No. 52: Bloomfield Homes

Building a home takes time and requires skill. Finding the people who have that skill, these days, can take even more time.

The post-crash labor market is tight, and as home starts continue to rise, the lack of skilled workers can prove costly to companies coast to coast. In the Dallas–Fort Worth market, where nearly 27,000 homes were started in 2015, an 11.4% jump from 2014, “there’s not enough labor to go around,” says Cathleen Richards, purchasing manager for Southlake, Texas–based Bloomfield Homes.

Cathleen Richards - Bloomfield Homes
Noah Kalina

“Before, when the growth was slow and the housing market was down,” she says, “the labor needed us more than we needed them; now, it’s turned around.”

Richards is tasked with negotiating the price to build homes, sourcing labor and materials, and helping get vendors approved and paid fast. She had a busy 2015 as Bloomfield closed 791 homes in DFW—the lone market it builds in. The year was further complicated by heavy rainfall from February through May, which caused builders to push back projects and compete for a small number of laborers simultaneously. “Once the rain stopped, everyone was trying to get all of their numbers and their backlogs through,” she recalls.

So how did Richards nail down crews to work on Bloomfield projects when they could’ve gone to a number of other jobsites? Modestly, she says it’s a team effort, citing the company’s roughly 25 field managers who help line up labor. Don Dykstra, president, says her ability to secure what’s best for Bloomfield and the crews by making sure there’s a steady flow of work is a big help. “We try to schedule everyone so they have continuous work so their crews aren’t waiting for work,” she says. “If they’re on our jobsite, we like to keep them on our jobsite.”

Aside from the mutual respect that Richards says existed between Bloomfield and the workforce prior to her joining the company two-plus years ago, she adds that Bloomfield also keeps crews happy by paying them promptly. “We never slow-pay,” she says. “We pay on time. Most of our guys get weekly checks. We feel paying them fast helps them pay their crews fast, and their crews stay with them.”

Richards estimates that labor costs have risen 20% to 25% over the past year. Dykstra accepts the rising costs but wants to ensure that Bloomfield is “the builder of choice for our contractors.”

One way to remain so is to offer pay increases to contractors before they ask, which Bloomfield did last year. Since Dykstra founded the firm 12 years ago, 70% of the vendors still work with Bloomfield today. “Since we’ve had a long history with some of these guys, they’d rather work for us,” Richards says.

The labor market is expected to remain tight in DFW, and Bloomfield expects to start 1,200 homes in 2016. “With good spring sales, we’re going to have a lot of production during the summer, and we would anticipate there’s not going to be enough labor,” Dykstra says. That’s what Richards and the rest of Bloomfield’s team are working on now.

Brian Croce

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