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Close-up: Michael 'Mick' Pattinson

Barratt American division president looks for ways to keep housing affordable

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British-born Michael "Mick" Pattinson, president of Carlsbad-based Barratt American, is a Southern California homebuilding industry titan whose passion for housing is rooted in humble beginnings.

Pattinson's father served six years in World War II and started a milk-selling business before taking over the village pub. At 14, Pattinson's mother, one of nine children in a poor farming family, left Ireland for England, where she found work as a maid.

Pattinson started his housing career as an office boy in a Biggleswade, England, architectural firm when he was 18, and worked his way up while attending night school. Ten years later he was a salesman for HC Janes, a large Southern England homebuilder, when UK-based international builder Barratt Developments PLC bought the company.

He came to San Diego in 1983 as vice president of sales for Barratt American, the U.S. subsidiary, and was named division president in 1984. He returned to the U.K. four years later as director of sales and marketing for the U.K., but when his successor here died in a car accident in 1991, Pattinson came back. He's been division president ever since.

He enjoys seeing others succeed, especially first-time homebuyers.

"It gives you quite a buzz because you know they are making a life-changing commitment and a decision to better themselves," he said.

Pattinson embraces the credo Sir Lawrie Barratt's company was founded upon: A home for everyone, everywhere. He witnessed the hard work his parents endured, raising children, paying taxes, having nothing to fall back on in their old age and living in public housing. Growing up in a family that never owned a home affected him deeply.

"I've seen the impact of disenfranchised people and it sickens me, quite honestly," he said.

He describes himself as determined, conscientious and uniquely qualified to speak out against development impact and regulation fees that are an impediment to building affordable homes.

"What the market needs desperately is a for sale product that can compete with apartments: smaller units, priced in the high twos or low threes or even mid-twos," he said. "But how do you do that when you're paying $100,000 a house in development impact fees and regulations?"

Pattinson asserts it's time for government to stop seeing the homebuilding industry as its cash cow and find other ways to finance itself and infrastructure. He also decries the practice of deep discounting.

"The public builders in the U.S. have done everybody a great disservice in the way that they've gone into this recession and continued these deep discounts for two years," he said. "They've got a lot to answer for in my opinion."

Barratt American looks to create value without negatively impacting area home values by offering incentives like amenities or landscaping, taking a home in trade or buying down a buyer's mortgage rate.

"There are other ways to do it without wiping out my current customers," he said.

In 2002, Pattinson helped create and pass SB 800, the construction defect right to repair bill that allowed attached housing construction to regain the foothold it lost in the 1990s. He was inducted into the California Building Industry Association's Hall of Fame in 2003 for his leadership and advocacy.

In 2005 Pattinson took Barratt American private with a $165 million leveraged buyout. The immediate goal of paying down debt was achieved by selling land when many publicly owned homebuilders were still buying, and cashing in home sales in several key projects: Seahaus in La Jolla and Metrome in downtown's East Village.

Knocking wood, Pattinson admitted, "We're here because it's always better to be lucky than to be good. We knew this hot market wouldn't last forever. We didn't know it would crater quite severely as it has. We thought we might get a soft landing; we were wrong."

Since the buyout, the focus has been on maintaining profitability. Barratt American was profitable the first three quarters of 2007 largely due to home sales in three high-end communities in Chino Hills, Carlsbad and Leucadia, where the average sales price is $2 million. Pattinson estimated revenues for 2007 at $150 million, including $13 million from anticipated land sales closing in December.

"It doesn't matter to us if we build 500 homes or 100 homes as long as we can keep our head above water," he said. "We've all been surprised at how severe it's become."

The company's product mix includes three- and four-story urban in-fill condominium and townhouse projects in Escondido and La Mesa; traditional two-story condos in Temecula and Perris; mid-market detached homes in Temecula and Perris; and luxury, semi-custom homes in Chino Hills, Carlsbad and Leucadia.

Pattinson's big focus and hope for 2008 is to begin construction at Fanita Ranch, a proposed 2,600-acre, master-planned community in Santee where Barratt American plans to build 1,380 single-family detached homes.

The company has also joined the effort to rebuild homes lost in the October wildfires.

"We've got the capacity to help. It's not a big revenue earner but it's a way of keeping people busy and cover some overhead and we're happy to do it," he said, adding that the industrywide goal should be to get all homeowners who lost their homes into new homes by the end of October 2008.

"And the damn government should get out of our way while we're doing it."

James is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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