Mortgage rates and inflation are on the rise—along with homebuyer pessimism. Concerns about the impact of the midterm elections have only served to darken the outlook. For custom home builders, it’s the perfect time to motivate potential clients to commit to their project, before mortgage rates rise further and inflation makes building materials even more expensive.
Our approach at Rotelle Studio(e) is all about creating confidence for the buyer—both in their decision to commit now and in choosing our company to do the job. We do that by walking prospective buyers through our truly comprehensive approach to the building process, which includes unique access to and insight into land acquisition, analysis, permitting, and project financing.
One of the biggest obstacles to building a new home is finding property. There simply isn’t enough land for the number of buyers. In fact, we could build 25% to 45% more homes per year if there was stronger land inventory in our buyers’ preferred areas. But this condition also creates an area of opportunity for us.
We actively search for properties and have access to land resources not available to the public. One of those resources is local property owners who come to us to sell land. Over the years, we’ve carefully built our reputation as a land buyer with integrity, so property owners know of us and see us as a trusted resource for a land sale. While we no longer carry land for developments on our books, we do aggressively buy single lots as they come on the market at the right price or in the right location. Most of these lot purchase contracts are then assigned to buyers before we have to settle.
Buyers are often unaware that not all lots are buildable, and they can get into trouble if they buy a property based simply on size, location, or aesthetics. Builders can eliminate this issue, as we do, by providing an analysis of a lot’s suitability for obtaining a building permit. Our proprietary Lot Scrub process gives buyers a reliable estimate of what it will cost to build on a particular piece of property. The analysis includes 40 variables and conditions that could affect building suitability and approval time.
Purchase Protection and Permitting
For many buyers, the thought of navigating the complex land-permitting process on their own is enough to halt the custom home building dream in its tracks. We take this nightmare out of the buyer’s hands with our Purchase Protection Program, which guarantees we will obtain all building permits prior to the lot settlement. We also pass the permitting fees on to the client at cost, with no markup.
Because a construction-to-perm loan is very different from a simple 30-year fixed mortgage, we assist our buyers by vetting banks and their programs. Not all banks are created equal, so our CFO continuously shops lenders based on the best programs and rates currently available in the marketplace. Taking it a step further, our COO interviews brokers from that institution to make sure their customer service is second to none. This approach boosts confidence in the financial foundation for the transaction and helps reduce the time it takes for a buyer to identify a lender and move through the loan approval process—which in turn helps accelerate the overall custom-building timeline.
Expanded Design and Floor Plan Choices
The pool of buyers interested in a custom home has expanded as the inventory of existing homes has contracted. The trend toward remote working has also changed buyer preferences. To meet this demand, we have designers and architects on our team who stay current with today’s trends. We continually expand our selection of floor plans and home styles. Our portfolio of plans now varies from the traditional ranches, Cape Cods, and Colonials, to Craftsman and contemporary styles.
Building Our Brand
Marketing our unique approach is an important factor in attracting prospective buyers. We use traditional forms of advertising such as print and billboards, and we also have an active social media presence.
We build our reputation for expertise and industry leadership through public relations efforts that generate media coverage. We’ve also had success with special events that promote our company as being fun-loving, down-to-earth, and community-minded. One example is our He(shed) vs. She(shed) competition, where we had in-house teams compete against each other to build the ultimate man cave or she shed. The promotion involved our local community and raised money that was donated to charity.
Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities
While the recent housing market has created obstacles for buyers looking to purchase an existing home, it can be an opportunity for custom home builders. The key to motivating buyers to commit now is easing the path forward. We do that by offering a comprehensive process where we do all of the heavy lifting behind the scenes to create a stress-free, seamless experience for buyers. For the health of our own business, our model is to do all of this while keeping our own costs down. Providing access to land, without the inventory associated with owning land, is an important contributor to a healthy balance sheet.
Peter Rotelle is president and CEO of Rotelle Development Co. and Rotelle Studio(e), an environmentally responsible land developer and premier custom builder, in Pottstown, Pa.