Among domestic rites of Spring, perhaps none barrels and eddies headlong to a larger-than-life, kinetic sweep of such epic proportions as the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1 men’s basketball tournament. The contest may have no equal in human-designed processes for so decisively filtering singular destinies from many moments-of-truth, for so handily separating do-or-dies from meant-to-bes, for raising emotion to a previously unimagined pitch only to crush it, for rendering clarity from a split, 64-point proxy for all that is ambiguous. The tournament lives its helter-skelter promise, March Madness, running full-court-press chaos perfectly through precise paces down to the nano-second of every game-ending buzzer.
The Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight, the Final Four, the Final … the tournament de-clutters and winnows at each turn. When it is done, bam!, no ambivalence. There’s no voting. There’s no merit award, or prizes for heart. The winner is the winner.
For a die-hard baseball lover too, Spring can and does fan irrepressible flames of rekindled hope, may subtly and inexplicably re-awaken obsessions for minutia—anatomical, statistical, personal—about stars and role players alike, and has been known quite often to flirt with outrageous impunity with an inferential offshoot of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity, which holds that putting a few different guys into the same uniforms and expecting wholly different results after 162 games more than likely only increases this year’s heartbreak.
So, no, Spring training and baseball’s Opening Day don’t pack the spontaneous visceral punch that March Madness does, partly because baseball’s sweet addictive pain tends to draw itself out across the better part of six months. March Madness is now or never, here for a fleeting month and then gone, relegated to the books forever.
Another astonishing phenomenon about the Final Four and its lead-up is that the sport of high-level college basketball and the sport of spectating fuse into an amalgam of passion, pride, and commitment. The players and coaches may be on the court and its sidelines, but their fans, alumni and their families, the followers, the whole oozing primordial soup of public support are right there, heart and soul, swept up into the frenzy of the action and outcomes as well.
This brings us to another sporting rite of Spring, Spring Selling Season 2014.
Like March Madness, home builders’ Spring Selling season happens in a blitz of ambiguity, and clarifies its own distinctive identity with each passing week, as character and intensity, surprise, and underlying obvious strengths and weaknesses, each crescendo sometime by mid-April and run-like-hell until the end of June.
Just as by Sunday, April 6, in Dallas, we will be crystal clear on the identity of the NCAA men’s basketball champion, so, too, by no later than the Fourth of July, an unambiguous verdict will have come in on Spring Selling 2014.
Start with an assumption that economic externalities—factors that impact macro, global and domestic supply and demand pushes and pulls and the correlative sentiment and psychological swings tied to those forces—split 50-50, positive and negative.
Also, assume this. If harsh winter weather stalled the onset of Spring Selling momentum, it cannot be looked at as the primary culprit through the whole season.
On a quick glance at commentary on performance for the public home builders in the first quarter of 2014, there are three key positives and many negatives. But the positives are strong ones. One, is that in lumpy markets—ones that host exceptionally robust job-creation and household formation—things are good. Two, is that in markets that have a healthy component of upscale buyer prospects, ones for whom household wealth has come roaring back since the darker days of the past decade, things are also good. Three, is that builders have done well at shrinking overheads and balance sheets to trigger profitability against a lower base of unit volume, and can sustain profitability if they can scale up the pace by opening more stores and pull units through their systems.
So, the biggest questions of Selling Season 2014, remaining to be answered are these:
1. Will the first-time, entry-level buyer play any sort of significant role in housing’s recovery narrative in 2014?
2. Similarly, will people who need to finance a home with a mortgage loan, using typical financial ratios and historically acceptable credit scores, begin to show up in housing markets as a demand factor beyond the upscale, high-end, cash-flush discretionary buyers?
3. Will home builders, whose core skill-set is in scaling entry-level starter homes for the younger-adult homeowner wannabe, begin to focus their products and pricing models on that segment vs. now-stabilized existing home resales to owner-occupiers? (i.e. only if they can gain SKU and labor visibility to deliver lower-priced units in a high-volume production model).
4. Will recovery’s tide in 2014 lift all ships (no, lumpy, choppy, and iffy will continue to plague builders).
What you’ve put into place and placed in play for Spring 2014 is already forgone, but if this year is like the past two years, the first half and the second half of the year will present significantly different opportunities and challenges.
For this reason, you should be planning to attend the BUILDER’s Housing Leadership Summit.
The reason and the payoff come in no less than five simply essential ways:
1. Knowledge spillover … Your peers at a high-level share solutions to dealing with the externalities, the operational opportunities, the cultural shifts, and business process improvements
2. Capital … Among attendees will be a world-class assembly of financial decision-makers and advisors who can shepherd you toward the optionality you need for a year that builds on recovery’s earliest signs of life toward a full-on rebound
3. Challenges and inspirations … Keynotes like drone-meister Chris Anderson, Naked Economics author Charles Wheelan, and social media guru Crystal Washington, get out of the box and into the kind of transformational thinking you need to charge up your team
4. Data and analytics … Our Metrostudy team will be there for you to grab and zero in on the submarkets you need to make critical moves on to succeed in 2014’s back half and into 2015
5. Bright spots … Lock in on what works by listening to those around you at the conference talking about their success cases, seize on those, and bring them back to your team
Spring Selling 2014 will very likely remove ambiguity from the marketplace, leaving exposed to all the No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, and No. 4 biggest questions and challenges for volume home builders.
See you at the Housing Leadership Summit, May 12-14, at the Ritz Carlton, Dana Point, Calif., where we’ll be taking on those big questions and working to give you some Runway.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Dallas, TX.