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The Kevin Costner film, Field of Dreams, is a favorite movie of sports fans, and of baseball fans, in particular. Based on W. P. Kinsella’s novel, Shoeless Joe, the movie follows the struggles of an Iowa farmer, Ray Kinsella, who tries desperately to wring enough money from his farm to keep the lenders who hold the mortgage on it at bay. He begins to hear a voice saying, “If you build it, he will come.” He wonders if the voice is a dream, a symptom of a psychological problem, or the deliverer of an important message to him.
Ray’s wife Annie, played admirably in the movie by Amy Madigan, wonders, too. She listens to her husband describe the voice and the other messages it conveys: “Ease his pain”; and “Go the distance”. Then Ray sees a baseball field in the middle of his corn and an apparition of the long-dead Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was a great player from the early twentieth century and who was his father’s favorite player, standing in the middle of the imaginary baseball diamond. He feels called to construct the field, and despite her concerns about her family’s security and her worries that they may soon lose their farm to creditors, Annie accedes to his plan to build the ball field.
Shoeless Joe and his teammates, who were banned from baseball for fixing the 1919 World Series, begin showing up and playing on Ray’s field. They seem to enjoy themselves, but Ray has trouble understanding how he fits into the picture. At a school board meeting, Annie argues against a group of parents who seek to ban books from the school’s library, particularly the books of Terrence Mann, who is a favorite author of her husband’s and hers. Ray then remembers a reference in one of Mann’s books to a baseball player named Kinsella and takes this as a sign that Terrence Mann might have the answer to what Shoeless Joe, the voices, and the field might mean for Ray Kinsella.
Costner’s character travels across the country to Boston and brings Terrence Mann, played wonderfully by the great James Earl Jones, back to his farm. Ray is still unclear about what is in it for him, but Shoeless Joe provides the answer. As the players are wrapping up their game and heading back into the cornfield where they magically disappear each night, he says to Ray, “If you build it, he will come”, and he nods toward a catcher who is removing his gear and staying behind. As Shoeless Joe disappears into the corn, Ray realizes it is the spirit of his father.
Later, still worried about the fate of his family and farm, Ray looks to Terrence Mann for assurance. Mann explains that the field will be an attraction that people will pay to see, and in the best lines of the movie, Mann assures him that, “People will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.” The movie ends with a scene of a road full of cars driving up to the Kinsellas’ cornfield that has become a field of dreams.
But why are we recounting this movie to you? First, it’s a great movie, one of our favorites. If you haven’t seen it, you should. If it’s been a while since you saw it, we recommend that you watch it again. This time, though, think about the voice, and what that iconic line, which we paraphrase here, might mean to your building business.
If you build it, they will come. “They” means your future customers, and the “it” is not a cornfield in Iowa. In this context the “it” is the kind of home your future customers are looking to buy.
It’s easy to get in a rut and stay with a product that has been successful in the past, even after that product is no longer as popular as it once was. The auto industry has experienced this with some regularity. Large cars with big fins were replaced by sportier models with big engines that eventually were replaced by aerodynamic fuel-efficient vehicles. Station wagons gave way to vans that gave way to SUVs, and gas guzzlers are being replaced by hybrids and electric cars. Nearly every industry goes through this, and the homebuilding industry is no exception.
Today’s new home buyers are different from the ones twenty, ten or even five years ago. The Covid pandemic has caused some of the open floor plans of recent years to give way to more private spaces in houses to allow for home offices and quiet places for students to attend class remotely. The new generation of homebuyers (under the age of forty) are placing added emphasis on patios and see the kitchen island, with its ability to serve the multiple purposes of additional workspace, a makeshift breakfast bar, and added storage, as more of a necessity.
Affordability is even more important to today’s new home buyers. In September 2023, the annual median new home price dropped by the largest amount since 2009, with most homes selling in the $150,000 to $499,999 range. Following a stretch of high inflation and with interest rates hovering near a twenty year high, many prospective new home buyers cannot afford to pay as much for a house as they might have paid two or three years ago.
To have more success and to gain an edge on your competition, it is a good idea to study what prospective buyers in your market want and then deliver that product at a price those prospects can afford to pay. If you do that, the people will come. They will most definitely come. And they will buy your houses.
Here’s hoping you continue to dream big and that you choose to go the distance with MHWC by your side. Have a great winter!
The 2023 National Sales Meeting, held in Harrisburg, PA, October 24-26, brought forth a blend of emotions as we welcomed new faces, felt the absence of some big personalities, and embarked on a journey to accomplish some major achievements.
