Bigger isn’t always better, especially when it comes to development companies. But the competition among South Florida boutique development firms is increasing, forcing developers to think even further outside the box to maintain the level of production – and industry status – they desire.
By K.K. Snyder
Harry and Helene Hollub became familiar with the boutique development business at very young ages. Their father, Marvin Hollub, was a pioneer in the South Miami areas of Pinecrest and Coral Gables when he started Hollub Homes more than 50 years ago.
“When he started back in the ‘50s, there was a tremendous amount of vacant, raw land and a lot of people moving to the area,” says Harry Hollub. “Back then, construction was much simpler and much easier and faster to build and permit. My dad’s first homes were three bedrooms, two baths with a pool on an acre lot for under $19,000.
“We are now knocking similar homes down on the same size lots and constructing the most incredible homes in the area,” he continues. “Our least-expensive speculative home is now $4 million.”
But Harry Hollub didn’t jump right in and begin constructing multi-million dollar homes from the outset. As a teenager, he started working on roofs and doing finishing carpentry for his father during summers. Twenty-four years later, he’s still hooked. Harry Hollub runs the business along with his sister, Helene, who does all the interior design work. His father still comes in every day to see how things are running and his wife, Amy, is in charge of sales. Not long ago, a third generation joined the company as Harry’s 17-year-old daughter, Morgan, started working with Hollub Homes as well.
The company, recently awarded Best of Show from the Builders Association of South Florida, specializes in custom homes and large renovations, and has a core group of subcontractors that are on every one of the projects. Some of the subcontractors have worked with the company for more than 35 years and have extensive knowledge of custom home construction.
“We only build homes,” Harry Hollub says. “We are not into condos, high-rise or low-rise. We do only one thing and we are the best at it.” Among the company’s satisfied clients are best-selling authors, Miami Heat celebrities, and foreign diplomats.
The company typically chooses fully developed, established communities in which to build, buying older homes to tear down and replace with a custom home. While the majority of the homes they build in Pinecrest and Coral Gables are primary residences, they also build second and third homes for clients in the Boca Raton area.
“There are a lot of builders out there,” he continues. “We separate ourselves by our commitment to detail, product knowledge and our staff. We’re not the cheapest builder; we are the best. It shows in our work and the relationships we have with our clients and subcontractors. We care about what we do.”
Working closely with Realtors is also important to the Hollub family. “Realtors are our life blood,” says Harry. “Although most of our custom homes and renovation work come from word-of-mouth and referrals from previous clients, outside Realtors sell all of our speculative, one-of-a-kind homes. We cooperate with all Realtors and offer a 3 percent sales commission on both our speculative and custom homes.”
The same is true of Shear Construction and Development, owned by Gary and Dana Shear, who agree that close relationships with Realtors make all the difference in their success, with the average 15 custom homes they create each year.
“We have different programs,” says Dana Shear, sales executive for the company, who also oversees the company’s high-end condo tower sales. “We do advanced commissions, and we’ll do incentives. We work very hard on Realtor relationships, because it’s important for Realtors to know about our product and show our product; it’s part of my job to make sure they are familiar with our product.”
Gary Shear grew up in the Miami area and purchased his first piece of property with money he earned with a window cleaning business. Twenty-four years later, he’s earned a reputation for luxury estate homes that continue to win praise, including recent awards from the Builders Association of South Florida for closets, cabinetry and built-ins.
“I think that’s an incredible accolade,” he says. “We work so hard on our cabinets and even go to Vegas and other kitchen and bath shows to keep us ahead of the trend. We’re setting the trend. Even when we do the condo towers, they still have that intimate feel of our luxury estate homes. We’re always a trendsetter of design and what the latest is, whether it’s elevators, cabinets, ceilings, a wine room or tile patterns, we use.
“I do think that we set the tone, from our construction signs to our final product. We also have an in-house design firm that helps clients create their home. As soon as they come in, they have a whole team available to help them with that process. And, we always remember to refer to it as the client’s ‘home,’ the place where they’ll be living.”
With high-profile clients such as a senator’s daughter and the manager for rapper 50 Cent, Shear’s eye must be in the details. The most important factor of their luxury estates, however, is the floor plan, says Dana Shear. “If you don’t have the right floor plan, it doesn’t matter how many bells and whistles you have. Gary is a master at floor plans and personally goes through each one of our projects.”
Shear says the trend in boutique homes is transitioning from traditional to more modern with more light and sleeker, cleaner lines. “I think we’re doing it different from everybody else.”
