People Pursuing Passions: “We can’t keep fudging to hide poor land development practices,” Skip writes in one of his many published articles. “If we are ever to achieve a more sustainable world and create better communities and housing products, we simply cannot accept mediocre design, technology, and attitude.”
The Real Estate Industry, its Properties, and its People have Fascinated Him for over Three Decades
Skip earned his Texas Real Estate license when he was just 17 years old. And he passed the Real Estate Broker’s Exam at the ripe age of 18 to become a licensed broker in Texas. He went on to earn a BA in Economics and a Master’s degree in Land Economics, both from Texas A&M University. And he has never looked back.
His company, Land Analytics, is based in Fredericksburg. But Skip works with developers, builders, and financial institutions across the United State. His expertise lies in bringing properties that produce life-long returns to market. Services include strategic financial modeling to give home builders and developers the information they need. They can then make informed decisions and optimize their project’s financial yield.
“Working on such a wide variety of projects in different parts of the country has certainly afforded me an opportunity to learn and see things from the various perspectives of all the different entities that are involved—from large national homebuilders to master-planned community developers to mid-market equity investors,” said Skip, adding that three of the builders he has consulted with were named NAHB Builders of the Year.
Closer to home, Skip’s development company is a partner in Frieden, a 240-acre master-planned community. Skip’s vision for the development led it to be selected as the first Southern Living-inspired community in Texas.
A Fruitful Partnership
Some 20 years ago, Skip met Rick Harrison of Rick Harrison Site Design Studio. They both attended a builders show hosted by NAHB. Skip was immediately impressed with Harrison’s site development concepts and land planning program. The pair have worked together ever since on numerous projects of all sizes and scope.
Skip recalled one of the first projects he and Rick Harrison worked on in the Texas Hill Country. A young developer found himself in a bind. He did not have enough collateral to pay for the $2M water storage tank that the city required for the project to move forward. Skip and Harrison worked together to redesign, re-engineer, and replat a terribly inefficient grid neighborhood plan.
“In this extreme example, we were not only able to reduce 40% of the hard development costs but also create a much more desirable neighborhood with much more green space. We saved the developer from losing the project. He recovered and finished with a profitable project—and learned a lot of lessons about what not to do in the process.”
Building Flexibility Into Plan Approvals
Skip’s passion for helping his clients is obvious as our discussion continues. He is particularly proud of those where he has turned a losing proposition into a profitable one.
Skip says one of the most important lessons a developer can learn is, “Don’t let your market conditions as they exist right now lock you into something you can’t change.”
“The fastest path to bankruptcy is a 500-lot subdivision approved for a specific type of housing because there’s perceived demand for it at the time,” he explained. “Then the market demand shifts just as you bring the concept to market. In a typical scenario, you would have to take the plan back to the city to approve changes. And by then, there would be a different set of city planners in office to deal with. All this would be extremely costly, both from a cash and time perspective.
A Passion for Technology
Twenty-five years ago, Skip received his DealBuilder consultant certification. He became one of four certified DealBuilder consultants and one of two certified DealBuilder trainers in the United States. DealBuilder is a software program developed specifically for the land development and home-building industry. Later, to serve the needs of his clients with income and mixed-use properties, he also became a certified instructor for Argus Discounted Cash Flow software.
He described how he used DealBuilder on a Land Analytics project in North Carolina. “The investors were $36M in on the raw land. It was one of the hottest markets and best locations. But with only 30 lots sold over its 830 acres, it was not going to proceed at a fast enough rate for the investors to see the internal rate of return they needed,” he recounted.
A Regional Market Study analysis came back with suggestions for eight different house types and apartment and commercial demand projections. “We implemented all of the suggestions, using DealBuilder to move pieces around on the chess board,” Skip said. “The modeling took several months but set the stage for a multi-year building plan to completely turn the project around. In the end, the raw land doubled in value. The new plan was sold to a major homebuilder who is finishing it now.”
A Passion for Sharing Knowledge
Skip still makes time to pursue his passions for consulting and public speaking. He volunteers his time as a guest lecturer to teach graduate students in Land Economics and Real Estate classes at the Mays Business School at his alma mater, A&M.
As a featured speaker at builder and real estate industry conferences, Skip Preble always draws a crowd!
Building Savvy is pleased to present BUILDING BETTER NEIGHBORHOODS by Skip Preble and Rick Harrison