Among the most memorable imperatives home building leaders talked about at last month's Housing Leadership Summit in Southern California were speed, execution, customer care, and culture. Each of these powerful drivers suggests two things. One, is that there's a win or a lose related to each one of the imperatives. That is, get it right, and it's possible to both grow and profit. Get it wrong, and the risk could be catastrophic.

The other of key issue is that, as full of ambiguity and uncertainty as the housing market is right now with its mixed message of headwinds and tailwinds, now counts. For a lot. This means that operational initiatives and solutions are more important to your organization than any number of external forces--political, regulatory, economic, etc.

Among the critical skill-sets home builders must draw on at the moment to succeed in a fits-and-starts, lumpy, choppy, iffy, and persnickety market is the careful science of balancing price and pace. In submarkets that are generating above-par sales per community per month, home builders can and should price to market accordingly, raising the bar as much as possible and expanding margins.

Where pace starts to check up or in neighborhoods that get out of the gate at a sluggish rate, incentives may be the answer to goosing sales volumes. Builders need to look at both pace-management and lot pipeline decisions on a constant, granular, community-by-community basis, and calibrate investment, pricing decisions, and messaging based on where dynamics are strong, weak, or changing from one to the other.

At any rate, part of the science of price and pace challenge is understanding, better than ever, the root motivations of people on the move, knowing that opportunity occurs not among the masses but in the margins of consumer behavior.


U.S. Census analyst David Ihrke has developed a new report on Americans' reasons for moving, dividing 19 individual reasons into four broad groupings in order of frequency: housing-related, family-related, job-related and other.

Ihrke Census

What's fascinating about Ihrke's analysis is that it shows that housing-related, family-related, and job-related motivations shift over time, varying along with the forces of broader economics and macro social trends.

Washington Post staffer Emily Badger takes this key observation from the data:

Because similar questions have been asked of Americans over time, we can compare many of these responses to prior years. Earlier versions of this question did not include among potential answers foreclosures or natural disasters (which became particularly relevant to moving data after Hurricane Katrina). Those reasons are collapsed in previous years into the "other housing" and "other" categories.
We can see, though, that Americans were more likely to move last year than in 1999 -- the earliest year for which comparable data was collected -- because they wanted cheaper housing, or because they lost a job

Here, from Ihrke's analysis, is a breakdown of the 19 motivations, and how they changed over time from the middle of the Great Recession to the early stages of recovery in 2013.


Look at where the 2013 bars are greater, and you'll see opportunity.

* To look for work or lost job
* To be closer to work/easier commute
* To establish own household
* Other family reason
* Other housing reason

Until further notice, success in this early stretch of recovery comes down to being able to sell just one more home per community per month than current levels. What will it take to do that? Do you know enough about what's motivating prospective buyers? Is the Census Bureau's data on migration and household formation a source for messaging, prospecting, land strategy? Tell us, please, how the data figures into your intelligence in this "now counts" environment.