There’s an App for That – Getting Plugged in in the Housing Industry

Millennials, they are the hot target audience for so many industries. The companies and brands that can best understand them, market to them and predict them are having great success. So what does it look like to be a millennial home buyer? Millennials are changing the way we do business and the way that the home building industry both builds and markets homes.


Photo credit – incitrio

“Millennials, the cohort of Americans born between 1980 and the mid-2000s, are the largest generation in the U.S., representing one-third of the total U.S. population in 2013. With the first cohort of Millennials only in their early thirties, most members of this generation are at the beginning of their careers and so will be an important engine of the economy in the decades to come” (White House). This large sector of the population makes a big impact on the housing industry, and it is our job to understand and appeal to this powerful generation.

Millennials are efficient and they are always plugged in. If they need answer about the price of a home, they will google it. If they do not know what homes are available in their price range, I’m sure there is an app for that. Appealing to millennials involves transparency and accessibility of information (Entrepreneur). Home builders are now providing social media follow ups on the progress of homes, mobile websites for on the go access and fast brand interaction with customers via social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. When millennials connect, so do home building companies such as Sable Homes.

The home purchasing process for millennials is much different than home buyers in the past. According to Forbes, when it comes to home buying, “millennials expect a friction-less journey.” With apps and websites such as Zillow home buying and searching is at the tip of our fingertips.

Credit - Henry4school

Credit – Henry4school

“The Internet has brought the expectation that things happen instantly. They expect the same to be true when looking at different housing options. While online platforms like Zillow are creating an extremely competitive landscape, the most successful realtors and independent home sellers are leveraging the information millennials are finding online to develop more connected, transparent in-person relationships” (Forbes).

Millennials not only demand fluidity of the home buying process, but they are very much influenced by reviews, opinions and peers. Millennials constantly seek out answers or verification. At the touch of a button millennials can see what the schools are like in a particular neighborhood, how much the homes around their choice are estimated at or share the home information with a friend for review. With the constantly evolving technological landscape, especially within the housing industry, Sable Homes continues to evolve to meet the demands of all generations of home buyers. It is increasingly essential for realtors and home builders to both understand millennials and provide the resources for them to find a home virtually.

Sable Homes Announces Promotions and New Hire

 Sable Homes, a home builder specializing in high quality, energy efficient construction in West Michigan, has announced the promotion of Karin Kay to general manager. Ron Austin will assume the role of sales manager and focus on the company’s marketing strategies. Kirsten Platto has joined Sable Home’s as a digital marketing specialist.

While using the latest technologies to create the regions healthiest homes, Kay will play a pivotal role in leading Sable’s efforts to build cost effective homes with the latest features and amenities.  Kay began her career at Sable as a new home sales consultant, and since then has held the positions of marketing assistant, new home consultant, and design and marketing specialist. Kay earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Aquinas College. She is a member of the Grand Rapids Association of Realtors and the Home Builders Association of Greater Grand Rapids.

Karin Kay

“I am honored to take on this leadership role at Sable Homes,” said Kay. “In an industry where the majority of purchasing decisions are influenced by women, I am thrilled to fill a role that is typically viewed as male dominated.”

In his new role as sales and marketing manager, Austin will now focus on all aspects of marketing Sable to the next generation of home buyers. Austin has been in the residential real estate business for 15 years and a licensed real estate broker for 12 years.  Austin is a member of the National Association of Realtors, Michigan Association of Realtors and the Grand Rapids Association of Realtors.

Ron Austin

“We are focused on providing homebuyers with exceptional value, in the most desirable communities for years to come,” said Austin. “With Sable selling 100 homes so far in 2015, and having sold just over 100 homes during 2014, Sable needs a concentrated effort in sales and marketing to sustain a continual growth to fulfill customer demands.”

Kirsten Platto joined the Sable Homes team as their new digital marketing specialist. Platto’s areas of expertise include digital media, marketing and creative writing. She graduated from Grand Valley State University with a degree in communications. She was involved with the Susan G. Komen walk to raise funds for breast cancer awareness and research. Platto’s previous experiences include social media interning for Spectrum Health, marketing for The Lemon Bowl, event services for Blythefield Country Club and more.

