Case Studies

Joseph Hornlein – Dream Finders Homes

Construction director instills confidence in new home builds

Housing industry leaders, such as National Association of Home Builders CEO Jim Tobin, say America currently faces a housing affordability crisis. And rising interest rates haven’t helped the situation.

In a July interview with Yahoo Finance, Tobin explained that on top of everything else—the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fed’s interest rate hikes and ongoing supply chain issues—homebuilders are struggling to find land to develop.

Joseph Hornlein | Director of Construction | Dream Finders Homes

Joseph Hornlein | Director of Construction | Dream Finders Homes

“The only way to truly [solve the crisis] is to build more housing,” Tobin told Yahoo Finance. “We’re looking for local governments to embrace the need for home ownership.”

Joseph Hornlein confronts those challenges daily through his work in North Carolina. As director of construction for Dream Finders Homes in Raleigh, he has taken steps to address interest rate concerns, tighten suppliers’ timelines and work with local governments to make homebuying easier.

“Especially with interest rates as volatile as they are right now, people are very concerned to buy into the market,” Hornlein says. “If our customers can have faith that the home is going to be done in a certain timeframe, they feel more comfortable locking in an interest rate.”

Tightening timeframes

Timeframes or cycle times for new residential homebuilding have been a major concern for both builders and homebuyers in recent years. During the pandemic, many homebuyers lost faith in builders, who were grappling with supply chain shortages and escalating labor costs.

Hornlein and his team at Dream Finders are working to win customers back by streamlining their work with trade partners and cutting cycle time down from 200 days to around 130. Hornlein consults his suppliers early on and shows them his projections as to what he and his team are planning for the year, sparking the conversation of whether their company has the capacity to handle the volume.

“It is a true team effort working side by side with our partners,” Hornlein says.

Joseph Hornlein | Director of Construction | Dream Finders Homes

To boost accountability, Hornlein also uses a software program called BuildPro for online scheduling. It keeps trade partners honest about showing up on the day they agreed to be there and helps him run “a little bit of a tighter ship,” he says.

“When we were in the pandemic, that really wasn’t happening, due to how much volatility there was with materials,” he says. “The best way I can describe it is just operational organization between our business and suppliers and trade partners, complete transparency.”

Working with municipalities

Lately, Hornlein has been working on new community rollouts, opening new housing parcels for the Raleigh division of Dream Finders. Over the past several years, Dream Finders has built upwards of 800 homes in North Carolina, 300 of them last year in the Raleigh market. Hornlein says it’s on track to close a little over 200 homes this year.

“This is really our year for growth in the Raleigh market,” he says. “We’ve had quite a year bringing new communities online.”

As part of those rollouts, Hornlein and his team have worked closely with local municipalities on the upfront permitting, making sure the company has the right plans and standard features in place, checking all the boxes for Dream Finders’ customers. That’s not easy to do because it requires Hornlein to learn the different requirements of each individual municipality his company operates in.

“It’s very difficult getting permits now,” he says. “We have learned the best approach to streamline the permitting process is by reaching out to each municipality, asking if there is anything we can be doing on our end to make their jobs easier. By offering this additional help, it allows us to pull permits more efficiently, rather than feeling like it’s an uphill battle every single time.”

There are some similarities among municipalities in Wake County, where Raleigh sits, but there’s more variation in local ordinances near the county’s outskirts, Hornlein says. It’s a lot to keep track of, and he and his team need to be organized to make their case to local planning boards and city councils.

“People don’t realize that; it is very, very demanding,” he says. “But we’ve got the hang of it, and sure, there are hiccups from time to time, but that’s the nature of the business, and we just work through it as efficiently as we can.”

The road less traveled by

Hornlein has climbed to his current role, but he took an unconventional route to get there. Rather than going to college, he learned his trade in the trenches. Right out of high school, he started working for a commercial masonry company, where he was given the opportunity to work closely with the general contractor.

“And obviously, being 17 years old at the time, I’m star-struck,” he recalls. “Not even knowing how to read plans, I took the plans home, studied them, learned how to read them, and ever since then, it kind of took off.”

Joseph Hornlein | Director of Construction | Dream Finders Homes

He broke into new home construction a few years later, working his way up to a construction manager, then senior construction manager, then director of construction. His path has included roles at CalAtlantic Homes in 2017, Lennar in 2019 and Amherst Holdings in 2021 before he joined Dream Finders in 2022.

“I would suggest to anyone looking to make a career in the new home building industry not to be afraid to take the unconventional route and start in the trades,” he says. “What’s gotten me to where I am today is just hard work and never settling for anything less.”

Today, he is enjoying a job that allows him to do something different every day alongside colleagues he’s proud to work with.

“What I really enjoy about this job is the look on people’s faces when they find their dream home or close on their dream home,” Hornlein says. “It can be very rewarding seeing a piece of land go from dirt to kids riding their bikes down the street.”

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. VIII 2023 Edition here.

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