PodcastNational Housing Market Outlook

Swimming with Giants: Olson Homes’ Strategic Approach in a Sea of Big Builders

Dean Wehrli

Dean Wehrli

January 12, 2024

Scott Laurie and Olson Homes know that you have to be smart when you are one of the smaller fish swimming in the sea of big fish. You have to be nimble. You have to play the long game. You have to be omnivorous. You have to seek opportunity where others may not see it.

Olson Homes is a Southern California builder with a laser focus on what they build best and where they will sell best. However, the lessons learned from Scott’s experience as a small builder are universal. Join us in the latest episode of The New Home Insights podcast to get the full effect, but here are some highlights:

Featured guest

Scott Laurie, Chief Executive Officer, Olson Homes

Make lemonade out of an old gas station next to a railroad line

  • Risk is something most builders want to erase. That is why they buy finished lots instead of raw land. Olson Homes, though, takes the risk of developing parcels from start to finish to feed a pipeline that might otherwise be precarious.
 
  • This approach means longer timelines and greater uncertainties; those are things that often scare off the bigger players.
 
  • The results, though, are having product in places that buyers want, often with little competition.

The what and where of it

  • You have to have a tight focus to make this work. Olson Homes will stretch over about a 30-mile radius of downtown Los Angeles and Orange County in Southern California. They will develop vacant land when it’s available, which it rarely is.
  • This might mean building 88 townhomes on an old Sriracha hot sauce facility. All Olson communities are called “Something” Walk, like Harbor Walk or Village Walk. They didn’t call this community Sauce Walk, but I’m not judging.
  • If you saw the 2015 biopic “Straight Outta Compton,” you noticed how the future members of NWA hung out at Skateland. Olson turned the site of that facility into homes in a community with historical references to its former use. If you play a game of “Have you ever built on a …” with Scott, you will probably lose.

Let data and discipline guide you.

  • Olson Homes knows what they will build—townhomes, small-lot detached homes—and what they won’t build (everything else).
  • The where part comes from data. Scott and his team tirelessly collect data and distill this into sophisticated analyses that rank communities based on various variables. This is the smart part we mentioned at the top.
  • This also leads to knowing what product in their library fits best, what features buyers will want, what amenities, etc. It adds some relative certainty in the uncertain world Olson Homes lives in.
  • And while Scott knows you must look beyond the surface and be creative when assessing a challenging site, you must always let the data make the final decision. That’s the discipline part, and it’s a critical reason there is still an Olson Homes to build townhomes in place of hot sauce factories.

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About The Author

Dean Wehrli
Dean Wehrli
Principal
Dean helps housing sector clients figure out not just what might work and what might not, but why.

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