Robert Jones, president of Rob-ert R. Jones Homes in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., is the NAHB’s new chairman, and someone who is more than a little familiar with the inner workings of the organization, having been on its board of directors since 1979.
Jones has been building homes for 35 years, and his company—which Builder once identified as “the best small-volume builder in the U.S.”—specializes in on-your-lot and spec single-family luxury homes. The company also does renovation.
An inductee into the BIA of Southeastern Michigan’s Hall of Fame in 2000, Jones remains active in state and local HBA affairs, as well as in statewide politics. Jones is currently a board member of Michigan’s Chamber of Commerce and has served as chairman of the board for both St. Bonaventure University Hospital and St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Oakland, Mich.
Builder caught up with Jones as he was about to assume his duties as chairman.
How did you get started in the home building business?
I served as a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Defense Command and was stationed in metropolitan Detroit. As my tour of duty was ending, I answered an ad for an executive trainee placed by a local builder/developer, The Herman Frankel Organization, which built luxury homes. I worked there for several years prior to starting my own company in 1979.
Over the past 35 years, what have been some of the biggest changes you've seen in housing and construction?
Our rapidly growing population turned the small towns of the 1960s into the midsize towns of the ’70s and the metropolitan centers of the ’80s and ’90s. This growth led to creation of new communities and urban centers.
Over that time, we saw the rise of the secondary mortgage market, which has become integral to housing finance and the home building industry. Despite the issues that our current economic crisis has raised, the secondary market remains essential to providing a steady supply of mortgage funds throughout the nation.
We have also seen numerous advances in building science. Products that didn’t exist even a few years ago are now standard, and engineering and design advances have resulted in safer, healthier, more efficient, and longer-lasting houses.
You're a certified green professional. When did you first start building with energy efficiency in mind?
Because of Michigan’s harsh winters, energy efficiency has been a priority from the beginning. In the mid-1980s we constructed a show home featuring sprayed-foam insulation. Caulking and sealing packages followed, and during the next few years we began to incorporate framing techniques that allow us to provide increased insulation packages. We were an early adopter of direct-vent manufactured fireplaces.
We have always offered buyers the opportunity to customize their homes by increasing or decreasing the square footage, so each heating and cooling system is designed to “right size” the system to the individual house. Over the last 10 years we have made it our goal to eliminate wasted space in our home plans.
As NAHB chairman, what's your agenda?
My first priority will be ensuring that the NAHB continues to meet members’ needs in an extremely challenging business environment. The beauty of the NAHB leadership structure is that the senior officers typically serve on the leadership ladder for three years before being elected chairman. By the time a person becomes chairman, the priorities that are in place reflect the realities of the marketplace and member needs as well as the chairman’s years of helping to shape the agenda.
In 2010, the NAHB’s short list includes:
Working to ensure that builders have access to AD&C financing;
Working to ensure that appraisals accurately reflect market conditions and are not skewed by foreclosures, short sales, and other distress sales;
Ensuring that the public and builders have all the information they need to take best advantage of the first-time and repeat home buyer tax credits;
Ensuring that regulatory and other restraints imposed by government do not hinder or derail the fragile recovery.
The NAHB chairman has a vital role in steering the ship, but the dedicated members and tremendous staff are the true strength of the NAHB. Collectively, we have been able to adjust to the worst housing market in a generation, and moving forward we are working to shape the best possible outcome for our members and our industry.
All of your children have worked for the company, on and off, over the years. Have you given thought to succession planning?
Our son Bobby worked for our company 11 years before moving to Maryland, where he worked for builders in the Baltimore area. He would like to return and become the CEO of our company when the economic climate in Michigan stabilizes.
At a Glance
Name: Robert Jones
Company: Robert R. Jones Homes
Years as a builder/developer: 35
Priorities: To ensure that the NAHB remains relevant to its membership by homing in on current problem areas for builders, such as the availability of construction financing and accurate appraisals.