Debra Wyatte, Chief Commercial Officer with Cecilian Partners chats with Dennis about creating lasting memories, the challenges and opportunities surrounding the customer experience and what's next in healthier homes + communities.
Connect with Debra on LinkedIn and Twitter and follow Cecilian Partners.
Many thanks to our partners at the University of Denver for their editing and post-production talents, specifically Lija Miller and Lisette Zamora-Galarza.
The University of Denver Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management, teaches the full life cycle of the built environment. From integrated project leadership skills to a cohesive understanding of the built environment ––experience the only school of its kind!
"Upbeat Party" is brought to you by Scott Holmes, songwriter from Free Music Archive.
Speaker 1 (00:06):
You're listening to the Housing Innovation Alliance podcast in partnership with the university of Denver's Franklin L burns school of real estate and construction management. The housing innovation Alliance is a nationwide community of game changers driving the future of home delivery through crowd accelerated innovation. We represent thought leaders from dirt to dweller with a focus on the production builders business environment.
Speaker 2 (00:34):
This is Dennis Taiwan, president of housing innovation Alliance, and you're listening to our podcast series. I'm here today with Deborah Wyatt, the chief commercial officer for Sicilian partners. How are you doing Debra? I'm doing well, Dennis. How are you? Yeah, I'm great. Thank you. So today's an interesting day. You pointed out earlier in some of our communication is international podcast day. So great to chat with you and be recording this series today.
Speaker 3 (00:55):
I'm excited. Yeah. Looking forward to it and thanks for having me.
Speaker 2 (00:59):
So we've had a chance to engage a few times through different events that the housing innovation Alliance has hosted over the past few weeks, few months, even specifically focused on healthier homes and communities. So you've been actively involved in all those conversations. And before we get into kind of why that drives you, I'd love to learn a little bit more about you and kind of your journey in the industry.
Speaker 3 (01:20):
Yeah, absolutely. So my journey in the industry has started well over a decade ago, going on probably closer to 12 at this point, started off doing programming and events from as a lifestyle director in a community in Colorado. And I remember finding the ad and being like, this is my dream job. My background was in hospitality and I've always had this purpose of finding ways to bring people together and create lasting memories. Regardless if it's how you walk into a hotel or how you interact with somebody that's playing an international softball game in your community, like all of the missing pieces and like, how do you make them interact to create a good experience? And so I came across this position of a, of a lifestyle director and fell in love with it, like wanted it so bad and went for it, got it. And then spent the next 10, almost 11 years working in the industry from the community association management side of things.
Speaker 3 (02:20):
So all things that interact with the post-purchase aspect of it. But I also had the experience throughout my various roles of really leveraging the sales teams and how they understand to take what the community offers from like a programming aspect, the amenities, and bringing that into their speak when it comes to the sales process, as well as helping developers across the country, identify how to leverage their vision into amenity designs. How are we going to activate and program those spaces and really kind of create these vibrant places that people are craving when it comes to master plans and communities, the country.
Speaker 2 (03:00):
So you get to wear a lot of different hats and mess up a variety of skills in, in achieving those goals, huh?
Speaker 3 (03:06):
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So it's, it's definitely, you know, strong communication being able to think outside the box and if anything, it just comes down to being an active listener and knowing that how people are going to use spaces and places are going to be different than how you are, but there are always ways to kind of correlate and tie and, you know, bring people into the bigger picture. So
Speaker 2 (03:31):
As I think about it from our community's perspective, so as, as a developer and you know, you create this canvas where people can live their best life possible, right? And then you need the skill set that you bring to the table and the passion that you bring into those conversations to, as you said, activate those spaces and, and truly bring that painting to life. Uh, so I, I think it's, it's an incredible talent, certainly much needed in it. I believe in what you've, what you've described there and doing what these sales teams is, is it truly brings out the intrinsic value of these communities and these places that are being created. Tell us a little bit about your work now. So you've transitioned out of that role, working directly for the HOA association or the hos, and kind of getting into work now with Sicilian partners and working with the developers in a different way. So you can tell us a little bit about that.
Speaker 3 (04:16):
Absolutely. So it's crazy to think that a year ago, I would have never told you that I would have, I would've left my previous position cause I loved what I did. I love the teams that I work with. I'm still in contact with a lot of people today, but had the opportunity to shake things up in a different way, but still not lose my kind of internal compass of creating experiences and interacting in this space. And so, um, about a year ago, I got a call from John Sicilian in, you know, sharing his idea and his vision. And I got to see the technology that's behind it, but really it's more than just that it's how the information and how people interact is stress stickly different for just about every single industry than it is for real estate. So bringing people together, virtually which we all know thrust ourselves into a year later, we're a little different than we were, but really being able to take it outside of just the lens of the management aspect, that how we can approach the full customer journey start to finish and everything in between.
