MUSTANG — Developer Robert Crout doesn't see trees and dirt as he walks through what will be the third phase of Sara Homestead addition at SW 59 and Sara Road.
“It's kind of weird,” he said. “I can see buildings on land. You know, like an artist can see their picture on a blank piece of canvas? I can see streets and things. That's why (the streets) aren't straight — in my mind, that's no fun.”
Crout is 2013 president of the Central Oklahoma Home Builders Association. That developer's ability to look ahead long term, to envision what doesn't yet exist, could serve the group well.
“Our lead times are often three to five years out, so we're always having to look ahead and see where the market is going, try to hit a niche,” Crout said of land developers. “That far ahead, it oftentimes is a moving target.”
His predecessor as president, Kurt Dinnes, co-owner of Sun Custom Homes, said he's leaving the association in good hands.
“Robert is a fine man,” he said. “I couldn't have asked for a better first vice president and somebody to take over our association. I think Robert has strong leadership skills and will continue to take the baton and move it forward.”
Crout's niche is Mustang, and the neighborhoods he develops seem to nestle into the landscape instead of take it over. He and associate Tiffany Rowell walk through the mud and trees of the next section of Sara Homestead to get a feel for what stays and what needs to go.
“I'm a developer, but I try to really let the land tell me how it wants to be developed,” Crout said. “I try to be very conservation-minded, friendly to the environment. If we can transplant a tree rather than bulldozing it, then we certainly will.”
Crout also is selective about the builders who work with him. A sign near the entrance lists his preferred builders, though he is willing to work with anyone a buyer wants to bring in.
“They have to go through an application process, though,” he said.
For lots that require work such as leveling, Crout brings in a golf course shaper to do the work before the builder comes in to pour a slab. That isn't standard protocol. Builders normally bring in their own crews to prepare a lot, but they may not be well versed in the fine art of drainage.
“We need that drainage to be controlled in our drainage ways,” Crout said. “The golf course shaper, that's all he's thinking about.”
This year marks the builders association's 70th anniversary, and Crout said he expects 2013 to be a sometimes introspective year for the association. A new strategic plan and more educational opportunities top his to-do list for the year. The timing is perfect, he said.
“We're just coming out of a recession where we've lost membership and now membership is starting to grow back,” he said.
Last year proved to be the busiest for Oklahoma City-area homebuilders since 2007, with a 31 percent increase in building permits over 2011, so the association's new educational offerings on how to run a business may be coming just in time.
“This is a business, and many times, at least in the past boom, some of the builders that fell away were because they hadn't done the business stuff,” Crout said. “They knew how to build the house, they knew how to put the sticks ups, but they didn't know how to run a business.”
For Crout, running a business is second nature. A native of Watonga, Crout studied finance at the University of Oklahoma and spent the first five years out of college as a stock broker. He said he moved to Mustang about the same time simply because its small-town atmosphere at the time reminded him of his hometown.
He made the leap into development, founding Crout Cos. in 1977.
“I met some people from Mustang that kind of encouraged me, and so I went into developing,” Crout said.
Looking ahead, Crout said the association will keep an eye on the state Legislature as the 2013 session continues, but that the biggest concerns could lurk in city ordinances. Last year, Oklahoma City leaders ultimately dropped a part of the newest building code that would have required sprinkler systems in new homes, but the issue hasn't gone away, Crout said.
However, the issue taking front and center has to do with traffic lights, Crout said. Oklahoma City ordinances require the first developer of a new neighborhood to bear the expense of installing traffic lights. Crout called that a development killer.
“A traffic light can cost $250,000, and you can't afford that,” he said. “I mean, that just says you can't develop.”