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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 26, 2021 7 months ago

Homebuilder's flexible model pays big dividends

Daniel Wayne Homes, with a model to bring the past into the present, has seen a surge in interest and sales. It pays, too, to remain flexible to market shifts.  
by: Beth Luberecki Contributor

Old meets new could be considered something of a motto for Daniel Wayne Homes. Over the past three decades, the Fort Myers-based custom homebuilder and developer has become known for its Old Florida-style homes.

“We build some other styles of homes, too, but we’ve stayed with the Old Florida style because we really like it,” Owner Dan Dodrill says. “It’s a timeless style of architecture. If you go to Naples, you can tell all of the subdivisions that were started and built in the late 1990s and early 2000s because they’re all Mediterranean.”

Compare that to Coconut Creek, the first neighborhood developed by Daniel Wayne Homes that was started in 1990. “I just had someone tell me the other day that the neighborhood looks like it was built three years ago,” he says. “With the Old Florida style, you can’t tell when it was built.”

‘We have buyers coming over from the east coast of Florida saying, ‘I can’t believe how much house and land I can get over here compared to Palm Beach or Fort Lauderdale or the Miami-Dade area.’ Dan Dodrill, Daniel Wayne Homes

Dodrill might take design inspiration from the past, but his homes are built for today and tomorrow. Another reason why he loves the Old Florida style? It aligns well with his interest in energy efficiency. After all, this style of home first came to fruition back in the state’s pioneer days, long before the advent of air-conditioning and its cooling powers. These homes were originally designed with features including overhangs, front and back verandas and metal roofs to offer some relief from the Florida heat.

Dodrill, 60, incorporates those classic elements into his homes, along with modern touches like windows made from low-emissivity, or low-e, impact-resistant glass. “It all keeps the house from heating up, and therefore your air conditioning is running less, and your energy bill is less,” he says.

He also includes components like foam insulation, tankless gas water heaters and variable-speed air-conditioning systems. “It’s an Old Florida home that looks like it could have been there 100 years ago — but with modern technology,” he says. “We’re achieving some really good energy things. Energy costs in Florida are going to keep increasing, so I’d rather pay less than more.”

Daniel Wayne Homes — Wayne is Dodrill's middle name — has built between 15 and 20 homes a year over the past few years, about half in its own subdivisions and half custom projects on homeowners’ own lots. It is currently working on custom homes in Fort Myers Beach, Cape Coral and the Iona area of Fort Myers and has sold about 85% of the homes available at its latest subdivision, Horse Creek. That 220-acre development on the Orange River in Buckingham offers 1-acre homesites where buyers can have space for extras like an RV garage or woodworking area.

The smaller size of the company — it has about seven employees — means it can easily tweak existing floorplans to suit buyers’ needs. “If buyers want a room to be 2 feet bigger or want an extra window, there’s a cost associated with that, but I don’t have to go through corporate,” Dodrill says. “We have customers who say they went to XYZ national builder, and they wanted $7,000 for an extra window. And I say that should have been about $900. That flexibility allows people to customize their plans.”

Stefania Pifferi. Daniel Wayne Homes owner Dan Dodrill says being flexible to quickly changing demand is key to succeeding in the Southwest Florida new homes market.

Company revenues increased about 20% in 2020 over 2019, thanks to factors like low-interest rates and an influx of pandemic-weary buyers from more crowded metro areas around the state and country. Company officials decline to disclose specific revenue figures. “In Q4 of 2020, there was just a huge surge in new buyers,” Dodrill says. “And I would anticipate in 2021 to see at least a 20% increase in revenue and jobs.”

Those strong sales are leading to some challenges, though. “We are starting to see some shortages of materials and price increases in lumber, appliances and rebar,” he says.

So far, buyers don’t seem bothered by that. The company has raised base prices about $10,000 over the past six months — and that hasn’t slowed things down at all.

“There hasn’t been a lot of pushback because there’s a shortage of new housing in Lee County,” Dodrill says. “And Lee County still looks very attractive price-wise. We have buyers coming over from the east coast of Florida saying, ‘I can’t believe how much house and land I can get over here compared to Palm Beach or Fort Lauderdale or the Miami-Dade area.’”

Dodrill continues to keep his eye out for good 10- to 15-acre parcels the company can subdivide for its next development. Those are getting harder to find, so in the meantime the company is focusing more on its custom homebuilding work.

“We’ve kind of shifted our marketing to the on-the-lot custom building work, and that has really been going quite well,” Dodrill says. “It’s not like if we run out of lots in a subdivision, we run out of things to do. We’ve getting a lot of inquiries [for custom builds]. … Flexibility is the name of the game in Southwest Florida.”

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