The Housing Chronicles Blog: Who's your DEVELOPMENT?

Sunday, April 13, 2008


In his new book “Who’s Your City?” author Richard Florida -- who brought us the 2002 national best-seller “The Rise of the Creative Class” -- argues that not only is the choice of where to live the most important decision someone can make, but those who match their interests and personalities to specific cities tend to find the best-matched careers, spouses and friends. Frankly, I think this concept should be marketing catnip for homebuilders, allowing them to leverage these ideas (and roadmap included in the book), arm themselves with increasingly sophisticated demographic data and decide, both for their companies and their buyers, exactly ‘Who’s Your Development?’

I had the chance to talk with Dr. Florida when reviewing his latest book for the Los Angeles Times, and a major theme he discusses is the changing nature of what people want from a community. In many urban areas, for example, time has steadily been on the rise --even more than money -- as the primary resource for people to live happy and fulfilling lives. Explains Florida, “It’s not about the price of oil, it’s about the time cost of commuting, and meeting people, and leveraging those networks within solid neighborhoods close to employment centers.”

Although “Who’s Your City?” focuses its research at the citywide level, Florida and his team provide specific examples of how different neighborhoods have distinct personalities. For example, a slowly revitalizing Koreatown in Los Angeles might be an ‘urban mosaic’ characterized by ethnic restaurants and relatively cheap rents, whereas Tyson’s Corner, Virgina or California’s Silicon Valley would be two of the country’s best-known ‘edge cities’ in which single-family homes with larger-than-average lots mix with plenty of local employment and shopping opportunities.

But what if you want to identity an area’s personality to a more specific level – say a specific neighborhood that’s defined not just by existing residents, but also those who might be attracted to a future vision? That’s when someone like Jonathan Smoke and two of his companies, BlueSmoke and, can assist. Smoke, as a former SVP for corporate strategy and innovation at Atlanta-based Beazer Homes (and before that their Chief Information Officer), has tapped these experiences to create a national resource of data and analysis oriented towards the supply side of the building industry.

In fact, we were so impressed with Smoke’s work at Housing Intelligence that MetroIntelligence has added his company to our increasing roster of strategic alliances (including the regional economics consulting firm Beacon Economics) to provide the building industry with a comprehensive menu of research options backed by experience in the trenches as well as the academic credentials of several PhD economists.

With the company motto “Don’t Just Guess,” Smoke and his team have partnered with Claritas (a division of Nielsen) to create a proprietary system to estimate demand models he says are far more accurate than what most builders and consultants currently use. Instead of reviewing what he calls ‘demonstrated demand’ models -- defined as homes already sold and review past performances instead of those of the present or future – his company focuses on current and projected demographics, preferences and lifestyles and translates that information into estimated demand for any variety of product types, price range or geographic areas.

Moreover, instead of attempting to cram these households into the existing limited array of ‘entry-level’ to ‘luxury’ consumer segments, Smoke has developed a set of eight categories that focus more on personality traits than just incomes alone. Consequently, he says his segments are more adaptable to markets that can change over time for a variety of reasons, and are especially useful to assist those developments failing to meet their projected absorption models.

Explains Smoke, “It’s important for the best use of dirt, for designing product, for marketing and promotional purposes, and be able to adjust as market conditions change due to a new competitor or any host of externalities.”

Want to identify the ‘who’ of your proposed or existing developments? Contact us or visit our website for more details on Jonathan Smoke’s consumer groups and how he’s part of a national trend to redefine consumer segmentation for the building industry.

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