The GHB Interview: Rob Elliott

Rob Elliott is the President of Insight Homes, one of Delaware’s leading homebuilders. They specialize in building green homes throughout the southern Delaware market that are in the nation’s top one percent for energy efficiency.

GREEN HOME BUILDER: Congratulations on being recognized as GHB’s Builder of the Year! Could you tell me a little bit about Insight’s inception?

ROB ELLIOTT: It has come down to two founding principles. First, if a customer understands the advantages of a better designed and better built home, their desire to own one will be strong. Right now, whether they go from one builder to another builder in town, typically the houses are built the same—they’re built to the minimum allowed by code by law. In turn, you talk about the neighborhoods, you talk about cosmetics and price. Well, we set out to change that through many different things that we do: through online videos, through collateral, brochures, awards, partnerships. We have science centers in our houses whereas every other homebuilder has a sales center in their garage areas. We don’t—we have a fullfledged, hands-on science center that explains every part of our science, and it’s touch-and feel, and people can move the dials and turn the knobs, and see the differences with the products and techniques we employ.

The second priniciple is that if you want to build green you need to create a culture around actually building that way. It becomes a constant mindset of how you approach things. The key to our success as a green homebuilder is mindset and culture. Every part of our fiber, every part of our people, everyone—it’s how we think.

GHB: Green homes have enjoyed a presence in the industry for quite some time now, but they’ve never really gone beyond a sort of niche market. Where does Insight see the future of green homebuilding going as far as where innovation will take it?

RE: Well, I do believe that it will become standard practice. However, I also believe that we’re nowhere close to the rate or pace that it should be or anywhere close to where we want it to be. The founder of our company, Rob Lisle, started this company as an experiment to see what pushing the boundaries could do. He really believed that once he disrupted the marketplace other builders would be forced to make adjustments. That has occurred, to a point. We have builders in our area, including some national builders, that build differently just for this area and not for others because we pushed the issue. The customer reinforces this by saying, “I don’t understand why you guys don’t have it, it makes perfect sense,” whatever that item may be, but they have not raised their standards all the way up because it does have to be a cultural mindset to realize all you have is a house that costs you a whole bunch more money to build, and if your whole mindset in your company is about cost-per-square-foot or selling per square foot or pretty community and not about how people will benefit from this, then you just can’t make it happen.

GHB: What will Insight be focusing on and working towards in the upcoming year?

RE: We will continue to apply pressure in the area through our sales and to disrupt the area in terms of making other builders have to up their game. That’s a big deal to us. The company wasn’t started by the almighty dollar and is not driven by the almighty dollar. Of course profits matter, but it’s a little bit greater cause to raise the bar and deliver a better home. We are also highly concentrating on opening up new communities that we are 100 percent in control of (i.e. building, developing). That then allows us to do things which are all in line with our whole story.

GHB: Is there anything else you wanted to add that you feel is important in understanding Insight?

RE: I think maybe there’s one other important word: Fearless. You have to be somewhat fearless and willing to do things, try things, and learn from them. You have got to not stop. For example, we have data-loggers in houses all the time taking readings, trying new products in the house, trying this, trying that, new techniques. Again, you have to eat, sleep, drink it as a company as your number one thing. The key to our success as a green homebuilder is mindset and culture.