A boutique builder
Business View Magazine interviews Scott Brannock, VP of Marketing & Operations for Tidewater Homes as part of our focus on best practices of homebuilders.
Tidewater Homes of Jacksonville, Florida, was established in 2014 by three town natives with broad experience in the homebuilding and construction industries. Their aim was to fill a niche in the market where a semi-custom homebuilder model would be successful. “Jacksonville has seen a lot of homebuilding growth, both in Duval and St. John’s Counties,” explains Scott Brannock, Vice President of Marketing & Operations. “There’s the national production builders that come in and build tract houses, and then on the other side of things, there were high-end custom builders, here in town. We identified a lull in the market – people wanted a more customized house, but couldn’t necessarily afford it.”
“So we created a concept with several floor plans,” Brannock continues. “We made our models as a starting point; we created these plans as a base to then have people come in and create their home with some flexibility. It gives them the feel of almost getting a custom house, but not with the price tag associated with it.” Tidewater’s first development is called Sissy’s Place, an intimate community of 12 estate-sized home sites nestled in the heart of old Mandarin, a Jacksonville suburb.
Currently, there are five Tidewater Homes floor plans from which to choose, ranging from 2,936 square feet to well over 3,800 square feet. Each plan offers comfortable, family-friendly layouts highlighted by large bedrooms, large master suites, open gourmet kitchens with a Bosch appliance package, granite countertops throughout, a tankless water heater, a security system with IPad integration, a paver driveway, and a rear lanai, plus a 2- to 10-year homebuyer’s warranty at no additional cost to the buyer. Within each plan, Tidewater also incorporated various structural options in order to accommodate bonus rooms, guest suites, and fifth bedrooms.
Brannock says that from time to time, the company will entertain a full custom build, but only after careful consideration. “For these unique situations, it’s almost as much of an interview process for us as it is for them,” he avers. Also, as a small firm – Tidewater only has four employees – it must manage its resources carefully. “We have to assess each build and say does it make sense for us to have all of our stuff in one location and then have one house being built 45 minutes away. We just finished two houses at the beach here in Jacksonville, and that was an ideal situation for us because there were two houses going up, not just one.”
Not overextending itself also helps Tidewater maintain it preferred professional ethos. “One of the things we pride our business model on is the extensive customer service,” says Brannock. “We educate our homebuyers on the process and we help them through it because at the end of the day, everyone knows that the experience of building a house is very stressful. A lot of people have bad experiences, so we try to put all the bad experiences on our shoulders to where our future homeowners are going to really enjoy this process of picking out their finishes, and seeing their house on a weekly basis with new things happening, and not have the stress associated with that.”
Jim McDade, one of Tidewater’s Co-Founders elaborates: “The customer service experience is like going into a high-end, boutique clothing store,” he offers. “We hold a lot of hands and we make sure that our customers are getting a great experience. It’s construction and things happen, but our customers get a lot of one-on-one attention. And you’re not going to get that kind of attention from somebody who’s building hundreds of homes a year – we’re building 15 to 20 homes a year. So, we end up developing long-term relationships with our clients. Those relationships are really important to us.”
Tidewater offers a “build on your own lot” program, but it will also build homes on spec when appropriate. “We do build spec,” says Brannock. “Right now, in Mandarin, we have three homesites left in that 12-homesite community, and we’re about to start a spec, this week. We started a spec in there in March and it went under contract at the framing stage. So yes, we do build spec. We try not to carry more inventory than two to three specs at any given time, but people love our look, and luckily, we never were in a situation where we built a spec and had to sit on it for years and years.”
Brannock believes that Tidewater’s big advantage over the large production builders is its extensive list of standard offerings. “If you go to a production builder, you’re going to walk into the model home and be wowed with all the stuff, and they’re going to tell you, for example, that the house starts at $400,000, but how it sits, it’s $800,000,” he says. “Whereas, if we’re building a spec house, we only have to put maybe $20 or $30,000 worth of sizzle factor outside of what we already consider standard. In all of our houses you get the large 7¼ inch baseboards; you’re getting a much higher end kitchen cabinet; you’re getting solid stone surfaces throughout the home; you get structured wiring; you get a paver driveway. So, a lot of these items that people want – they get them as our standard rather than being nickeled and dimed for it. We throw that all in as a package. Of course, we do have options that people can pick to go above and beyond, but our base is already pretty superior to a production builder’s base.”
McDade believes that building only in what he calls “A” locations is another competitive advantage that the firm will soon capitalize upon. “We just committed to a new community in St. Johns County called Rivertown,” Brannock reports. “It’s a master-planned community, but what’s unique about is there’s one section that is situated along the St. Johns River that is considered an estate section called ‘Riverside at Rivertown.’ Within that section, we have committed to 20 homesites. We’re going to be in our own private, gated pod; we will be the only builder in there.
“They’re going to be larger houses – the minimum square footage allowed is 3,000 square feet. And all the homes are going to be on stem wall. (Stem walls are structures that are used to connect the foundation of a building to its walls. The wall is usually assembled with the use of concrete and steel, and works with the foundational slab to create a stable basis for the building.) Our homes will start in the low $600Ks and go up from there, which is a market area in St. Johns County that really isn’t served as much. So, it’s going to be a higher end community. We’re very excited about it because it fits our business model well and our style of house, we think, will be very well received in that area. The homesites, themselves, are going to average 120 feet wide, and it’s going to be pretty unique in the sense that it’s being cleared selectively; there are going to be a lot of signature trees left.”
“One of the big complaints that you hear when neighborhoods are developed is, ‘Why did you cut down all the trees,’” McDade adds. “Well, that’s not happening here. Each lot is selectively cleared, so as we go in, each lot will be cleared as needed for the particular home, without removing the bigger, more mature trees as best we can. So, you can have a beautiful new home situated amongst trees that might otherwise take 50 years to look that way.”
McDade says that the one of the company’s biggest challenges, going forward, is continuing to find similar “A” locations that offer quality homesites to build on. “Our goal over the next three to five years is to continue to look for land opportunities that are similar to this Rivertown community,” he says. “If there’s not a good “A” land opportunity, then we just won’t pursue it. We will also continue to grow our ‘build on your lot’ program. We want to make sure that we grow smart and that we grow in a way that enables us to continue to provide the service we like to provide. We’re not going to force it. We don’t have any desire to be a hundred-closing-a-year company. That’s not what we set out to be. There are lots of companies that do that, and the world doesn’t need another one. As we grow, I can see us doing maybe 30 year, if we wanted to kick it up a notch; but that 15 to 30 a year range is a sweet spot where we think we can take care of our customers and do a really good job for them.”
Brannock sums up Tidewater’s mission and ongoing quest: “We’ve adopted the term of boutique builder, where we focused upon quality construction, customer service, and ultimately creating a building experience that is pleasurable – and building houses that withstand the test of time. Every facet of our business goes back to quality. We try and give the highest level of service and product to our homeowners.”
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AT A GLANCE
WHO: Tidewater Homes
WHAT: A semi-custom homebuilder
WHERE: Jacksonville, Florida
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