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Fort Smith builders avoid spec development.

IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY MIGHT not come.

That's what Fort Smith developers care thinking when it comes to upscale spec houses. The city's struggling economy, along with the possibility of Beverly Enterprises leaving town, has builders shying away from spec houses in favor of custom-built homes.

"[Developers] can get hung out to dry pretty quick if they have two or three half-million dollar homes gathering dust," said David Hughes, executive director of the Greater Fort Smith Home Builders Association.

Fort Smith has long been known as a manufacturing town dominated by a few major employers. The city lost 800 manufacturing jobs in 2005, and more layoffs are expected because Whirlpool Corp. is moving assembly lines from the Fort Smith plant to a new one in Mexico.

But the big hit to the city's upscale housing market could come if Beverly Enterprises moves its headquarters. With annual salaries in the high six-figures and low seven-figures, Beverly executives have been a vital part of the city's upscale housing market.

Eight Beverly executives announced their retirement on Marcia 15, the day after the nursing home healthcare provider merged with Pearl Senior Care, an affiliate of Fillmore Capital Partners LLC of San Francisco.

The former CEO has put his house up for sale. William R. Floyd is asking $1.8 million for his 7,488-SF house at 1800 Innsbruck Lane. The six-bedroom house and 5.34 acres appraised for $1.29 million in 2002, according to records at the Sebastian County Assessor's office. Floyd's salary at Beverly was $2.3 million last year.

The other Beverly executives who are retiring are CFO Jeffrey Freimark; Douglas J. Babb, EVP and chief administrative and legal officer; Steven A. Brigance, senior vice president of litigation, Pamela H. Daniels, senior vice president, controller and chief accounting officer; Lawrence Deans, senior vice president and chief human resources officer; James M. Griffith, senior vice president of investor relations and corporate communications; and Barbara R. Paul, senior vice president and chief medical officer.

Freimark purchased a 4,949-SF home in The Highlands on Riley Farm in south Fort Smith for $838,000 in January 2005, according to county records. His salary at Beverly was $861,000.

Babb purchased a house in Riverview Heights in Fort Smith for $765,000 in 2000. His annual salary was $812,000.

"It's amazing how one corporation can affect the housing community and the economy of a city," Hughes said.

Not only has Beverly's questionable future shaken the housing market, but two other million-dollar homes are for sale in Fort Smith.

Jimmy and Carol Phelps' 14,603SF house is listed for $2.8 million. It appraised for $2.09 million in 2002. And Michael S. and Rebecca A. Morton are asking $1.49 for their 6,573-SF home. It appraised in 2002 for $1.26 million.

Home Economics

Hughes said developers will go with the demand in a city, and the demand in Fort Smith right now is for homes with a built-in owner. Spec homes are built by the developer, who is "speculating" that someone will buy the house after it's completed.

"Part of the concern is what the economy is going to be doing," said Ronald Rouse, a developer with Rouse Walker in Fort Smith. "I think every (developer) is thinking that way a little bit.

"When you get into the more expensive houses, there are still a good number of spec houses being built in the $300,000 to $400,000 range," Rouse said. "When you get above that, you'll see more custom houses."

Rouse, who started Riley Farm in south Fort Smith with Paul Walker in 1998, said there are a few Beverly employees, like Freimark, in his subdivision with $800,000 to $900,000 homes.

ERC Land Development Group has been developing high-end residential subdivisions in Fort Smith for many years, and many of their homes have been built on spec, said Steve Rucker, president of the development group.

But lately, he said, there have been a lot of inquiries from the general public wanting to buy lots on ERC's new development, Brighton Place, in eastern Fort Smith.

"There is a continual demand that someone is looking for that preferred site to build on," Rucker said. "There's not many opportunities for premiere sites on the east side [of Fort Smith]."

Brighton Place will have 107 lots on 35 acres surrounding 8 acres of water, Rucker said. Lot sizes range from 0.20 acres to 0.27 acres and are priced from $40,000 to $70,000. Twenty lots will be on the lake, he said. Construction is set to begin in the fall.

Much of the new development is happening near Fort Chaffee and southern parts of the city around Greenwood and Riley Farm. That's because there isn't much land left inside Fort Smith proper. Still, developers like Matthew Horan and ERC with Brighton Place are finding land inside Fort Smith.

Horan's Houses

Horan, a Fort Smith lawyer, said he has always wanted to develop a subdivision of custom-built houses. Having a neighborhood full of people who put their personality into the houses might keep them living there longer, he said.

"My view is that if you build it the way you want it, you will stay," Horan said. "I think it's important to have a real settled neighborhood. I think that holds value."

Horan is developing St. Francis Crest--47 lots on 31 acres of land on the cast side of South 74th Street. The price ranges from $65,000 to $300,000 and range from 0.40 of an acre to over an acre in size, he said. But the price is for "location, location, location."

