Emma J. Wildermuth

Chuck Shinn, president of theesteemed Lee Evans Group and Shinn Consulting, was a builder in Colorado when the savings and loan crisis threw the housing market into turmoil in the 1980s. To the builders who are struggling now, Shinn has a survivor’s credibility.

Builders today are “stuck in the mud,” he says. “I’d love to see them be creative and innovative.” During the ’80s downturn, he tried everything he could think of to survive, from adjusting his products and ­locations to cutting overhead and starting new businesses.

“Was it creative? Yeah,” Shinn says. “Would I want to go through it again? No. I have a conservative accountant for a wife. I never want to put her through that amount of debt and chaos again.”—Pat Curry

Q: What did you learn from the 1980s that would help builders today?

A: We came back in off the urban fringe, changed our product, and paid a lot of attention to cash flow. If you run out of cash, you’re out of business.

Q:You also diversified your business, too, right?

A: We did a number of workouts with banks to finish projects­—half-finished houses and lots. We didn’t have to sell; the bank hired a Realtor. All I had to do was build. We had a remodeling company that did major rehabs—I didn’t want to do just a kitchen remodel. We also opened up a business for structural rehabilitation. There are a lot of expansive soils and clays out here. We found out insurance work would be really good when houses would have ­failures—heaved floors and houses that were tilted. We were in a business all by ourselves.

Q: You work with bankers, too. What do builders need to understand about their lenders in today’s market conditions?

A: They want their money back, as much and as fast as possible. That will be the driving force for all the decisions they’re making. … They’ll be very hard-nosed, then dictatorial, and then they’ll gradually come around to reality. Right now, they don’t have reality. They’re overwhelmed. They have all these files on their desks, and they just want them to go away.