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Close-Up: Brian Utsler

Standard Pacific focuses on customers, craftsmanship, being good employer

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Brian Utsler, division president of Standard Pacific Homes, has an essential skill in good business: He knows what his company does best.

"Our bread and butter is the single-family detached home," Utsler said. Despite the increase in mixed-use developments and collocation, the company is "not likely to jump to the commercial side of things.

"That would be new territory for us down here," the head of one of San Diego's to homebuilders added.

Standard Pacific, whose homes stretch throughout the southern United States into Florida and the Carolinas, was started in 1965 by Arthur Svendsen and Ronald Foell. It has been in San Diego for 20 years, rising to one of the top five builders in terms of market share, according to Utsler, who has been with the company for about six years, four of them spent as division president.

Since its inception, the company has grown into nine developments in the county: Airoso, Avaron, Bridgewalk, Cabrillo, Canopy Park, Cassero, Gianni, Stoney Creek and Venzano.

Avaron, Bridgewalk, Cabrillo and Cassero are located in the Del Sur community in Black Mountain Ranch. Known for both its historical San Diego design and its environmental sensitivity, the community has garnered accolades from urban planners and homebuyers.

"There is a cost to it," said Utsler, regarding the increased initial investment to building green. "It's not the most efficient way to build, but the long-term benefits are worthwhile."

Utsler noted the environmental aspect of the Del Sur homes appeal to homebuyers, making the homes a worthwhile investment for the company.

"The buying public sees value in it," he said.

Still, Utsler admits it is hard to build environmentally sustainable homes outside of large-scale developments like Del Sur.

"As a culture we try to be a responsible builder," he said. "But, like I say, it's difficult unless you have a large-scale community to implement these kinds of programs."

The market for new homes has seen a slump in the past year, following a slowdown in real estate and decline in home prices. The marketwide slowdown of homebuilding has brought Standard Pacific's San Diego division's recent average of 500 homes per year to 350 for the upcoming year. Nationwide, the company has also downsized, although Utsler declined to say how much.

In addition to lower prices for homes and higher construction costs, Utsler sees additional land constraints in the future, due to programs like the county's General Plan 2020, a multiyear project to update the San Diego County General Plan. The 2020 plan is designed to create a map for the growth and development of the county's unincorporated areas, possibly putting a damper on the number of new homes built.

"We're probably going to go vertical with homes," Utsler said of his company's strategy. "You're going to see more infill-type development, where (buildings) are going maybe four, five stories.

"From a strategic standpoint, we try to stay very diverse," he added.

Despite the slump and tighter land supply, Utsler's division currently has 12 projects in the pipeline.

Utsler believes the company's reputation rests on three elements: focus on the customer, craftsmanship and the importance of being a good employer.

"Homebuilding has typically kind of lagged in some of the customer service," said Utsler, justifying the company's emphasis on homebuyers.

The company was ranked by Fortune 500 magazine as one of the top companies in the country to be employed, one of only two homebuilding companies.

"To be in this industry and to have that reputation speaks volumes for our company," he said.

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