Q&A with Jan Williams
|Jan Williams, CGR, 2000 Chairman, NAHB Remodelors Council
Jan Williams, CGR, who along with her husband, Harry, has been an active NAHB member for close to 30 years, finishes her term as chairman of the NAHB Remodelors Council in Atlanta at the NAHB Annual Board Meeting and International Builders Show. Before turning the gavel over to Alan Hanbury, CGR, Jan shares with us her thoughts about the industry and her year as the volunteer leader of NAHB remodelers.
Q: Let’s start with your observations on the state of the remodeling industry.
JW: The last several years in particular have been extremely favorable for our industry. Consumer spending on remodeling is at an all-time high. Last year it was $150 billion, and it looks as if 2001 will be another banner year. The industry is pretty much working at full capacity. The best news is that remodelers are making more money now than a few years ago; they’re not just working harder and keeping busier. At the same time, the industry is larger than it’s ever been with more than 800,000 companies earning at least part of their revenues from residential remodeling. These are all signs of a vibrant, growing industry, although NAHB is predicting the growth rate to slow down somewhat during the coming decade to a more moderate pace of 5- to7-percent growth a year, or 3 to 4 percent adjusted for inflation.
Q: What are some of the industry’s top concerns at this juncture?
JW: NAHB polls remodelers on a variety of subjects each year at the Remodelers’ Show. According to the survey results from this past fall, lack of skilled labor, finding and retaining employees, and the cost of labor were the three highest ranking issues. It’s understandable that labor issues would be a main concern right now considering the strong demand for remodeling. Actually, lack of skilled labor has the topped the list since the first survey 10 years ago. Too few young people find the construction industry appealing. Our industry needs to do a better job selling them on the rewards of a career in construction, although this is a continuing priority for NAHB and its educational arm, the Home Builders’ Institute.
Q: Let’s turn to trade associations. What do they have to offer remodelers?
JW: It’s tremendously important for remodelers who are serious about their business and profession to participate in an organization such as NAHB. You can learn on your own, or you can learn from the shared experience of others who face the same problems and issues as you do on a day-to-day basis. That’s what it really means to be a member of a trade group like the National Association of Home Builders—information, education and shared knowledge and experiences. Membership also imparts a certain credibility that carries weight in the industry and with the public. Many remodelers rationalize not joining a trade group because of the cost. But if these remodelers took advantage of all NAHB or other similar organizations have to offer, they would realize how much it costs not to be a member.
Q: NAHB’s name suggests that it is an organization for homebuilders. How do remodelers fit into NAHB?
JW: Why get hung up on semantics? We are all builders in the sense that we bring together material and labor to construct spaces in which people live. Our company, Williams-Builder, didn’t remove “builder” from our name even after we stopped building new homes. We’re builders in one context and remodelers in another. Over the years, remodeling has grown to be as important to the housing industry as new construction. NAHB acknowledged the role of remodeling when it created a national remodeling committee back in the 1960s. On the local level, the Seattle Master Builders established the first local Remodelors Council in the mid-1950s. Then in 1983, NAHB elevated the former committee to a council with its own board of trustees and a much broader purview within NAHB and the industry.
Q: Some people claim that NAHB relegates remodelers to second-class status. For example, can a remodeler become NAHB president?
JW: Definitely, a remodeler can hold any office within NAHB, including national president. According to our bylaws, remodelers have the same standing as homebuilders, multifamily builders or developers. Roger Glunt from Pittsburgh, was one of the first NAHB presidents with remodeling credentials. Bob Mitchell, last year’s president, runs a large remodeling division in the Washington, D.C. area. Being president of NAHB is a full-time job and requires a huge commitment of time and money. There aren’t many remodelers in the industry right now that want to or can afford to leave their business behind for the number of years it takes to work up NAHB’s leadership ladder. However, there are numerous instances of remodelers who have served as state and local homebuilder presidents, national vice presidents and directors. Remodelers also are represented on numerous NAHB standing committees and task forces, in addition to the Remodelors Council. To me, this is clear evidence that remodelers are on equal footing with other NAHB members.
Q: What is the main role of the NAHB Remodelors Council (RC)?
