Texas-based HistoryMaker Homes—No. 57 on the 2023 Builder 100—recently announced company president Lane Wright will retire at the end of 2023.
Over the next six months, Wright will pass along his responsibilities to Zac Thompson, president of HistoryMaker Homes’ build-to-rent sister company ONM Living.
In addition to this executive news, ONM Living also launched a new program called SmartStart, a free platform designed to not only bridge the gap between renting and home buying but also between the two companies.
BUILDER caught up with Thompson to hear more about his background and new position, as well as get more details on SmartStart and how it will benefit current ONM Living residents/potential future HistoryMaker buyers.
BUILDER: What’s the history of ONM Living?
Thompson: ONM Living was established in January 2019. Although a separate operating company, ONM Living was founded out of HistoryMaker Homes, a 74-year-old, for-sale home building company. Today, ONM Living serves customers in Dallas-Forth Worth (DFW) and Houston. We own roughly 2,000 homes, all in different stages of the development, construction, leasing, and occupancy.
BUILDER: How did you get into the home building industry, and how long have you been with ONM Living?
Thompson: My home building career started with Pulte Homes right out of undergrad at Texas Christian University (TCU). After almost seven years with Pulte, I moved to Beazer Homes, running the land operations in DFW before becoming a division president. I left Beazer Homes at the end of 2018 to start ONM Living. From a career perspective, all I know is home building, and I am thankful that Pulte showed up to recruit fresh college grads at TCU.
BUILDER: What are your biggest takeaways from working in the build-to-rent (BTR) sector?
Thompson: My biggest takeaway is that the customers in BTR and for-sale have a lot more in common than they do different. I came into the sector expecting the customer would have a completely different set of wants and needs, but I have learned that a quality product, in a good location, at an affordable price is at the core of the BTR customer's decision. This is exactly like the customer looking to purchase.
I also learned, especially during the entitlement process, that renters have an unfair bad rap within the marketplace. When we started ONM Living, I did not expect to become an advocate for renters, but, today, I find myself constantly advocating for their wants and needs within the cities we operate in. Having renters in new and affordable product adds tremendous value to cities and neighborhoods.
BUILDER: What advice would you give to other builders exploring BTR?
Thompson: I would tell prospects to not forget the fact that you are signing up to be a home builder. You can have all the capital available, you can be a sophisticated investor, you can even be excellent at property management, but if you do not know how to build a home on time and on budget, it will be a short venture.
BUILDER: What are you most looking forward to in your new position?
Thompson: I am passionate about leading people. I love the process of helping people become better at what they do. Becoming the president of HistoryMaker Homes provides me the ability to do what I am passionate about at a scale that I have not had before. I am also excited about continuing the legacy that the Mitchell family has created with HistoryMaker Homes. It is not common to have the ability to lead a 75-year-old, family-owned company.
BUILDER: Who will be taking over for you? What does the future hold for ONM Living?
Thompson: We are actively searching for a dynamic leader that can lead ONM Living in its next chapter. Our goal is to have this person hired and onboarded by Oct. 1.
BUILDER: What is SmartStart, and what were the motivations to launching it?
Thompson: At ONM Living, the customer is at the center of our strategic universe. We obsess over serving them well. During our first few lease-up communities, we found that many of our residents dreamed of homeownership but lacked the information and tools to make that happen. Because we obsess over serving our customers well, and we have the benefit of a relationship with HistoryMaker Homes, we created SmartStart to be a ‘bridge’ for ONM Living residents between renting and owning.
BUILDER: What does the program entail? How will it benefit your residents?
Thompson: When they move in, each ONM Living resident is enrolled in SmartStart, at no cost to them. Depending on a person’s specific circumstances, SmartStart could last 12 to 24 months. During this time, residents will have access to mortgage seminars, personalized consultations with mortgage officers, credit monitoring and credit reporting services, rent relief programs, and the big prize is that each resident will earn a $750 (up to $10,000) credit toward the purchase of their new HistoryMaker home for every month they live in an ONM Living home. In total, we believe SmartStart is a unique program that provides our residents with an experience that can change their life.
BUILDER: Any resident feedback on the program yet? If so, what has the response been?
Thompson: SmartStart has only been active for a few months, but so far it appears that prospects and residents love it. At first, prospects cannot believe that we are offering a program like this and are telling us that no other rental community is doing this.