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The Deans of Green

The Deans of Green

IBS 2010: Last Tango in Vegas

comments (0) January 27th, 2010 in Blogs
FPR Fernando Pages Ruiz, contributor

Despite a dire economic reality, attendees at IBS were markedly more optimistic than last year.
The “Purist Hatbox” pill-box-hat-style toilet from Kohler represents the new Smart Car esthetic, pragmatic, efficient, devoid of all sex appeal and proud of it. Kohler’s only new product for the show, an improved hand held shower head.
The Vinyl Siding Institute raffled off a one year lease to a Smart Car.
The outdoor exhibit at IBS in years past occupied two parking lots. This year, a small handful of modest houses built into a corner of one parking lot resemble the models languishing in many subdivisions, acres of vacant lots looming in the background.
Despite a dire economic reality, attendees at IBS were markedly more optimistic than last year.Click To Enlarge

Despite a dire economic reality, attendees at IBS were markedly more optimistic than last year.

Three years ago, at the 2007 International Builders Show (IBS) in Orlando, the Homebuilders Association introduced NAHB Green, the latest in what has become an overabundance of green building certification programs. This was the biggest news at that last show in Orlando, and everyone hoped Green would cushion the recessionary realities hitting homebuilders by creating a burgeoning demand for green products and services. Indeed, during the next three years, which feel more like thirty years to anyone in the homebuilding industry, consumers have become keenly aware of green issues and the benefits of green built homes, including energy efficiency, breathable indoor air, and the higher quality construction required obtain the high performance home. But no hints of economic recovery.

At IBS, another 10-percent drop in attendance. Yet the mood this year was considerably better than last. For one, the show organizers reduced the floor space by at least a third, compressing attendants into a space that felt better populated and hence more festive than last year’s ghost town. Builders generally agreed that we have weathered the worst, and now have settled into the new economic reality, not booming, but not so gloomy either. One builder I spoke with said his housing business in Arizona was dead, but his insulation crew kept him busy. If green has not sparked a recovery, energy retrofits have sustained some builders and kept them in business through the recession.

Reflecting a somber mood, vendors at the show offered sober, practical product improvements with few introductions. The Kohler booth, usually the vanguard of design innovation and merchandizing, introduce only one new product, a better built shower head with a swivel instead of a knob. The products most prominently displayed embody the new, smart-cart esthetic that sneers at past excess with the new chic, completely pragmatic, energy efficient, and proud of it, devoid of all sex appeal, power or pizzazz. To wit, the Smart Car lease giveaway at the Vinyl Siding Institute, the pillbox toilet from Kohler, and the latest in bathtub design, no jets, no bubbles, just warm water and a drain.

IBS used to boast two parking lots full of outdoor exhibits with all kinds of fully decked out show houses, now reduced to about three parking spaces, with three very modest houses, which few went to visit discouraged by the nearly constant rain and cold. A sad allegory of the new real estate economy, The New American Home 2010, a regular feature at IBS, was presented virtually this year; the real house was rumored to have been foreclosed on before construction was completed. In truth, the builder, Domanico Custom Homes, lost their financing.

Nevertheless, the mood was decidedly good. Why the uptick in optimism? The builders I asked all responded the same way, none could imagine things getting any worse. I guess the giddy joy of hitting bottom comes with the realization that you have stopped falling.           

posted in: Blogs, business, IBS, International Builder's Show
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