Nature may abhor a vacuum, but human nature doesn’t like ambivalence one damned bit better either. Ambivalence—which I would define as a deep, somewhat uncomfortable, uncertainty about which way things are heading for our businesses right now, appears to be the order of the moment.

Home building dynast and sometime business philosopher Bruno Pasquinnelli told me something once that should be an ambivalence zapper. “Home building is three things,” Bruno said. “It’s what goes out. It’s what comes in. And it’s what’s left over.”

Over the three days of the Housing Leadership Summit in Dana Point, Calif., May 12-14, BUILDER and Metrostudy will be hosting more than 350 executives from the nation’s leading home building, development, and residential real estate investment companies, and we’ll be looking for clarity amid ambivalence.

The conference, for all intents and purposes, is sold out. But I think you should be busting down the doors at the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel this morning. Why?

Like I said, 350 of the community's most important and smartest people will be there, and here are the biggest questions we’ll be focused on, the answers to which may yet be elusive. Still, asking them is what will provide some organizations “Runway” to deal with these dynamic challenges, a position of advantage over the rest.


What is your single most critical area for improvement inside your company? What one word would you use to describe where your company has to get better at what it does?

1. Which of the three is the more important question facing you today?

  • What will Janet Yellen and the Fed do about interest rates?
  • What will Generation Y do next?
  • What can my company do to improve?
  • 2. Which is the more significant force, or lack of force, right now?

  • Supply?
  • Demand?
  • 3. When we speak of demand, which is the most important factor?

  • Job and income growth
  • Taxes and policy
  • Demand creation … location, design, pricing, and community
  • 4. Who’s going to grow in 2014?

    5. Is there anybody here who’s going to be “flat to down” in 2014?

  • Up 20% plus?
  • Up 10% to 20%
  • Up 5% to 10%
  • 6. Who’s going to grow more profitable in 2014?

    7. Who’s going to be taking chips off the table in 2014 to prepare for harder, more adverse conditions ahead?

    8. Where’s the opportunity in the next 12 to 18 months?

  • First- and second-time move-up and higher end customers?
  • Entry-level, first-time buyer customers?
  • Active Adult customers
  • 9. Where’s the biggest risk this year and next?

    10. What’s it more important to know … where the housing cycle is right now? or what one’s team should be doing for it to get better or worse?

    11. What’s a more important number for you and your team to look at right now … pick one of the three:

  • monthly payment
  • gross margin
  • multiple of earnings?
  • 12. Complete this sentence…. Builder should really do a story about …..

    13. Which external force is the most important one right now?

  • Local permitting and entitlement agencies
  • The Fed
  • Congressional action around housing finance reform or tax reform
  • Input costs
  • Commercial credit access
  • 14. So, let me ask this group, does or should government have a role in the progress, timing, trajectory, or support of a housing recovery?

    15. What do these expressions mean?

  • Private company that acts like a public company ?
  • Public company that acts like a private company?
  • 16. How does a privately held company compete against voracious publics, who want all the land, the talent, the labor capacity, and the home buyer prospects in the market, and they can write big checks for whatever they want?

    17. What is competing like in today’s market? Who do you actually compete with? Is it another new home builder? Resales? Rental? Market share? Express?

    18. How are companies getting access to growth capital today? How much do you need to keep the lot pipeline in shape for continued recovery over the next 24 to 36 months?

    19. What do you have to consider giving up in order to get access to the capital you need to grow?

    20. Lots:

  • Are lots available?
  • Are there any deals on lots?
  • What are the left-over broken-deals like?
  • 21. Does land strategy change at all in light of how recovery has pronounced itself so far?

    22. Labor shortage issue: first of all … who’s experiencing difficulties delivering new homes to buyers due to labor shortages…?

  • Upsetting schedules?
  • Delaying deliveries?
  • Costing more?
  • 23. Which particular trades are especially problematic?

    24. What do you and your team do to deal with the challenge of labor constraints … ?

    25. Where’s the biggest risk and opportunity related to your direct costs?

    26. Culture: What’s the one word you would use to describe your company culture?

    27. Who would you hire?

  • Land acquisition
  • Marketer
  • Project supervisor
  • Lawyer
  • 28. For someone coming out of school, would you rather hire

  • STEM grad
  • Law grad
  • Marketing management grad
  • Financial management grad
  • Project management grad
  • 29. What is your company doing differently these days to try to learn who your customers are and what they want?

  • Data analysis
  • Focus groups
  • Demographic/segmentation analysis
  • 30. What’s the question you’re going to be talking about most with your peers here at this year’s Housing Leadership Summit?

    31. The two biggest questions of all: Which is the bigger challenge for home builders in the next 5 years?

  • Will millennials buy new houses?
  • Will millennials come into home building and residential development to make a living?
  • This is what Runway will be all about.