata College, in Huntingdon, Pa.