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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 7, 2020 4 months ago

Homebuilder grows through focus on demographic niche, regional expansion

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Many builders salivate over add-ons and customizations that drive up the price of a home. One firm takes the opposite approach — with solid results. 
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

Last year was a big year for Christopher Alan Homes.

The Cape Coral-based homebuilder had a record-breaking year with 350 home sales and 275 closings. That’s compared to about 160 homes sold and about 130 closings in 2018. In 2020, company officials expect the numbers to be even better. It’s projecting 500 sales and between 375 and 400 closings. Firm officials decline to disclose specific revenue figures. “We’ve consistently grown over the past three years,” says Christopher Alan Homes Vice President and Director of Sales and Marketing Diane Kerper.

‘Part of our success is we keep it simple and we do what we say we’re going to do. We have a great pride in the homes we deliver.’ — Diane Kerper, Christopher Alan Homes

The company’s growth is due in part to its ability to stay focused on a key demographic — all of its homes range in price from about $170,000 to $280,000. That niche, albeit an unusual strategy in homebuilding, to cap prices in the low end, has allowed the company to be successful in Cape Coral and beyond. The company’s stay-in-your-lane mentality could serve it well, too, as its client base expands throughout the region. "We always had the concept of we wanted to build a quality, affordable home,” Kerper says. “That was really the market we wanted to be in.”

Christopher Alan Homes has its origins in another company, JHS Builders, that constructs house shells. Three years ago, Kerper says the firm’s leadership started thinking about taking the process through to the completion of a house. The leadership of JHS formed Christopher Alan Homes.

Christopher Alan controls the shell portion of the building process and uses subcontractors for other parts of the process, from drywall and plumbing to flooring and cabinets. “We have a very good product,” Kerper says. “We are unique in that we build the shells of our homes with our own employees.”

Courtesy. Houses by Christopher Alan Homes range in price from about $170,000 to $280,000.

One way the company streamlines costs and keeps prices low is by offering a limited number of floor plans and interior options. Buyers can choose from nine floor plans from 1,285 to 1,812 square feet. The company offers some color, cabinet and flooring options — but selections are intentionally somewhat limited.

Sometimes people come to Christopher Alan Homes requesting higher-end finishes, but Kerper says they won’t accommodate all requests. “We’re not for that buyer who wants to do a lot of customization,” she says. “That’s really not our business program. Our business program is to consistently build the nine floor plans we offer with a minimal variety of options available so we can delivery them in predictable and timely way.”

The company's niche presents a core challenge: there's not a high margin in low-priced homes, Kerper says, so it’s crucial for the company to be precise on its production schedule and materials management. “Other builders have entered the affordable market but realize they can’t build it as affordably as they thought,” she says.

Since recently embarking on a regional expansion, Christopher Alan now serves Cape Coral, Lehigh Acres, Charlotte County and North Port, in south Sarasota County. Throughout the areas where it builds, the company primarily constructs houses on scattered lots. “This past year was our first venture out of the Cape Coral and Lee County area into Charlotte County,” Kerper says. “Charlotte is still a relatively new market for us. We would certainly anticipate a significant growth in our sales opportunities there.” She also anticipates moving further north into Sarasota County.

Courtesy. Christopher Alan Homes buyers can choose from nine floor plans from 1,285 to 1,812 square feet.

As soon as people get to know the company’s products, Kerper expects sales to pick up in the new areas. “I think we’re very fortunate in that we’re in a market where you actually draw from a cross section of potential buyers,” she says. The company’s clients include first-time homebuyers, people buying vacation homes and people buying retirement homes. 

To facilitate its growth, Kerper says Christopher Alan Homes is buying more lots every day. Acquiring property can be tricky since the company can’t pay too much for land or it wouldn’t be able to maintain its prices. “We have to be very cautious,” she says. “We can’t overpay. We don’t want to be in a position of trying to pass that on to our buyers.”

At the end of 2020, Kerper says Christopher Alan Homes will look back at the locations of its sales and develop a plan for 2021. “Part of our success is we keep it simple and we do what we say we’re going to do,” Kerper says. “We have a great pride in the homes we deliver.”

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