Our president John Bitely was interviewed by Mike Nichols of the Grand Rapids Business Journal to discuss Sable Homes’ recent growth spurt and how we got to where we are today.

Sable Homes sees major construction spurt

Mike Nichols – Grand Rapids Business Journal

There are bad problems to have and there are good problems to have.

John Bitely currently has what he believes are a number of very good problems. He can attribute those “problems” to being the owner of Sable Homes, a Rockford-based residential development firm that has been seeing phenomenal growth in recent years.

2013 was a breakthrough year for Sable, a year in which the company built and sold more homes than ever before, Bitely said. In the years before and during the Great Recession, the firm sold about 25 to 30 houses a year, he said, a number the firm was comfortable with maintaining.

In recent years, however, that average has changed dramatically.

“We finally broke the 100-homes market last year. Last year, we sold 100 homes and we built about 10 percent more than that,” Bitely said. “If we wouldn’t have gotten buggered up by municipalities, we were on a pace to build 140 this year. As we get things ironed out, we’ll get there.”

Professional Builder Magazine recently ranked Sable No. 285 on its annual House Giants list, which includes 293 of the nation’s largest builders.

Sable has the potential to grow its home sales and builds by about 20 to 30 percent for the next three to five years, Bitely said. The growth is good, but it’s one of those “good problems,” he said.

“Most companies, if you’re growing more than 20 to 30 percent per year, those are numbers that make people pretty nervous,” he said.

Sable’s growth found its roots in the intense “grow or die” environment of the Great Recession. When the housing market was hit hard, the firm found it needed to expand its market area to keep its head above water.

“If we go back before the crash, we were selling 25 to 30 homes a year. … We were a big frog in a mud puddle,” Bitely said. “We traveled further to do (jobs), but after we had already begun travelling, we stayed in those areas.”

Need drove Bitely to create a system that became a production. Housing is like manufacturing in the fact that it is systematic and needs to be controlled, he said. Although the firm originally kept to the northern region of Greater Grand Rapids, it began to do business as far south as Wayland and as far north as Cedar Springs, he said.

“(The Great Recession) forced us to be a larger company today than we ever intended to be, because we had to expand into the markets to survive,” he said. “Well, when it turned around we were already there working and we had put these systems in place to reinvent ourselves into a larger company.”

Bitely believed if he could figure out how to build and sell houses under the adjusted prices, Sable Homes would survive the recession. Sable pushed hard to keep its volumes up through the downturn, and when the weight of economic turmoil were lifted, the firm found itself sprinting ahead.

“We paid our price to survive. … What wound up happening is we gobbled up market share as other people left the business,” he said.

“The homes we were delivering two to four years ago are going to go down in our history as the ‘Vanilla Age.’ There weren’t a lot of options. It was housing, and people could only afford to house themselves — and we built a lot of plain vanilla. But vanilla ice cream is still better than no ice cream. Now we’re building Moose Tracks and Cookies ’n Cream.”

The unexpected sudden growth of Sable Homes created a number of good problems, Bitely said. The Great Recession changed everything in the real estate industry, and the issues facing Sable are issues construction companies nationwide are attempting to address, he said.

“The problems we’re dealing with today are very different than the problems we dealt with three years ago,” he said. “They’re good problems, but still problems.”

The first major issue is a labor shortage, Bitely said. The industry currently needs more carpenters, cement layers, dry wall installers, roofers, electricians and other types of tradesmen, he said. Many of these jobs are trade jobs that are traditionally a younger person’s job. Often, subcontractors will hire teenagers to help out during the summer, and many of them eventually become part of the trade, he said. By the time they are in their late 30s or early 40s, they’re no longer “running and gunning” out on the job, but are in management or running a crew, he said.

However, during the recession, subcontractors weren’t as likely to hire teenagers as extra help, Bitely said, and some of the men in their late 30s and 40s — men who had families relying on them — wanted to get out of construction and into safer industries. That created a vacuum that is now a labor shortage.

“With the crash, we didn’t train people for six years, so we don’t have 18- to 20-year-olds in the cycle, and now we have no 40-year-olds because they got out,” he said. “A lot of people were jaded. We’ve got a lot of that because that last crash was so bad. Traditionally in West Michigan, we don’t get hit as hard (by national economic ups and downs), but this time, we led into the recession.”

The industry now has to train new workers and spark interest in the trades, Bitely said, adding that since there’s such a pent-up demand for work, he strongly believes it’ll be a long time before work runs out.

Sable is one of the firms looking to get key people hired right now, he said.

“We’re at max expansion right now. Businesses can only grow so much a year without having maxed out at the amount we can grow right now,” he said. “Our growth is controlled by how fast we can grow, be successful and not overextend it. I’ve got enough, but I’m not overstaffed and I’m still looking for key people.”

