It's All About Relationships, Plus Other Insights From Our 2023 Builder Panel

October 19, 2023


Four home builders, ranging from custom to large multifamily, recently sat down with HomeSphere’s Director of Builder Sales Jim Plazak to discuss the current market and provide insight to building product manufacturers on how to make a lasting impression.  

The panel took place at HomeSphere’s 2023 Partner Summit in Denver, and included topics ranging from what’s keeping builders up at night to what goes into each builder’s product decisions.  

Participating builders included: 

  • Eric Jensen, national director for strategic purchasing of Mill Creek Residential Trust. Jensen has worked in residential construction for more than 19 years, working for both public and private developers and home builders. Mill Creek Residential specializes in developing, building and operating high-quality rental communities across the country.  
  • Keith Dentremont, senior project manager with Haselden Construction. Keith Dentremont has over 30 years in the construction industry, with a focus for the past 10 years on multifamily and build-for-rent. Haselden Construction offers general contracting, construction management, turnkey development and more. 
  • Vincent Grabowski, chief operating officer with Saddletree Homes. Vincent Grabowski has worked in the construction industry for more than 20 years and has spent 18 of those years with Saddletree Homes. Saddletree Homes offers quality luxury semi-custom homes. 
  • Tom Martinez, founder and president of Valiant Homes. Tom Martinez is a 20-year veteran of the home building industry, starting Valiant Homes as a passion project. Valiant Construction Holdings offers three divisions: building, remodeling and consulting. Valiant Homes offers spec homes and custom homes. 

Their comments have been summarized and, at times, edited for length. 

Five people sit on a stage as they discuss home building in 2023.
From left to right: Jim Plazak, HomeSphere, Keith Dentremont, Haselden Construction, Vincent Grabowksi, Saddletree Homes, Eric Jensen, Mill Creek Residential Trust, and Tom Martinez, Valiant Homes.

Building in 2023: The current issues 

The current residential construction market is remarkable in many ways. Our panel agreed on a few pressing issues: 

  • Capital raising 
  • Land pricing 
  • Consumer worries about what’s going to happen next 
  • Losing the labor pool 
  • Supply chain disruptions  

In their own words: 

“The capital piece is what's really kind of keeping me up at night, and figuring out that rubric and how to get to the point where we can do what we want to do in our growth strategy.” - Tom Martinez, Valiant Homes

“Land pricing is fairly high across the nation, so that capital piece is probably the toughest for us currently.” - Eric Jensen, MCRT

“I'd say for us as single-family custom, a lot of it's just trepidation...It's not that someone can't get a loan, or they can't buy the house, it's that they're worried about what's going to happen next.” - Vincent Grabowski, Saddletree Homes

“Capital is what is driving most of the fear in my industry, just not being able to get things to pencil.” - Keith Dentremont, Haselden Construction

The ‘why’ behind product decision-making 

With four types of home builders in the room and dozens of manufacturer reps, it was the perfect opportunity to capture why builders make the product decisions they do. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that relationships are still key in this business.  

“I think this is an opportunity right now to really get more grassroots and get out of the office and into the field, and really understand how your product is affecting your customer [the builder or distributor],” Martinez said.  

And more than that, he said, how is it affecting the homeowners and their experience with the product? “Do you really understand what the consumer is saying and how they're feeling about things?” he asked the audience.  

As Martinez explained, home builders have hundreds of products they need to justify to their homebuyers. “This is a people business. Get yourself out of the product mindset and think about people and then start to evaluate how you’re doing,” he said. 

The key to switching products 

How to convert builders to a new product is always a hot topic in this industry, and our panel agreed that a few issues are paramount: 

  1. Too much back and forth when a product issue arises is a no-go. 
  2. A lack of feet on the ground when a product issue arises is similarly a dealbreaker.  
  3. There’s still a large value in good warranty options.  
  4. The trust of local distributors, and availability through local distributors, is key. 
  5. Sales reps need to consider timing when they pitch products — the earlier in the process the better! 
  6. Sales rep visibility goes a long way, as well as communicating local rep contact information and keeping that information up to date. 
  7. Sales reps need to walk job sites and reference those sites in conversation.  
  8. Purchasing departments and sales teams need help in truly understanding sales claims, whether it's cost differences or how your product helps to eliminate other products.  

In their own words: 

“We get claims all the time that the product's cheaper to our precon guys, but they can't pencil the numbers right, so I think a big component is helping the teams get through that educational side.” - Eric Jensen, MCRT 

“It's the face-to-face, it's the relationship. It's the time that you spend downstream...the way you're going to get things done is through relationships and not so much because you have a great product.” - Tom Martinez, Valiant Homes 

“You can provide data all day long to say, well, here's a report that says this or that...but without knowing that we have somebody to call at the end of the day, that's tough to trust.” - Vincent Grabowski, Saddletree Homes 

“[On using a new product] I'm going to have to get my sales team on board, I'm probably going to have to get my installers on whatever you're trying to sell to me, I have to resell 10 more times and then make sure that that lives up to its expectations." - Keith Dentremont, Haselden Construction 

For more insight from mid-market, private home builders, stay up to date with our monthly HomeSphere/BTIG State of the Industry report.  

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