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Commercial Real Estate Profile: Steve Kempton

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  • | 11:00 a.m. July 24, 2015
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Steve Kempton
Regional president of Florida, Taylor Morrison

Steve Kempton has lot to learn. Far from a criticism, it is a fact. The long-time Taylor Morrison executive is faced with expanding his worldview as he goes from president of the West Florida division (Tampa Bay to Naples) to the newly created position of regional president of Florida.

This new position means tracking and managing more than 50 existing communities, plus more than 10 in development — not to mention the company's future in the state. Taylor Morrison isn't a typical homebuilder. In many places, the multibillion-dollar public company plays the dual role of community developer and homebuilder.

But Kempton is used to managing a big, lively area. Taylor Morrison's West Coast division is the company's largest division and one of its most active. It opened 28 new communities last year, according to the company's most recent annual report.

“He's got great vision,” says Jimmy Stewart, vice president of residential sales for LWR Communities LLC, who dealt with Kempton through the creation of the Esplanade Golf and Country Club at Lakewood Ranch. “Steve has a superior grasp on all aspects of the business and is the consummate professional.”

Kempton, who will continue to operate primarily from Sarasota, credits his staff of more than 425 with assisting him through the transition.

“Real estate is always a local business,” he says. “You have to get out to the site and shop the communities, looking at your competitors. There are a lot of data analytics to go through each month, and you have to understand how the transportation corridors are changing. Fortunately, I work with a lot of real excellent people.”

It helps too that Kempton isn't new to transitions.

He started his career as a civil engineer in the Naples office of WilsonMiller, which is now part of Stantec.

“I got there just as the interstate arrived, which meant that everything I designed got built,” he says. “That was a quick way to figure out what works and what doesn't.”

However, it didn't take him long, he says, before he become more interested in the decisions made by the project managers and owners.

“The difference was really about getting to make decisions that were more closely aligned to the consumer or the needs of the business,” he says. “One of the things about working as a consultant is you only get to participate in certain portions of the project.”

In response, he went back to school and received a master's of business administration from Florida Gulf Coast University, while he was still working at WilsonMiller.

The market was also changing. Homebuilders were integrating land development into their businesses. Kempton went from an engineering team focused on resort communities to a similar position with Del Webb in Phoenix. Later, he worked for Pulte, after it purchased Del Webb, and then eight years ago, he joined Taylor Morrison and returned to Florida.

So far, the message Kempton is getting from the rest of Florida has been good. He points to three main metrics: home resales, the unemployment rate and consumer confidence. He says they are all looking positive.

“We went from about 39 months [of home supply] during the recession to now, where it varies from six months to four months, which is healthy,” Kempton says. “As that supply shrinks new homes prices tend to go up.”

Kempton describes Taylor Morrison's big spending on land for new communities as targeted. Some of the homebuilder's better-known purchases include Esplanade Golf and Country Club of Naples for $32 million, 217 acres in Palmer Ranch for $6 million, Esplanade at Hacienda Lakes in Naples for $19.94 million and its deal to create Oyster Harbor in Fiddler's Creek in Naples.

“It may appear that we're buying a lot of land, but it is really focused,” he says. “It's in a place, where a lot of our customer want to be.”


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