Speaker 3 (05:20):
So it kind of gave me the opportunity to work with developers regardless of size of their community, regardless of where they're at. If they're newer, if they're getting ready to pull out, you know, if they're just starting from scratch, what that looks like versus only being able to kind of work with a smaller set of portfolios. So it's allowed me to take the expertise that I have and really kind of sit down and create some great thought leadership and participate in things like you guys are doing with the housing innovation Alliance and really kind of sharing that global message of the customer experience and how it relates to the, and how we can tie it all together to make it better for the end user, which in turn protects the legacy of the builders and the developers that we work with.
Speaker 2 (06:06):
Great. So talk to me a little bit more about some of the big challenges you face when you're trying to create this more holistic view of the journey and, and improve the overall experience for the customer.
Speaker 3 (06:16):
Yeah. So I think some of the biggest challenges and this isn't, you know, a challenge as it relates only to the last eight months, COVID 19 and, and what that's presented to the industry. But really the challenge that I've seen in my experience has always been kind of this disconnect of, you know, when it comes to communities and building, there's so many players that contribute to the end result, right? The selling of the home and somebody moving in and it's just like any other sports we can get into analogies, but I won't go there, but if there's not cohesiveness and people don't necessarily understand how they play into the bigger picture, they'll do their own messaging, they'll do their own stuff and they'll just stick to their silo essentially. And so kind of the challenge is really being able to bring people together and have a core understanding of how, what they do within your community or how they build directly impacts division and help people are going to interact.
Speaker 3 (07:14):
And that's, like I said, it's not necessarily something that's just popped up on us. It's been kind of this breakdown in communication. And I think as an industry, as a whole, one of the challenges that has been kind of definitely pushed in the last eight months is how we connect the messaging and our stories of great places to live. You know, how do we get people here to actually when they get here, does it feel the same? There's kind of this disconnect of we've got this great messaging and great billboards and, or website presence, but we don't really have a way to connect it to the consumer. Once they arrive, we kind of allow the builders or their sales reps to hopefully understand that they've done some research. And so being able to tie in bridge that together and show how we can fit the puzzle pieces to make a better cohesive experience has been really eye-opening.
Speaker 3 (08:07):
I remember joining the team earlier this year and they share something along from their expertise from outside the industry. I've been in this real estate industry for over a decade. And we don't do any of that, but we should, we should be doing that. And so I think it's been really interesting for me to see that there are a lot of best practices out there outside of the industry that we can relate as we pull in data and metrics and things along those lines. So we can actually plan and program design amenities and prepare for future phases with more business intelligence and not just a gut feeling, which sometimes the gut feeling has got us this far. But I think if anything, the last eight months has told us that we need a little bit more than a got feeling to kind of move things forward.
Speaker 2 (08:52):
Yeah, no, fair enough. So I, you know, one of the key takeaways I get there, it really is, it's a great tool or a great approach for helping the developer maintain the integrity of his vision all the way through to the customer's lifestyle experience. This is a big part of our industry's transformation right now in that digitization is this buzzword that we keep hearing, right? It could be an overwhelming exercise to stand back and look at your technology landscape and say, where do I start from design to delivery to, you know, after sales, service and warranty, there's all these opportunities. And it sounds to me like, this is probably one of the low hanging fruit we all should be looking at.
Speaker 3 (09:26):
Yeah. The analogy of how do you eat an elephant? It's one bite at a time. I think for a lot of our industry, it's, you know, we've, we've done it this way forever, so it's been fine. But the last eight months, like you said, it's kind of Holy moly. We are behind the eight ball. We need to actually move forward. Like, how do you, how do you tackle that? And one thing that, you know, we're encouraging people is don't just throw money at it. Let's try to create a plan, a strategy don't just latch onto things that, you know, let's figure out what information, what data you have and how can we move it forward in a way that's not a, Oh my gosh, how do we budget for this? This is a huge budget item that we had no idea that we should have and you know, how can we progress you forward in that way, linking everything together. So it's not just kind of a firehose approach because if that's the case, once the water bowls back, how do you know if it's actually working or not? And so we really encourage our clients and people that we work with, take a deep breath, let's figure this out. Let's find out what makes sense for your business and move forward in the, in the appropriate ways from there.
