Page 4

feature Careful financial planning and industry savvy carried Jody “Joe” Dunning through the recession. The Byhalia native and former director of the small business startup center at Northwest Mississippi Community College heads Classic Homes, LLC, a contracting firm based out of Olive Branch. “It’s a lot easier to give up in this business when you’re weighted down with debt,” he says. Since 1992, Dunning has built a variety of houses from the ground up across North Mississippi. “We originally tried to stay around DeSoto County. However, when the downturn hit, we would basically do whatever it took and go where we needed to go,” Dunning says. “We were able to turn to other arenas outside of residential building including a few restaurants and other commercial projects.” Dunning earned his general construction license in 2006, which opened up a slew of new opportunities outside the realm of residential construction. “We didn’t really focus on brick-andmortar groundwork on commercial jobs,” he says. “There was a little bit of a learning curve compared to working residentially, but many of the differences boil down to the materials we use — metalwork for commercial versus traditional lumber for residential.” Commercial work allowed Dunning to hone his craft during evidence of the recession was not always found in the downtime of the 2008-2011 unsold homes, but rather a heavy and stubborn lot housing dip. The seasoned inventory hastily purchased by other prospective contractor momentarily turned contractors. “A lot of the time, you’ll see nothing his focus away from residential but a concrete foundation with pipes sticking and homes and toward smaller-scale overgrown weeds for months on end,” he says. renovations and interior design. While Dunning acknowledges the importance of saving money, This focus on smaller jobs and slow growth wasn’t in the purview he isn’t beyond passing some of the savings down to his clientele. of many other area contractors, many of whom planned big and Many of his recent projects boast Energy Star certification in light ended up being forced to give up the ghost when times got tough. of recent “green” trends. To homeowners, this means a reduction “A lot of guys were building 20 or so market homes with 200 lots of hundreds of dollars a year in utility payments in inventory,” he says. “That’s one of the things we didn’t do. You always want to grow your business “Times were good. and a minimal carbon footprint. In 2012, the 11 Energy Star-certified homes built by Classic Homes but we thought that mindset could catch us off We were doing $100cut down on carbon emissions in the state, saving guard if a downturn did occur.” $125 a square foot and up to 19,833 pounds of burnt coal.And despite a A former banker, Dunning was well versed in the few grim years as of late, Dunning looks toward area of supply and demand. He saw the symptoms 2006 was our best the future. He emphasizes a need for revaluation of a dwindling market and planned accordingly year. We probably of appraisal procedures to match the current to keep his business afloat. He speaks of the days built about 20 homes market, championing a cost-approach method before the housing bubble burst with a degree of that year,” instead of traditional comparable appraisal.“That hindsight gained from 20 years of immersion in way, builders receive credit for what they’re putting the industry. “Times were good. We were doing into a house in terms of material and cost,” he says. “If you built $100-$125 a square foot and 2006 was our best year. We probably a house six months ago, it’s likely that your framing materials built about 20 homes that year,” he says. “But suddenly, we were would cost $5,000 more than they do today. Right now, we’re seeing building much less. The banks wouldn’t let most contractors build an increase in the cost in building materials and lots and we’re more than two or three at a time.” still stuck in the old appraisal process of comparing the price to In addition to commercial work, Dunning found himself taking established homes.” on smaller and lower-cost residential projects during the recession. Now that his company has weathered the worst, Dunning hopes “It’s a whole lot easier to move a $100,000 home than a $400,000 to resume business as usual in the coming years. “Last year was home,” Dunning says. “We gave up our profit a few years but we profitable for us and it’s looking like 2013 will be even better,” never actually had to take money out of the company.” Dunning says. “I definitely feel like it’s on the upturn. Things are While the signs were everywhere in the form of the high cost looking good—the DOW is up and trucks are on the road.” of roofing materials, drywall and carpeting, Dunning saw that



DUNNING | JULY 2013 89

Five that Survived the Crash