Homebuilding Trends: An Interview With Two Westhaven Building Experts

Southern Land Company works with some of the most qualified people to comment on home-building trends – the people who actually build the homes.

Insights checked in with two experts – one, Dan Gilbert, is the Vice President of Home Building for Southern Land Company. Generally, he builds $450,000 – $800,000 homes on 1/10th acre lots. The second expert is Andy Ferguson, Vice President at Legend Homes, a company that builds custom houses in the $600,000 – $2 million range.

Both Dan and Andy have overseen projects at Southern Land Company’s Franklin, TN community Westhaven over the past decade. In that time, both builders have seen changes in building technology and customer demands. They took some time to talk to Insights about the demands of the demographic buying Westhaven homes, why buyers want a little something special and how to keep the conversation positive when residents chat about their houses at the pool.

Insights: Dan, you’ve been building houses in Westhaven for over a decade. What trends have you noticed during that time?

Dan: Building technologies have come a long way since then, so we’re able to build our houses a lot more energy-efficient than we could even five years ago. As far as the interior, most recently, everything is trending towards simpler finishes. Whites and grays and ice and silver are hugely popular colors right now.

We’ve also built more open floor plans. In the past, customers cared more about the room count. Now, everything is an open area – the breakfast or dining areas kind of float.

Why do you think people are drawn to open floor plans?

Dan: These days, houses are entertainment centers as much as they are your home. We’re also getting people who want more rooms on the main level. We’re getting older, empty-nester clientele.

What about you, Andy – who is your typical buyer?

Andy: The biggest segment of the market that we deal with the most are empty nesters. Sometimes their kids are in college and they’re stepping out and building their dream home. Other folks are downsizing. It’s not necessarily driven by size, mostly it’s a population that wants what they want.

Dan: I don’t think the actual square footage is important. Buyers want to make sure the house fits their needs. More and more, that means room to gather around a big kitchen table, or having a big covered porch.

Home-building is a long and often stressful process. Something is bound to go wrong. How do you keep customers happy when you build their homes?

Dan: We realized that our homeowners are going to be sitting around the pool talking about their house. So we have to make sure that those conversations are good conversations. You really have to do a good job of setting expectations – especially when someone has this dream home that is perfect in their minds.

When you come buy a Westhaven home, we assign you a specific project manager that leads you through the entire process. I think that’s unique.

Andy: Most of our clients are successful in some form or fashion in their field, so they’re probably used to leading the process. So pretty early on, maybe it’s during the first meeting, our clients are sizing us up. Our approach has always been that we are capable of steering the ship. They may be a heart surgeon, they may be a CEO of a company, but in this arena, we’re going to guide them through the process. Pretty quickly they see how organized we are and they say, “Okay, I can let my guard down, because these guys are competent and reliable.”