At the 11th hour we got the unfortunate news that we would be without fellow colleagues Fred Taylor and Jana Watts for the weeklong rally. They were sorely missed personally and professionally, as two of our most prolific and confident “conversation starters.” Some new faces included Crystal Jackson from the Midwest, Tiaira Satchell covering the northern mid-Atlantic region, and Logan Canby as our new New Jersey Account Executive.
The other elephant in the room was the absence of our long-time leader and recent retiree, Sue Palkovic. Sue’s fingerprints were all over this meeting as most of the leg work putting it together came from her and Assistant Manager, Jody Lehman. Many thanks to both for shaping it up.
The first day of the meeting kicked off with 30 minutes of where we came from, where we are now, and where we’re going with President/Owner, George Parmer. Richard Swartz, Executive VP and Chief Counsel was up next to share his words of wisdom and encouragement. Additional managers who delivered presentations and lead brainstorming sessions included those from the IT Department, Insurance, and Marketing.
We also formally announced the results of our annual sales competition with Staci Cool taking first place and Fred Taylor grabbing second. Additional certificates of merit were awarded as well.
The 2nd annual Round Robin Session took place the next day at the corporate office. Account Executives were teamed up and conducted visits to the Membership, Enrollments, and Warranty Resolution Departments to gain insights into current developments and to refresh their knowledge of daily operations. The third and final morning started off with discussions of our Key Estates Extended Warranty Product. The afternoon allowed management to rejoin the sales team for a comprehensive review of the Round Robin sessions. The conversation proved to be productive and forward thinking. Such opportunities for the Account Executives to interact and brainstorm with the staff at the corporate headquarters are priceless. It creates a chemistry and camaraderie that is enviably portrayed in our business practices with our members and their homeowners.
Ambition was high heading into the meeting. We’ve put a lot on our plate for 2024. There’s one way to get there. In the words of Rich Swartz (quoting his track and field coach) - “Run as hard as you can for as long as you can.” and that's exactly what we plan to do.
After decades of dedicated service and unwavering commitment, VP of Sales, Suzanne Palkovic, bid farewell to RWC & Affiliates this summer as she embarks on a well-deserved retirement.
Sue began her career at RWC in October 1987 as our Pennsylvania sales representative after a short stint selling life insurance for another company. Her devotion to her job, her coworkers and the company led then Vice President of Sales Lynn Nelson-Probst to promote Sue to Assistant Sales Manager in 1994.
By virtue of her imagination and ability to see projects through to the end, Sue was promoted to Director of Research and Development in 2001, and in 2003 she was named Vice President of Marketing, Research and Development. After Lynn Nelson Probst retired, Sue became our Vice President of Sales in June of 2015, the position she held until her retirement. During her last eight years with the company, she managed our entire sales force and was a constant proponent of superior customer service for our builder members. Sue was a tireless worker for our company. Her strong leadership and keen understanding of the warranty marketplace contributed greatly to our companies’ success. We will miss her wit, her wisdom, her tenacity, and her dedication.
Sue is succeeded by our new National Sales Manager, Rich McPhee. Rich is new to the position, but not to the company, having served as a highly successful sales representative in the mid-Atlantic states for the last ten years. Sue had an opportunity to mentor Rich, and we are happy to report that he has hit the ground running.
Sue plans to travel, spend time with her family, and become more active supporting causes that are near and dear to her heart. She leaves RWC with our good wishes for a long, happy and healthy retirement and with heartfelt gratitude for many years of loyal service.
Optimism. It was a favorite theme of our parents when they told us to hold our heads high and keep our chins up. We heard it from coaches and teachers who suggested that we should look on the bright side of things. “Count your blessings,” is advice often heard from friends and counsellors. Optimism is a recurring element of books, movies and music. If we try hard enough, we can almost hear Louis Armstrong urging us to “Grab your coat, grab your hat, leave your worries on the doorstep. Just direct your feet to the sunny side of the street.”
Optimism has been described as hopefulness and confidence about the future or about the successful outcome of something. Most of us have lived long enough to know that an optimistic path filled with hope feels much better than the pessimistic one characterized by a sense of dread or despair. Medical and psychological research suggests that there are tangible and even provable positive effects when we live our lives optimistically.
Optimists feel healthier. If we tend to believe that life will work out in our favor, we are more likely to rate our sense of well-being and health higher. Optimists have a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and better cholesterol numbers and are generally healthier. Optimists live longer, and their immune systems are stronger. They tend to have better relationships with others, they enjoy their work more, and they are less prone to stress.
Being an optimist makes emotional, medical, and psychological sense. Sometimes, however, troubling circumstances can make even the most happy-go-lucky person worry, and doubt can creep in causing us to become, well, pessimistic. In these days of the twenty-four-hour news cycle and with the explosion of social media, it seems that, everywhere you look, someone is dying to tell you how bad things are and how worse they are going to get.
