Much like race-horses wearing blinders, America's Best Builders—Gaffney Homes, The Green Co., Touchstone Homes, and Ideal Homes—have kept their focus on what's ahead despite a year of suffering sales. Last year's closings may reflect consumer caution, but the leaders of these four leading-edge building companies are planning for what's next, even as they adapt to what's going on now.
And adapt they have: They're building homes that are smaller and include fewer frills, and they're selling them for less. As buyers turned their focus from opulence to outlay, these top-notch builders answered by erasing those invisible enticements that designers love but consumers will never miss if they don't see them in the models. Charlottesville, Va.–based Gaffney Homes, for instance, has temporarily terminated its placement of floor-to-ceiling pillars in the foyers of its models, while Touchstone Homes has converted the once-standard attic to an optional “bedroom in the sky” that's selling like crazy to parents of teenagers.
As they “right-size” to accommodate a slumping market, this year's ABB winners are dealing with today to prepare for tomorrow. The Green Co. in Newton, Mass., has held fast to its pattern of steady, smart growth, which prevents it from jumping into bad deals yet allows it to enjoy modest year-to-year sales gains. And Oklahoma City's largest builder, Ideal Homes, steers clear of financial troubles—which it suffered in the 1980s—by keeping a low debt-to-equity ratio, even while recording solid sales gains.
All of this year's winners have plans for growth and are flexible enough to diversify their designs during a market downturn that has the public pining for a different product than the builders had on their drawing boards. That flexibility, they say, is what makes them winners, and it's what will help them grow whether the housing market is strong or sluggish.