Understanding the dynamic changes going on in the home buying market today, meeting those challenges, and still making customer satisfaction a primary goal, are all reasons Glen Ellyn-based Oak Builders and owner Dan Regan have enjoyed continued success in the home building industry for over a decade.
It's a successful builder who can turn down home building projects, and Regan is proud to say that he has indeed, for the past few years, had to say "No" to some prospective customers. "We're a very customer-oriented company," Regan explains, "and that requires having the time to build every home right. If we turn down a home building project, it's because we're running at maximum capacity. You can only do so much very well. Trying to take on too much, to build every home that buyers approach you with, means that the quality of every home might suffer. And that simply does not happen at Oak Builders."
Attesting to this philosophy is the fact that the com pliment Regan most often hears from his customers is, "I didn't think building a home would be so much fun." Regan says the pleasurable experience of home building comes primarily from planning - from the initial layouts and blueprints right up through final walk-through.
"Everything is laid out before we turn over the first shovel of dirt," says Regan. "We think everything through, and explain to the buyer each step of construction. No one likes surprises . . . . and you have to be ready to make changes when necessary."
Such careful planning is easy when you have an expert, experienced team of professionals on handto "dot all the i's and cross all the t's". Regan, as well as Oak Builders' in-house architects, sales people, land developers and the rest of the staff, have years of experience. With that experience comes a thorough understanding of not only how to build a home to the customer's satisfaction, but how to deal with the unexpected as well.
"Another thing buyers tell us, once their home is complete, is that all along they were fully prepared for the worst. They've heard the horror stories from friends and family. They are amazed that they never had any problems or surprises while their home was being built, and every thing took shape just as they envisioned it would." The only surprises Oak Builders' customers encounter, says Regan, are pleasant ones - such as the home being finished on time, and within the budget originally agreed upon. If changes have been made during construction, they are literally and figuratively seamless - fully integrated into the overall plan.
Regan is employing his building and development expertise in some unique properties in the far north and western suburbs. Canterbury Woods in Glen Ellyn is a new development of 27 single-family lots, built into a hillside in-fill sight. Oak Builders purchased the property on which several small existing estate homes were originally situated. Regan razed the homes, redivided the land into larger sites and is now offering custom homes there priced from $390,000 to $700,000+. So far, seven lots and homes have been sold and improvements are underway.
"There are a couple of unique qualities about this property that made it so attractive to us and appealing to buyers," he points out., "First, the site lends itself to walk-out and look-out basements, which are greatly in demand today. It has mature trees.
"Second, it's unusual to find lots this size in Glen Ellyn. There's not much land left in this community so for people who want to move up but also want to stay here in Glen Ellyn, it's ideal." The models available at Canterbury Woods are also offered at another Oak Builders project, Canterbury Trails in Lisle.
Regan went on to note that there is a great need for high end in-fill housing in suburbs such as Glen Ellyn, Elmhurst, Wheaton and others. Move-up buyers who have grown up in these communities want to raise their own families there, but with little or no new construction going on, they have little choice but to either stay in the same house or move to another town. There's a ready market, says Regan, for builders who can find and develop in-fill sights and offer mid- to high-end homes in the more established suburban communities.
In the early '90s, Oak Builders developed Tall Oaks Estates in Carol Stream with the same philosophy. Carol Stream at the hme, says Regan, was noted for having only moderately priced housing. Other builders may have regarded the move to build lux ury homes in such a community as foolhardy. Knowing that the niche existed, however, Regan went ahead and has sold nearly all of the 42 sites available, with homes priced from $300-$600,000.
"As in every community, there are a number of successful business owners and others in Carol Stream who wanted a custom home and wanted it to be in Carol Stream," he says. "As soon as we started developing Tall Oaks Estates, we had buyers." A simi lar-type "niche" project, Woods of Oak Hills in Bartlett adjacent to Bartlett Hill Country Club, met with the same success. Oak Builders' Most Unique Project
What may be Regan's most unique - and ambitious - project to date is also his newest, The Villas of Fairway Harbor in Antioch. Regan purchased the existing Antioch Golf Club in 1989 with the intention of developing a residential community around it. The project has been in the planning stages for several years; it opened to eager, enthusiastic prospective home buyers on March 8.
Creating The Villas of Fairway Harbor community entailed "massive earthwork", including cutting the ground in some areas by 30 feet and filling in other areas 25 feet or more; building a large seawall around the property; building bridges for both vehicle and golf traffic; and even moving one of the courses holes to create the harbor which connects the community to the Chain O' Lakes (many of the lots are platted to the water's edge).
The Villas of Fairway Harbor will feature 30 duplex-type vil las, all ranch designs of approximately 1,600 sq.ft. with all brick and cedar exteriors, architectural shingle roofs and walk-out base ments (buyers can also opt to finish the 700-925 sq.ft. basements). Three units were sold before the grand opening.
This new community offers the best of all worlds to home buyers. It's ideal for retiring empty-nesters who want to "slim down" their housing in style and enjoy all the recreational fun of retirement. Resort-style amenities abound - "you can have a boat in your backyard, and the golf course in the front yard" notes Regan - plus snowmobiling, ice skating, as well as the communi ty's close proximity to Wilmette Mountain and other Wisconsin attrachons just a few miles north. The most attractive feature of The Villas of Fairway Harbor, though, is their price - $189,900.
"At $189,900," says Regan, "it's attractive to retirees. What's more, younger families can purchase a villa as a summer home - a true adjunct to the American Dream. It's an hour's drive from the western suburbs - far enough to get away from home and close enough to get the kids to a weekend soccer game. Buyers are excited about this community - we anticipate selling a lot of homes very quickly."
Regan points to such projects as The Villas at Fairway Harbor as the direction he sees the building industry going. "The aging of baby boomers is dictating a need for homes catering to the empty nester," he asserts. "And that need will continue to grow, and it will grow more rapidly year after year. We're only beginning to see how the aging of the population will affect the home building industry, because this is only the first 'wave' of boomers." The start of the 20-year baby boom generation is gen erally considered to be 1947, so only the first of this huge popu lation are just reaching their 50s. As Regan noted, builders can expect this "empty-nester" market to continue to grow well into the 21st century. Builders Associations Benefit All
Builders associations are truly the voice of the industry, says Regan. "One builder working alone can't take on an entire government or municipality; but many builders working togeth er through the various local, state and national associations can. The associations are vital to everyone in the industry."
Regan cites the issue of impact fees as a good example. While most cities and towns want affordable housing for their residents, they also need monies to maintain and enhance their communities. Many of the funds raised come from impact fees; too often, says Regan, builders are expected to foot the bill through higher and higher impact fees.
"With builders associations working with municipalities, we can help them understand that small builders simply cannot build affordable homes if they must pay escalating impact fees," notes Regan. "We want to pay our fair share, because it con tributes to the community and enhances home values.... but if fees are too high, we can't build the kind of homes people need
Regan's adds that the educational opportunities and product information available through the builders associations represent a wealth of resources. And shows such as the National Association of Home Builders annual conference and expo, he says, give small and large builders alike a forum to exchange ideas, share problems and solutions, meet others in the industry from all over the U.S., and learn everything about the latest materials and techniques available. "It brings us all together," he notes, "and that's good for everyone. We all need to be working together toward common goals, toward making the industry a better, stronger one for builders and buyers."
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