Kirsten Platto

“We are privileged to have the opportunity to provide new homes for more families this year than ever before, said John Bitely, president of Sable Homes. “Because of our recent growth and the boom in West Michigan’s housing starts, it is necessary to look to the future and build a strategic team for the years to come.”

About Sable Homes      

Combining affordability with craftsmanship, Sable Homes has been building high-quality, energy-efficient homes for West Michigan families since 1996. For more information about our communities, visit our web page,, or follow us on Facebook.

Fall Home Maintenance Tips

By Karin Kay, Sable Homes General Manager

Gearing up for fall means jeans, flannel, changing of colors and football! It can also mean home maintenance, which is just as fun! Okay, maybe not, but seasonal home check-ups can save you a lot of time and money down the road, and that is fun!

With fall coming, that also means chillier temperatures. Heating and cooling companies get very busy in the winter months, so make sure you do a through check of your furnace and fireplace. This way, if there are any problems you can make an appointment before the inevitable Michigan winter comes storming through.

“Heating and cooling amount to 47% of the energy costs in your home. Proper sealing and insulation can save up to 20% on heating and cooling costs, or up to 10% on your total annual energy bill,” says Katie Cody, spokeswoman for Lowe’s.

While you are at it, check the insulation on your home. An adequate amount of insulation will not only keep your house warmer in the winter, but it will also save you money on heating bills, which is a bonus. Make sure you have enough insulation, and that the insulation is properly installed.

Everyone’s favorite chore…raking leaves. The plus side is raking leaves is 1. Good exercise 2. An excuse to get outdoors 3. Raked leaves can be used in the compost pile or use as mulch.

“Whatever you do, don’t waste fallen leaves because they’re an excellent source of nutrients and organic matter. You can also add them to flower beds to put a winter blanket on your garden” (DIY). It is a triple win. Just remember to clean those leaves out of your gutters and downspouts as well!

Make sure you check “foundation for cracks and caulk around the areas where masonry meets siding, where pipes or wires enter the house, and around the windows and door frames to prevent heat from escaping” (BobVilla). Water or moisture sneaking into cracks can cause rot or damage.

If you’re itching for a fall project or home improvement weekend, fall is a great time to do some painting. In fact, “lower humidity and cooler (not yet cold) temperatures make fall a good time to paint the exterior of your home” (DIY). Try a shade of gray with white trim for a clean and cozy year-round color.

Interior Design Trends #ontrend

What’s trending? #interiordesigntrends

Geometric and abstract shapes are popping up everywhere both in graphic design and interior design. “Gem shaped accents make for an easily up-gradable accessible moment in any room” said Nate Berkus (Huffington Post).  A great way to play up this trend and add some dimension to your room is to use geometrical shaped mirrors as wall art. Position them above a couch or in a darker corner to add some texture and light.

A continuing kitchen design trend is open shelving. Try using rustic wood boards as open shelving for kitchen items or choose a more modern look with simple white or black shelves that will showcase your dining sets. Open kitchen shelving looks great with matching white dishes with pops of color such as colored vase or bouquet of flowers

Photo: Food 52

Photo: Food 52

Mid century modern is hot right now! The clean lines of mid century furniture blended with the big and bold artwork that is trending now, make for a sophisticated and timeless living space. A great way to incorporate mid-century looks is by taking a piece of furniture that you are tired of or needs some revamping. Hardware and home improvement stores sell mid century table legs or furniture legs (Buzzfeed). Adding these legs to a dated dresser can instantly transform a piece of furniture into a midcentury conversation piece.

Investing in an entire set of patterned or bold living room seating can be daunting. A better way to add color and bold patterns to a room is by using statement chairs. Keep the beige, gray, black or white couch as a neutral backdrop, but bring in a bold statement chair to add a nice splash of color to the mix. This is less of a commitment and ensures that the room will not look too busy. (Telegraph).



