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Where are We Going?
By George Porter
Where are we going is a good question, but when are we going
to get there might be even better. What the future
holds for the industry is nothing but an intuitive guess, but
it will have to be different from what we have done in the past.
At least most people think so, but not everyone. Lots of people
I have talked to say most of our troubles started when we left
out roots and tried to become "mainstream" housing.
They say we build too much house, that the homes require too
much on-site work and cost way more than "basic shelter"
has to. Why did we start to compete with "real houses?"
When we were building simple homes in the 60's and 70's we sold
a bunch of them except when the gas crunch happened and that sort
of crippled everything for a while. Back when our homes were
cheap we didn't have the financing troubles we have now. I have
actually had people say to me that it was better back then when
the customer didn't expect so much. People bought an inexpensive
home and they usually got more than they expected in value and
comfort. Now they are buying a home that takes a much larger
share of their income and they want to compare it to what they
"think" a home costing twice as much out to be. Truth
is that our homes today, in many cases, are better than most homes
costing three times as much. The value is there if the home is
There are others that say that we should be competing with
"bricks and sticks". They have the zoning and financing
and that is where we need to be. Anything less is unfair and
discriminatory! Sometimes I think we lose sight of exactly what
we are and we have done a less than adequate job of portraying
ourselves. We are a building process using a federal building
code. We are not necessarily a "lifestyle." We just
build homes and we seem to forget that we can build almost any
kind of home we want to. Big, little, expensive or inexpensive,
it doesn't matter. If we want granite countertops and total tape
and texture homes we can have them. But, if we want to build a
structure that will do little more than take a family off the
street we can do that too.
I keep thinking back to the Ford Thunderbird and how it changed
over the years. When it started it was a small sports car and
it stayed that way for three or four years. It was selling like
crazy and was clearly something that the public wanted. Then it
got a little bigger each year after that with more and more options
until it was a four-door luxury car like the Lincoln. Then they
changed it again to be a more affordable as a mid-priced two-door
car. Ford stopped making both the "T" Bird and its
half brother the Cougar a few years ago and then they brought
the Cougar back as a sporty small car. In the last year the Thunderbird
has returned as a luxury sports car with the little round window
just like they had in the very first models thirty years ago.
The point being, Ford thought if people liked their product
that they would like it more if it had more, they "morphed"
it into something that they could not sell much of apparently.
While I do not see ourselves doing exactly this with our homes,
returning to our roots is an option that seems to be overlooked
by most. People don't mind small homes, just look at the success
of the travel trailer industry lately. It is the best it has
On the other hand we have done pretty well in places with some
real showcase homes Maybe we need all the products we can get
in these troublesome times? Maybe we need to invent up as well
as down? We can have products that compete with conventional
housing as well as perhaps carve ourselves out a new market by
inventing ourselves all over again. People still need housing,
just like in the 60's and 70's. Can you imagine how much better
we could build one of those types of homes now with the materials
and production techniques we have today?
What ever happened to the popularity of single section home?
If we built them and developed a place for them in the housing
of the nation, what would be our competition? Clearly conventional
housing is the competition for multi-section homes but what would
an eight to nine hundred square foot single section compete with
except an apartment. If memory serves me correctly that is what
I used to sell against for twenty years, buy a home for less than
rent and have equity, what a deal
If such a small home existed and was properly installed with
the care a good home deserves, it would be a great benefit to
the people who don't need a full size home, but don't want to
collect rent receipts either. There are very few really nice "little"
homes around today and no one I know is trying to promote them.
In Canada they call them "mother-in-law homes" and
they have found a place in the housing stock for them. They are
usually located some where near the main family home and the grandparents
have a place of their own.
We may have somewhat moved away from our own special niche
in the marketplace, the place where nobody could do what we did
better. We made affordable small homes and built an industry
around them. In addition to the big beautiful homes we make today
I think we need to offer the product that established the industry
as well. If you look at housing on a global scale, most of the
world considers eight hundred square feet a big home. And, it
is a pretty big world. It is a void that needs filling and with
the creativity this industry has shown in the past I am sure we
can do it if we try. It sure beats waiting for something good