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Fitch offers outlook on housing market

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Financial pressures will continue to mount on the nation’s largest home builders this year, forcing them to make further cuts in staff and overhead to remain profitable, according to Fitch Ratings, a New York-based ratings agency for credit markets.

But the company’s most recent report on the construction sector predicts that most of the industry’s top home builders have enough liquidity to pull through a prolonged downturn, even one that stretches into the back half of 2009.

Other findings and forecasts from the 167-page research report:

• First-quarter 2008 revenues decreased for all 14 home builders tracked by Fitch. The declines ranged from 18.7 percent for NVR to 61.9 percent for Lennar. On average, revenues decreased 38 percent in the quarter.

• The absence of investors — especially property “flippers” — continues to negatively affect builders’ orders. Fitch predicts that cancellation rates will rise sharply in the second quarter of 2008, compared to the previous year, because many buyers are unable to sell their existing homes.

• Since the early 1960s, it has taken anywhere from 13 to 42 months to realize a cyclical trough in housing inventories. This downturn is in the midst of its 20th month.

• California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada have the highest rates of home foreclosures.

• In Fitch’s most likely scenario, single-family housing starts will not bottom out until late 2009. The first markets to recover will be Texas; the greater Washington, D.C., area; and the Southeast (excluding Florida).

• Smaller builders have been much more constrained by their banks this year, while large, privately held companies still have sufficient credit and have, as a back-up, obtained revolving credit facilities. Many builders continue to raise cash by large land sales, tax refunds and public equity offerings. Eleven of the 14 top home builders have cash reserves of $100 million or more.

• In the decade ahead, Fitch expects more consolidation in the home builder sector, with large builders acquiring private, mid-sized companies, Regional or multi-regional builders will become national players. A few national or near national builders may permanently exit secondary markets and become multiregional companies.

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PRO Hardware announces ‘Retailers of the Year’

BY HBSDEALER Staff

PRO Hardware, a division of Denver-based Pro Group, has announced its end-of-year award winners for retailers of the year and the Paul L. Cosgrave Memorial Award.

Poultry Electric PRO Hardware of Winchester, Tenn., was named the winner of the 2008 Paul L. Cosgrave Memorial Award. The Paul L. Cosgrave award is given to the PRO Hardware retailer recognizing “commitment to the principles and ideals of effective hardware merchandising developed by PRO Hardware founder Paul L. Cosgrave,” according to the division.

The rural Poultry Electric hardware store is “one of a few hardware stores in the country that have successfully integrated poultry supplies,” according to a statement. Owner Dale Goodwin purchased the store after traveling for two decades as a top salesman of poultry equipment. While he grew up helping his father with construction projects, this was his first venture into the retail business. His wife, Thelma, is a registered nurse who also helps in the business.

PRO Hardware also named the 2008 Paul L. Cosgrave Award finalist: McClain PRO Hardware of Hanover, Mich. McClain PRO Hardware is also PRO Hardware Retailer of the Year for the Bostwick-Braun Co., which is based in Toledo, Ohio.

Additional winners are as follows:

• The PRO Hardware Retailer of the Year for Horizon Distribution is Welches Mountain Building Supply of Welches, Ore.

• The PRO Hardware Retailer of the Year for Long-Lewis Hardware is Danny’s PRO Builder’s Supply of Centre, Ala.

PRO Hardware Retailers of the Year are selected based upon merchandising, inventory management, PRO key supplier support, advertising, store identification, sales and financial performance.

Pro Group is a marketing and merchandising organization for distributors and retailers in the hardware, lawn & garden, cabinet fabrication, paint sundries, farm products and agricultural markets.

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Cabinet satisfaction on the rise

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Warranty and replacement services rank first on the list of factors leading to builder and remodeler satisfaction with cabinet manufacturers, according to a recent J.D. Power survey. The survey also found overall builder satisfaction is rising.

Duncanville, Texas-based Quality Cabinets ranked highest among cabinet brands in satisfying new-home builders and remodelers, according to the survey.

Strober Building Products in Mahopak, N.Y., for example, has carried the Quality Cabinets brand for more than 10 years. “We’re very satisfied with them,” said Elke Crane, showroom manager. “They’re an outstanding company, their customer service is good, they’re very dependable, and for what they do in cabinets they are very good.”

The J.D. Power and Associates/McGraw-Hill Construction 2008 Builder and Remodeler Cabinet Satisfaction Study found builder satisfaction was based on performance in eight areas (in order of importance): warranty and replacement service (18 percent); customer service and support (14 percent); product installation and durability (14 percent); price (12 percent); delivery (11 percent); ordering process (11 percent); product features (11 percent); and credit/billing process (9 percent).

Quality Cabinets performed particularly well in four of the eight factors: product installation and durability; price; product features; and credit/billing process. Ranking second was Winchester, Va.-based American Woodmark, which scored high in the customer service and support, delivery and ordering process areas. Also high on the list was Eagan, Minn.-based Mid Continent Cabinetry.

“For those builders and remodelers that have problems with their orders, good warranty and replacement service from a manufacturer can help salvage a builder’s schedule and minimize costly delays,” said Burleigh Morton, senior director of research and analytics at McGraw-Hill Construction. “When a problem does happen, builders appreciate a cabinet vendor that will quickly make things right.”

Jim Howland, senior director of the real estate and construction practice at J.D. Power and Associates, said as the overall quality of cabinets has risen — from 730 in 2007 to 753 in 2008, based on a 1,000-point scale — firms “have an opportunity to differentiate themselves by focusing on service-related aspects of the customer experience since cabinet durability and features tend to be rather similar across manufacturers.”

Eighty-three percent of builders and remodelers said they received their products on time and as ordered when considering their most recent experience with a cabinet brand — an increase of 13 percent since 2007.

The 2008 Builder and Remodeler Cabinet Satisfaction Study is based on 1,356 evaluations from more than 1,100 new-home builders and remodelers who ordered and purchased cabinets within the previous 12 months.

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