A trend that has been around for a while, and is continuing to grow, and will hopefully continue to expand, is the sustainability trend. Society is increasingly realizing the value that sustainable home design and decor has for the community and the Earth. Sustainability is no longer a trend, it is a movement towards improving our lives and the lives of those in the future. Your part in the sustainability movement can be as simple as using re-purposed materials in your home design or decor. Try using re-purposed pallets as a platform for a bed or build raised bed gardens using scrap wood.




Inside Track: Blue-collar housing and strong work ethic are nice fit

John Bitely’s ‘never give up’ farmer’s mindset saw his Sable Homes through the Great Recession.

By Grand Rapids Press, Mike Nichols

John Bitely always wanted to be a farmer.

Although his career started out with tilling the land for a living, eventually his life took him on a different journey.

In some ways he’s still a farmer, but the crop he’s harvesting now isn’t corn — it’s houses.

As the owner of Sable Homes, a Rockford-based residential development firm, he’s seen many a plentiful harvest in the last couple of years.

“My crop is development. The crop I plant now is the last plant of that land.

“We’re blue-collar housing. We’re the workingman’s home. We do some entry-level, we’ve done high-end — and we can do it, but our main focus is blue-collar housing.


“We also do development, which we haven’t’ done much of for about six years because everything fell on its ear,” he said, referring to the Great Recession and the bursting of the housing bubble.

“We used to be happy with (building) 25 to 30 homes a year. … We’ll do more than 100 homes this year.”

Bitely grew up in Sparta, the son of a part-time farmer. He graduated from Sparta High School in 1983, by which time he was already renting and working part of his family’s farm.

His parent’s work ethic was one of the best gifts he’s ever received, he said.

“The work ethic — either from my parents or my own internal drive — is probably my biggest break,” he said. “Everything has built on everything else for me. It’s not like, ‘Oh, this thing happened and everything else was gold.’”

Although he was accepted to Michigan State University after high school, Bitely decided not to go to college and to focus on farming instead, although he did attend Kent Skills Center to learn more about the mechanics of farming equipment.

“I liked girls and beer better than education, and I knew all I would have done was chase girls and drink beer,” he said. “I was actually mature — or at least practical enough — that I knew I wasn’t going to waste the money attending college for those purposes.”

After high school, Bitely got a job working at his uncle’s seed farm in Sparta called Post Farms. He loved the work, but eventually he began to realize his passion for farming wasn’t paying off for him.

“Farming’s in your blood. You till the land, you grow things, you’re around livestock. It’s a very noble way to make a living. It doesn’t pay a lot of money, but it’s not a bad thing.

“The problem was the timeframe. Farming was becoming very business-orientated. The family farms were dying left and right, and that’s what I was really trying to come into. And as a family, we weren’t wealthy. We had small landholdings.

“As time went on, I had to do something to generate enough money to make my initial stake ever happen. And with that came (the realization): ‘I’m going to work my whole life to have a decent job if I am stuck in farming,’” he said.

“My whole upbringing was I wanted to be a farmer. I loved agriculture, loved working the land — loved all that stuff. And my total focus right out of high school was growing a small farming operation into something I could make a living at. A couple of years into that, it just wasn’t making sense. It’s a tough way to make a living. It was a slow, tough, long haul.”

Bitely took a second job as a truck driver for Burlingame Lumber, which eventually became Wolohan Lumber, in Wyoming.

He left that company and started working for Standard Lumber in 1985. He had to create his job because the outside sales position he wanted didn’t yet exist.

“I (presented) the pro forma to my manager, and it was truly farm-boy written. It was a hand-written pro forma of business available. … My manager looked at it and pretty much dropped his teeth. I think he was shocked at what I had given him,” he said.

The manager sat Bitely down and told him he was too young and inexperienced and, since the job would be paid by straight commissions, he wouldn’t be able to afford to do it.

But since Bitely still had extra income from part-time farming, he pressed upon his boss that he was prepared to take it on.

“It was one of those weird conversations where I don’t really think I knew what it meant at the time, and I don’t think he really had any idea what it meant. … That might have been the big break because my manager believed in me from that day on.”

“Later on, when I left that company, there was me and one other salesman who, every single month, had the number one volume in sales, and I always had the best margins. So they were writing me some big checks,” he said.