The lots are on top of what old timers call Wildcat Mountain. The houses will have views of the Arkansas River and over the city. The development is close to Rogers Avenue, St. Edward Mercy Hospital and numerous shopping centers, which is something he said he thinks people want.

"I think now is a good time to initiate the development," Horan said. "I think people kind of want to be a little closer to things when gas is $2.50 a gallon than 90 cents a gallon."

Horan said streets have been put in and 14 lots have been sold, with construction started on one hat.

Rouse's Riley Farm has four different areas with houses ranging from $300,000 to more than $1 million, he said, and it is a mix of spec houses and custom-built houses. But the only lots left are lots builders have bought and are waiting to build. The lots ranged from $32,000 to $94,000 for 2.5 acres, he said.

But Ron Calhoun, real estate agent and developer of Blackstone Ranch in south Fort Smith, said the need is really in the $150,000 to $250,000 range for housing.

"That's because our land cost is much less than in northwest Arkansas," Calhoun said. "So we can still have luxury and class at affordable pricing. Our houses are not sitting. Houses are selling."

Calhoun said the upscale housing market hasn't changed over the past year, and that supply and demand for housing is in check. The biggest problem is the decreasing number of lots available.

That means whatever lots are available will become smaller in size and cheaper in price.

Calhoun's Blackstone Ranch has 106 lots on 75 acres. Lot sizes range from 0.47 acres to 0.67 acres. The development is spec housing, and construction has begun on houses that range from $189,500 to $250,000, he said.

MARA MUCK

tmuck@nwabj.com
Fort Smith Top 20 Homes

 Owner Address

1 James and Peggy Hadley 10600 Kent Court
2 Jimmy and Carol Phelps 7600 Edgewood Circle **
3 David J. Mille 10500 Seven Oaks Road
4 Douglas and Melissa Parker 3611 Free Ferry Road
5 W/S Floyd Family Trust 1800 Innsbruck Lane **
6 Michael S. and
 Rebecca A. Morton Trust 4234 Spring Mountain **

7 Michael and Lisa Wolfe 1800 S. 73 Circle
8 Dyer Joint Revocable Trust 7510 Edgewood Circle
9 Ernest R. Coleman Jr. 9405 Moody Road
10 Kevin and Samia Phillips 4616 S. 96 St.
11 Brenda Ollie/Judy
 Ollie Living Trust 110 Rivercrest Dr.
12 Floyd and Jimmie
 Lou Sagely Trust 1913 Massard Road
13 John M. and
 Jorgette Smith 3421 Free Ferry Road
14 Jerry and Vonda Gardner 1600 S. 66 St.
15 Sara Viguet Goodwin 3503 Free Ferry Road
16 McGruder Joint
 Revocable Trust 1608 Wheaton Trace
17 Abdul-Nasser and
 Memuna-Ali Adjei 2409 Wyndermere Way
18 Kyle and Renee Parker 4701 Cliff Dr.
19 Warren and Tammy Lee 6 Windhaven Dr.
20 Jimmy Lee and
 Beverly Didier 10909 Towle Lane

 Square Estimated
 Owner Feet Market
 Value *

1 James and Peggy Hadley 11,396 $2,256,450
2 Jimmy and Carol Phelps 14,603 $2,085,200
3 David J. Mille 8,756 $1,918,700
4 Douglas and Melissa Parker 8,724 $1,521,750
5 W/S Floyd Family Trust 7,488 $1,296,500
6 Michael S. and
 Rebecca A. Morton Trust 6,573 $1,256,650

7 Michael and Lisa Wolfe 9,955 $1,170,850
8 Dyer Joint Revocable Trust 7,024 $1,160,450
9 Ernest R. Coleman Jr. 7,456 $1,134,250
10 Kevin and Samia Phillips 7,148 $1,060,300
11 Brenda Ollie/Judy
 Ollie Living Trust 8,620 $1,050,950
12 Floyd and Jimmie
 Lou Sagely Trust 6,026 $990,800
13 John M. and
 Jorgette Smith 6,012 $963,800
14 Jerry and Vonda Gardner 6,307 $950,150
15 Sara Viguet Goodwin 8,986 $949,850
16 McGruder Joint
 Revocable Trust 5,085 $946,900
17 Abdul-Nasser and
 Memuna-Ali Adjei 7,102 $909,400
18 Kyle and Renee Parker 6,626 $908,650
19 Warren and Tammy Lee 8,107 $877,100
20 Jimmy Lee and
 Beverly Didier 5,702 $868,750

Notes: * Appraised in 2002.
** Currently listed for sale.

Source. DataScout and the
Sebastian County Assessor's Office.
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Author:Muck, Tara
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Apr 3, 2006
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