Speaker 2 (10:34):
All right. I want to reflect a little bit on your past roles, what you're doing today. And you're obviously coming into contact with a lot of people. You're helping shape their experience, whether they're living in a community or whether they're looking to purchase a home and a community in Jevon, inspirational story that you can share with us, you know, there's this great experience that you had working with someone or helping someone through
Speaker 3 (10:57):
Hard to say. I think for me, and it's more of, I think the experience overall that we have as an industry that I think sometimes gets lost is we have the ability to connect with people in a way that isn't necessarily like it doesn't have to be transactional. I have one story that while I was a community manager, that evil person that sends you, you know, you're late on your dues and bring in your trashcan, but we'd love to see you at the next event. Yeah. I was that person. We had these parties in the neighborhood, mobile block parties where we would hook up the trailer, drive out and we would be WYO, be, bring your own food. We bring the girls paper products, low hanging fruit. And it was during, you know, coming out of the recession, my lifestyle director at the time. And I go out and we go to put the trailer on my car and our hitch has gone.
Speaker 3 (11:47):
And we're like, where's this hitch? Like, we need the hitch to put the trailer on the car. And our maintenance guy had her on his car and he lived 40 minutes away. We needed to be there in 15. Cause it's just right up the road, hook it on and go. And I instantly went to who do I know in the community that might be able to help us. So I called one of our committee members. He didn't have one, but he also hooked me up with his neighbor who just finished an hour and 10 long commute from the South side of Denver. No worries. Let me grab it. I'll run it down to you. So the resident comes down, gives us the hitch. We drive off and I'm like, Oh my gosh, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And he's like, no worries. If this ever happens again, you have my number.
Speaker 3 (12:28):
I'll give you my garage code and I'll tell you where it is. You can go grab it. And I'm like, okay, great. So we go, when we do this event, we interact with the neighbors. And then I started to reflect on it. That what he essentially told me is he was going to allow me to enter his home. So I didn't have egg on my face. And so it was this whole approach of the interactions and the way that we treat people every single day and our communities and our partners will either allow us to continue to be successful. And when we have those slip ups own it and move on or allow the ups on next door and the various attacks that'll happen via social media and, you know, make it seem like we are a transaction and we don't care. So I think for me and what I've always coached, you know, my team at the time and various people that I interact with is we have a sense of duty when we're building in our communities and in these master plans of really trying to find ways that we can impact the families that live there for the longterm, for the greater good.
Speaker 3 (13:30):
And I always explained to people that they may not remember my name, but what they will remember is when they live there, the events that we had, how their interaction was, and if they're going to move somewhere else, how can they find that again? You know? And so I think that kind of story is what gets me up every day and allows me to kind of take this thinking and this passion and heart that I have for the industry and relate it in any way, shape or possible across the industry. Yeah,
Speaker 2 (14:00):
That's amazing. And I, and I think you said it a few times, it's that which truly creates community in the purest sense, right? Because it's well beyond sticks and bricks and infrastructure and the plan that we lay out, you know, on a Greenfield, but it's, it's really going to be about the interpersonal connection that we established the program. And it's added that allows people to come together and continue to thrive. So I think that's a good segue to something I alluded to in the beginning of this conversation was you've been at very active in our healthier homes and how the, your community series appreciate your contributions there throughout the past few months. You know, I'm wondering from your perspective is healthier homes, something that's here to stay, or is this a knee jerk response to what we're experiencing right now in the operating agreement?
Speaker 3 (14:45):
Yeah, so it's been around, I mean, there's builders out there that have the healthier homes and different strategies and packages. I think my fingers crossed and kind of my work over the last four years and kind of this health and wellness in our communities and how we can leverage that better together. Fingers crossed that it is here to stay. And I think it's more geared towards now more than ever we're home, whether we want to be or not. And I think people are starting to realize just the impacts that that has good and or bad. And so we've seen this push for people to move, to get a new home because they need more space for their kids. But I also think that they're starting to realize that the space is in places in their home and around their home and how it can impact them, whether or not they realize it on the health side of things, but they just know that it feels different. You know, what it means to actually have access to trails and a place where we can walk our kids on a sidewalk versus in the middle of the streets. You know, those types of things are ways that I think our industry can leverage this kind of push for health and make it better connection to those things that we offer to make it more tangible and kind of realizing it from a consumer perspective of what it can do for them and how it can benefit them.
Speaker 2 (16:03):
Yeah. And I, I think if I take what you said there and added to what you've said earlier, it's, again, it goes back to this holistic approach, right? We, a lot of times we think of healthier homes looking at it from a healthcare perspective or a medical care, sorry, just kind of how we look at this. And, you know, I think it's really more of a mind, body and soul play, right. And that's what a lot of your, what you're describing here is that I think this particular moment that we're living through has shined a light on some very basic needs that have gone on met in much of our living environments. And, and I hope to see stronger connections come out of this, you know, within, within our industry, within the communities that we all live in and all of us come out thinking differently about what it is or how we set expectations for where we live,
Speaker 3 (16:43):
Right. There's science and, you know, research out there that the value of knowing your neighbors. I think they played it too. It was like in Europe that I think it was like $60,000 annually a year. If, if you know your immediate neighbors, you know, going out and seeing a stranger versus going out and being able to wave and say, hello, does something for your soul, right? It's, it's a good feeling. Seeing somebody smile back at you is a good feeling versus somebody just glancing away and you don't really want to know. So it is kind of those social connections that our communities can bring to people as well as, you know, access to healthcare and that type of thing. So I, a hundred percent agree with you.