“That job afforded me 10 years of education in the building industry, and you can’t go to any college to get that information and experience,” Bitely said.

During his time at Standard Lumber, Bitely got out of the farming business for good. In a way, he said, the time he spent farming was unfair to his then-growing family because it took him away from them and it really wasn’t helping pay the bills.

“Eventually, it came down to: I could make $5 to $7 an hour farming, or I could go out and put siding on a house for $15 an hour,” he said.

“I still have the heart for farming, but it was a commitment to my family. Maybe growing up (meant) giving up the childish hope of wanting to be a farmer for the reality that I could do so much better for my family and myself.”

In 1995, Bitely and his friend, Kelly Powell, now the owner of the farming tourist attraction Deer Tracks Junction in Cedar Springs, started Sable Homes together.

Ever since, Bitely said his No. 1 frustration is when townships, municipalities and states make rules that do not allow him to “grow as nice a crop for (our) parcels.”

The business grew well but then suffered during the Great Recession like most in the construction industry. Bitely believes it was his farmer’s mentality that helped the company survive those slow years.

“When the whole economy was upside down and everybody said you can’t make money building houses … part of the mindset was ‘farmers never give up,’” he said. “It’s that belief that every spring is going to be better.”

Sable Homes was one of the few builders left standing when the bleeding from the Great Recession finally stopped. In its wake, the business found itself facing a pent-up demand from an industry that hadn’t built houses for about six years.

And although Bitely now has plenty of work to keep himself busy, he still has one hobby that hasn’t fully left him and probably never will: gardening.

Farming is in the blood, after all.

“I’ve always got a garden. No one else in the family has interest in it, and most of it I just give away. (I grow) potatoes, sweet corn, strawberries and pumpkins,” he said.

“I probably walk out to the garden three or four times a week just to look at it — just because.”

Renting vs. Buying

By Ron Austin, Sable Homes General Manager

Renting versus buying is a hot debate right now! This is especially true for young professionals who are caught between rising rental rates and the upfront costs of buying a home compounded with changes in  mortgage rates. How does one make the decision between renting or buying? When renting you avoid hidden home ownership costs such as maintenance, taxes and added utilities. You also do not require the commitment of purchasing a home as a more permanent housing option. However, when you buy a home your mortgage payments and extra costs could be lower than the rising costs of renting. You also gain the freedom to do as you wish with your space, and many times home ownership allows for more space than rentals will. Decisions, decisions.

Ron Throupe, an associate professor of real estate at the University of Denver, says the biggest mistake future home buyers make is comparing a month’s rent to a month’s mortgage payment. A home payment is not simply a mortgage payment. Rather it includes a mortgage payment, utilities, and other extra factors to consider.

Throupe says, “Many people don’t have all the numbers. There are many additional fees you need to include to make a fair comparison: the principal interest, property taxes, property insurance, homeowner’s association fees and maintenance” (USNews). There are many factors that come into play with the decision to rent or buy, and while renting is low maintenance and noncommittal, many times buying is a better option, especially with the hikes in rental rates. In the past five years, a typical rent rose 15% while the income of renters grew by only 11%. (RealtorAssociation).

The trends as of late show an increase in demand for homes, with limited supply. As noted by the Realtor Association, “A way to relieve housing costs is to increase the supply of new home construction – particularly to entry-level buyers. Builders have been hesitant since the recession to add supply because of rising construction costs, limited access to credit from local lenders and concerns about the re-emergence of younger buyers.”

Many young professionals are seeing the benefit in home ownership over renting despite the competitive supply of homes. The transition from renters to buyers is articulated in a study by Trulia which shows a significant increase in renters who have the intention of buying. This study cited the “top three reasons why they want to purchase a home”

  • 49 percent say they like being able to call themselves home owners.
  • 44 percent say they view home ownership as a good financial investment.
  • 36 percent say they need more space for their family and children. (RealtorMag)

The decision between renting and buying includes many facets and factors that come into play. Regardless of one’s housing choices, it is certain that the housing market is on an upswing, and it is likely that we will continue to see growth both in the rental market as well as in new home investments.

