John McManus Photo: Katherine Lambert You still hear it plenty these days, even in these worst and most uncertain of times. It's what a private home building company executive will tell you makes the biggest difference between his operation and public residential construction companies that may or may not find this or that market fit to build in: “We're here to stay.”

When he says it, it's certainly about selling new homes to people who want or need them, with a solid name in the community to back up the promise. It's a way of expressing belief that real estate—and home building—is local. If prospective home buyers view you as part of the community and they know where you live, doesn't it make sense that they'd put more trust inn you with the biggest purchase decision they've got to make?

It may. But that's only part of what they mean when they say, “We're here to stay.”

It's just as much a statement about buying land from a developer or a farmer. During the run-up of the early 2000s, land was a game of magic numbers, and developers and land sellers got to name their price on home building lots. Now, those public builders who were tripping over one another to outbid everybody on every piece of dirt that showed up in auction are now tripping over one another to exit markets that don't pencil for them. For developers and land sellers, “we're here to stay” means they can and will work with you, even to the point of soft take-downs, so that you'll have access to lots and they'll continue to have a willing buyer in the market.

It's also about local banking relationships. Yes, today so many of the community banks you used to deal withy have been scarfed up by regional, national, and even global players. Now, after talk up the kazoo about partnerships for the first several years of the decade, many of those “partners” are among the disappeared.

Your accounts have been turned over to special services, “don't call us, we'll call you” departments whose business goal seems set on getting as much of the money they may have loaned you back in their tills immediately, while discussion of continuing to lend as they said they were going to is out of the question.

Clearly, a bank partner will mean something different to the average private home builder when this crisis has run its course. But “we're here to stay” today means that capital in the community, in the submarket, in the marketplace might set its sights on home builders whose word is their bond. Even before the global credit and liquidity reset values to assets, people locally know what locations are worth, and they're going to pay for them. Being a “we're here to stay” kind of builder is an opportunity for people and banks who still have money and want to invest in something they know.

“We're here to stay” means that your subs, trades, and materials suppliers won't get left in the lurch, like with the others who just pull up their stakes and exit the market.

“We're here to stay” is also about hiring people with more attitude and, maybe, less aptitude. If you're like most private home building companies, you've had to let go of no less than half, and more likely seven people in 10 who worked for you in 2006. It's the same everywhere. Who you've got left has to not only be an “A” player for today's market but also has to have the ideas to deal with even worse times than now before they get better.