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Q&A with Keystone Custom’s Jeff Rutt

Home-builder talks about market demand, future of the industry

Jeff Rutt - (Photo / Submitted)

The steady growth of the housing market growth and frequent talk of low sales inventory in the midstate got me thinking about our regional home-builders and what they are doing to keep up with demand.

Jeff Rutt, CEO and founder of Manheim Township-based Keystone Custom Homes Inc., consistently one of the largest home-builders in Central Pennsylvania, recently answered this question and others on my mind.

Here’s what he had to say:

Q: When you know you want to start a new community, how long does the process typically take to find suitable land parcels to build on? 

A: There is a wide variation on the timeframe depending on several things, including the zoning of the property, which federal, state, local agencies require approval, size and complexity of the project, et cetera.

On average, I would say it takes about three years.

Are home-builders keeping up with market demand as home sales have steadily improved in the midstate over the last four to five years?

Inventory is low and elevated costs of entitlement and improvement on new communities is making it challenging to meet the demand, especially for the starter-home and first-time buyers who are being kept out of the market.

How would you compare the site selection process today to the early 2000s and the housing boom before the recession?

Recently, we have seen more opportunities than prior to the recession because there are less builders in business post-recession.

What about the cost of land?

The cost of land today varies widely based on location and zoning; however, (it) is increasing and in some areas is higher than it was pre-recession.

Are new homes, on average, getting bigger or smaller as lifestyles change or as technology impacts mechanical equipment and other household features?

On average, we are seeing new homes increase in size. The efficiency of heating, cooling and maintaining a new home today is dramatically less than it was even a few years ago. See

What parts of Central Pa. are underserved and could be part of the new wave of residential development, and why?

Demand continues to be driven by the best school districts and proximity to shopping/popular amenities.

Are there specific price points you feel are most underserved in this market?

From what I see in our market, the first-time homebuyer price range is underserved.

What is the single biggest regulatory hurdle for homebuilders today, state or federal?

It definitely depends on the project. However, with the continual increased complexity of stormwater regulations and the complexity and length of the review process, the entire procedure itself has continued to be challenging.

How do you see the homebuilding industry in Central Pennsylvania changing over the next decade? What will drive that change?

The home-building industry will need to collaborate with local, state and federal agencies to find a way to expedite the entitlement process. This change can be driven through the spirit of collaboration and partnership with the ultimate goal of providing beautiful, new dream homes for home-buyers in Central Pennsylvania.

How does an aging population impact home design?

We are seeing an increase in the popularity of first-floor owner’s suites. We also are seeing a definite uptick in the amount of multi-generational families living together, which creates unique needs in the home design.

What do millennials want in a home that is most comparable to Gen Xers or the baby boomers? What’s the biggest differences in household amenities between younger and older buyers?

Our millennial buyers, just like many other home-buyers in the market, are looking for open floor plans that are great for entertaining. Millennials are looking for smart, efficient design with locations in close proximity to entertainment, dining, et cetera.

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