"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way ..."
It’s the dawn of a new decade, and Charles Dickens’ famous characterization of the period leading up to the French Revolution seems a particularly apt description for the tumultuous decade we’ve left behind. The extreme ups and downs of our economy, our businesses, and our personal circumstances have left many of us exhausted.
As in A Tale of Two Cities, the extremes we experienced, of wisdom and foolishness and hope and despair, make our industry ripe for a revolution of its own. “Wrenching change” is how it’s described in our opening feature story this month—change in the way you’ll have to find capital with which to operate, in the government regulations that will determine where and how and what you will build, and even in the very people you will be building for.
And as with all change, some of it will be for the better and some of it will not. In the story, “Back to Square One,” on page 86, we’ve outlined the 10 drivers we believe will have the greatest impact on home building over the next 10 years. A powerful and dynamic group of obstacles, challenges, and opportunities, these drivers will likely inform the shape of the industry—and your business—in the very near future.
Thankfully, that future appears to look a bit brighter already, if only by comparison. Results are in from our annual State of the Industry survey and while things are not yet coming up roses, there does seem to be some good news out there (“Hard Times and Green Shoots,” page 136). Even better, the optimism that the survey reveals appears to be based on real progress, not just a case of “been down so long, it looks like up to me.” A majority of respondents, 58 percent, rate current market conditions as stable or improving, a huge increase over the previous year’s 26 percent.
Economic forecasters seem (cautiously) optimistic, as well. Even the most bearish of the ones we polled (“Out of the Woods?”, page 160) weighed in with a prediction of an increase in starts of 16 percent for 2010. The average forecast from a group of 48 professional forecasters calls for quite a bit more, 790,000 starts this year, a 36 percent increase over last year, which the group says will represent “the first year since 2005 that the housing sector will contribute to overall growth.” Ever circumspect, though, the economists are careful to add that there are any number of other shoes that could drop and change the outcome. But most are still lining up on the positive side of the ledger.
The beginnings of a revolution in home design are already occurring in the square footage and energy efficiency of homes being built today. But our industry’s recent tough times have given birth to a new, even more practical approach. Builder’s virtual show home, A Home for the New Economy (page 112), is one such pragmatic prototype. Its overarching theme is flexibility, and that precept applies to its design, construction, materials, and target market. Designed with classical proportions and using standard lumber lengths and window sizes, it will be easier, faster, and less expensive to build even while able to be configured in a variety of different ways. It is designed to remain versatile throughout its life, too, expanding and contracting as its owners’ circumstances change. The home is featured in this issue, but the Web (www.builderconcepthome2010.com) offers even more opportunities to view its many possible permutations.
Change can be unnerving, but it can also be exciting. You’ll be happier if you try to get out ahead of it, though, and if you can, make changes on your own terms rather than wait and have those terms dictated to you.