Photos: Craig Jones  

The importance of preparationcannot be overstated. It’s often the difference between success and failure, between best in show and also-ran. Add strong execution to preparation and you have the ingredients for powerful success.

An opening-round game in the March 1996 NCAA basketball tournament illustrates the point. The fourth-ranked defending national champion UCLA Bruins are playing the over-matched but well-coached Princeton University Tigers, ranked 13th. By all accounts, this game should have been a routine drubbing. Instead, a well-prepared Princeton team executed unsexy, archaic offensive sets, court spacing, and timely shooting to pull off perhaps the greatest upset in the history of the tournament.

What does this story have to do with selling homes, you ask? Lots, really. It shows that with great preparation you can win despite steep odds, and the current housing market certainly presents those.

Strong execution takes on added importance given the pending expiration of government tax credits for buying homes. Builders must not only secure signed contracts by April 30, but must close on the homes by June 30.

To do that, companies will need to have both their sales and production game plans in order. Marketing must be on message. Extra laborers may be needed to ramp up production. The back office has to turn paperwork around quickly. And the sales staff needs to put on its best game face.

There are many ways to prepare your company for the spring selling season, but some will undoubtedly be more effective than others. Here are 10 of the best ways we found to get your team ready to sell as many homes as possible in a depressed housing market. Pick the ones that make sense for your business and get the season off to a good start.

1) Preparation, Preparation, Preparation.

This can’t be emphasized enough. The last thing you want to do is be caught flat-footed when the selling season is at its peak. Don’t wait to get things in order. Unlike previous years when the getting was good, this will be another lean year for the industry so builders need to do everything right. If you have inventory to sell, make sure it’s in move-in condition. Get your sales team primed and ready to close deals. “You need to have a salesforce that knows what it’s doing,” says Bob Schultz of New Home Sales Specialists in Boca Raton, Fla. They need to be well-trained in engagement selling, and they need to get in a mindset that fosters productivity. “[Salespeople] need to understand they are in a retail business not a real estate business, so they must show up on time everyday and have the models ready,” he adds. Lastly, plan your marketing schedule now to formalize what message you want to convey.

2) Have Specs in the Ground and Ready To Go.

This year, the spring selling season will be a make or break time for many builders. Those still looking for capital and those who are far behind in construction could be toast. “If they don’t have inventory, they might miss the season,” says Chuck Shinn of The Shinn Group in Littleton, Colo. The problem is that most banks are still slow to lend, and with the deadlines approaching, a builder will need to have houses ready to go pretty fast. The tax credit requires that homes be purchased by April 30 and closed by June 30. If a builder is starting from scratch, homes will need to be in the drywall stage and beyond by April 30, Shinn says. This would be tight under the best of circumstances, which is why starting earlier is better.

3) Organize Subs and Crews To Build Efficiently In A Short Amount of Time.

After the housing market crashed, many construction workers were forced to find employment in other fields, leaving a dearth of qualified and reliable subs to build houses. The problem may be more serious in some markets than in others where the job pool is deeper. This means that builders will need to create a pool of good people to finish their houses and do the job efficiently. Start looking for people and subs now through employment agencies or check with immigrant workers’ centers where you can hire legal day laborers. Now is also an excellent time to strike deals and incentives with subs to get consistent work performance in exchange for a specified amount of work.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Trenton, NJ.