Demand is High, Supply is Lagging

By: Ron Austin, Sable Homes General Manager

The demand for homes is expanding in Michigan, however the construction of new homes has been lagging behind. Why is this? City officials note, “construction is about to come to an abrupt halt not for lack of demand –but lack of vacant lots” (Mlive). So then, the demand for homes is still there, but the infrastructure development is costly, and the availability of vacant lots is dwindling.

In Michigan, the cost of developing the sites is an obstacle for many home builders as the municipal requirements are expensive and require extensive permitting.  Home builders and developers are hesitant to jump into infrastructure for lots due to the lack of inventory as well as the risk involved with development.

The costs to build the housing infrastructure can vary. “At the local level, jurisdictions may charge permit, hook-up, and impact fees and establish development and construction standards that either directly increase costs to builders and developers, or cause delays that translate to higher costs” (NAHB).These higher costs translate into hesitation for new constructions and new developments that have the potential to provide more risk than reward.

There is a level of uncertainty involved with the home development market. This risk stems from “competition from sales of distressed existing properties, uncertainty about the health of the overall economy and labor markets, and difficulty in qualifying prospective buyers for mortgages” (NAHB).  However, developers are still interested, but they are paying close attention to commercial and job growth as well as trends in the housing market. The development investments must strike a balance between the cost of the investment, the current housing demand, and the existing government regulations.

Sable Homes took a gamble on the Central Park Property in Sparta, and the market was in our favor as 20 new homes were built on the property to serve the needs of the developing economy and bustling community. There is most certainly a risk that was tied in with the purchase and development of the Central Park Property, but with community ties and help from the village in purchasing the property the risk was well worth it.


Home Maintenance Tips

By Ron Austin, Sable Homes General Manager

Great, you have purchased your first home! Congratulations! Now is the time to keep up on your home maintenance on a routine schedule. This way your home stays up to date, up to code, and well maintained for future use.  Homes that lack proper up keeping end up being a bigger and bigger problem down the road. It is best to stay on top of your home care to nip any potential issues at the bud.


Fire prevention tips help to save your home from a potential disaster. Remember to vacuum out the clothes dryer duct and replace HVAC filters to improve circulation. It is also very important to change the dryer lint screen after each use to prevent buildup which can cause fires. (Popular Mechanics). In terms of electrical, be sure to check your outlets to ensure that they use ground fault circuit interrupters. These devices shut off an electrical circuit at the point when they come a potential shock hazard (NFPA).

Outdoor maintenance is important in protecting the structure and the curb appeal of your home. Routinely check your roof for repair spots or water damage and remember to clean out clogged gutters. Gutters capture water and debris from your roof and drain it away from your home. When they get clogged water and gunk accumulates and can lead to water damage (Popular Mechanics)

Summer is a great time to check the exterior of your home for potential issues. Make sure to take a look at deck or patio to check for any deterioration or safety hazards. A great way to maintain your deck is to clean and seal each year to preserve the wood and appearance. (HFHAC). Also, remember to have your roof inspected by a licensed professional every few years to ensure that there are no leaks or water damages. (Travelers).

Making sure that you stay on top of seasonal home check ups and maintenance will prevent  future headaches that may arise out of poor home upkeep. Many of these tips are quick easy checks or fixes that take less than a weekend to do, and they most definitely will pay off in the long run.


Gamble on swapping park for homes paying dividends for Sparta

By Jeffrey Cunningham | 
Email the author
on July 21, 2015 at 5:09 PM

SPARTA — When the Sparta Village Council voted in July of 2013 to sell the former 4.46-acre Central Park property to developers for new homes, the thought was that it could take up to five years to fully build out the 20 lots.

Central Town Square .jpg

(This home at the corner of Union and Grove streets was built where home plate was in the baseball field of the former Central Park)

It was a gamble village leaders were willing to take at the time to get the stalled housing market moving in Sparta. It was also an opportunity to shed some of the excess property the village owned.

The gamble for the village has paid off. In less than two years, all of the 20 home sites have been sold and houses have been built on the sites.

