Case Studies

Pratt Home Builders

Want a new home? ‘Bring your laptop’ the company says

In Southeast Tennessee, the housing market has been largely spared the booms and busts of other sunny climes and is projected by such observers as Fortune Builders magazine to grow steadily for at least the next few years, and a prime beneficiary is likely to be Pratt Home Builders, a family-owned company since 1998 that endured the Great Recession to become dominant in the regional industry.

“We’ve built close to 1,100 homes in 75 subdivisions, and no one else has come close to that,” says Bill Panebianco, the vice president of sales and marketing who recently came to the Chattanooga-based company after years of similar work in Florida. “We’re a developer as well as a builder. Most of the builders aren’t also developers. We cut out the middle man in development.”

Pratt Home Builders

That results in savings in cost and time to the buyer, and offers a wide variety of choices in the type of home desired, whether it’s an affordable townhouse priced in the high hundreds of thousands of dollars or a luxury residence that’ll necessitate a $500,000 mortgage.

A view from the top

In industry terms, Pratt is a vertically integrated business, a one-stop firm for subdivision development, home construction and marketing, and selling the finished properties. The patriarch, James Pratt, whose history includes being a Mississippi banker and operating propane businesses in the Southeast, handles the finances while his oldest son Win oversees site acquisitions, sales and overall operations. A younger son, Nerren, handles the builders who oversee construction of the homes.

And there’s the longest serving employee, Jennifer Dorsey, ­the vice president of production who says she’s been sketching floor plans since she was 13. She’s right at home in a process-driven company that values—and expects—passion, and prides itself with Guild Quality designation awarded to contractors who score best in customer satisfaction. And for around a decade, customer satisfaction has also been reflected in Pratt’s mention in the Chattanooga Free Press’ annual Best of the Builders category.

Pratt’s satisfied customers, Panebianco explains, fall into three categories: Those upsizing to a nicer home; those downsizing for retirement; and empty nesters who may seek to readjust their lifestyles now that the kids have grown and left them with more independence and disposable money.

Whoever the prospective buyer, the customer-friendly operation starts with a discovery stage in which an agent listens to the wants and needs of the home searcher and presents plans and the community that fits the situation. Pratt’s 3,000-square-foot design center carries most anything to personalize a home, and is staffed with two full time designers to help buyers make selections that will make this their dream home.

“We’ve gathered hundreds of products in a comfortable setting, where you can take the time you need to customize your home,” the company website, Prattliving.com, assures. “Our team is dedicated to providing a fun, low-stress experience for all our clients with the goal of creating a home that is uniquely yours.”

And there’s no need to rush anything, not with over 100,000 possibilities of selections of colors, items and what-not, Panebianco reminds. There’ll be a lot of decisions to make, whether it be about flooring, plumbing fixtures, cabinets, carpeting, lighting, windows, outdoor accessories, whatever. Sessions are scheduled in advance, within 10 days of purchase, and often take two to four hours.

“Bring your laptop with all your Pinterest and Houzz photos, material samples, magazines and photos, and we’ll help you achieve the look you desire so you will love where you live,” Pratt’s website says.

Pratt’s production department estimates costs, schedules and permits, and the construction department takes the customer to the site for an initial orientation. Most structural materials come to Pratt from Builders FirstSource, an industry giant that acquired and integrated 33 companies between 1998 and 2015 and now offers what Pratt regards as unparalleled resources and expertise. Ferguson’s Appliances stocks Pratt with General Electric appliances.

As far as the actual construction process goes, Pratt says from the time it breaks ground, 90 to 110 days is all it takes to get the house standing and ready for move-in, but client-customer interaction continues long afterward.

A full-time customer-care department includes the Pratt Piece of Mind Plan, which carries a one-year builder warranty; two-year mechanical warranty; and 10-year structural warranty. The customer-care team also meets with the buyer after 90 days and 11 months, always at the home to ensure continued happiness.

Tennessee strong

Aside from Pratt’s performance itself, multiple factors seem to favor the company’s continued growth.

The fourth-largest city in Tennessee, Chattanooga, in addition to its longtime monikers as “Gateway to the South,” and “The Scenic City,” it has a newer nickname: Gig City. Gig is short for gigabyte, and if internet service here isn’t the fastest in the Western Hemisphere, as the community proclaims, it certainly doesn’t keep folks waiting.

While the Electric Power Board’s expansion has raised objections from private servers like ATT and Comcast, the fast ’net has been cited as a contributor to the expansion of a Volkswagen plant and the establishment of Amazon.com facilities—two more reasons for young, smart people to be drawn to a region already favorable due to its agreeable climate, cultural attractions and mountainous beauty.

And those young, smart people need housing, which Pratt builds to specification.

“The housing market in Southeast Tennessee is very stable, with a growth rate that’s sustainable,” Panebianco says. “It’s not growing at a rate that causes a bubble.”

That hasn’t held true for other hot spots, among them Nevada, Florida and California, where the housing crash of the last decade hit especially hard.

“When you’re in an area with high spikes, you also have high drops,” he says. “We’re having a swing that’s projected to go up through 2022. Then we expect a minor dip, but we’ll still be higher than where we are now.”

All of which gives Pratt Home Builders reason to be optimistic that it’ll remain a heavyweight in Southeast Tennessee home building and subdivision development industries.

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