What Does the Future of Home Building Look Like?

by Chicago Agent

When John Wozniak, president of J. Lawrence Homes, was elected as president of HBAGC, he said he wanted to build the organization “back up to what it once was.” Before Wozniak, the focus of the organization seemed to be on sales and marketing, he says. But now that he’s taken on the role of president, he wants to focus on issues that every builder should know about. With a new focus on these issues, including finance, banking and computer software, he plans on rebuilding the HBAGC.

But after rebuilding the organization, how can it and its members withstand
the market? Luckily, Wozniak has some thoughts on that, too. “At the peak of the market, we had more employees,” he says. “We had about 20 employees in each chapter of the city – the south chapter, north chapter and northwest – and there was quite a bit going on. Now, we’re down to a single employee and one sub-chapter. The market has been greatly reduced so the HBAGC is focusing on a rebirth of the association. What we’re focusing on is how we’re going to be something of value and what will future and current members need from the organization, and how we can fulfill those needs.

“The market is still bouncing along the bottom, and people are still trying
to sell,” he adds. “We need a platform where other builders can see what others are doing. The market’s taken quite a shift from union residential construction. Unions are putting pressure on homebuilders, and many builders had to make other choices. Some people who used to be in unions are opening their own shops, carpentry shops, for example, in an attempt to stay in business. Contractors have no choice but to find people who can marry high quality with low construction costs. People out there are willing to buy, but the market has dropped quite a bit for new home construction.”

It might seem like, in addition to HBAGC members, builders in general
are dwindling. But at least, Wozniak says, this has weeded out the builders
who were simply in the business for the money. “The builders left in business today are quality builders and deserve to be in business. The support of those builders through our organization is a good thing because the ones left have gone through quite a bit and are still around,” he says. “Builders who started in the business because of the ‘gold rush’ of new construction are long gone. The ones left today have a true passion for what they do.”

And while there seems to be negativity surrounding the market, there are positive trends out there, too. “As for negative trends, it’s a matter of getting some type of consistency. We are bouncing along bottom, but until we can get consistency, we are relying heavily on the broker market. There is an emphasis on making sure brokers know the products well. Our connection to brokers is very important.

“Positive trends we’re seeing are homes being built now have the greatest
energy efficiency they’ve had in 25-plus years,” he says. “New laws being passed now require that new homes have energy efficiencies, and the concern for this is greater than ever. Many builders are taking it upon themselves to be economically feasible and add to that efficiency in homes they are building, whether that means more efficient heating systems, cooling systems, indoor air quality insulation and sustainable materials. As an association, one thing we can do is bring information about materials and new technology to our members and have seminars about those types of items to keep them up-to-date with the ‘green’ trend.

“Rebuilding the industry is a slow process. Employees of the association
used to do lots for the organization. Now, it’s back to membership; the focus is on the members. Members have to be more involved. We are making decisions about seminars and events, and we’re focusing on a return to basics. Overall, I think that’s the healthy way to build for the future.”

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