Michael Austin

As they wait anxiously for the economy to improve, many builders—the solvent ones, anyway—are preparing their companies for the next recovery cycle. What’s common among them are their objectives to become some combination of smaller, leaner, smarter, and/or greener. And how they move in any of these directions is causing fundamental shifts in their products, their processes, and, in some cases, the very personality of their companies.

Our annual Field Report focuses this year on four companies that are willing to see themselves differently, even if that’s meant fighting internal and external resistance to change, and to carve out new destinies. Meritage Homes went from building luxury homes to targeting ­entry-level buyers with houses 20 percent to 25 percent smaller; Jagoe Homes is pushing its trades and employees to work in tandem to find process improvements and cost savings; Meeting Street Communities is focusing on affordable urban infill townhouses in communities that feature genuine lifestyle amenities and is increasing its productivity with panelized construction; and Artistic Homes eventually expects to be building net–zero-energy homes exclusively, although its officers admit getting there won’t be easy.

Understanding what their customers want and what they’ll pay for, and delivering products efficiently and profitably are the goals driving each of these builders. They are all hoping the paths they’ve chosen can lead them through the bad times and position them competitively for the good.

Getting Leaner is an Ongoing Process for Kentucky's Jagoe Homes
The builder involves its subs and suppliers in finding ways to reduce waste.

Meritage Homes Boosts Sales With Smaller, More Affordable Homes
Builder returns to its "sweet spot" with floor plans from 1,500 to 2,000 square feet.

Meeting Street Communities Combines Panelization and Traditional Neighborhood Design
Efficient building practices allow builder to use high-quality materials on affordable townhomes.

Artistic Homes Takes a Long, Sometimes Bumpy, Journey to Become a Green Builder
The New Mexico-based company's goal is for all of its homes to be zero energy.