Many of the new residents to Central Town Square, like Virginia Huffman, said the new homes on the former park were exactly what they were looking for.

The former Rockford resident said her family had been looking for homes in the Rockford area, but couldn’t find what they wanted. “We moved here because we found a home that we liked,” she said. “We knew the village and this is s good location for us.”

Built by Sable Homes of Rockford, the houses have sold for $135,000 to $180,000.

The village hasn’t quite recovered all of the $277,000 it invested in the property since it took ownership in 2009 from Sparta Public Schools, but village leaders say the investment has clearly paid off.

“This is a case where government could do things to help get a development like this built that private industry most likely couldn’t have gotten done,” said Sparta Village Manager Julius Suchy.

Sable Homes president John Bitely said that without the help from the village in the form of being able to purchase the property at below market value, he would not have been able to build the new homes.

The village bought the property in 2009 from Sparta Public Schools after the school district closed the former Central School.

It cost the village $145,000 to demolish the former school and grade the property. The village paid the school district an additional $100,000 in water credits for the property and with other costs associated with the purchase, Suchy said the village had an estimated $277,000 invested in the property.

The agreement with the school district was that if the land eventually sold for a profit, the village and the school district would share the proceeds.

The village sold the property in 2013 to Sable homes for $120,000, leaving the village with a net loss of $157,000.

As the 20 homes were built and hooked to the village’s water and sewer systems, the hookup fees netted the village $93,000, leaving the village $64,000 in the hole.

Fifteen of the 20 new homes were on the 2015 village property tax rolls, which netted the village another $18,000, leaving the village roughly $44,000 left before it had paid off its costs associated with the development.

With the five additional homes on the 2016 tax rolls, the village will take in at least $21,000 annually on the homes in the development.

“It will take another couple of years before we are in the black with this project from a development standpoint, but I think the village is already ahead as the stores and restaurants are already seeing an increase in traffic from having additional residents in the downtown area,” Suchy said.

5 Interior Design Trends in 2015

By Karin Kay

Gone are the days of beige and cream walls, fake plants, gaudy wallpapers, heavy fabrics in burgundy floral designs, and tiled counter tops. The trends of 2015 are timely, easily customized, and they create a space that is both bright and bold, industrial yet cozy, and trendy yet timeless.

1. Gray is the new beige. Gray tones and varying shades of gray are all over the place right now. Gray is the new neutral, and it complements almost anything. Light gray walls replace the beige walls of the past, and they provide a cool and comforting canvas. Bright colors and bold patterns really stand out against the gray backdrop. The versatile gray color palette is allows for customization and it is sure to stand the test of time (HGTV).

2. Industrial-rustic styles are hot right now. This style mixes industrial pieces with the rustic wood. Copper metal accents are especially popular as lighting pieces, accent decor, and storage furniture such as a bar table. Re-purposed wood paired with metal and industrial pieces create a harmony of structure and natural elements (HGTV).

3. Accent Walls (Bold or dark colors) – It is a big commitment to decide which color to paint a particular wall, and if you are anything like me and you cannot choose between colors, accent walls are a great way to go. When they are paired with a neutral complementary wall, accent walls add a splash of color and a hint of depth. My favorite accent wall color is the dark blue-gray paired with gold accent pieces and picture frames. The blue-gray is a deep, elegant way to add a touch of sophistication to an otherwise bright and neutral room (WSJ).

4. Succulents are a growing trend for 2015, even if you do not have a green thumb. These plants add a nice splash of life to a sunny corner of your home. They are relatively easy plants, and require very little watering. Try placing three succulents on a windowsill that receives significant sunlight. The combination of odd numbers and use of greenery are easy on the eyes and give life to a room.

Free Stock Photo of Succulents

5. Minimalism. Less is more with this interior design trend. Say goodbye to fussy design, clutter, and complex home layouts. Minimalism embraces the clean lines, open concept layouts, and simple yet “stand out” accent pieces. A great way to embrace minimalism design is to create a black and white photo wall using simple black frames. Arrange the frames to create a collage of photos on the wall. Each photo creates a piece of art using the wall as the entire art piece.