By Kathleen J. Bryan
Forum News Service
WILLISTON, N.D. — Three years ago, Carmel Schwab sold 134 homes in the heart of the Bakken — in just one year.
After relocating to Williston in 2010 to help run Aberdeen, S.D.-based Centennial Homes’ first location in North Dakota oil country, she proved she had the muscle to be a tour de force in the housing market.
Schwab said her family and friends thought she was crazy to move to western North Dakota, leaving behind two grown children and a comfortable life in Bismarck.
“I like crazy busy — that’s my personality,” she said.
Now an assistant sales manager, the former farm girl from Hazen, N.D., began working as a sales consultant at Centennial Homes in Bismarck in May 2008. Schwab said the company was doing so much business in Williston, Tioga, Watford City and the New Town areas that it decided to open a location in the Bakken.
Initially she traveled back and forth between Bismarck and Williston, but finding employees was difficult so Schwab made the move to a “crazy” city with trucks galore and lines at Walmart and the handful of restaurants.
She said her typical day then was from 6 a.m. to 10 or 11 p.m. Sundays, too.
“It was myself and a secretary, literally like a revolving door,” Schwab said.
Centennial opened its second Bakken location in Dickinson in July 2011 and has seen a 35 percent increase in sales in western North Dakota. The company has offices in Montana as well.
Schwab said the modular and manufactured homes are appealing because of their price and quick completion time compared to traditional stick-built homes. A 16-foot-by-80-foot single-wide version, the most popular, cost about $70,000 and can be ready to move in anywhere from six to nine weeks.
She said in 2010, the average customer was a single man or one without his family. A year ago, Schwab noticed a shift in the demographic. So far this year, about 60 percent of her sales are to men with a wife or girlfriend.
“Now we’re seeing they’re bringing their girlfriend or wife and family, and looking for a single-family home,” she said.
Randy Rempher, Centennial’s regional vice president of sales, said Schwab takes care of her customers.
“She definitely knows the business and treats people with respect. … She’s broken every record for Centennial Homes in the country,” Rempher said, noting Schwab’s banner year of 134 homes sold in 2011.
The average for a Centennial salesperson is 45 to 50 homes per year, he said.
With new manufactured developments in the works for Williston, Schwab said she’s confident about the company’s continued success to meet the “huge need for housing.”
“I actually like Williston. I’ve met great people from all walks of life and from all over the country. It’s been an experience, and 30 years down the road I can say I was able to be part of history,” she said.