Van Daele Homes
As a veteran of the Southern California homebuilding market for more than 25 years, Van Daele Homes founder and President Mike Van Daele has been through a few cycles similar to the current recession. Even though the downturn in the housing market has resulted in a reduction in activity, Van Daele says the company has had the strength to pull through the previous recessions and it will pull through this one, as well.
When asked what makes Van Daele Homes one of the preeminent homebuilders in the region – and the recent recipient of the Southern California Builder of the Year award from the Building Industry Association – Van Daele says there’s one quality that makes it stand out. “I think it’s our discipline in terms of never doing more than what we have the ability to do excellently,” he says.
Over the last quarter-century, Van Daele Homes has built thousands of homes throughout Orange, Los Angeles and San Diego counties, as well as the Inland Empire. Before the recession, the company averaged 600 homes per year.
Today, Van Daele Homes is building an average of 300 homes per year, but Van Daele says the drop in activity has not impacted the company as much as many of its competitors. Because the company has not overextended itself the way many of its now-defunct peers did during the housing boom, Van Daele Homes has distinct advantages in the marketplace.
For one, the company’s financial reserves are very strong, Van Daele says. This gives the company stability and the ability to retain experienced personnel, something that other homebuilders can’t lay claim to. Van Daele says many homebuilders that survive a recession still end up losing senior staff to other jobs, but Van Daele Homes has managed to hang on to many of its most valuable people.
“We’re fighting a war with an army that’s experienced rather than with one that’s new or all beaten up,” Van Daele says.
The experience Van Daele Homes brings to the marketplace is what makes it possible for the company to execute its philosophy of only doing what it knows it can do best. Whereas some homebuilders divide their attention between several different markets, Van Daele says customers deserve better. “I tell people we’re focused at everything,” he says. “Our goal is to always try to exceed their expectations.”
Jumping the Gun
The reverberations from the recession have been felt most overtly in the reduction of construction activity in the Southern California marketplace, but there have been other effects, as well. Van Daele says Van Daele Homes has encountered difficulty finding land that makes sense for it, thanks in part to the actions of its competitors.
In early 2010, Van Daele explains, the market took a slight upturn, which some publically traded homebuilders took as a sign that the recession would be completely over very soon. Believing this, they purchased large swaths of land and consequently raised the price of real estate by nearly 50 percent. Not only did the developments on these parcels fail, but Van Daele says landowners became conditioned to expect more than their property is truly worth.
Van Daele says the company is working hard to educate landowners about the true state of the real estate market, but it also is taking other steps to ensure it finds affordable property. The company recently hired a land acquisition specialist, and it is looking in regions of the state it hasn’t built in yet.
Van Daele Homes is changing its products to meet the new realities of the recession, as well. As families find themselves sharing their space with multiple generations more frequently, the traditional layout of a single-family home has evolved rapidly. “I’ve never seen the product revolutionize itself so quickly,” Van Daele says.
These changes include the move away from living rooms to great rooms that incorporate living, kitchen and dining space, as well as the development of self-contained guest suites with their own access from outside the house. Van Daele says these suites can be used by young adults returning home from college as well as the elderly. Another new feature is something Van Daele calls the “imagination room,” which is connected to the great room to provide a place for children to play without cluttering up the main living area and stay within parents’ sight. “It’s kind of fun to get to work on new and intriguing stuff,” he adds.