The quotation above is attributed to John Heywood, a fifteenth century English writer. It closely resembles several Old and New Testament verses, most notably Jeremiah 5:21 (“Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not”) and Matthew 13:13 (“Therefore I speak to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand”). So this concept has been around for quite some time.
Yet it appears that the message is not being received and I am now well past the point of frustration in advising homebuilders and developers to simply look at the market to determine what will sell and hearing their automatic response of “you do not understand that things are different here and we cannot do that”. The fact is, things are not different here, there or anywhere else as the market is the sole determinant of where our buyers will live, what size and type of home they want and what they will pay. It does not matter what was the cost of the land or improvements, what the architect believed to be an attractive or appropriate design, or even who the builder is or how they do business. While the specifics of the consumers’ decisions will vary somewhat depending on geographic location, the national and local economy, the job market, interest rates and consumer sentiment, the homebuying market will always make their desires quite clear and all we need to do to succeed is look, listen and comply.
When homebuilders and developers fail to see, the only available course of action to sell the homesites or homes is to lower the price (or otherwise enhance the offering) until they have created such a visibly superior value that it overcomes all other concerns. But that typically results in losing money which has an obvious and undesirable long-term result. We can provide a superior sales environment and selling process, better merchandising, advertising and promotion and those goals will certainly produce benefits and are worth pursuing. But without the underlying correct location, acceptable home design and features, and proper pricing, we are at best merely spinning our wheels while on the inevitable road to failure.
“Seeing” the market is a basic concept requiring only that research be performed and a strategy created that responds to the requirements of the market. Homebuilders and developers can perform this task on their own as long as they take the time to do a thorough analysis and create a strategy that is not biased by their own prejudices and desires. That bias is often the pitfall of performing the task “in house” and may be the prime justification for retaining an outside professional to perform the service.
What bothers me the most about homebuilders and developers not “seeing” the market and failing to prepare a proper analysis and strategy is not that these companies often falter. Rather, it is the detrimental effect of their failure upon the other homebuilders and developers in the market who may have done things right and still have to deal with the negative publicity and lower values resulting from their “blind” former colleagues.
John Heywood is also the author of many familiar epigrams, each of which would be an apropos subject of a blog as well as being truisms for the homebuilding and residential development industries in this or any housing market: “What you have, hold”; “Haste makes waste”; “Out of sight out of mind”; “When the sun shines, make hay”; “Look before you leap”; “Beggars should not be choosers”; “All is well that ends well”; “I know on which side my bread is buttered”; “Rome was not built in one day”; and “Better late than never”. But that’s just my opinion.
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