Cornell by Ryland's competitive advantage

The Propane Energy Pod heightens a community's sales after its acquisition by a national builder.

By Jeffrey Lee
Staff Writer

In some ways, national builder Ryland Homes' 2013 acquisition of regional builder Cornell Homes was a huge move for Cornell. The Philadelphia-area company would gain access to the extensive support system of one of the nation's seven largest builders — not just access to more capital, but also increased infrastructure for accounting, architecture, costing, procurement, and the like.

But much about Cornell's operations will remain the same, says Greg Lingo, who founded Cornell Homes and will remain in charge of his unit's operations as Philadelphia division president for Ryland. All of Cornell's employees and internal management structure will remain in place. And at its heart, Cornell by Ryland's value proposition will remain the same: providing customers with the best value in every community where it operates, from Pennsylvania to Delaware and New Jersey.

Another element that won't change? The strategic use of propane-fueled amenities in select communities to provide the company with a competitive advantage.

At the Enclave at Cooch's Bridge, a 14-lot community outside of Newark, Del., Cornell by Ryland is offering a suite of propane appliances and building systems that deliver low energy costs and enhanced comfort. The five propane applications offered at the Enclave — space heating, water heating, cooking, fireplaces, and clothes drying — make up the Propane Energy Pod, a whole-home energy solution that maximizes the performance of the homes.

With propane tanks at the Enclave at Cooch's Bridge buried out of sight, Cornell by Ryland was able to maintain the charm of the historic surrounding neighborhood.
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Homes at the Enclave at Cooch's Bridge are built using the five applications that make up the Propane Energy Pod: space heating, water heating, cooking, fireplaces, and clothes drying.
Click to enlarge

Cornell began developing the community before its acquisition by Ryland, but Ryland is comfortable with the decision to use propane at the community, Lingo says. That decision shows that "it's not just the little guys that are making the choice to use propane," he adds.

Building value

With homes ranging from 2,000 to 3,400 square feet, on generously sized lots, the Enclave at Cooch's Bridge primarily targets second-move-up home buyers. "In our buyer profiles, they're moving out of a smaller single-family home or an attached home," Lingo says. Buyers are there primarily for the community's proximity to commuting routes to the Wilmington, Del.; Baltimore; and Philadelphia metro areas, as well as for value. "We're the lowest-price new-construction single-family homes in northern New Castle County," he says.

The homes' energy-efficient, propane-fueled furnaces, water heaters, and appliances also helped them achieve Energy Star certification, denoting low operating costs and adding to the homes' value. "Now more than ever, people are focused on just what their monthly cost is going to be," Lingo says. "We're absolutely selling to them that monthly payment is not only in their mortgage but also in their energy cost. That's where that relationship we've got with our propane provider has been huge for us."

In the Enclave's historically and environmentally sensitive neighborhood, propane was the only viable option to offer those important gas amenities, Lingo says.

"It's an area where the less disruptive the offsite improvements are, the better. Propane installation is a low-impact thing on a single-family home."

"It's actually right near a historic battle from the Revolutionary War," Lingo says. "It's an area that, during the approval process, it was a little bit contentious with the neighbors. They wanted to make sure that the charm of the neighborhood wasn't disrupted. We've tried to maintain that, straight through to the house designs that we have there."

Bringing a natural gas line to the community would have been costly, perhaps even cost-prohibitive, and would have brought disruptive work to the area. Instead, the Enclave uses propane tanks for each home that are buried out of sight. "It's an area where the less disruptive the offsite improvements are, the better," Lingo says. "Propane installation is a low-impact thing on a single-family home." Avoiding the natural gas main extension helped Cornell through the community approval process.

Lingo believes Cornell by Ryland is on the verge of skyrocketing growth. After doing 235 sales in 2012 and about 15 percent more in 2013, the division is planning for over 400 sales in 2014, despite being in a regional market that is still improving. And homes built using the Propane Energy Pod model, including the Enclave and Carriage Hill, a propane community in Doylestown, Pa., will help lead the way.

"Carriage Hill has been our best Pennsylvania community," Lingo says. "It was our best community once again this past year in terms of number of sales and settlements. It has great demand." With or without the resources of a large building company, Cornell is making informed energy decisions that give the company a boost above the competition.

As part of its effort to research, develop, and demonstrate the effectiveness of propane technology, PERC is offering a monetary incentive to qualifying and select builders who build new homes that follow the Propane Energy Pod model and include propane equipment for space heating, water heating, cooking, and other heating and power applications. Visit the incentive program page for details.

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