LAKE WYLIE, S.C. ─ Karen McCorkle says she has a better mousetrap but she doesn’t expect ─ or particularly want ─ her 300 or so homebuilder clients to beat a path to her door.
The mousetrap is a home warranty from the largest new-home-insurance company in the country, 2-10 Home Buyers Warranty, widely known in the residential construction industry as the gold standard.
The door is a secluded one, to a custom lakeside home McCorkle’s husband, David ─ a former developer-turned-HVAC contractor-and-Realtor ─ built for the couple in 2002 at the end of gravel road.
The 59-year-old stepmother to David’s 25-year-old daughter met On the Level at said door looking very comfortable in bare feet, and glad not to be behind the wheel and on her way to serve her clients in three states.
We sat at the dining table, with a broad view of her corner of Lake Wylie. The Radford, Va.-native and 49-year resident of the Charlotte area flashed her broad and brilliant smile ─ and her matching wit ─ early and often.
Cool house. I saw the trailer up the road is for sale. They’ve been trying to sell it ─ they just use it as a fish camp, I don’t think anybody even stays the night there ─ forever. They’re asking $300,000 for it. The difficulty out here is the sewer. We’ve got our own septic, but it wasn’t easy, and we were limited to three bedrooms because of the size of it. We’re built on solid granite. We had to drill just to get the gas line to the house. So the lots are so expensive out here on the lake that it’s hard to put a house on them because of the difficulties.
And your husband built this house, too. David was a developer. Now he’s a partner in a heating and air-conditioning company. He doesn’t like me to use that term because it’s a commercial HVAC company called Environmental Air, which is what he says they do, environmental air. He recently started a realty business, too: Lake Wylie Realty.
York and Lancaster counties are taking off, new home-wise. I think it’s the gas prices. I’m going to fill up on my way back to the office on some $3.19.9 gas. I never leave South Carolina without filling up. You have to get it right after the Buster Boyd Bridge, that’s where there’s all that competition. It gets more expensive the farther down you go. And it’s a little pricier around Carowinds, too.
You’ve got it down to a science. I travel a lot. A lot. That’s how I know. I know which Interstate exits throughout the state have more gas station competition and cheaper gas. Virginia is more expensive than North Carolina, and South Carolina is cheaper than North Carolina.
How long have you been at the new-home insurance game? Twenty years. I sold real estate for a while, worked for the Board of Realtors for a while ─ now it’s the Charlotte Regional Realtor Association, or something ─ and then went to work for about a year for American Home Shield, which sells pre-owned home warranties. Then 2-10 recruited me. (The late) Tom Acree, vice president in the Atlanta office of 2-10, called me up and said, “I’m your friendly competition.” Best boss I ever had ─ though the one I’ve got now is pretty good, too.
Nice job CYA there. Ha.
So you cover the whole state? And Lancaster and York counties in South Carolina, and I have a couple of accounts in Virginia. The big builders, like M/I and Standard Pacific ─ they’re really taking off in Charlotte, aren’t they, building everywhere? I do mostly smaller custom builders and mid-size companies, like Shea Homes and Saussy Burbank around here, H&H Homes in Fayetteville and Jacksonville.
You insure the homebuilder? Or the homebuyer? What does 2-10 mean? The builders are the insured. The buyers are the beneficiaries. I like to tell my clients: You’re actually being the parents to the benefit of your kids, the buyers. Our brand, 2-10, has become a generic term, like Kleenex or Coke. We’re the oldest and largest, really the only national company ─ we’ve been around since 1980. We cover the workmanship for the first year and the infrastructure the second year ─ what’s behind the walls, the piping and wiring. And for the entire 10 years we cover the structural integrity of the house, the load-bearing members of the house, from the dirt and foundation all the way up.
What’s “workmanship? And what do you mean by “the dirt”? Workmanship is like little cracks in the drywall, the cabinet doors, stuff like that. Dirt means how the soil is compacted and prepared for the foundation. Soil is our No. 1 enemy. When we have to total a house, it’s almost always because of the soil failing, sliding, giving way.
I know you can’t give away your secrets and that it varies with the value of the house, but what’s the price tag on your product? I tell people it’s less than 1 percent of the value of a house.
How bad was the bust in your territory? Is it coming back? Whoo-hoo-hoo! Ha-ha! Whoo! It was disastrous! At one time, my area was a big egg around Charlotte ─ that’s all I covered. Now we’ve lost so many people because of the shrinking homebuilding industry, I’m covering the whole state! Have been for the last two years now. Right now the inventory is really tightening up, so instead of a buyers’ market, it’s becoming more like a sellers’ market. But the problem is that builders can’t get construction loans ─ and mortgages are harder, too. So the market could be doing better, builders could be doing better. I don’t think I’ll live to ever see another boom.
Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that we don’t see that kind of bubble again. I agree with that. Everybody’s greed button had been pushed.