Speaker 2 (17:23):
So the trends here to stay five years from now, what do health, your homes and communities look like? What are you? And I know you love data. I know you love activating these communities. What do you want to see? What do you think will
Speaker 3 (17:36):
Five years from now? I see from a programming standpoint that there'll be individuals that will help communities really identify what the programming needs to be and what those focuses are. And I'm not saying that somebody is going to move to community and you're going to lose 50 pounds. It's not going to be that quick fix, but really trying to look at a community to say, okay, what can we do from a landscape plan designed to really try to leverage this particular pocket park, to have, you know, more of a edible garden and how can we leverage that into programming of what can be picked you pick, right, and give people healthy recipes and taking kind of the health and wellness pillars or sustainability pillars, even for that matter in communities across the country and taking them up one level. Unfortunately, I see it often that people have, you know, green initiatives, but then they don't necessarily offer green waste initiatives like biodegradable containers at their events.
Speaker 3 (18:40):
Like it's just all trash and I'm like that doesn't necessarily work with what you're trying to sell and communicate. And so I think five years from now, it's going to take this lens of really tying it in to how the consumers are actually utilizing this space and connecting it. And I also see a trend and leveraging it and more partnerships with healthcare facilities or providers within the community and the surrounding area to better kind of get hyper-focused or hyper-local when it comes to the health and leveraging those partnerships for communities that aren't thousands and thousands of homes. How can you make those partnerships to bring health and wellness? Not only to the big master plan communities, but the smaller ones as well, because we all share our health. We all have health and common. Good.
Speaker 2 (19:30):
And I, and I think with the current operating environment, the situation we're facing, where we have a significant shortage of houses in that middle market price category, you know, you have to wonder, you know, is there an incentive for developers and builders to be more competitive and, and add these bells and whistles and how do we, you know, how do we help to catalyze some of those partnerships that you're talking about?
Speaker 3 (19:50):
I think, I think there there's various incentives and ROI that people can get into. I think there's like a moral incentive of, you know, leaving something better than you found it. And, you know, knowing that what you're building and how you're providing it to your demographics or your residents or families that are going to live there, that they could potentially be better off living there. And so I think there is this balance of those aspects. And I think kind of the catalyst is for developers. They're not the experts in health and just health and wellness and those types of things. And so sometimes when we're not the expert, it kind of seems a little too scary. And I think that's probably been the issue in a lot of other various things like going digital and having data. Like we're not dating analysts, we don't know.
Speaker 3 (20:36):
And so I think it's finding those partnerships and those people that can have those conversations and kind of relate it back to the puzzle piece scenario, making it work together and sketch out because I think it just plays a bigger impact. And I think from the industry standpoint, the healthier we can make our communities in the global community, the more money they have to spend that they're not spending on healthcare, they're not taking care of sick kids. And so I think it's the circular motion of how it all plays together that I think in the next five years, tying back to your last question is going to be even more in the forefront of how that can be leveraged together. Awesome.
Speaker 2 (21:17):
So I really appreciate you taking the time today to kind of give us a look at who you are, what you've been up to and how you see things playing out over the next few years. Obviously, any community or team would be well-served to have you as, as part of their team of experts. Before we cut off, though, I just like to ask, are there any words to live by you've mentioned what gets you out of bed in the morning, but is there anything you whisper to yourself that just keeps you going and powering through as you run into obstacles or frustrations?
Speaker 3 (21:42):
Yeah, so it's, it's hokey and my husband would tell me that I probably say it way too often, but it serves in both ways, the good days and the days that you just there's cloud hanging over your head, it's consistency, compounds, whether it's your health goals, whether it's your personal professional goals, consistency compounds. And so the small things that you do today will compound either positively for you for tomorrow or negatively for you tomorrow. I kind of keep that mantra in the back of my head, trust me some days, my consistency isn't there, but I know that more days than not, I'm in the right mindset, I'm making efforts towards my goals. I'm getting on my bike when I can to keep my cycling legs going. You know, it's, it's making those conscious efforts and knowing that in the long-term, it'll be better.
Speaker 2 (22:29):
That's a great message and, and very relevant for our audience. So really appreciate you sharing that. Deborah, thank you so much for joining us today. It's been a pleasure. Yeah. Thanks Dennis. I appreciate it.
Speaker 1 (22:43):
On behalf of the housing innovation lions and the university of Denver. This is Dr. Eric Holt. Thank you for being part of our journey. This is where innovation calls home.