Of the thousands of people who are in the business of building homes across the U.S., those who do so at public companies are slightly different. With a larger balance sheet comes greater responsibility.
That’s where the BIG BUILDER Report Card comes in. Each year, the report aims to provide an “apples-to-apples” comparison of the performance of the public home builders. To achieve this, we took all disclosed company data and mapped it to a calendar year.
Last year, we changed the format in order to provide a strictly formulaic grade for each company. In years past, editors used financial data to grade each company, but now, the companies are ranked from first to last in each of the four major categories—financial, land, operations, and sales and marketing. Each rank is then given a score. Scores are weighted and added together to produce a final rating. The financial category carries the most weight and is worth 40% of the overall score. The other three categories are each worth 20%.
This year, we introduced new metrics while eliminating some others. Under the financial umbrella, “cash and marketable securities” was removed while “return on invested capital” and “return on equity” were added. We also switched from “debt-to-capital” to “net debt-to-capital” in order to more accurately assess the firms.
The land category also saw a change—“years supply of lots” was replaced with “lots optioned to total controlled.” In the past, firms were given credit for having more land on their books. At this point in the cycle, we decided that owning land isn’t necessarily positive. If a company owns too much land it could be exposed if the market turns.
It’s important to note that, as always, these grades are not to be taken as qualified evaluations of company financial management.
This year’s report cards profile 21 public companies, including one newcomer: Green Brick Partners. Lennar’s purchase of WCI Communities in 2016 took the latter off the list. As of press time, two members of the list—UCP and Century Communities—announced a merger agreement that will result in a $1.3 billion company with market capitalization of $700 million. The transaction is expected to close by the end of the third quarter of 2017.
We thank the group that culled the filings and ranked and scored the companies. The team included Sarah Bilheimer, Dennis Fisher, and Kevin Bonalle, accounting students in the Accounting, Business and Economic department of Juniata College, in Huntingdon, Pa., and Christopher Pirrello, an accounting student in the School of Business at Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond, Va.