With the housing market in a slump, many companies seek new and different ways to lure customers. Builders such as Buena Vista Custom Homes and The Ryland Group offer incentives and slash prices to attract interest. West Coast developer SunCal Cos. hopes its grassroots music talent program will keep it in tune with customers' evolving needs.

Seeking a way to reach potential customers, SunCal held the Music From Home Antelope Valley contest, where local singer?songwriters competed for a $10,000 prize and the chance to meet with music industry experts.

David Soyka, senior vice president of marketing for SunCal says the company came up with the idea to hold a music competition because it combines its passions for land development and music.

Another benefit SunCal derives from its Music From Home is the opportunity to develop a planned community's cultural soul or essence even before all the rooftops have been completed.

"We wanted to create a program that would award monetarily and emotionally," Soyka says. "It's really the first time ever a builder has gone to such lengths to reach out to a community."

The Antelope Valley contest kicked off the Music From Home series as a way to develop a community character and generate interest for the new Ritter Ranch development. Ritter Ranch, a 10,625-acre master planned community, features an estimated 7,000 acres of preserved land, including approximately 80 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Features of SunCal's new development include a Greg Norman Signature Golf Course at the Ritter Ranch National Golf Club, a community school and library, and the Mercantile, a retail center planned to be a social hub for the community.

The choice of Antelope Valley for the first contest was daring considering the location. Antelope Valley is in the northern section of Los Angeles County. Both the city of Los Angeles and neighboring Orange County are well-known hot spots for musical talent, so choosing Antelope Valley (an area not known for music) was unconventional.

After a six-month search and more than 100 song entries, SunCal crowned rock band, The Future, the winner at a ceremony attended by Jonathan McHugh of Jive Records. The standing-room-only event featured live performances from contest award winners and a chance for press to experience SunCal and the Music From Home program.

The real test of Music From Home is the response from Antelope Valley residents and interest from potential home buyers. Judging by the numbers, Music From Home has struck a chord with its customers. The total Web site page visits increased by 81 percent during the week following the contest conclusion on April 12, and 66 percent for the month of April. In addition, the number of first-time visitors nearly doubled and return visitors nearly tripled, compared with an average of the three months prior.

Because of the success of the Antelope Valley contest, SunCal is in the process of expanding the program throughout California and the West. The second contest focuses on the company's developments within Orange County.

Although The Future took the top prize, two other contestants left with honorable mentions and a $2,500 scholarship. In addition, all three prizewinners have the opportunity to create a music video and perform at future events for Ritter Ranch. SunCal says these performers will be invited to play at the unveiling of completed community features like the Ritter Ranch Amphitheater.

SunCal's real message with Music From Home is that the biggest amenity is the people. A program like this allows the company to see what people want, what their back stories are, and the personalities that will define the development's character. "Who knows what you'll uncover when you delve into that," Soyka says.

–Allison Baldwin

Cycle-Time Success: Kimball Hill Homes

In today's challenging environment, achieving operational excellence is more important than ever. And after focusing on workflow scheduling and improved cycle time, Kimball Hill Homes is seeing the benefits first-hand through customer feedback and rising customer satisfaction marks from J.D. Power and Associates.

Two years ago, while the industry was experiencing unprecedented sales and expansion, Kimball Hill recognized that skyrocketing sales volume came with a downside: operations were overwhelmed by the need to keep up with demand. So, in 2005, after recognizing that the company's manual approach to field scheduling and communications was resulting in costly occurrences (such as missed communications, missed options, and an overall time-consuming manual process) a streamlined workflow scheduling and an improved cycle time became high priorities.

"The bottom line was that we needed a workflow scheduling and communications solution that allowed our construction managers to spend less time in the construction trailer and more time in the field focused on achieving excellence with high-quality homes," said Tom Brick, vice president of construction and quality initiatives at Kimball Hill.

After implementing an extensive research initiative to find a solution geared for their big builder needs, the company launched a pilot program in the Pacific Northwest region byintegrating a web-based workflow system that with a user-friendly mobile element for field construction managers. Though process change is often met with some resistance, the test program met with such success, Kimball Hill rolled out the use of AirWavz construction scheduling and communication software on a national basis throughout 2006.

Prior to implementation, Kimball Hill's northern California division posted a score of 8.5 out of possible 10 in initial customer satisfaction scores on J.D. Power & Associates customer satisfaction surveys. Most recent results however show the scores have jumped to 9.7, which regional president Tom Jacobs attributes directly to the use of the new operational initiative.

"It helped us achieve better completion timeframe consistency which allows us to provide our buyers with more accurate move in dates," says Jacobs. In addition, he reports that his construction managers are able to spend between two and four more hours every day in the field walking their homes. "AirWavz has contributed significantly to our outstanding J.D. Power's results."

Other builders on board: In Phoenix, D.R. Horton is using the technology in its Continental Series, Dietz Crane Series, and Urban Living line. Meeting Street Homes of Charlotte, N.C., has also implemented AirWavz, as have Maracay Homes and Camelot Homes, both in Phoenix.

–Lisa Jackson


Soldier on Home

All American Homes participated in the Military Times Service Members of the Year awards program for 2007, as one of the five major sponsors. The program honors one member from each of the five branches of the Armed Forces, each nominated by his or her peers. In addition, All American Homes introduced the "All American Welcome Home" program that offers $5,000 off a new-home purchase to active or honorably discharged military personnel serving since Sept. 11, 2001 or their immediate families.

Funding Future Finance

The Wachovia Foundation awarded a $200,000 grant to NeighborWorks America to help 16 NeighborWorks organizations in Washington, D.C., and four Mid-Atlantic states. The grant will be used to enhance counseling and education services to provide homeowners and buyers with the tools to make informed long-term mortgage decisions.

No Assembly Required

First Release Homes is partnering with Clayton Homes to offer home buyers the option to search for manufactured pre-built homes in more than 400 cities across the nation. The homes, which are made from bulk-purchased materials and constructed before delivery to the home site, make it possible for buyers to get more for their money.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.