This constant drumbeat of negativity can affect people in all walks of life, and builders are not immune from the stories that affect us all. Some stories, however, hit closer to home with builders. Labor shortages and supply chain problems have lingered after the pandemic and still have not resolved. War in Europe has spooked financial markets and wreaked havoc on the price of oil. Inflation and the resultant hike in interest rates have made some homebuyers skittish and have driven some out of the market altogether.
When we think about these circumstances, we could hang our heads or mope around. But it is important, even in times like these, to be optimistic and to consider the words of Benjamin Franklin who wrote, “While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside us.” That is, we can choose to keep our chins up, count our blessings and look on the bright side of things. We control what happens inside us by staying optimistic, and in that way, we continue to enjoy life and reap the benefits that optimism brings.
Not letting these kinds of problems affect our mood or our outlook on life is healthy, but thinking positively about the future will not make the problems go away. What is an optimist to do in these circumstances? The great British statesman Winston Churchill answered this question when he wrote: “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.”
Rather than wringing his hands over a tough economy, the optimist looks for whatever opportunities these difficult times present. If we are not as busy building houses, we can identify our best workers and subcontractors and do those things necessary to keep them in the fold. We can also cull those who are problematic, who are not team players, or who do not fit into our long-term plans. We can analyze the market and check to see if the designs we offer our customers are consistent with current trends. We can sharpen our pencils and decrease expenses by finding the best value in building supplies and by looking for more efficient ways to build our homes. By seeing these opportunities in our present difficulties, the optimistic builder can make his company stronger and come roaring out of these doldrums at the helm of a better and more profitable company.
Making money from the work that goes into creating a business and running it well is good, but keeping those hard-earned dollars is even better. We believe one of the best ways for you to protect your bottom line and to hold on to more of your profits is to place a MHWC/RWC warranty on every home you sell. After closing on a home, you can get on with building the next one, confident that your homebuyers are in good hands and that any construction defect claims they have will be handled with the utmost care and professionalism.
In our decades of home warranty experience MHWC/RWC has covered more than four million homes. We offer a wide variety of warranty options and all warranties provide clear performance standards that help create realistic homeowner expectations and provide a road map to resolving even the stickiest customer complaints.
At MHWC/RWC, every guarantee our warranties make is backed by Western Pacific Mutual Insurance Company, RRG. Western Pacific has an A- rating from A.M. Best and only insures home warranty and similar new home construction risks. No other warranty company has an insurer with this kind of strength solely dedicated to covering builders and their homes.
We are optimists here at MHWC/RWC, and we know life is better on the bright side. Here’s hoping your homeowners and you join us there!
Have a great Summer!
RWC, HOME of Texas & MHWC are proud to announce our Annual Sales Achievement Awards for 2022. In spite of an economy that continues to give some pause for concern, our small but mighty sales force worked tirelessly to bring as many new builders into our warranty family as possible. Results for the year cracked the Top 5 standings of most new members added going back to before the Great Recession (or the last 14 years or so). We want to acknowledge their efforts and thank them for representing us well in the industry. As sales go, so too does the company. With this group, we are in good hands.
Outstanding Account Executive(s) of the Year: We had a tie this year. Rich McPhee (MD, NJ, DE and NYC metro area and parts of northern VA) and Staci Cool (IN, IL, OH, MI, WI and MN) both claimed top dog status in a category that encompasses much more than “simply” sales. They are true professionals, and we rely on them for their team leadership, knowledge, and steadfast support.
Most New Applications, Most Projected Homes, Most Big Builders (over 20 homes/year): Freddy Pesqueira (GA, FL, MS, TN, AL & KY) is a work horse, plain and simple. He is all over the southeastern corridor for us and his production shows. Because of his unmatched efforts, Freddy lays claim to several of our top awards for 2022.
Average Size New Member: Fred Taylor made his mark this year bringing in the biggest builders he could find, and we love that. Career builders are the foundation of our business, so we applaud Fred’s efforts. He also worked very hard at keeping all his members happy and was rewarded with the Best Retention Rate award as well.
Highest Approval Rate: Getting builders to apply can be a tall task sometimes. Making sure they get approved is yet another layer since we are quite selective when it comes to Membership qualification. Lydia Toscano led the charge in 2022 for getting the highest percentage of her applicants approved.
Congratulations to the entire Sales Force for a job well done. We also applaud the support team of Jody Lehman, Dana Myers, Agnes Brennan and Jana Watts, a group that makes the Account Executive’s job manageable for sure.
