Hammers Replace Law Books

Hammers and saws have replaced Paul A. Kane’s law books.
Kane, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Greater Tulsa since August 2006, had a successful 14-year law practice with Eller & Detrich and no plans for a career change.
He had been involved with the Home Builders Association as an associate and board member as well as the association’s attorney.
Add to that experience, a law practice focused on real estate and construction development, while the forth generation Kane family attorney seemed a natural fit for the position.
It took the encouragement and persuasion of association members — people he knew and respected — to get him to consider and accept the position.
The new executive vice president finds the position challenging and his legal experience useful.
Yet, Kane quickly admits that he doubted he would have been ready for the job 10 years ago.
As a lawyer, every day was a fight, he said. Contract disputes and collections were part of the daily routine.
That contrasts to the Home Builders position where most people are working together as a unit, helping each other and working to stay on the cutting edge of the industry. The challenge is to serve as an industry watchdog over issues and government rules that could affect the industry.
‘‘I already was familiar with the Home Builders Association because I had helped draft construction contracts for use by members on projects,’’ he said. These contracts are a member benefit because it helps protect both the contractor and customer.
‘‘There is an old saying, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ and that definitely applies in this industry,’’ Kane continued. Contracts have helped resolve problems between homebuilders and their clients in advance.
There is a saying, ‘‘an oral contract is not worth the paper it is written on.’’ Add a Chinese saying, ‘‘the weakest link in a contract is better than the strongest memory,’’ and the need is underscored for such a document.
A well-worded contract in anticipation of problems is better for everyone, Kane said. Properly prepared, there is flexibility for both parties.
Homebuilders worry about construction details such as foundation and structure problems, electrical and plumbing issues. The homeowner is concerned about other details and differences can arise.
Sometimes the differences just couldn’t be ironed out between parties, he said. At one time, the association had a mediation board, but even that group presented problems, especially to the homeowner.
It was awkward for the board to impose sanctions on fellow members and often friends no matter how objective it tried to be, Kane said. People often were left with the feeling ‘‘the good old boy’’ faction was in motion and the offending homebuilder would receive only a slap on the wrist for his infractions.
The decision was made to send these contentious matters to the Better Business Bureau and every case is dealt with outside the association. That group has done a good job and is restoring the public faith in the homebuilding industry.
Even in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the real estate industry took hard blows, the homebuilder membership remained loyal, he said. That isn’t to say the economic situation during those difficult days didn’t create challenges.
Those applying for Homebuilder Association membership must meet criteria by providing proof of liability and workers comp insurance, banking, member and customer references and banking records. They also must have been in business for at least one year. That prevents the fly-by-night operations.
Currently, there are 1,065 association members, he said. Less than one third that number actually are involved in construction. Associate members come from supporting industries, lumber yards, lawyers, roofers and flooring people, electricians and plumbers, to name a few.
The member combination provides a ‘‘surprising value’’ because everyone involved has a passion for the organization, he said. All have regular jobs, yet many willingly turn out to help when there is a need. This is a very good surprise since it demonstrates real dedication.
Kane feels that member dedication means ‘‘they expect no less of me.’’
Homebuilders are at the cutting edge of the economy, seeing projects ebb and flow accordingly.
Some work has slowed in this area, he continued. But it is nothing like the stories coming out of Florida and Southern California where prices skyrocketed.
Tulsa’s growth rate is much more stable, healthier and surveys show local property is 13 percent undervalued. There has never been a huge local real estate bubble to burst.
Actually, Kane said, Tulsa is doing better in the housing market than Oklahoma City, Wichita, Kan., and Little Rock, Ark.
There are so many things going on in this city that are positive, he said. The Vision 2025 program, downtown office buildings being purchased and river development show Tulsans again are starting to believe in themselves and their city. That positive attitude is resulting in a stronger economic environment.
Kane also said he is no Pollyanna about the Tulsa’s homebuilding activity.
Builders say construction in 2006 was off from the previous year and it is expected to be off again this year.
Despite the slowdown, homebuilding still is very healthy, predictable and can be forecast. No members are showing signs of worrying where the next meal will be coming from.
Friends in California who moved to Tulsa reported the price on the home they bought in that state just a year ago doubled in price. It is those prices that resulted in the unstable growth rate.
While most organizations shy from government licensing, Home Builders Association members actually favor such legislation.
A bill requiring that Oklahoma homebuilders be licensed failed in the legislature this year, Kane said. The association supports licensing because it provides a level playing field for the industry.
Builders who don’t carry worker’s comp, liability and other insurance packages can do work at less cost than others who are fully insured, he said. This small group is in the investigative reports on the news and makes it difficult for others in the industry.

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