We’re celebrating 35 years in business this year so I thought it would be fun to do a multi-part blog series on the history of NDI. So far I’ve covered how NDI was started, the early years, and much more! I hope you will follow along. It is a story I am proud to tell!
In case you missed it, you can catch up on Parts 1 – 3.
The next 10 years (2003-2013) in NDI’s history, very much established our identity. The 2000’s were definitely an interesting time for the building industry. We experienced one of the strongest housing markets since the company started which was followed by one of the worst housing recessions in recent history. Starting in 2003, demand for new construction exploded all over the country, but here in northern Virginia, there were 3 major drivers for the increased demand in housing: outward expansion, the tear down phenomenon, and relaxed lending practices.
Outward Expansion: Areas in Prince William & Fauquier Counties experienced a boom in housing due to buyers seeking larger new homes located in planned communities. Buyers were abandoning their short commutes around the beltway, and moving to outlying areas like Gainesville and beyond, where they could get more for their money.
Tear Down Phenomenon: Tearing down existing homes & rebuilding brand new also became very popular in the 2000’s. A lot of buyers seeking new construction didn’t want to move out of their neighborhood in order to get the home they had always dreamt of. They wanted to keep their commute, their schools, even the local grocery stores and businesses they had come to love. The easiest (and often more affordable) way to get exactly what you want, where you want, is to rebuild. At the beginning of the decade, we were doing 30-40% tear down, and by the end, it was over 85% (now it is most of what we build).
Relaxed Lending Practices: By 2003/2004, mortgage lenders had relaxed qualification requirements for loans. Interest only, no money down, and no doc loans, were commonplace. It provided an opportunity for many to get mortgages, when historically, they weren’t able. This created a pool of new buyers in the market, including speculative builders. We’ve always worked with spec builders (clients who hire us to build a home they turn around a flip for profit), but never at the volume we did during the housing boom of the 2000’s.
Because of these 3 drivers, the entire building industry was in a frenzy, just trying to keep up. It was a CRAZY time for everyone, including NDI. In 2002, my first full year working for Dad, we settled 47 scattered lot homes. By the height of the housing boom in 2007, we had peaked to over 100 homes. We had 13 Superintendents and 2 General Superintendents and we were building all over northern Virginia from the Potomac River to Lake Anna.
If the boom years were crazy, the recession that set in after was difficult for so many sectors, especially building. There were a lot of builders who didn’t make it, and many more who were just struggling to survive. For NDI, we used the slowdown to define who we were and make changes we hoped would make us better. Because one thing I learned during the boom years is that bigger is not better!
At our peak, we were building over 100 homes. Last year, we built 31 homes, and I am so totally fine with that pace. Coming from a sales background, it took me several years to ignore my innate instinct to sell more product year over year. But I can say with 100% confidence that I never want to go back to building 100 homes a year. Bigger is not better, and quite frankly it isn’t that much fun. There were clients I never met and homes we built I was not able to see. There were even members of the NDI team I didn’t know very well. It was stressful and at the end of the day, I would reflect back thinking, “what the hell just happened?”.
Now I meet our clients, and in many cases, I get to know them and their families. I’m able to see the homes we’re building. And I feel like I know our team, and their families. It’s a good pace of business. And it allows us to set aside getting bigger, and focus on getting better.
When we made the intentional decision to focus on getting better, we knew that needed to begin and end with the client experience. I’m not talking about just building a great home, I’m talking about getting to the end of the build process with one goal in mind; that the client would recommend NDI to their family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. And more than that, if they ever decided to build another home, NDI would be their first call.
From increasing our flexibility (we want to say YES whenever possible) to eliminating our change fee, we made significant fundamental changes in the years following the boom that now define who we are.
We’re not perfect, but we’re always looking for ways to perfect what we do. The years following the boom helped us figure out who we wanted to be as a company. And while there are still things about work that can keep me up at night, the way we operate the company and treat people isn’t one of them.
In my last post of this series, Part 5: What Happened Next Was…(2014 – Present), I talk about new endeavors, new leadership, and how the pandemic changed the building industry.
Dream. Build. Live.