The definition of an omen is “a phenomenon supposed to portend good or evil; a prophetic sign”. The Etruscans developed reading omens and auspices into a form of science and knew different means of divination, including attempting to read the future by examining the entrails of sacrificial animals. Disasters were seen by Romans as manifestations of divine disapproval and unusual phenomena as portents of catastrophe. In the modern Western world such reliance has fallen into disfavor and there is little common belief in omens today but sometimes I wonder if we just fail to heed the signs.
I am certainly not an augur or haruspex and claim no psychic powers but perhaps there are omens out there that we have just not learned to read. My wife and I went out to dinner last night. Driving up to the restaurant we noticed that many of the letters in their sign were out and my wife jokingly suggested that perhaps that was an omen and we should choose another place for dinner but we did not. We sat down at a table and were greeted by our server who introduced himself as Jerry; he seemed pleasant enough. And the manager, Tom, who we had met several times before, also came by to say hello.
From the first course, the meal was an absolute disaster featuring poorly cooked food including raw pork that was even worse when replaced fifteen minutes later. And walking out of the restaurant we realized that the experience was entirely our fault for we had ignored the obvious auguries – the first being the sign itself announcing an obvious problem to come, and the second was the fact that we had placed ourselves in the hands of Tom and Jerry.
I am convinced that there are omens every day for the homebuilding industry. These do not require examining the entrails of sacrificial animals for they are clearly visible to those who take the time to look:
- When your houses only sell after providing substantial price discounts (even with the tax credit in place), is that perhaps an omen that the market is not perceiving appropriate value in your homes?
- When a new ad does not generate qualified traffic within the first two weeks, instead of blaming the weather or a football game, could that instead be a portent that the ad is not working and needs to be changed?
- When the competition next door is outselling you four-to-one, is that possibly a sign that the buyers are not finding what they want in your community and homes and that now would be a good time to do a thorough competitive study and exit survey?
- When the area of town in which you have concentrated your developments has seen its market share slip by 50%, could that be construed as an auspice that you should be looking to build in a different location?
- When the prospective buyers and the brokers are telling the sales staff that the basic features you provide are not adequate, is that not an omen that your level of quality is inadequate and that your standard included features need to be revised?
- When the competition has designed all new homes and they are enjoying strong market acceptance (taking away your sales), would that not be a portent that the home designs that you have been building for the past five years have outlived their appeal and need to be updated or replaced?
- When the demographics of the marketplace have changed dramatically is that not a sign that it is time to change your target markets?
- When your market share continues to erode dramatically, is that not an auspice that your business plan needs to be thoroughly reexamined?
- And finally, when you are not making the budgeted profit, is that not an omen that unless you make some fundamental changes in the operation, you will soon be making some fundamental changes in your life?
I believe that the best way for a homebuilder or residential developer to read, interpret and understand these omens, signs, portents and auspices is to perform a thorough market study for each marketplace and each community and update those studies on a regular basis. “There are none so blind as those who will not see” (John Heywood, 1546). But that’s just my opinion.
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