Jun 02, 2014
“We sell more homes per community than anyone. That’s what we’re focused on,” says Oakwood Homes Founder and CEO Patrick Hamill. He says he has the interesting title of Chief Disruptor.
With more than 13,000 homes built, a backlog of roughly 590 sold homes in Colorado, Nebraska and Utah—where Oakwood Homes recently purchased Henry Walker Homes for more than $75 million—it’s hard to argue with Hamill. The company, he explains, is a mass-production custom homebuilder. “We build floor systems, wall systems and roof systems and then erect on everything that we do onsite,” he says. It’s almost like flat-packing a home a-la Ikea.
Prefabricating dramatically reduces the time needed to build the home. “We’ll build a 4,500 square foot house that will be all closed in within four-and-a-half days,” he says. Conventional framers and construction workers could take at least twice as long to build a similar-sized home.
“Speed is one thing. Quality is everything,” Hamill insists. Oakwood Homes has developed strategic partnerships that enable the company to focus on building a better product, Hamill says. Oakwood’s homes are designed to be roughly 30 percent more efficient than code requires, in part by using General Electric appliances. GE’s an Oakwood partner.
In fact, Oakwood Homes offers something very few homebuilders do—“We guarantee every single homeowner what his or her energy usage [will be],” he asserts. “That’s a big statement and a true test of the quality on the inside.”
“We have a great partnership with Berkshire Hathaway on technology that drives how decisions made in the sales office literally go to the saws in our manufacturing plant,” Hamill says. “So the guys that are framing - they’re just executing the plan. It allows us to create what I call ‘mass customization’.” Pre-fabricating the homes as much as possible also makes it easier for the follow-on crews, the plumbers, electricians, drywall and finish crews who come after the framers. It also reduces waste.
“Our industry as a whole has been one of the most wasteful...in America,” Hamill says. Conventional homebuilders cut and assemble everything onsite resulting in tons of waste. Oakwood uses what Hamill calls minimizer saws in the factory, pre-configured to reduce waste materials. The company also finds uses for any waste materials, for instance scrap wood is converted into wood pellets for fuel.
Housing hasn’t fully recovered from the 2009 recession. “It’s great that we’re not in the what I call the ‘Swami Flu’ anymore—we’re not catching falling knives,” Hamill says. But, “We’re still about 50 percent of peak and about 70 percent of the 15-year average on production,” he says.
Consumer’s tastes are also changing. “The millennium buyer today is definitely different than any buyer we’ve had before,” he says. “It’s about being in a shared space, a community space and community living is really, really important for that buyer.” It’s a trait millennials share with what Hamill calls the “active adult – the 55 and older buyer—they kind of want the same thing. It’s kind of the sandwich housing market,” he quips.
Challenges: Immigration reform. “It’s a big workforce issue in the housing industry and construction industry,” Hamill says. “We have nine open positions right now. We pay a living wage. I’m talking about $25 an hour.” But the company can only hire about two of every 10 otherwise qualified applicants because of immigration issues.
Opportunities: Recovery from the recession. The recession hurt both the housing industry and the supply-side industry—part of the reason Oakwood is considering getting into the insulation business.
Needs: “We’re always looking for great quality people with a passion to do things better than they’ve ever done before. So we’re a very inspiration-driven organization. We don’t think about meeting the grade but how can we look outside the box and move the box,” Hamill says.