A Reputation for Good Work

Savannah Homes’ Ted Grob honored with BBB Torch Award.

Anyone who spends time in the construction industry is going to get knocked around. Between the ups and downs of the economy, the constantly changing tastes of the average home buyer, and the challenges of finding and hiring skilled labor, simply surviving can be a significant accomplishment. But surviving—and succeeding—with one’s reputation intact requires dedication.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Greater Iowa, Quad Cities, and Siouxland Region understands that, which is why being awarded its Torch Award for Ethics is such an achievement. This past April, Ted Grob of Savannah Homes received this honor for his lifetime of exceptional work in the home building industry in central Iowa.

The Torch Awards for Ethics honors companies that, according to the BBB, “demonstrate best practices, leadership, social responsibility, and high standards of organizational ethics that benefit their customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders, and communities.”

Grob has been a member of the BBB since the mid-1980s and was also recognized for his long-term participation with the nonprofit group. He says the organization provides an invaluable service. “They do a lot of good work, but one of the most important services they provide is being a watchdog. We have a lot of builders in the Des Moines area, most of them good, ethical, solid builders. But in an industry this size, there are also some who shouldn’t be in business, and the Better Business Bureau holds them accountable.”

Originally from Georgia, Grob moved to Iowa as a boy when his father started Goodwill Industries. “We had people living in our basement before the word ‘homeless’ was even a word,” Grob says. “That affected how I looked at housing. I learned early what it looks like when people can’t afford a place to live.”

Although Grob acknowledges that building high-end homes is a lot of fun, he says that’s not his area of expertise. As he puts it in his classic Southern style, “I stay in my sandbox.”

“You have to find what you’re good at and stick with that,” he says. “A lot of guys are good at one thing—building houses or framing—and they think, ‘I’m good at this. I’d be great at developing, or I’d be great at remodeling.’ And they lose their shirts. They should have stayed in their sandbox.”

Grob’s sandbox and his mission have nearly always been focused on affordable housing. The few times he strayed from that focus, he paid for it, he says.

Grob built his first home in 1970 and then worked on the corporate side of the construction industry, at first responsible for repossessing mortgaged homes and land during the devastating economic downturn of the 1980s.

“I advised building our way out of the developments we were repossessing,” Grob says, “so Midland Homes was started.”
He was successful at it, and Midland was sold, so Grob went out on his own. Savannah Homes was born in 1996.

“Our success starts with what I pay for lots,” he explains. “I had to start doing my own developments to get lots at the price I wanted so I could build houses people could actually afford.”

Lot availability and pricing is still the biggest struggle facing home builders, Grob believes. Most cities are finally beginning to recognize that growth and affordability can only come together when codes allow smaller lot sizes and more-reasonable minimum square footage standards.

“People in the best position to do something about the lack of affordable housing are almost always the very people who exacerbate the problem,” he says. He believes that too often there’s a disconnect between government officials and builders, with no communication or attempt to work together on a solution.

“Everyone thinks if you add things to raise the price of the house—larger lots, larger square footage, more amenities—you raise tax revenues,” he explains. “But every time you raise the price, you bump buyers down the affordability ladder. And every time you bump people down the ladder, somebody gets bumped off the bottom.”

Grob’s passion for the industry has made him passionate about issues that affect it, too: homelessness, immigration, government regulation, skilled trades training. But his outlook remains realistically optimistic. “I’ve been helped by an exceptional group of mentors, a marvelous and patient wife of 51 years, two wonderful kids, and a great staff. I learn one or two new things about this business every month, even after 49 years, but the bedrock principles don’t change.”

He does believe that the current pro-business environment will keep the construction industry steady at least through the next election cycle, but there are factors at play that he expects will “self-correct” if the market is going to remain strong. “We’re still facing a glut of builders, overpriced land, a shortage of skilled—or even willing—workers, too many apartment complexes, and not enough affordable options,” he says.

Grob has no idea who nominated him for the BBB Torch Award, but he was honored by the recognition. After nearly 50 years in home construction, he’s aware that he’s not only made friends, he’s no doubt displeased some people, too.

“It takes about 30 subs, each with at least three or four employees on-site, to build a house,” Grob explains. “That’s 100 pairs of hands on very complicated projects with thousands of variables. Things are going to go wrong. But if you’re paying attention to the details, if you’re treating your employees and your clients right and you’re taking care of the REALTORS® who represent you, people will more often than not be happy with your work.”

This is the guiding principle for Savannah Homes’ customer service. Grob likes to ask his employees, “What would you do if it was your own house?” The answer is almost always what will satisfy their clients, too.

“Still, never discount the contribution made by good luck,” Grob says, smiling.

And the value of good ethics.

Developments/Projects From Midland Homes or Savannah Homes:

  • Sawyers Landing
  • Twin Gates
  • Tradition Greens
  • ReUnion at White Birch
  • Heritage Hills
  • Parrish Park
  • Parkside Crossing
  • RiverBend
  • Chimney Point
  • Southwoods
  • Old Orchard Woods
  • Wilderness Parc
  • Village at Somersby