Among the more pressing concerns for builders in 2016 are mounting land and material costs and the shortage of skilled labor. Each makes it tougher to build homes, but even after those obstacles are hurdled and a home is built, the story does not end.
The home still needs to be sold.
Ben Caballero, president of Dallas-based HomesUSA.com, knows how to sell homes. He’s been a licensed real estate agent for more than 50 years, and his online platform (on which he is the only listed agent) helped manage more than $1 billion in transaction volume in 2015 in Texas alone.
The platform was designed for builders, allowing them to monitor their Multiple Listing Service (MLS) marketing and management in real-time. Builders have access to myriad features, including their local, regional, and national inventory, and resources that show average marketing times; if completed homes have photos; if property descriptions are adequate; and how long each home has been available for sale on a market-by-market basis. The platform also centralizes their listing process and connects them to local real estate agents, who actually sell the homes.
Caballero built and launched the first version of HomesUSA.com in 2007. Now in his 70s, he is a self-proclaimed technology buff, but he does not consider himself an expert. Trial and error played a big role during the five years it took to build the platform, mainly because, as he puts it, he “barely knew what a browser was. It wouldn’t have taken that long if I had been more knowledgeable.”
Now in its third iteration, the company’s six full-time developers are constantly updating the software to make it more efficient. Despite Caballero’s short-comings as a computer whiz, the site managed listings for 2,491 homes that sold in 2015. How did he create such a successful product?
He had inside information: He was a builder.
For roughly 15 years, Caballero owned Caballero Homes in Dallas, but he exited the building business in the early 1990s because, he says, interest rates got too high and he was tired of the industry’s cyclical nature.
He then started a guaranteed-sale service company, ensuring the sales of a buyer’s current home so that no matter what happened, the buyer could complete their purchase of a new home.
In the process of doing that, Caballero saw an opportunity. He noticed that builders were not using MLS properly, if at all. They were not working on any organized basis to get their homes on the MLS.
He’s had a real estate license since he was 21, and he knew how builders think, so he decided to launch HomesUSA.com in 2006. The idea was to connect builders with Realtors. “Builders have entire marketing departments that are very skilled at marketing to consumers,” Caballero says. “They have very limited marketing channels to reach Realtors.”
His experience on multiple sides of the industry gives Caballero a unique perspective. “We’re a captive of our experience,” he says. “It’s hard to deal with something that you haven’t been exposed to.”
HomesUSA.com currently works with 45 builder brands in Texas. Chris Hartley, vice president of sales and marketing for Dallas-based Dunhill Homes, is surprised that number isn’t higher.
“It eliminates so much double work that it just makes what we do easy,” he says of the platform. “It’s a no-brainer for home builders inside of Dallas.”
Dunhill Homes and Nathan Carlisle Homes, its active adult brand, have been using HomesUSA.com for almost two years. Hartley says the difference it has made is noticeable.
Bryan Poche, vice president of sales and marketing for M/I Homes’ in Dallas-Fort Worth, started working with Caballero in 2012 when he was at Meritage Homes. Before using HomesUSA.com, Poche says discrepancies between his company’s site and the MLS were common. Even if the two were off by a few hundred dollars it could cause problems, he adds.
“He’s the first one to figure out this back-end piece of it,” Poche says of Caballero. “It’s made it [so] there’s less opportunities for errors, and errors can cost thousands of dollars.”
According to Hartley, using Caballero’s system also helps sell homes faster because the weekly reports ensure each listing is accurate and up to date. “It doesn’t let me forget that these items need to be done,” he says. “It makes sure you’re on top of your game.”
Builders pay a flat annual fee for the service, which helps Poche forecast his spending. “I don’t want my staff spending a whole lot of time on getting a listing in place,” he says. “So it’s very convenient.”
Caballero says his clients in Texas have reduced their average inventory days on market by 15 to 40 days. “They’ve not only saved interest, taxes, and insurance, but they’ve saved indirect costs because they can turn more homes in a year with the same personnel,” he says.
Growing the Brand
Since 2012, more than 2,000 homes have been sold each year using HomesUSA.com. In 2014, there were 2,383 sales totaling $929 million. It was a good year for the company, but it gave Caballero a goal of crossing the $1 billion plateau the following year. “That’s a nice, round number,” he says.
The company exceeded that goal in 2015 with 2,491 sales totaling $1.02 billion.
This year may be even bigger. During the first five months, business was up about a third, Caballero says, and in June, the company announced it was offering its platform to builders nationwide, specifically targeting markets in Atlanta; Phoenix; Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C.; Orlando and Tampa, Fla.; and Arlington and Alexandria, Va.
Caballero says someone else could try to replicate his technology, but they’d have to “go through the hell that I’ve gone through” to develop the platform.
“It’s a difficult but very rewarding business,” he says.