Being A Land Developer In A Bad Economy – Interview with Grant Miller

east Tennessee land

At BusinessPundit, we can’t think of a single business that would be more difficult to be in right now than that of real estate developer. With that in mind, we set out to find a land developer who’s still in the game and who would explain what’s necessary to survive and possibly thrive. To answer some of our questions we caught up with Grant Miller, the developer behind The Village of Sewanee Creek – a land development for people interested in green, sustainable living.

1. Tell us about some of the challenges of being a developer since we’ve entered the current economic crisis.

It’s been a really interesting ride because I began developing the Village just about the same time the sub-prime crisis hit. Early days were very slow. Most of the mountain developments were focusing on the high-end retirement buyer, while we focused on building a community of people more interested in frugal, self-sufficient living with an emphasis on simplicity and nature. As the economy worsened, the Village was actually in the sweet spot of the market. Now, almost all of those big, lavish developments have gone bankrupt and closed down. We continue to sell property, people are building and the community is beginning to fill out nicely.

2. What are some of the strategies you are using to succeed despite these challenges?

We’re staying the course we set at the outset. In our own lives, we are focused on making a successful transition from an executive lifestyle to rural self-sufficiency. By being an example (as developer, I also live in the development), we demonstrate that the changes aren’t so frightening, but truly rewarding. So, the Village is much more than beautiful, natural land. We help people ease into a simpler, slower stress-free lifestyle.

3. What are some of the issues you face with being a developer in an extremely rural location?

I guess keeping focused on marketing land over the web while learning to take care of animals, grow food and tinker with a lot of creative projects would be the biggest challenge. Not that different from life anywhere. It’s all about finding the balance that makes you feel good at the end of each day.

4. Why do developers roll out their development in phases? What’s the benefit of doing it this way?

There are huge capital costs in building roads and installing utilities. So, it’s only prudent not to spend too much ahead of actual sales. That’s one of the reasons many developers are no longer in business in this tough economy. Another reason for us is that we are carefully building a community where relationships are very important. So, by developing in phases, we avoid spreading people too far apart. The lots are pretty big to begin with, so if neighbors started out even further spaced out there’s a risk that the physical distances might evolve into a culture of social distance as well.

5. What personality traits and habits are required of a developer?

Steadiness, long term vision and consistency.

6. What motivated you to become a developer?

I’m probably different from most developers because I settled down in my own development. I had no prior experience developing land, but I had a clear vision of the kind of place I wanted to live in for the rest of my life. I’m more motivated to realize my vision than I am to make a lot of money. Every person I sell land to becomes my new neighbor. I want them to be happy and I want them to be a good neighbor to me. So far that formula seems to be working very well.

7. If one of our readers was interested in becoming a developer, what advice would you give them?

Be prepared for surprises and setbacks. Do a cost budget and then triple it. Know your target market, develop the product for that customer and deliver a clear consistent message.


If you’re interested in reading more about what Grant is doing at The Village of Sewanee Creek, you should check out his website, especially the amazing picture gallery.

Written by Drea Knufken

Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.