This informative Q&A style piece was an informative reflection on running a successful luxury home building business in today’s market:
Originally from London, Steve Murray first visited Sarasota in 1976, when his father bought a place on the Bobby Jones golf course. Since moving here permanently in 1999, he has developed a luxury waterfront home-building business. Murray Homes has built 60 houses. On Bird Key alone, he has built or remodeled 23 residences and just finished renovating the Bird Key Yacht Club. Correspondent Chris Angermann sat down with him to discuss his expertise.
Q:How is business in the aftermath of the housing boom and bust?
A:My clients are innovative and extremely business-savvy. As a result, they saw things happening earlier in their own businesses, before the bubble burst. They left the market early and came back early. They got their lives in order, secured themselves and had the ability, wherewithal and depth-of-pocket to take advantage of a depressed market and pick up bargains; and they did exactly that. They’re buying properties at good prices in order to put a house up, and end up ahead of the market because they bought low. In many cases, I’m building houses on lots with short sales and bank-owned properties — we tear it down, start over.
Q:What is the most important thing in building high-end waterfront property?
A:You have to be sure you have the right team — architect, structural engineer, landscape architect, interior designer and general contractor. When they get together in concert, working for the customer, the project is much more successful. Synergy is important in order to produce an outstanding house.
There also needs to be strong control and understanding of the structural costs. Ideally, I sit down with the architect and owner before the design happens and discuss budgets. How much they want to spend — can we do what you want with your budget to make it look like the house you want? We work backward and forward with the structural engineer, as well, to make it more cost-effective.
I am involved in the process as much as I can because, as project managers, we are the people who live with the owners for the duration, which can take anywhere from 10 to 20 months. They need someone who focuses on all aspects for them and services them during the warranty period.
Q:What are some of the issues unique to waterfront property?
A:The hurricane and construction codes we have to adhere to are some of the strongest in the world. In home building and remodeling, we are protecting against that 100-year flood, or the storm with 150-mph winds, so you could live in your house all the way through and come out unscathed. That requires extremely strong construction products, such as windows, tie downs, roofs, balconies, decks, as well as additional structural elements.
That’s also why renovations are expensive. You’re not just adding something; you’re going into the integrity of the existing structure to make it right. Thirty percent of your cost goes into making your house good and strong, but you can’t touch or see any of that when the renovation is done.
So our basic building costs are more expensive, which comes as a shock to Midwesterners. But after an hour of discussion and education, they understand the issues. There is so much concrete, so much strength and structure, that the house will be around for 200 years.
Q:Is that one of the reasons you believe in using good architects?
A:Yes. I cannot recommend enough to the building public to consider who they use as an architect. The house is going to be there for a long time. Not only that, resale value is important, and I want to make sure customers are building something that can be sold, if not for a profit, then at least not for a loss. It costs the same to put up good or bad architecture. The difference is that good architecture will sell and achieve a higher price; bad architecture will sell at a loss or take longer to sell.