Three and a half decades ago, Tom, an old partner of mine, owned a sailboat, which he loved. Tom harbored his sailboat on the Chesapeake Bay about two and a half hours from our offices, and he used it for entertaining clients, taking his partners and staff on outings, fishing with friends, and sometimes just sailing for the pure joy of it. As he advanced through middle age, however, he found that his children were no longer kids, had developed interests of their own, and seldom wanted to sail on the bay. His wife, who was never much enamored of the boat, had grown to dislike it, and his friends had moved onto other hobbies. The boat was expensive to keep and always seemed to need repairs or maintenance. The physical exertion required to sail the boat had become harder for him to muster, which made his trips to Maryland less and less enjoyable as the years passed.
Eventually Tom concluded that it was time to sell the boat. He had located a buyer across the bay from where his boat was moored and planned to deliver the boat himself with one last sail across the Chesapeake. Tom stopped by my office early one week and asked me to clear my calendar for Friday to serve as his lone shipmate on that final trip. He told me it would be a long but exciting day and that a steak dinner would be waiting for us back at his house when we were finished. Tom was a mentor to me, a senior partner at our firm, and a genuinely good guy. I felt honored that he chose me to go on that last voyage, and I immediately accepted his invitation.
Friday came, and we left at dawn. By the time we usually started our workday, we were at the dock. It was cold for early October, and there was a strong wind blowing off the water and into our faces. I asked Tom which direction we would be heading, and he pointed right into the teeth of the wind to a spot of land across the bay that I could not see because of distance and the soupy conditions. In my imagination, this trip was to be a gentle ride with the wind at our back across calm waters under a sunny sky. Now it seemed impossible, and I muttered something to that effect. Tom untied a knot to loosen part of a sail and said, “It doesn’t matter which way the wind blows. What’s important is how you set your sails.” Tom could see I was puzzled, so he explained that we would have to tack across the water by positioning our sails so we could zig zag in the general direction of our destination without ever trying to move directly into the wind.
For the next six and a half hours I trimmed sail, kept shifting from one side of the boat to the other to help balance her, and tried to avoid the boom that would swing every time we changed direction. Eventually we sailed the “Lenore” into the marina that would be her new home and wearily returned to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for cocktails and a steak dinner that was savored even more than usually because of our adventure at sea that day.
I have not done much sailing since then, and I certainly don’t remember enough about the trip to tack a boat for six and a half hours into a strong Chesapeake Bay wind. But I have never forgotten the way my friend described a principle that every sailor knows and that every business person ought to know: “It doesn’t matter which way the wind blows. What’s important is how you set your sails.”
Lately America’s builders have dealt with some challenging issues. Supply chain problems and labor shortages persist. Inflation and rising interest rates have decreased consumers’ appetites for new homes. Sometimes, running a business these days, and particularly a home building business, can feel like you’re sailing into the strongest gales of a wicked Nor’easter. But even if the wind is against us, we can still make progress if we trim our sails and take a different tack, and here are some strategies we can use to navigate the current tough economic climate.
Pay close attention to your margins. Rising supply and labor costs coupled with low pricing by desperate competitors put profit margins at risk. Avoid this trap and make sure you make money on every house you build.
Stay on top of billing and collect what is owed. Cash is the life blood of a company and leaving it with the bank or the customer longer than necessary can place undue pressure on your operations. A good approach in tough times is to bill early, bill often and be persistent.
Make customer satisfaction a priority. Repeat customers and word of mouth advertising are worth their weight in gold. If you experience a slowdown, check in with old customers and double up on customer service. This investment of time and energy could lead to some immediate sales and plant seeds for future transactions when the economy loosens up.
Be creative. Some builders get too comfortable building the same product repeatedly. If you are in that rut, get out of it by learning what consumers want (or will soon want) and start building those products. Customer preferences for home size, lot size, floor plans, finishes, and a myriad of other variables change over time. Learn what your customers want, and creatively craft the homes of their dreams.
Protect your profit. Make sure that you are not overpaying for material, labor, or equipment, that you are not undercharging your buyers, and that you take reasonable steps to protect your bottom line. Well drafted sales agreements, appropriate liability insurance, and an insurance backed express warranty with a mandatory binding arbitration provision are essential elements of a well-run and profitable home building company.
MWHC/RWC has four decades of home warranty experience, covering more than four million homes. All warranties provide clear performance standards that help create realistic expectations in your homeowners and provide a road map to resolving even the stickiest customer complaints.
At MHWC/RWC, every guarantee our warranties make is backed by Western Pacific Mutual Insurance Company, RRG. Western Pacific has an A- rating from A. M. Best and ONLY insures home warranty and similar new home construction risks. No other warranty company has an insurer with this kind of strength solely dedicated to covering builders and their homes.
While the economic wind might be in our faces now, remember that it doesn’t matter which way the wind blows. What’s important is how you set your sails. Take MHWC/RWC aboard with you and let us help you successfully navigate these challenging times.
Have a great Fall & Winter!
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