Typically, one of the best-kept secrets in a private company is the share of total revenue that stays in the company after paying all operating costs and expenses. For a number of personal, business, or strategic reasons, that number – also known as net profit margin – tends to remain the purview of owner(s) and accountants. Despite these company-specific realities, however, industries have a strong interest in understanding aggregate levels of profitability and measures of financial stability over time. For this reason, the National Association of Home Builders periodically conducts the Builders’ Cost of Doing Business Study – a nationwide survey of single-family home building companies designed to produce profitability benchmarks for the industry.
The 2019 edition of the study shows that profit margins have continued to increase, reaching their highest point since 2006. On average, builders reported $16.4 million in revenue for fiscal year 2017, of which $13.3 million (81.0%) was spent on cost of sales (i.e. land costs, direct and indirect construction costs) and another $1.9 million (11.4%) on operating expenses (i.e. finance, S&M, G&A, and owner’s compensation). As a result, the industry average gross profit margin for 2017 was 19.0%, while the average net profit margin reached 7.6%.
The figure below puts these margins in historical perspective. In 2006, builders’ average gross margin stood at 20.8%. Then came a painful housing recession that drove it to 14.4% in 2008. Gross margins have recovered slowly but steadily since then, climbing to 15.3% in 2010, 17.4% in 2012, 18.9% in 2014, and most recently, 19.0% in 2017. Meanwhile, their average net profit margin sank from 7.7% in 2006 to -3.0% in 2008, got a pulse in 2010 (0.5%), and made significant gains in 2012 (4.9%), 2014 (6.4%), and in 2017 (7.6%) is essentially back to 2006 levels.
In terms of the balance sheet, single-family builders reported an average of $8.0 million in total assets for fiscal year 2017. Of that, $5.3 million (65.8%) was owed as either short- or long-term liabilities, and the remaining $2.7 million (34.2%) was owned free and clear by the builders.
Looking back shows that, on average, builders’ balance sheets have shrunk since 2006. That year, builders reported an average of $13.0 million in total assets. But by 2010, average assets had been cut in half, down to $6.2 million. In 2012 and 2014, assets regained some lost ground, up to $8.9 million and $9.2 million, respectively, before falling slightly again in 2017 ($8.0 million)
The figure below also shows that builders were highly leveraged in 2006: they had debts equivalent to 74% of their assets. As their balance sheets shrank over the next few years, their reliance on debt declined as well, bottoming out at 64% in 2012. Relying on relatively less debt to run their companies meant builders were using more of their own capital to do the job. In 2006, equity accounted for 26% of builders’ assets, but by 2012, it had jumped ten points to 36%. By 2017, the typical builder’s balance sheet showed liabilities and equity equivalent to 66% and 34% of assets, respectively.
The NAHB Economics team is currently conducting similar research for the residential remodeling industry. If that is the primary activity of your firm, we need your help. Without your input, we can’t produce benchmarks for residential remodelers. Please email Rose Quint to participate at firstname.lastname@example.org.