In two separate gatherings in New York City last week, senior executive level home building, investment, and real estate players were digesting Tuesday election results in real-time. One by one, most admitted publicly and emphatically to not knowing what to make of an outcome that compelled practically all of them to suspend disbelief in what had just happened.

The very moment of the Donald Trump presidential election triumph and the Republican party romp across a broad swath of America's electorate, a kind of instant total eclipse swept across the faintly-lit ecosystem of new residential investment, construction, design, and development, sewn as it is of a complexly knit weave of localism, industry practice, domestic taxation and regulation, and global capital flow. Assumptions? All out the window.

"It was eerie," one of the NYC conference attendees said. "Even some of the more aggressive deal makers were saying, 'let's take this deal off the table for the time being and see what happens.'" Business as usual checked up. There are some big investments, deal makers, and strategists in "wait-and-see" mode.

Projections and road maps that traced housing's economic trajectory moving forward on roughly the same path as we've been seeing the past couple of years? Gone. Is this necessarily a negative? No. Is this shake-up in fundamental beliefs about how the economy receives and emits its structural cues in the days, months, and years ahead what builders, developers, and investors could only have hoped for? Very possibly.

Maybe. We don't know. We hope so. We're wide open to new possibility rather than bracing for more of the same. Things changed. Should we be afraid? No more than we should be emboldened.

Factors, forces, and variables that had been visibly trending, transparent on our dashboards of key indicators, and predictable in an instant became opaque, conditioned on a series of what-ifs and maybes and a host of new, previously unimagined scenarios [at least among some].

Fact is, many of you in our BUILDER audience were correct about what could and did happen before last Tuesday. For you, President-Elect Trump's victory may not have even been improbable. Almost equal numbers were wrong. For many of them, the outcome was astonishing. That matters less and less as days go on. We have a President. Change won. That's saying something important to us in the home building and development business community. People want change. The call is for greater strength and the pride that stems from being and growing stronger. What that means in terms of change--from what? and into what?--can take a lot of different forms, cost different amounts, and yield different results.

Which describes, as many housing analysts, economists, and observers have termed it, uncertainty. Housing--reliant as it is in huge front-loaded speculative investment--is said to abhor uncertainty, as it abhors volatility.

One of the thickest clouds of uncertainty in housing obscures "what will happen next?" with immigrants, especially those from south of United States borders who've up to now trended as both a materially important role-player in construction economics and as an equally valued end-consumer of the American Dream of homeownership in our communities and neighborhoods.

What Tuesday could mean, however, is that perhaps it's time to pencil in new assumptions from scratch, rather than to port all of them from the past into a scenario under a new administrative regime.

What the winning party and its leader have succeeded in doing is to mobilize heartland support around a narrative of renewed hope, and the flexing of muscle, in answering four questions that mean everything to what comes next for housing:

  • Is my job (or career prospect) safe? Or can it be?
  • Is my ability to make enough money to live decently safe?
  • Is my family safe?
  • Is my home safe?

The cathartic, energizing, and propulsive power of the story around answers to those four questions is what anybody who's trying to sell anyone anything of value needs to keep at the very top of mind. If answers to those four questions begin to turn a flicker of hope into anything close to reality, other current assumptions about how construction works, and what it needs in terms of labor capacity begin to look profoundly different than they do today.

For now, admitting uncertainty and being open-minded to hopefulness, we see five essential, immediate, and profound "take-aways" from the momentous goings on in our political landscape and how they effect or what they explain about home builders and successful home building.

  • Believers that demographics is destiny need to check their belief system. Conventional wisdom suggested that demographic shifts would surely cause a political outcome that didn't happen. The same missteps can occur if you count on demographics to make or break a housing demand curve, be it Millennials, Baby Boomers, or anybody else. Demographics may one day be destiny, but not without a lot of hair-pin turns caused by forces other than demographics between now and "destiny."
  • What some call fringe may actually be core. Unmet need--the working-class worker--is where a powerful force rose up to demand change. To some--whether it's in single-family, multifamily, or workforce housing--the opportunity to respond to this heretofore "silent" force is game-changing.
  • Models are broken Data is valid if two things happen. One, it needs to measure the universe of people it aims to measure (not impaired by nonresponse bias, nor head-fake responses), and two, it needs to interpret only the data it has reliably harvested correctly. Many pundits, analysts, and observers got this wrong, almost as calamitously as they erred on the financial meltdown a decade ago.
  • What has long been doesn't need to continue to be. Something about this election result suggests that chronic, deep-set inefficiencies and practices--even in construction--may be susceptible to a new look, a fresh take, and a solutions-oriented approach to fixing what many have held can never be fixed when it comes to the construction community.
  • Lastly, mistrust in one another is not the answer. Polarizing got us to where things had become unmanageable, in business, society, culture, and politics. Answers to those questions above--if they're going to begin to change from "of course not," to "yes, with some time and collective focus"--will only change if people in home building begin to close the "us vs. them" gap.

That only happens from an increase in trust. Now, here's to hoping that an increase in trust is earned and deserved.