Pride and distinction built into every home
Business View Magazine interviews Chris Ehrenfeld & Jason Dell, Co-Owners of Bold Construction, for our focus on Top Home Builders in North Carolina
In the center of North Carolina, exactly midway between the Appalachians and the coast, sits a charming college town that’s routinely ranked as one of the top places to live in the country – Chapel Hill. Home to the stunning University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill campus and a respectable resident population of 59,000, Chapel Hill is the epitome of the idyllic city, one otherwise known as the “Southern Part of Heaven”.
Contributing to this utopia factor is Bold Construction, Chapel Hill’s premier custom home builder and luxury renovation specialist. In addition to building the highest quality projects in the Triangle region, the firm focuses on creating first-class client experiences that are as much about the custom-build process as they are about delivering an outstanding final product. Co-owned by best friends since pre-school, Chris Ehrenfeld (the Visionary) and Jason Dell (the Integrator), who graduated from building with Legos to building dream homes, Bold Construction’s longevity is a tribute both to the company’s organically-tuned management philosophy and, by natural extension, to Ehrenfeld and Dell’s solid relationship.
“We came upon a system called the EOS – the Entrepreneurial Operating System – which is a small business system focusing on people and processes,” says Ehrenfeld. “It’s from a book called Traction, which states that the best kinds of companies always have two leaders: a Visionary, who is more of the Chief Executive Officer-type, the one who leads with the big picture and makes the major strategic decisions; and an Integrator, or what I would consider to be the Chief Operating Officer, who’s more in the nitty-gritty role of ensuring that operations, systems, and processes are in place and being followed. These job descriptions fit Jason and I perfectly.”
Jointly, Ehrenfeld and Dell quarterback the design-build process from start to finish. Their existing residential portfolio includes custom homes in the $900,000 to $4 million range, located in some of the finer neighborhoods and communities of Orange and Chatham Counties, like Governors Club and Stonecrest at Norwood. “Our business continues to shift more and more towards the design-build mode of project delivery, and I think some of that is just that we’re getting in front of clients earlier,” offers Dell. “Clients like our process. It gives everybody the opportunity to get instant feedback before anything goes too far astray; before a client comes to realize that a design just isn’t going to work for them.”
Their signature design-build process allows them to come up with a proposal in a timelier way than if the client were to start from scratch with their own architect. It takes Bold Construction roughly 30 days to get from ideas on a napkin to a final concept plan. “We typically work with Abbie Lee Roehm from Paces & Roehm Architecture, whom we challenge to come up with ideas and brainstorm alongside with,” Ehrenfeld says. “We’re right there, offering advice, looking for ways to cut down on costs, but without compromising the layout of the home. Being present and being a part of that design from the beginning, we’re able to get our clients what they want while keeping them on budget, meeting whatever their goals are for the project.”
With 15 full-time staff members under their direction and the resources to build 10 to 12 custom homes per year averaging $1.3 million and 4,500 square feet, Bold Construction’s dynamic duo is already on pace this year to beat their last annual revenue figure. “We’re about to reach a tipping point,” Ehrenfeld confesses. “I’d expect in the near future, we’ll have a waiting list moving forward. How our process works is we use what’s called a Design Agreement, which means the client puts money down up front towards our design services. As of the start of the year, the cumulative number of homes we’ve locked into a design agreement exceeds our total revenue for 2020. If we saw nobody else and just closed the clients that we currently have in design agreements, we’d do significantly more revenue in 2021 than we did last year.”
Despite having set bold prosperity goals for 2021, Ehrenfeld admits he still finds the figures shocking. “Our business was doing well, and we were headed in the right direction when March 15th hit,” he clarifies. “But if you’d have told me that by the end of the year, we’d have more sales in our pipeline than we’ve ever had in our history by far, I would’ve said, ‘You’re crazy! We’re in the depths of a massive recession.’ Thankfully, I was wrong.” With interest rates falling to historically low levels, the COVID-19 pandemic provoked major changes in the home building market. Many custom-build clients viewed the low-rate environment as an invitation to increase their loan size, while many renovation clients saw the crisis as an opportunity to refinance their mortgages.
