It can be said now that tulips, dotcoms, and yes, houses–despite claims that the intrinsic value of homes and homeownership would shield housing from wild economic gyrations–each deserve a place in economics history's case studies on irrational exuberance followed by irrational phobia. Which is not–even yet–to say "panic." Even as the mainstream media will pour on the coverage of bad news for housing for months yet to come, too many good things come of new-homeownership for the bad news to keep itself pumping along at this level for very much longer. Just as the boom's historic upward trajectory was unsustainable, so too is the downward path of this bust. What is sustainable is a long period of unremarkable performance that will signify recovery after the industry weathers another year or so of rough headlines.
Now, consumers, businesses, government, and the media alike are overly preoccupied with risk. Writing and broadcasting news stories about risk obviously sells newspapers and raises ratings, or the media would not do it.
The perfect storm for home builders is the fact that not only have people become fearful of the risk of buying a home that may be worth less tomorrow than it's worth today, the businesses that they'd borrowed money from to buy a new home have now been swept up in a global vicious circle of risk aversion. What's more, government agencies and regulators, who only months ago were part of stoking the machine to expand homeownership for the greater good of the national economy, have now splintered into feverish possies trying to pick up on the scent of sacrificial lambs. Add to that, reporters who feel they'd be doing a disservice to their audiences if they don't break the next Enron scandal as Americans lose money, livelihoods, and shelter as this cycle plays out.
Downturn deterrents–diversification, creative mortgage finance, land position discipline–tipped over, one by one, in the way of the decline. Hopefully, one of the lessons learned from past downturns is that you are talking earlier and more often with your banks, lenders, and stakeholders.
Waiting–and hoping for next week or next month to get better by even a bit–would be a mistake. The news can't stay this bad forever. It's unsustainably negative. But it's got a while to go before it swings back to positive.
So, the canvas for Big Builder changes. We know you're not in business to lose money, but we also know you're in this line of work more than for the money. To hear one of you speak about the feeling you get when you press a set of new home keys into the hand of a first-time home buyer, the rest of it almost goes without saying.
Our focus transforms. Success has a new scorecard, and it's all about the ability to be around tomorrow and the tomorrow after that. Each new homeowner your folks hand over the keys to becomes a triumph in personal and business terms. Liquidity's daisy chain of misery has taken on a dark life of its own, and the only scenario we can model the future on right now is the worst case one. So, one-by-one, we'll look to salute your daily triumphs of cash management, discipline, and customers.