St. Aubyn’s homebuilding business wins on bold bet

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In 2009, Jared St. Aubyn jumped into the homebuilding business. He was a little-known newcomer to the industry, but his timing couldn’t have been better.

When Jared St. Aubyn went to contractors in 2009 and said he wanted to start his own homebuilding business, they raised their eyebrows.

“I’m pretty sure most people thought I was nuts,” St. Aubyn said.

It was a time when new housing starts were their lowest in decades, new homes sales were nearly dead and real estate prices seemed to be on a continued downward spiral.

Dozens of other builders in the area had already stopped building, lost vacant lots to foreclosure and even filed bankruptcy.

Many left town, and that opened the playing field for St. Aubyn.

He told contractors he wanted to build and sell 50 houses his first year.

“My reaction was that he wouldn’t make it,” said Jake Bass, who owns Alpine Concrete Construction. “The housing economy had been terrible. I didn’t think he’d make his goals — maybe 20 or 25 houses.”

In 2010, the company’s first full year of operations, it built 166 homes, three times more than St. Aubyn’s goal and more than any builder in the city, according to permitting numbers from the Pikes Peak Regional Building Authority.

“I certainly didn’t think he’d have this kind of success,” Bass said.

In 2011, he fell behind Challenger Homes and Classic Homes, but still permitted 152-single family houses.

“In 2003, I couldn’t have done this,” St. Aubyn said. “Big national companies owned all the lots. There wasn’t any room. We got lucky and 2009 really was the bottom.”

Since that time, Saint Aubyn’s success has continued.

The company is building signature homes, which cater to first-time buyers, in five neighborhoods. It is also building a few trade-up homes in northern neighborhoods like Flying Horse.

St. Aubyn said he had always imagined himself running his own company one day.

So, the Greeley native worked for other builders and learned what he would need to know before he could step out on his own. He cut his teeth at Hensel Phelps and Journey Homes.

He still had a steady job with Journey Homes when he decided to start his own business, and he knew what segment of the market he wanted to focus on.

Four of the primary neighborhoods Saint Aubyn builds in — Lorson Ranch, Creek Terrace, Forest Meadows and Sierra Springs — are in the southern part of town, closer to Fort Carson.

“We really try to cater to a military buyer in those neighborhoods,” St. Aubyn said. “We try to offer them the greatest value at the best price.”

St. Aubyn said he felt when he decided to create the company that it would fill a niche of needed properties.

The niche is hard to describe, St. Aubyn said. But all of his homes include things like wood floors and granite countertops as standard while other builders charge upgrade fees for them. They range from 1,200-square feet to 2,800-square feet and start at $190,000 in most of the southern neighborhoods and at $150,000 in the Sierra Springs neighborhood off of South Academy Boulevard.

“We really focus on the first-time buyer,” St. Aubyn said. “We do have some trade-up product, but the focus is really on the first-time buyer.”

St. Aubyn, who lives with his wife and children in one of the houses he built on the north end of town, said the trade-up market is a new one for him, but he never expects to get into custom-home building.

“We’re a production builder,” he said.

On average, it takes Saint Aubyn 45 days from the day the first shovel goes in the ground to the day the house is ready for its new owner.

“That is astoundingly fast,” Bass said.

Most of the builders he works with take about 100 days to finish a house.

“He has a system,” Bass said. “It’s like an assembly line. Everyone knows their jobs and there isn’t a delay in the schedule.”

That fast turnaround helps the builder’s popularity among the military crowd, St. Aubyn said. There are a lot of troops coming back from overseas or moving from other posts or even deciding it’s time to get out of apartments and they don’t want to wait for their new homes.

St. Aubyn is also one of few developers who was building homes on speculation before there was a buyer for them. He still builds more than most, he said.

“We’re just trying to stay ahead of it,” he said. “And it’s getting harder and harder to do that.”

Saint Aubyn is leading other builders for the first few months of 2012 with 42 new homes permitted. The company is on track to break its own record. St. Aubyn has been buying housing lots throughout the city in preparation for a wave of new home orders as he sees growing interest in the real estate market.

He has purchased lots where the developers were forced to lower their prices and has not dealt much with foreclosed properties, he said. As the inventory of finished lots begins to dwindle with more builders picking up steam, St. Aubyn said he predicts developers will begin new projects in a year to 18 months.

“Our growth will primarily be to the east and to the south just because that’s where the land is,” he said.

St. Aubyn has expanded his offices at 212 N. Wahsatch Ave. where he started with three full-time employees. He now has 10 — five who do administrative work and five who lead teams of contractors.

“We’ll probably be about 50 percent bigger this year than we were last year,” he said.

And he estimates that he’ll double his staff in two years. Now that the homebuilder is well-positioned at the beginning of an improving market, he said he expects growth to take off rapidly.

“The rates are amazing right now, the house prices are great,” he said. “It’s the perfect storm for things to get better.”