JW: The Council’s mission is to provide services to improve the business expertise of remodelers and to raise their professional image. In addition, the RC is charged with representing the business interests of our industry before all levels of government.
Q: Explain the spelling with an “o” instead of an “e” in Remodelors.
JW: The unique spelling of Remodelors in our name is trademarked. We used the National Association of Realtors (NAR) as our model to distinguish our Council and to create a brand name identity for our members. As you may know, “Realtor” is a trademarked term that technically refers only to NAR members.
Q: What’s the difference between being a member of NAHB and a member of the Remodelors Council?
JW: In association terminology, the RC is a “special interest group” that addresses the unique needs of a particular constituency within the parent organization. In this respect Council membership can be seen as an enhancement to NAHB membership. NAHB members who elect to join the Council receive specialized services, on top of the array of NAHB benefits and services they enjoy, in return for a small, additional annual fee. Within a large organization such as NAHB, the RC also serves as a vital conduit to help remodelers tap NAHB’s vast resources.
Q: What are some of the extra benefits the RC offers remodelers?
JW: RC members receive Professional Remodeler magazine, a monthly e-newsletter, a variety of social events and discounted fees for the Certified Graduate Remodelor program. Remodelor 20 Clubs is another popular service that is exclusive to RC members. In addition, the Council offers educational workshops and provides individual assistance to its members on any topic you can name, such as contracts or construction technology. Local Councils offer a whole different range of services and benefits, plus their own educational and networking opportunities. Above all, Council members become part of a professional network that brings them together with other remodelers, whom they can call on for personal advice, to share experiences and knowledge.
Q: Can you give us some concrete examples of contributions that NAHB has made to the remodeling industry?
JW: There isn’t enough time to cover them all, so I’ll focus on a few items I consider especially important. In 1988, the RC developed the first set of quality standards for the remodeling industry. These have been revised and expanded and now are recognized by the entire residential construction industry as the standard for construction performance. Working through the NAHB Research Center, the Council helped create the HUD Rehab Guidelines, which serve as a model for local jurisdictions to promote cost-efficient renovation of older homes. NAHB also provided the expertise and funding to create the Remodelers’ Show, which has evolved into the foremost annual event in the industry. Certified Graduate Remodelor (CGR) is the only certification program for remodelers that offers educational courses geared to their business operations. With respect to government representation, NAHB is the only organization actively working to resolve remodelers’ concerns about lead-hazard-reduction regulations from HUD and EPA. NAHB also has a long history of lobbying for legislation that promotes affordable housing and tax deductions for homeowners, which benefits remodelers as much as builders. In the building code arena, NAHB is currently fighting the “7-11” stairway-design rule that would add substantial costs to many remodeling projects, not to mention all new homes. Virtually everything NAHB supports in this area leads to reduced material and labor costs, which works to the advantage of everyone in the industry. NAHB’s expertise in the economic field has helped the industry to gain a better understanding of the dynamics of the market place and the make-up of the remodeling industry.
Q: NAHB has a reputation as a powerful lobbying organization. Don’t the interests of homebuilders differ from those of remodelers?
JW: Not really. Remodelers are small business owners just like most of the homebuilders who belong to NAHB. In this sense, NAHB’s policies and legislative efforts focus on issues that promote the interests of groups whether it involves tax legislation or environmental regulation that would burden our business operations. NAHB’s commitment to making housing more affordable and available to more people also benefits the entire industry, not just homebuilders. Legislation and regulation that results in a stronger housing industry also works to the advantage of remodeling.
Q: What about the National Association of the Remodeling Industry? Do you see them as a competitor to NAHB and the Remodelors Council?
JW: You have noticed that we have Democrats and Republicans! The point is that we are all pursuing the same goals—the education of the remodeler to become professional, and recognition by the public of the professional remodeler. Although we are competitors in the sense that we both serve and represent the remodeling industry and have many overlapping goals, we don’t need to compete head-on because the industry is wide open with more than enough contractors for us to reach out to. However, what our fragmented industry needs is one voice that transcends all the different segments of the industry. NAHB with its national clout, deep resources and extensive network of local associations has a strong foundation to serve this role.
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