One of the most respected and successful custom homebuilding companies in Naperville and surrounding communities got its start in a university classroom.
When its founder, Pete Stefani, was a senior at Benedictine University enrolled in a business management class, he had to do the prep work to start his own company, including coming up with a name for it.
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Stefani had worked as a laborer in residential construction during his high school and college summers, so he chose to "start" a residential construction company for his class project.
The name he came up with was "King's Court Builders" because, as he explained recently, "I thought, 'Who doesn't like being treated like a king?' The name had many layers for me. I envisioned the subcontractors as the king's court. I also knew that a private street is often called a 'court,' so that sounded exclusive."
Six months after graduating with a business degree, Stefani started that classroom company in the real world and it has been successful enterprise ever since, even weathering the recent economic storm in the housing market that brought many builders to their knees.
"I learned the business from a general contractor, so I saw it from a well-rounded standpoint -- not from that of a carpenter or other tradesperson who only knows one part of the business," Stefani said.
He also got the formal business training that is helpful in running any business, so Stefani continues to be quite successful in his chosen marketplace.
King's Court Builders is a custom homebuilder, not a land developer. He purchases pods of improved lots from area developers and also builds on single, scattered site lots for homeowners who already own them. Stefani is currently building in Lakeside of Grande Park in Plainfield, Highland Woods in Elgin and in Ashwood Creek, Ashwood Park and The Paddocks, all in Naperville.
He also has six homes under construction on scattered site lots in Plainfield, Bolingbrook, Downers Grove and South Elgin.
In the past year he has built homes ranging from $344,000 (including the lot) to $950,000 (for the house only). So King's Court Builders builds in a wide price range.
The firm has 21 homes under contract and has been building an average of 24 to 26 homes per year. In 2014, Stefani hopes to see that number increase to 35 as he slowly works back up to his 1995 to 2005 levels of building 60 homes annually.
"We are able to do everything from building on a narrow Naperville in-town lot to constructing a home on a two-acre lot, and we do both, regularly, generally building traditional-style homes with livable, contemporary floor plans, clean lines, and contemporary lighting and cabinets," Stefani said.
"The word 'custom' is overused in the building business. Everyone wants to say they build custom homes, but we are willing to work from some standard plans or we are willing to have our architect draw buyers a one-of-a-kind house. If a house fits on a particular lot, we will build it."
King's Court buyers also meet with subcontractors to further customize the details. Some sit down with the architect to adjust standard drawings or start from scratch. All do a walk-through of the framed house with the electrical subcontractor to decide exactly where they want outlets. They also work with the painter to choose stain and paint colors on site and with a custom cabinet designer to choose their cabinets based on the colors and lighting in their own home.
"We start with honesty and integrity," Stefani said. "Every builder talks about value and so do we. But we want our buyers to know that if they are not happy with the price they get on an extra they want or something, they should just call us. We are not out to gouge anyone. They can trust us to be straight with them. We do what makes sense. We are not a flash in the pan."
What is the best part about being a builder?
"This is a rewarding business. Unlike with bond traders, accountants, etc., there is a tangible, long-lasting result of the work we do. We have a real effect on people's lives because their homes mean so much to them.
"It is really fun to go to a school function or the grocery store and run into a former customer and have them introduce me to their children as the man who built their house."
What is the biggest change you have seen in the business?
"Thanks to the Internet, today's buyers have incredible choices and knowledge of those choices. Some are good and some are bad, but they certainly have more access to all of them.
"Unfortunately, with choice comes indecision and stress. In order to keep a home moving, we need the buyers to make their choices and decisions on time and that adds extra stress to the homebuilding process. While we have become better builders over the years, the time it has taken to build a home really hasn't decreased because waiting for buyers to make their many choices adds time to the process."
King's Court Builders has made one change within their company timetable. They now have their buyer walk-through two weeks before the scheduled closing. The home is finished and clean well ahead of closing so that any punch list items can be completed before the new homeowners move in.
"This extra time also allows us to instruct the buyers on how the windows open, how to change the furnace filters and so forth, so that once they take possession, they can just concentrate on their personal moving details."
What do you see in the future for King's Court Builders?
"With the current scarcity of finished lots, I believe that we will have to do more infill projects in markets like Naperville where we believe there soon won't be an empty lot available. Other markets like Plainfield will have lots available for decades to come as wise developers come in and start developing again.
"That is fine with us because we like to do a mixture of infill, teardown building and new development building with trusted development partners."
For more information about King's Court Builders, visit www.kingscourtbuilders.com or call (815) 609-2977.