Another major issue is with the municipalities, he said. It takes about two years to get through all the procedures of land development in Michigan, he said, which means the current shortage of housing will not be cured any time soon because demand will continue to outstrip supply, leading consumers to face an uptick in prices.

“(There’s too many) systematic regulations that require a box to be checked and not enough people to check the boxes,” he said. “And they can’t hire enough people to check the boxes because of their budgetary restraints.”

As for the future, Bitely said he’s undecided about how much longer he will continue to run his business. In the next five years, he’s considering either selling Sable Homes or handing it off to his daughter, who is currently studying sustainable business at Aquinas College and works as Sable’s assistant general manager.

One thing is he certain about, however, is that residential construction is back in West Michigan and will be for a long time.

“We’re going to get by and we’re going to be strong. It’s going to be great industry to be in for a number of years,” he said. “There’s lots of work for those of us already here. We’re going to be busy for a while.”

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Our good friend Emily Lubbers, executive officer at the Home Builders Association of Greater Grand Rapids spoke with WOOD TV about the upswing West Michigan’s home building industry is experiencing.

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It’s exciting to see how fast we were able to move families into our new development in Sparta.

First families move into new homes in Sparta’s Central Square VIllage

Jeff Cunningham – Mlive

Center Town Square is expected to have its first residents this weekend as families begin to move into the first new housing development built in Sparta in more than a decade.

The driveways, porches and landscaping are not yet finished on the two split-level  homes located near the east end of Alma Street. ButSable Homes marketing consultant Karin Kay said the families that bought the first homes in the new subdivision just wanted to get in as soon as they could.

The homes range in size from about 1,000 to 1,900 square feet and in price from $120,000 to $170,000, depending on whether or not the lower level of the homes are finished.

Sable Homes of Rockford is currently working are transforming the former Central Park into a 20-home subdivision. Work began on four homes last fall, but the harsh winter has prevented contractors from finishing the outside work. “The contractors will get that done as soon as the weather allows,” Kay said.

Last summer Sparta Village officials reached an agreement with Sable Homes to build the subdivision on what was city property. The site had been home to Central School until 2009 when the school was torn down and the 4.46 acres of property was purchased by the village for a park.

From the beginning village officials said they wanted to see the property redeveloped for housing as there is little housing stock available in the village, let alone new housing that is near the village center. “These homes are less than a five-minute walk from the parks and downtown,” Kay said.

Village Supervisor Martin Super said he is pleased with the development. “I understand that they have sold four more lots,” he said. “What is good about this development for the village is that it is an ‘infill’ development that the village didn’t have to extend village services to.” Super estimated last fall the development will bring the village $36,000 a year in new property taxes and another $14,000 a year in new water and sewer revenues when the project is complete, perhaps as soon as the end of 2014.

Sparta’s continued industrial growth, which has brought hundreds of new jobs to the village in the last three years, has increased the demand for “starter homes” and affordable housing in the village. “The growth in manufacturing here in Sparta has driven everything we have done in the last few years,” he said.

 

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Wonderful story by Mlive’s Jim Harger regarding the new home building technologies. Our healthier-home initiative was a discussion topic in the article here:

Latest new home building technologies featured in 2014 Spring Parade of Homes

Jim Harger – Mlive

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Two West Michigan companies are using the 2014 Parade of Homes to show off the latest in new homebuilding technologies.

Pleotint LLC of Jenison is using a lakefront home by Celebrity Builders to demonstrate its “Suntuitive” windows designed to block unwanted solar heat gain.

Sable Homes is showcasing health-conscious technologies at two homes it has on display in Ada Township and Caledonia Township.

The Grand Rapids Spring Parade of Homes is open for touring on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 1 to 9 pm through Saturday, June 7. This year’s parade features 78 homes in 19 different West Michigan communities.

Pleotint’s “Suntuitive” windows are designed to “optimize indoor comfort and views, and to block unwanted solar heat gain,” according to Rob Vis, co-owner of Celebrity Builders. The home can be found at 8769 Cedar Lake Dr., near Jenison.

“In addition to being highly energy-efficient, this home was designed for carefree, comfortable living,” Vis said. “The lake is to the west, and the sun’s heat is almost unbearable on summer afternoons.

“In addition to being produced by a local company, the unique, self-tinting glass adapts throughout the day without any controls or having to close the blinds as often,” Vis said.

Celebrity Builders installed low-e insulating windows with Suntuitive glass on the home’s west- and south-facing elevations to reduce cooling, heating, and lighting-related energy costs, while blocking damaging ultraviolet light and glare, the company said.

“The homeowners say the best part is that they can watch their kids play on the beach or the boat, while they have a perfect view from the cool house,” Vis said.

