SimplyDwell Homes, a division of one of the Gulf Coast’s largest private homebuilders, Neal Communities, is delivering on its promise to provide housing that’s affordable for workers such as teachers, police officers, firefighters, first responders and young professionals. This is a group, of course, whose income levels often price them out of the booming housing market.
When the Business Observer wrote about SimplyDwell in September, the company had recently broken ground on Broadleaf, a 266-home planned community in Parrish, north Manatee County. President Jag Rupnarain says about 30 homes are now under construction at Broadleaf, and the community is on track to open in March.
“Our models are nearing substantial completion,” he says. “We've got some of the infrastructure installed in the community and we’re starting to pave the first phase of the project.”
SimplyDwell, according to Rupnarain, has stuck with its commitment to start two homes per week, despite rising interest rates and other challenges that have slowed the housing market. The firm has also been able to maintain its low- to mid-$300,000s pricing.
“A lot of that has to do with our ability to efficiently design and execute the build of these projects,” Rupnarain says, citing SimplyDwell’s “straight line” building strategy as a difference-maker. “You can move from lot to lot and not have to jump throughout the community and be efficient that way.”
Building house after house consecutively on adjacent lots is a break from conventional wisdom but it carries many benefits for the SimplyDwell team.
“Most builders don’t want to start a home until it’s sold,” Rupnarain says, “so what happens is a homebuyer comes in and says, ‘I want this plan on this lot.’ And that lot might be in a different phase, or 10 lots down from where you’re currently building. Because of that, you take the sale, and you take that lot, and you start that house, and it puts you 10 lots down the road. Whereas we're going for selling near-complete homes. It’s a different buying experience.”
Tradespeople appreciate the consistency, efficiency and predictability of SimplyDwell’s approach, and that’s a huge marketplace advantage at a time of sky-high demand for skilled labor and subcontractors. “They know they can come to Broadleaf, and there will be a house for them to work on,” Rupnarain says.
Because SimplyDwell is such a new player in the homebuilding industry, Rupnarain declines to disclose the company’s 2023 revenue but says it was essentially a “flat year.”
He adds, “Our focus has been on starting homes. We wanted to start around 40 homes this year and then go into next year selling 96 homes. That’s our plan, but 2025 will be a big year for us. We’ve got a lot of communities opening in that timeframe. So, we’re shooting for a healthy 2025. Around 150 homes in 2025 is what we’re anticipating.”
In 2024 SimplyDwell will begin work on Owl Creek, a 380-home community in Lee County. But not all of the firm’s projects are large, master-planned communities: It’s working with the City of Sarasota to redevelop seven residential lots near Booker High School whose housing structures were condemned. Rupnarain says SimplyDwell will continue to seek out similar infill projects to complement its larger-scope work.
“We’re actively looking in the Palmetto area,” he says, “and we’ve got several deals that we’re looking at in the Fort Myers region. Sometimes counties have surplus property that they offer for bid, so that’s a good option for us.”
SimplyDwell, according to Rupnarain, will continue to focus heavily on Manatee and Sarasota counties in 2024 but he expects the company to become active in Collier and Lee counties, as well. “Those are our focus areas where we’re either already contracted or actively searching for properties,” he says.
For now, SimplyDwell has no plans to expand its footprint northward into Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, but it has good reason for maintaining its focus on developing housing in places such as Parrish and Palmetto.
“As you drive through our communities,” Rupnarain says, “you'll see that there are a lot of people who work in St. Pete but buy homes in Parrish. Those areas have become hotspots because I think people realize how quick it is to get on to I-275 and drive back into St. Pete on a reverse commute. You see a lot of St. Pete, Clearwater, Tampa police cars at a Manatee County address. We think that's something that will continue to happen.”