Back in January, Tony Crasi of the Crasi Company was sworn in as president of the Ohio Home Builders Association, one of only six local board members to achieve that distinction in the 70-year history of the local board. I sat down with him a couple weeks ago after he returned from the International Builders Show (IBS) in Las Vegas.
Crasi goes to the IBS every year, a must, he said, for anyone serious about the business of building. It’s an opportunity to learn about new products and materials, attend classes and find out about what’s selling and what’s not, he said.
Home technology and automation, for example, are becoming part of everyday life. The IBS gives builders an opportunity to see the latest developments in technology for security, lighting control, utilities management, and home heating and cooling.
Learning how to automate new homes well and affordably is just as important, said Crasi, who is as passionate about providing quality, low-income housing as he is about building high-end custom homes. “Show me how you can help my inner city moms.” How do you make the newest technology affordable?
Crasi consulted with an out-of-state HBA colleague for the answer, learning how to trim the cost of automation in new construction from $5,000 to $1,500.
For about 12 years, Crasi has taught a class at the IBS called “Affordable Million-dollar Details,” sharing ways to add rich details at low cost. I’ve seen the difference this practice can make in some of the homes Crasi has rehabilitated for the city of Akron’s Urban Neighborhood Development Corporation. It’s a gift that meshes nicely with one of his goals as OHBA president: to keep housing affordable.
For this year’s IBS, however, Crasi went not as a teacher, but as OHBA president, meeting with other state presidents and executive-level officers of the National Association of Home Builders. It was obvious that the experience energized and inspired him.
As Crasi puts it, he has a bigger toolbox of resources at the state level, resources that he intends to put in service to his membership. HBA members do not need to struggle alone with a particular problem, he said. They can seek advice from other builders across the country.
How are other builders helping members rebuild after the last few years? How are they helping members avoid the pitfalls of restarting or expanding a business?
“There is no need to reinvent the wheel,” Crasi said. “When my members are having problems, I can reach out to the best people in the country for a solution. I can ask, ‘How do they get back on track?’ If we can keep one person in their home or one member in business, it’s worth it,” said Crasi.
A few years back, the big banks were struggling with their regulators and not renewing loans, and Crasi. A speech by an OHBA finance expert gave badly needed advice to members. He suggested that they work with local community banks that were not beholden to their shareholders.
Crasi did just that, working with a local bank that not only renewed his loan, but also gave him better terms.
Another important area where OHBA is working for members is with pending legislation before Congress.
Unlike some members of Congress who pass bills before reading them, members of the OHBA are busy reading bills before they even come up for a vote. In so doing, the OHBA safeguards the interests not only of its members but also for homeowners, investors, renters and other end users of its products.
“We look at everything – regulations, codes, environmental issues – whatever starts to impact the cost of housing,” Crasi said. “My goal as president is to help all the different factions in the conversation find common ground. We’re all about making homes safer and healthier.”
Finding the common sense way to that common ground is the challenge. Crasi said it’s the most rewarding aspect of his role as president.
“I have the ability to make a difference. Getting everyone to agree to a common cause? I love it. It’s fun,” he said, praising the help he gets from the OHBA staff in Columbus.
Crasi is no stranger to the negotiating process. Before becoming OHBA president, he was the codes committee chairman for the OHBA. Using his experience as an energy rater, he worked with other members to rewrite the state energy code, which in its original form would have added thousands of dollars to the price of a new home. It would take the average family decades to recoup that expense.
“We challenged every assumption about the state and national code,” said Crasi. By pointing out the real cost of it, the OHBA gave builders a voice, offering an alternative that is not only less expensive, but also saves more energy. The Ohio alternative energy code took effect this year.
“It all goes back to the goal of affordable housing,” said Crasi.
The lack of buildable lots is another problem facing builders today and one that Crasi will tackle as OHBA president.
“Over the last few years, no one had money to develop lots or build spec homes,” said Crasi. “Now, people are looking at what’s left.”
Trouble is, said Crasi, it sometimes takes years to get a subdivision online. He hopes to streamline that process, using the same skills of persuasion that he brought to the revision of the national energy code.
Not a moment too soon.
According to David Crowe, NAHB chief economist, who was in attendance at the IBS, approximately 1.4 million homes are built in the average year when times are good, said Crasi. In 2013, about 600,000 homes were built. This year’s projection is around 800,000.
Crowe cited three reasons for that anticipated surge, said Crasi: 1) Pent-up demand; 2) low inventory (no spec homes were being built during the downturn); and 3) the 24- to 33-year-old consumers who were not able to get loans during the downturn and have been living at home, a “bubble group” said Crowe that will keep the market active for a couple years.
Crasi, who already is feeling the difference, said,” I’ve had more work this year than all the last six years combined. The market is coming back.”