At the Sable Parade homes in Ada and Caledonia, the builders used Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) free paints and toxin free flooring glues on the interior of its homes. These advanced materials have been proven to reduce airborne toxins as the house and its materials age, the company said in a press release.

Sable Homes also used a high-tech VOC absorbing gypsum board drywall to reduce VOC levels in the air. They installed WhisperGreen fans for clean air exchange and ventilation.

The basements of the Sable homes were built with a “Superior Walls Xi Foundation System” insulation to keep basements, dry and warm while increasing the energy rating.

Both of Sable Homes’ entries into the Parade of Homes earned a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) 5+ star rating – the highest achievable rating on the HERS system.

The Sable Homes can be found at 7979 Sable Valley Court, Ada, and at 9445 Scotsmoor Dr., Caledonia.

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WYOMING, MI – West Michigan home builders say they need more workers as life returns to an industry that was on the ropes just five years ago.

But finding young people who are willing to put in a hard day’s work on a job site is no easy task, according to members of a “Next Generation Committee” formed by the Home Builders Association of Greater Grand Rapids.

High school counselors are pushing students into college and at the college level, kids are not signing up for programs designed to put them in the construction industry, according to committee members who gathered on Tuesday, Oct. 8.

“We have the programs, but nobody’s going through the training,” said Duane McIntyre, a construction instructor at Grand Rapids Community College, where only five students have enrolled in the school’s residential construction program.

Meanwhile, building trades programs in local high schools are “a thing of the past,” said McIntyre.

John Bitely, president of Sable Homes, said high school guidance counselors are pushing students into college programs to meet “No Kid Left Behind” goals while he’s trying to find carpenters and laborers to fill his construction crews.

“If we do have someone who has drive and ambition, they’re told not to get into our industry. Some of these kids need to see that there are good positions out there,” said Bitely, who said his lead carpenters are paid $35 an hour.

Bitely said the home building industry faltered in its recruitment programs in recent years because the jobs were not available. “We’ve been in survival mode,” he said.

Dave VanBaren, president of Great Lakes Superior Walls of Hamilton, said his company has problems finding young people willing to work. “Basically, we say if you show up every day, you can move up in the company,” he said.

Ryan Nettesheim, a youth services coordinator for Bethany Christian Services, said they preach the same “just show up every day” lesson in their “Youth Build” program.

Nettesheim’s seven-month program helps low-income students between 18 and 24 earn their Graduate Equivalency Degree (GED) and gain construction skills while working on Habitat for Humanity homebuilding projects.

McIntyre said many of the students he sees have not been taught the importance of showing up for work every day at home.

“There’s definitely a work ethic problem out there,” McIntyre said. “If you want to find a root cause, it comes down to family.”

Jim Harger

View the article here : http://www.mlive.com/business/west-michigan/index.ssf/2013/10/west_michigan_home_builders_st.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+oak_business_review+(Oakland+Business+Review+-+MLive.com)

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Neighborhood to be housed on former site of Sparta’s Central School

Rockford based Sable Homes will break ground on a new neighborhood in the Village of Sparta, Central Town Square. The neighborhood, which is located in downtown Sparta near the intersections of North Union and Grove, and North Union and Alma, will feature 20 homes. According to the National Association of Home Builders’ statistics, the construction project will create more than 60 jobs in the Village of Sparta. The site of the project previously housed Sparta’s Central School, hence the name, Central Town Square.

Media is invited to attend the groundbreaking. John Bitely, president of Sable Homes, Martin Super, manager of the Village of Sparta, and Gordie Nelson, superintendent of Sparta Area Schools, will all be available for interviews.

Where: Sable Homes’ Central Town Square Housing Neighborhood
On Grove Street, Sparta, Mich. 49345

When: 10 a.m., Oct. 2, 2013

Who: John Bitely, president, Sable Homes
Martin Super, village manager, Sparta
Gordie Nelson, superintendent, Sparta Area Schools
Elizabeth Morse, DDA/Chamber director
Gary Hall, mortgage sales manager, Choice One Bank

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The community named the Sparta development ‘Central Town Square’ through social media polling.

SPARTA, Mich. – Rockford-based Sable Homes announced Thursday that construction on their newest development will begin in late September.

The land, located in the Village of Sparta near the intersection of North State and East Division, will feature 20 homes, along with a new model and housing design center which will help continue the economic growth in downtown Sparta.

“Recently, Sparta has seen substantial growth in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors,” said John Bitely, president of Sable Homes. “We want to help stimulate this growth by bringing families downtown and boosting the village economy.”

Sable Homes reached out to the community via Facebook and Twitter to solicit help naming its new development opening in downtown Sparta. After nearly a month of followers submitting ideas and voting for their favorite by “liking” other suggestions, the development was coined “Central Town Square.”

