Builders Developing Safer, Stronger Homes

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 204 views 

Whether you want a trendy house downtown, a suburban mansion or an economical home best suited for a first-time home buyer, Northwest Arkansas home builders have you covered.

They have your back, too.

New homes are stronger, safer and more energy efficient than ever, builders and city officials say — and buyers love it.

In Washington County, home sales increased almost 19 percent in March compared to the same month in 2015, according to the Arkansas Realtors Association.

Buyers also are paying more. In Benton County, average home sales price was $208,811 in March — about $10,000 more compared to the same month last year.

Land cost, especially in downtowns, has been driving up home prices, said Koby Bowen, vice president of Homes of Distinction of Bentonville.

Young professionals want to raise families downtown instead of in subdivisions, said Beau Thompson, a senior planner for the city of Bentonville. They want to live, work and play in one area.

“They are giving up an hour-a-day commute,” Thompson said.

Recently, construction crews for Homes of Distinction were completing a $1 million home on Northeast Second Street in downtown Bentonville.

The company’s average sales price is between $130 and $150 per SF outside of downtown, Bowen said.

The 4,300-SF home replaced a 1,500-SF house on the lot, said Jim Cooper, president of Homes of Distinction. Cooper is Bowen’s father.

In 2006, just before the recession, the company was building 4,500- to 5,000-SF homes. When he started the company 20 years ago, 3,500-SF homes were the norm.

Now, homes are 4,000 SF and mostly two stories.

A large number of people are looking to downsize, Cooper said. Some are younger people who want to travel more.

About 95 percent of the homes the company has built are custom, he said. “Every house we do is different.”

Cooper started building homes while working full-time in sales for Hewlett-Packard Co.

He did that for about five years before shifting into building homes full time. “This is what I’m passionate about,” he said. “This is what I love.”

In 2015, the company built 20 homes and generated revenue between $10 million and $12 million.

When asked about the importance of materials used to build a home, Cooper said, “It’s everything.”

The company uses building materials to make the home more energy efficient and safer.

It builds soundproof walls, makes homes air tight and uses fire stops between walls and flame-retardant paints. Electrical outlets with ground faults can automatically trip the breaker and reduce the risk of being shocked.

While demand is low now, Cooper sees sprinkler systems starting to be installed in homes in two or three years.

Mike Chamlee, chief building official for Springdale, expects that sprinkler systems will be a residential requirement in new construction, possibly in the next six to 12 years.

State building codes are revised every six years, said Major Lindsey Williams, state fire marshal. The current code was approved Jan. 1, 2014.

“Always be ready for change because it will change,” Cooper said.


Green Suburban Lifestyle

About two-thirds of Lance Johnson’s residential construction business is custom-built homes.

Johnson, who has worked in construction for over 50 years, started his career in Flint, Michigan.

“It’s a great business,” Johnson said. “If you love what you do, it’s not work.”

Commercial construction brought him to Northwest Arkansas and would have led him from the area. Instead, he and his family started Lance Johnson Building Co. in 1992.

The Springdale-based company sold seven homes and had $2.4 million in revenue in 2015. It has six homes under construction now.

Johnson’s customer base is comprised of home owners of suburban neighborhoods.

Johnson was one of the original builders who was invited to build in Shadow Valley, he said. Since 2002, he’s built over 140 homes in the Rogers subdivision.

The company’s 4,009-SF home at 54 Champions Drive in Pinnacle subdivision was the 2015 Parade of Homes winner in the $851,000 to $989,000 price range.

When he started the business, Johnson said homes were single story and about 1,800 SF. Most of the homes he builds now are two story and between 3,200 and 5,000 SF.

Homes are not only much bigger than they were when he started his business, but they’re also more energy efficient.

“A typical house we build today is much more energy efficient,” Johnson said.

Energy code changes have led to more efficient homes, Chamlee said.

Plumbing and heating and air systems have improved, he said. Duct work is better. Roofs are being insulated instead of ceilings.

Over the years, Lance Johnson Building Co. has continued to adapt to code changes from federal, state and city governments.

“Some of it was needed,” Johnson said. “Everything is better than it was.”


Strong, Safe Homes

United Built Homes of Springdale builds approximately 400 homes a year and has an annual revenue of $70 million to $80 million, said Don Pitts, president and chief executive officer.

In 1960, he started as a salesman for the company, which was established in 1958.

“I was 22 years old and looking for a job,” said Pitts, whose grandfathers were both builders.

Then, the company built several homes in rural areas, when few companies were following that business model.

Homes were less than 1,000 SF and single-story. Now, the average home the company builds is between 1,700 and 2,000 SF, and some are two story.

“Houses are built very strong,” Pitts said.

Homes were mostly wood siding. Now, they are made of brick or rock. The company was quick to start using masonry siding that’s more durable and fire resistant than vinyl siding.

United Built Homes hasn’t yet built homes with sprinkler systems. But if a sprinkler system was installed, “it wouldn’t be very pretty,” Pitts said. “The smoke alarm is a great thing.”

Older homes have been retrofitted with the alarms. Seldom does the company have reports of fire losses.

The company ensures all homes are built with the same quality of materials because they all come from the company’s lumberyard in Shreveport, where the company started.

“I believe the American dream is home ownership,” Pitts said. “It’s just a good investment.”

Since the 1960s, home values have increased 12 to 15 times.

“Today’s homebuyers have been able to buy more house than they could in years past,” Pitts said. “I think that will change.

“Interest rates now are the lowest I’ve ever seen them in 50 years. Now’s the time to take advantage of it.”

The company offers in-house financing as well as secondary mortgage financing, he said. A lot of buyers, Pitts said, pay cash.