Most rank-and-file home builders are preoccupied with trying to get their homes built and sold and securing land for the next one or two. So market intelligence for builders may seem like a luxury they can’t afford, both mentally and financially—especially when the proponent of data analytics is the VP of market intelligence at the nation’s third-largest builder, which has both the mind space and means to grow the role of and integrate data into its operations.
But to PulteGroup’s Jay Mason, data is democratic and accessible to all who seek it, whether it’s a mom-and-pop shop or a Housing Giant. He doesn’t see size or dollar signs, unless he’s considering the impact of his work on the company’s bottom line. So, despite his public builder pedigree, the insights offered here apply to any builder of any size.
Mason has roamed Pulte’s halls since 2005. He weathered the Great Recession and has been in his current post as Pulte’s chief data geek since 2014. Informed by his doctorate in political science, Mason is involved not only in gathering, managing, analyzing, and integrating data from multiple internal and external sources, but also in the company’s strategic decision-making.
Q. What is PulteGroup’s data strategy and where do you get your data?
A. We use data to provide insights into land acquisition, marketing strategies, pricing decisions, field operations, and product development—basically, the entire operation—to help us make optimal decisions about the direction of the company.
We draw from three basic data sources. We primarily rely on our own data, including in-house research, such as surveying customers. We also engage vendors of housing-specific data to track the new-home space and activity in the communities in which we build. And we source real estate databases for economic data, such as job growth, commercial office leasing or development, demographics, and moving and migration trends, among others.
Q. How do you manage and analyze all that data?
A. The new tools and techniques available for data storage and processing, especially in the last two years or so, have evaporated many constraints. Cloud storage and programming improvements [to automatically input or transfer, integrate, and process data] can run powerful analyses in almost no time at all and at a lower cost. That’s the biggest change.
We are able to do more analytics at a high level, but to also drill down into which of those analytics really drive better decisions for the business. That’s a big change.
The newest technology also allows us to scale not just by volume, but also across the organization.
Q. What’s a real-world example of data’s impact on your business?
A. Thanks to virtual reality, we are able to do primary research [with potential buyers] a lot more effectively, adjust it to their responses, and bring the right product to market much more efficiently.
The data [we get from the research] is more actionable and [is available] earlier on in the product development process to validate or adjust our assumptions than if we built a model home and reacted to the market at that point.
We also track jobs and job growth within MSAs [metropolitan statistical areas] and gather demographic information about who we’re serving, so we can stay up to date on our competitors, who’s buying our homes, and which market segments may be underserved.
Q. What’s been the response from the field to more data-driven operations?
A. We have some really smart people in the field, so we don’t need data to drive everything there. And we didn’t get any resistance because the data we provided has been useful to them.
In fact, instead of pushing data to the field, they’re pushing me and my team for more of it and more tools, techniques, and sources they can use to leverage data. They’ll suggest data sources and vendors they’ve found interesting or potentially useful, and we’ll vet them as credible sources.
The best part of it is watching [our people in the field] improve their strategies and get the most out of their markets. It’s not about the data itself but about its positive impact in the field.
Access a PDF of this article in Professional Builder's August 2019 digital edition