Industry vet shares how Woodside’s Utah Division is building toward a safer, more sustainable future
Builder and Developer: How has Woodside navigated through these tough times to continue to serve prospective homebuyers?
Brian Kartchner: Being owned by Sekisui House, we’ve had some opportunities to look at the business and see where we can improve on, and things that they’re doing that we can then take and become better at.
One of them was on technology. We got to the point where we said, “Hey, we’d like to have our customers, particularly the younger generation who are much more digitally capable—we’d like to do everything virtually.” We started down that road of virtual models, 3D Matterport tours. Even the contract process can be done online through DocuSign. And also things like our completed inventory homes. We made it so that people could come in, put a code in, and didn’t even have to come see us and go see the house, then give us feedback after.
Also, typically, the homebuilding industry is not a work-from-home industry and we weren’t that way either. But as soon as March hit, Joel Shine, our CEO, said, “Look, I want anybody that can work from home to do that until we figure out what to do.”
You miss the day-to-day connection in-person, but I also think there’s some benefit for productivity when you’re just hunkered down and getting work done.
BD: With health and wellness at a forefront right now, what are some energy-efficient approaches that Woodside Utah is taking?
BK: We’ve done things like where we do 2×6 exterior walls for better insulation, raised heel trusses which allow the insulation to take care of itself in the attic, and those are all things we just decided to do several years ago. Whether the customer pays for this or not, we’re going to do it because it’s the right thing to do.
Being owned by Sekisui House, you go the extra route and we started to ask ourselves, do we offer standard in our homes air purification systems? Do we go from low-VOC materials to zero-VOC materials? We feel like we’re ahead of the curve already, but particularly with Sekisui, they don’t want us to be ahead of the curve—they want us to lead on health and wellness.
BD: Many of your communities are Quality Built certified. Can you elaborate on what they do?
BK: Quality Built is a third party inspector. They do audits on all sorts of different things in a home. Part of it for us is mitigation and also just another set of eyes to make sure we did not miss anything in the construction process.
But the big one for us as far as quality is with windows, doors, HVAC, exteriors, roofing—basically, the entire building envelope.
BD: In regards to housing, what are some emerging trends that stick out to you?
BK: The virtual selling component is going to be here for a while. I think there are more people who are getting more and more comfortable with using a lot of the new technology.
But if you look at the rest of the country, we opened up a bit quicker than most. Our case counts were really low but they’re starting to go up. And surprisingly, more and more customers haven’t asked about healthy home concepts. Our goal is going to be to push and talk about it, to make it a topic of conversation. I think that in it of itself will make it a bigger discussion within a home.
Also, there’s not a lot of big masterplans in Utah. We decided to buy 500 to 1,000 lots at a time and do mini masterplans where you can address some of the things people want, like walking trails, biking trails, parks that are easily accessible. We feel like another trend when it comes to health will be to give people that sense of “community” feel through outdoor amenities.
BD: What’s a word of advice you have for other builders during these times?
BK: The forefront of it all is the safety of our customers and the safety of our team. Everything we’ve done, we’ve been very cautious and to not put people’s health at risk.
This pandemic has also reminded me that there’s things I wasn’t looking at everyday but I’m not looking at once again as far as traffic into the sales office. Traffic online is a big one that we track much more than we used to.
The last three months our sales traffic hasn’t been very high because we’ve by appointment only. But we still sold a lot of homes. And that’s speaking to people starting online and communicating with us remotely. So focusing on how you can communicate with people who aren’t coming into the office is key.
BD: Anything we didn’t go over that you’d like to touch on?
BK: One of the things we’ve learned over the last few years is Sekisui really focuses on the happiness of the customer in the long term. They are always asking us how we’re making our customers’ lives better and what we are doing to improve it.
What I really gained out of that is that you should look at things through the customer’s eyes instead of construction eyes. If you start from the customer standpoint and look at what they need, then the rest of it will fall in place.