Pioneering Woman

Grant Brown first female to head homebuilders association

By Amos Maki

It was 2004 and Kim Grant Brown had just finished her junior year at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

Kim Grant Brown, in the Grant & Co. Design Center, is the first female president of the West Tennessee Home Builders Association. She is the owner of Kim Grant Homes LLC.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

During the break from her studies, Grant Brown, then 20 years old, acquired a loan and built her first house in Arlington.

“I wasn’t nervous, but you could definitely say I was eager to learn,” she said. “Being a young woman in a predominately male business, I was eager to absorb as much information about the industry as quickly as I possibly could.”

Now, Grant Brown is serving as the president of the West Tennessee Home Builders Association while continuing a family tradition that dates back to the 1940s.

“I feel like I’ve been living in meetings,” said Grant Brown, the first female to serve as president of the association. “We’ve got some big plans for this year and I’m looking forward to getting rolling.”

Grant Brown takes control of the homebuilding industry organization, formerly the Memphis Area Home Builders Association, as it expands to cover 21 counties in West Tennessee and as the profession seeks to recover from one of the worst slumps in history.

Grant Brown, owner of Kim Grant Homes LLC, plans on spending much of her time recruiting members to the new organization, which could help grow the group’s membership rolls and the association’s influence with the General Assembly in Nashville.

“We’re going to work on establishing that network throughout this year,” she said. “We’re going to be calling on a much more diverse group of legislators. We’ll be able to pool our resources together on the political side.”

Grant Brown is serving as the voice of an industry that is finally beginning to recover from the bursting of the housing bubble and the worst recession in decades.

While there is still room for improvement in the local market, Brown said this year’s numbers have been encouraging to members, who yearn for a stronger recovery but are in no hurry to return to the numbers the industry experienced during the growth of the bubble.

Year to date, builders have filed 805 permits, which is down 7 percent from 866 for the same 11-month period in 2012, according to real estate information company Chandler Reports,

In 2005, builders pulled 4,875 new home permits. Those numbers began falling off the proverbial cliff over the next few years, with builders pulling only 3,335 permits in 2006, 1,805 permits in 2007 and 752 permits in 2008.

“I don’t see us ever returning to 2005,” Grant Brown said. “It was too much, too fast, too quick. I think we’re steadily climbing out of this and there is a lot of optimism with builders.”

Grant Brown will also be focusing on the shrinking number of prime lots available for development and the rising cost to develop new lots. During the recession builders were able to acquire prime lots for a fraction of their original cost, but that supply is quickly running dry.

Ready-to-build lots play a key role in the cost of a new home. The existing developed lots can cost a builder $15,000 to $25,000. However, Grant Brown said builders could be forced to spend $45,000 to $50,000 to develop new lots.

“It’s one of the biggest problems we have on our horizon,” she said. “A lot of the top lots are going away quickly. It’s going to be a real sticker shock when we’re out of lots. It’s going to be hard to absorb that $30,000 jump when it happens.”

While Brown is the youngest president of the homebuilders association, that doesn’t mean the third-generation builder lacks experience in the industry. Brown was raised in the profession. Her grandfather, Carl Grant, started building homes in the 1940s. Her father, Richard Grant, followed in his dad’s footsteps and her brothers, Keith and David Grant, kept the tradition alive with Grant & Co.

Carl and Richard Grant each served as presidents of the association, with Carl starting the Home Builders Association of Tennessee.