Today was the primary election in Florida. This year was unusually tawdry even for Florida politics, pitting what in my opinion is arguably the most unqualified and dishonest group of politicians in both parties against each other in the dirtiest ever senatorial and gubernatorial primary races, a remarkable accomplishment for a state which excels at political incompetence and mud-slinging. As I was leaving breakfast that morning I noticed a large assemblage of crows in the parking lot of the restaurant and mentioned to my wife how appropriate that was – a murder of crows gathering on the morning of the death of political honesty.
Driving home I thought about the oddities of the English language in that there are so many different collective nouns that all mean “group” but which are specific to the particular thing described, some of the most colorful and appropriate in addition to “murder of crows” being: army of ants, wake of buzzards, congregation of crocodiles, tower of giraffes, horde of hamsters, crash of hippopotami, charm of hummingbirds, leap of leopards, plague of locusts and ambush of tigers.
I came to the conclusion that we need such a specific descriptive noun to apply to homebuilders. So I offer for your consideration the following: “a boondoggle of builders”. Try it yourself at the next meeting of your homebuilders association and let me know if you see a fit.
For the “youngsters” among my readers, a boondoggle is a project that wastes time and money. The term arose from a 1935 New York Times report that more than $3 million had been spent on dubious recreational activities for the jobless as part of the New Deal. Among these activities were crafts classes where the production of “boon doggles” (described in the article as various utilitarian “gadgets” made with cloth or leather) was taught.
Certainly this would apply to homebuilders who, failing to recognize the significant changes that have taken place in the market, continue to build stale and outdated home designs that require heavy discounting to sell. And the term is equally valid for developers who hold their land and homesites at 2005 values waiting in vain for the market to return to its former glory and pricing.
The term “boondoggle” may also be used to refer to protracted projects involving large numbers of people and usually heavy expenditure where, at some point, the key operators, having realized that the project will never work, are still reluctant to bring this to the attention of their superiors. I would think that the use of this definition would be appropriate for the staff of the major lenders in this country who value their REO so highly that it will never be sold but continue as an “asset” requiring the ongoing attention (and employment) of management personnel.
There is a new reality for the homebuilding industry. While markets will certainly improve over the next few years reaching what I believe will be a return to over 1,500,000 housing starts by the end of this decade, this new reality will continue to impact homebuilders, developers and lenders for many years to come.
We need valid strategies based on unbiased, thorough research. We need new, exciting, innovative and cost-efficient home designs that are different from resales and therefore do not compete head-to-head. We need communities that cater to the lifestyles of the viable market segments without adding undue cost from unnecessary and under-utilized structured amenities. We need professional new home salespeople that are trained, motivated and coached to maximum performance. And we need exciting, professionally conceived and implemented marketing utilizing the media that our buyers see, hear and to which they react positively.
Those that adapt will succeed and prosper while those that are bound by inertia or are unwilling to change will continue to fall by the wayside and then, instead of “a boondoggle of builders”, we may well be calling them “a bygone of builders”. But that’s just my opinion.
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