Competition is fierce in the South Florida area, Gary Shear admits, citing Hollub Homes as a good competitor. “You have to ?be on your toes,” he says. “We are both ?operating in a very unique niche market, where there is strong demand for quality, boutique homes.”
Anthony Martin, owner of ARM Structural, recognizes the challenge he faces in moving into the boutique development market after many years as a construction contractor, starting first with hurricane-proof homes and moving to starter homes when the price of concrete rose. He’s now moved into what he refers to as “more modern starter homes,” and recently won a Gold Award for overall product design from the Builders Association of South Florida.
Martin’s father, Fide Martin, worked in construction. As a child, Martin spent a lot of time on job sites with his father and later worked with him as a teenager. The two have 40 years of combined experience, and Martin had great interest in design and studied architecture early on in his career, “but I like being in the field,” he says.
This year, he’s moved on to building bigger, more “aggressively modern” custom homes, getting away from the standard three-bedroom, two-bath home and into the two- or three-story, 4,000-square-foot “McMansions.”
“So I’m trying to come up in the ranks,” admits Martin, who builds an average four to five homes a year, and fills in the gaps with renovation projects. “It’s very competitive. You have contractors that know what they’re doing and little remodelers buying houses and trying to flip them.
“Last year, when the construction market boomed, a lot of people took off and it was hard to find workers or get them to show up. That slowed me down some and put me behind. It’s important to find good people willing to work for you.”
Though he may not have many years in the boutique development market, Martin quickly recognized the importance of relationships with Realtors. “I have good friends of mine who are Realtors, and I started off working with them by doing home inspections and giving them prices for painting and repairs or for an expansion or renovation to increase the price of the home,” says Martin. Today, they serve him well by showing and selling the homes he creates.
Martin particularly enjoys all the technology now available for custom homes. Likewise, he prefers the loft-style, open floor plan for his custom homes.
You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in Miami real estate that hasn’t heard of Michael Capponi, owner of a number of companies, including Capponi Building Co., Capponi Properties, Capponi Casa and Capponi Group Luxury Properties, a division specializing in the development of high-end and unique, luxury single-family homes.
Capponi, a name synonymous with South Beach nightlife, is now developing three luxury properties in landmark Miami Beach neighborhoods of Pine Tree Drive, North Bay Road and Sunset Island II.
“I like to create unique properties, and that’s what makes me happy; the creative drive gets me,” says Capponi, who creates about five to 10 luxury residences each year.
He recently completed a $5 million, 10,700-square-foot residence on Sunset Island II’s Bay Avenue. The eight-bedroom, four-bath home includes two powder rooms, a large formal dining room, and a loft-like living room with 25-foot ceilings. The property features Caribbean overtones throughout and contains a separate family room with mahogany built-ins, an entertainment complex with large movie theater, a wine cellar, wet bar, billiard room and gym. The house also boasts a six-car garage and maid’s quarters.
“I try to combine a Palm Beach traditional classic feeling of luxury with the coolness of South Beach,” he says of his homes, which are purchased by clients for primary residences and vacation homes. “There are a lot of very fancy Mediterranean homes and very modern homes.”
Capponi also creates luxury villas that he rents out on a weekly basis as five-star accommodations, ranging from $1,500 to $3,500 per night, depending on whether it’s a $2 million home or an $8 million home. “These are the Smart house type, with plasma televisions in every room, and you can do all this amazing stuff with high-end technology.
“They sell almost like a condo hotel, for someone in New York, for instance, who wants to come down here 10 weekends a year but doesn’t want to carry a house, so we’ll rent it out for him for the rest of the year,” he says.
In addition to constructing new luxury homes, Capponi also buys and renovates old homes to resell. “There are some beautiful homes in Miami,” he says. “We keep all the original architecture and gut the inside to make it a new home.” Capponi has been interested in real estate since he got his own apartment. From there, he grew his company by buying, improving and flipping, and then buying bigger and better spaces to improve and resell.
“I think my involvement with nightlife sets me apart in this market,” says Capponi. “The way I market these houses and the clientele that buys them is the inside crowd, the jet set. It’s like an extension of my nightlife.”
His marketing tactics also set him apart, as Capponi routinely hosts huge parties in his homes, complete with A-list celebrities and lots of press coverage. “It’s just a different way of doing things.”
Luxury home builders agree that the industry has become more competitive as more builders and developers recognize the value of the small development and the appeal these properties have to buyers. At the end of the day, appealing to buyers is what all boutique developers want – and need – to stay ahead of the pack. M.A.
Capponi Group Luxury Properties