“There’s more demand for our renovation business now than ever,” Dell says. “Some of the main trends we’re seeing out of COVID are actually consistent across our new construction business but, certainly on the renovation side, the emphasis is on indoor/outdoor living. Everybody wants a screened porch, a swimming pool, a hot tub, an outdoor kitchen, a fire pit. We like to call it the ‘Backyard Oasis’. Because with COVID, the thinking goes: ‘If I can’t leave my house and I want to be able to self-entertain or have a few people over and host them safely outdoors, I’m going to need these home amenities. The home office is also in tremendous demand. Before the pandemic, a home office was nice to have. Now, it’s an absolute requirement. Many clients even desire two home offices, which in the past didn’t cross anybody’s mind. But if you have two adults working remotely, you’re going to need that second office.”
With so many builders competing for residential construction business in the Chapel Hill area, particularly during the pandemic period, Bold Construction is setting itself apart from counterpart firms via its willingness to push boundaries in taking on some of the more challenging builds.
“Chapel Hill is an established town that’s been around for hundreds of years with the university,” Ehrenfeld says. “There’s truly little, if any, inventory of new land. So, much of what we build in Chapel Hill proper is on infill lots. Many times, they haven’t been built on for the last 30, 40, or even 50 years. Some have never been built on – they were bypassed for some reason, usually because the terrain is too daunting. If you look at pictures of the Modern Hillside home on our website, it’s basically built on the side of a cliff. The swimming pool itself has a glass rail on the backside that’s at least 15 or 20 feet off the ground. The bedroom area has a solid glass corner on it, and that’s 40 feet up in the air, easily.”
Ehrenfeld’s team does a lot of building work in a prominent custom-home neighborhood known as Governors Club, built around an award-winning 27-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course. Its diverse topography – which incorporates lakes, ponds, trees, and even a small mountain range – makes for the perfect canvas to showcase Bold Construction’s adaptability and open-mindedness.
“The Triangle region is generally very flat, but Governors Club follows the contours and 600-foot elevation changes of Edwards Mountain,” says Dell. “As a result, the lots there tend to have more topography to them, and more rock. That creates some interesting challenges. But I’d say one of our advantages over some of our competition is we’ve built on such extreme lots that they don’t bother us. A lot of other builders will look at those lots and say, ‘This isn’t a flat lot. I can’t just do a typical crawlspace.’ They get skittish, whereas we’ll say, ‘We’ve built on worse.’ We’re not afraid to build on anything at this point.”
Bold Contruction’s success also relies upon successful vendor partnerships. “In order to have success in our market, we need strong partners,” says Dell. “And those partners range from buying from a single store location, like Fitch Lumber, to buying from the largest supplier of roofing materials in the country, ABC Supply.” These two suppliers epitomize Bold’s philosophy of working with different vendors that can cater to specific needs. “We try to get the best of both worlds,” says Ehrenfeld. “Fitch Lumber is a family-owned business that is more than 100 years old. They’ve built their business on exceptional service. But, we also need large suppliers, like ABC Supply, that can get us volume pricing on more common building materials, like roofing supplies.”
Because Bold Construction operates in one of the most desirable markets in the country, a big constraint on their business has been the lack of land supply. While they’re constantly on the look-out for new land opportunities for their clients to build on, Ehrenfeld confesses he’s comfortable at the scale the firm is currently dealing with. “I’m big on progress and continual improvement, but I’m also very happy with where we’re at currently,” he admits. “Eventually, we’ll reach a point where we’ll feel we’re as big as we want to be, and if our leads exceed our capacity, we’ll have a waitlist to solve that. For now, we’ll continue to work within our limits, handling a restricted number of $1-$3 million custom homes per year. We’ve been building custom homes for more than 20 years, and we keep improving and learning every day. That’s how we prefer to measure our professional growth.”
AT A GLANCE
What: Premier custom home builder and luxury renovation specialist
Where: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Fitch Lumber & Hardware Co. – www.fitchlumber.com
“At Marvin, we are driven to imagine and create better ways of living. We team up with premier dealers like Fitch Lumber & Hardware in Carrboro, NC to put people at the center of everything we do. Imagine new ways our products can contribute to your happier and healthier home.”