Comito seeing a comeback for custom-homebuilding

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Debbie Comito (left), Lauren Comito-Perrault and Claude Comito said their custom homebuilding business barely survived the recent economic downturn.

Coming together: Debbie Comito (left), Lauren Comito-Perrault and Claude Comito said their custom homebuilding business barely survived the recent economic downturn.

After three long years, there is relief in Claude Comito’s voice.

“People are calling,” said Comito, owner of Comito Building and Design, which specializes in million-dollar custom homes in exclusive Colorado Springs neighborhoods.

“We have resurrected some deals that people put on hold a few years ago when the market started crashing,” he said. “We have new clients.”

Comito and his business partners, wife Debbie Comito and daughter Lauren Comito-Perrault, are feeling good about the luxury home market in 2011 and project their company revenue to be $5 million — up 25 percent over last year.

“We’ve gotten mean and lean and everybody has worked hard at keeping us in business,” Comito said. “A lot of our pricing is very competitive in the last year and half.”

Colorado Springs was a boomtown back in 1983 when Claude and Debbie Comito opened their custom home-building business.

“It was an incredible amount of competition,” Comito said. “It was very difficult to crack into from the standpoint of competition.”

But they did. The couple built two houses their first year, then three the next year and were up to a half dozen a year by 1988. They focused on high-end homes and buyers who were willing to spend about $1 million for lot and house.

From1996 to 2009, Comito teamed with custom homebuilder Larry Nichols to form Nichols & Comito and the company developed and built Stratton Pines, the upscale, gated neighborhood near Cheyenne Mountain State Park. The company also purchased the remaining lots at Cedar Heights, a gated community near Manitou Springs with views of the city and Garden of the Gods Park, and over the years built more than 200 homes in the Colorado Springs area.

The Comitos remember that sinking feeling when the housing market took a turn for the worse in early 2007. They finished up the projects that already were under way. And, then silence.

“In 08, business got much lower and in 09, with the financial meltdown, it stopped,” Comito said. “It just fell off a cliff.”

The company cut 10 employees, moved into a significantly smaller office and repositioned itself in a market where sky was no longer the limit.

“The first thing you do is slow down the machine,” Comito said. “When we started to see the sales slow, you have to think quickly about how much you can shed.”

In 2009, Nichols & Comito ended the partnership, in part because Nichols was ready to retire and in part because of the grim economy.

Debbie Comito said the family went into survival mode. They started taking on remodeling projects. They still built luxury homes, but now they started in the $600,0000 range.

“Remodeling was a viable part of what people were doing because they weren’t selling homes, they were remodeling them. There was a market there for that — it paid the bills,” Debbie Comito said.

Claude Comito jokes that if he had known how bad the economy would get, he would have called it quits. But, his business has survived the ups and downs of the economy before, he said. His father was a homebuilder, his brothers are homebuilders. It’s what they do. There is satisfaction in building something from ground up, he said.

“Taking a raw piece of ground and designing something in such a way that you create a wonderful home site — fortunately, Colorado is a great canvas to work with,” he said.

In 2009, Comito-Perrault joined the family business and the three partners returned to the company’s roots of building luxury custom homes for clients looking to stay under $1 million with house and land.

“We felt we had to get small and focus on the core competencies, which is custom building,” Comito said. “We are focused on new plans, a little smaller, but the same high quality components and energy efficient.”

In August, Comito Building and Design will feature two homes — one in the $800,000 range and one upward of $2 million — in the Parade of Homes, the annual home tour featuring model and custom homes throughout El Paso County.

“We are showing both ends of the market and hoping that people will understand we can do it all,” Debbie Comito said.

Home trends in 2011 are energy and space efficiency and smart homes, where nearly every thing in the home can be controlled from a phone or computer.

“2011 will be a very good year for us,” Comito-Perrault said. “We have several homes under construction and we are feeling very positive.”

And, that is a relief.