“By involving the community in the naming of this property, we’re able to help ensure this development reflects their spirit,” said Bitely. “We encouraged the community to suggest names that tied back into the former school as a way to preserve its memory and harken back to a place that played a profound role in the lives of many residents.”

The name Central Town Square provides a nostalgic connection to Sparta’s former Central School which once sat on the site of the development property. Other suggested names included, “Academy Square“, “Sable Central“, “Old School Center” and “Central Square.”

“We value infill in the village to achieve greater economies of scale for our services and in the end save tax payers money,” said Martin Super, Sparta Village Manager. “It’s a testament to our progress that Sable is investing here by building 20 new, quality homes right in downtown. This project will help facilitate our continued growth.”

Sable will begin the development with three homes and base the speed of construction for the rest of the development on the time it takes the homes to sell.

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July 31, 2013| By David Czurak

Sable Homes has opened a new model home and design center as part of its plan to complete a foreclosed residential development northeast of Grand Rapids.

The Stone Crest development in Courtland Township is just west of 11 Mile Road and Young Street and not far from downtown Rockford.

It’s also one of a few new residential developments in the Rockford Public Schools District.

Sable Homes recently purchased the unfinished development out of foreclosure and began construction on new homes in June 2013.

“We’re excited that Sable Homes came in and picked up where the Stone Crest development project had stalled a few years back,” said Courtland Township Supervisor Chuck Porter. “We’re happy to welcome in our new neighbors and turn this development into the beautiful neighborhood it was meant to be.”

Porter said the partially built development will consist of 30 additional homes once it’s complete.

View Larger Map

The new Stone Crest model home is in Courtland Township, at 9309 Stone View Dr.

“Though the new model home in Stone Crest was built to enhance the sales experience in Stone Crest, it most certainly will be used by Sable’s staff to show what a fully furnished home will look like regardless of where the customer chooses to build their new home,” said Ron Austin, general manager, Sable Homes.

Sable Homes has priced the new Stone Crest homes from $180,000 to $260,000, depending on the lot and floor plan that are chosen.

Sable’s corporate sales and design center is located in Rockford, at 11575 Edgerton Ave.

Green space

Sable Homes President John Bitely made a $10,000 contribution to the Stone Crest Homeowners Association, which will use the money to finish a green-space project in the housing development the homebuilder is completing.

Bitely said his firm made the donation, in part, as an effort to be a good neighbor to those who already live in Stone Crest.

“And that is one of the reasons we are contributing to the green-space project and assisting with its completion. The project will surely benefit all individuals living in this neighborhood for years to come,” he said.

“It’s a great contribution in our efforts to promote a healthy environment and a beautiful place to live here in Courtland Township,” said Matt Wilson, vice president of the Stone Crest Homeowners Association.

Sable Homes also is building new public roads throughout Stone Crest and recently finished a one-mile stretch that the firm turned over to the Kent County Road Commission.

Sable Homes in Caledonia

Separately, Sable Homes donated $100,000 to Caledonia Community Public Schools in July.

The school system will use those dollars to improve access to its new athletic field.

The firm is building the Scotsmoor II housing development, which will have 51 new homes when finished, in Caledonia.

Check out the article here: http://www.grbj.com/articles/77472-sable-homes-builds-out-foreclosed-development

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July 3, 2013 | By David Czurak | Grand Rapids Business Journal

Sable Homes of Grand Rapids has made a donation to Caledonia Community Schools that has saved the public school district $100,000.

Sable Homes is building its Scotsmoor II Housing Development in Caledonia, and the firm had recently purchased a piece of land out of foreclosure that it originally intended to add to the development.

Ralph E. Meyers Football Stadium

But Caledonia High School needed some property to service and provide access to its new Ralph E. Meyers Football Stadium.

So Sable Homes President John Bitely met with Caledonia Superintendent Randy Rodriguez to discuss the district’s property needs.

After a series of discussions, Bitely granted the school district a permanent easement across the firm’s recently acquired property, and Rodriguez noted the action saved the school district $100,000.

“We are thankful for the agreement that Sable Homes and John Bitely offered to Caledonia Community Schools. Bitely was willing to work with us, and he identified a solution that allowed the district to save money, while at the same time fulfilled the district’s need for service access to our beautiful stadium,” Rodriguez said.

In return, the school district granted Sable Homes the necessary easements for Scotsmoor II.

“It’s great that we are able to save the school district $100,000, while beginning what is shaping up to be a long-lasting relationship here in Caledonia,” said Bitely.

Bitely and Rodriguez signed the agreement when Sable opened its Scotsmoor II model home and housing design center in Caledonia Township.

Scotsmoor II

When completed, Scotsmoor II will offer 51 new homes, with prices expected to start at $164,500 for a three bedroom, two-bath home with 1,975 square feet of space.

http://www.grbj.com/articles/77248-sable-homes-and-caledonia-school-district-score-deal

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