Enduring & Sensible Craftsmanship
In Austin, Texas an urban housing utopia is thriving. Amidst the confusion of the city’s complex building codes, Riverside Homes have emerged as specialists in green construction – building modern custom homes in central neighborhoods like Zilker, Bouldin and Travis Heights that reflect the lifestyle of a new breed of home owner.
Scott Turner is an Austinite through and through. Working as a real estate agent in the Austin market since 1996, Turner quickly got exposed to the business of urban construction and development at a young age. Five years later, in 2001, Riverside Homes was born with its first project in the Bouldin neighborhood.
“The zip code is what everyone knows here: 78704 is a part of town that is very desirable with lots of cool shops and restaurants, but at the time it was really transitioning,” Turner said. “The neighbourhood was gentrifying from a bad neighbourhood to a good neighbourhood.”
Boosted by votes of confidence and positive results, Turner continued to expand his footprint in and around Austin neighborhoods, picking up more and more lots, eventually leading to a four-lot project featuring 2500 square feet spaces.
“We’d buy a lot and build on it, buy a lot and build on it,” he said. “I was simultaneously working as a real estate agent and I opened my own brokerage in 2003 – Turner Residential and continued to build houses along the way.”
Gaining traction, Turner and his team continued to move forward. But unlike the early days of his high risk, high reward real estate baptism of fire, he evolved at every step of the way – obtaining a wealth and depth of knowledge that would prove incredibly valuable in the long run.
“Slowly but surely we did a few more projects here and there,” Turner said. “Because of my brokerage I’m a little more in tune with market conditions and the urban markets I work in. so when things got tight in 2007, we made a conscious decision to stick with a product we could sell that was within conforming loan limits of $417,000. We knew our product was well received because the demand was still here six years after we started.”
Being the first of its kind in the urban market, Riverside Homes knew they had found their calling eight years since 78704 began. Now, the company tackles 10-12 houses a year that range in size and scope, but focus on the urban Austin neighborhood.
“From 2009 to 2012 is really when we started to grow and take advantage of some opportunities that we found in the urban markets and that brought us to where we are today,” Turner said. “Now, we’re averaging $700,000 to $900,000 per home/unit.”
Notorious for their keen design sensibility, Riverside’s use of clean lines and attention to detail has set them apart from other builders in the Austin area. Refusing to be a one-size-fits-all home builder, the multi-faceted team – made up of 10 real estate agents that work for the brokerage, and two project managers and a couple of directors – wears different hats. In a complex and highly regulated environment like Austin, that’s crucial in growing the brand and the brain trust of the entire company.
“We have one of the most restrictive, urban coordinates in the nation,” Turner said. “It limits the size of the home we build and the configuration of the home we build, down to an exact detail. We work in a complex regulatory environment. We take opportunities wherever we can. Sometimes that’s a smaller size project such as the east-side garden homes that we did.”
“Sometimes it’s a similar product only a different neighbourhood – so we’re building similar 850 sq foot units, which are surprisingly desirable in the middle of town, but the price point is a $200,000 difference for the same size house just based on where it is,” he continued. “The land is really what drives the price in urban environments.”
EXPERIENCE AND INTENT
Sticking to their guns, Riverside Homes has found its happy place. No two homes are alike. To maintain its integrity, character and craftsmanship Turner remains shrewd on where he chooses to take his team and his business.
“It would be very difficult for me to go from 10 homes a year to 50 homes without making significant changes to my business plan or the areas in which I build,” he said. “I’d have to go a little further out to find more lots and that’s a different market. So we like to stick with what we know and what we’re familiar with, and that’s urban Austin.”
The goal is simple at Riverside Homes: build great homes in great neighbourhoods. Their unique style and approach to green designing and building their homes focuses on choice, comfort and finding ways to creatively configure around regulatory limits and protocols.
“Because they’re so many limits on what we can build and how it’s configured we often design the house ourselves and put them on the market,” Turner said. “For our own developments, we will have the plans already in place.”
“We’re more of a design-build firm in practice,” he continued. “While we’re custom builders, we’re very involved in the design process. This is out of experience and intent. We build houses that have clean lines, good designs, and we put functionality first when thinking about the floor plans.”
HGTV SMART HOME
Blending green design with functionality, Riverside Homes’ commitment to environmentally friendly living comes standard. Their reputation for sensible craftsmanship and building green was personified when the first of six houses in the Zilker neighbourhood they’re building was chosen as the HGTV Smart Home.
“When HGTV came on board, they were pleasantly surprised to see that a lot of the green building that they usually have to come in and upgrade to or ask builder to accommodate to make it a smart home, we do it as a standard,” Turner said. “All of our homes have the same environmentally friendly and energy efficient features that the smart home does.”
As members of the Austin Energy Green Builder Program, Riverside has all of their homes independently rated by the program. The 2300 square foot HGTV Smart Home was no different. Targeting a four-star rating, the house already comes equipped with plenty of energy efficient and environmentally friendly practices. But there are some features in the home that aren’t so standard.
“One of the smartest features of the house has to do with the internet of things,” Turner said. “It’s essentially devices that are connected to each other and don’t take direct supervisor or control.”
“We have a Nest thermostat, and the washer and dryer connects to Nest and accesses the user data,” he continued. “So the washer can tell when you’re not home and you can put a load of laundry and it will turn itself on and run while you’re not there.”
TRACK RECORD AND REPUTATION
In 14 years, Riverside Homes has become more than just a modern home builder in Austin. Swayed by a swagger and sensibility that mixes and mashes avenues from design, culture and the environment, they’ve embraced a philosophy that mirrors of that of the city they call home – laid back and low key.
“Track record and reputation is very important,” Turner said. “The brokerage and home building company have a lot of synergy and in addition we put a lot of effort into our designs of the house. We try and take a thoughtful approach to how a house is going to be used. The characteristics of the lot, the limitations and then try and come out with a product that stands the test of time.”
Growth has become a blessing for Riverside Homes. In a position of privilege thanks to their brand identity in the market based on the style of their homes, the company are enjoying a mix of both larger projects and custom business.
“It’s hard to grow from 10 homes a year to 50 homes a year which isn’t much in the world of production home builders or some of the larger custom home builders, but in urban markets lot supply is always a challenge,” Turner said. “So we’re at a point where we can deliver a good high quality product without overextending.”
Expansion without overextension remains a crucial objective in the coming years for Riverside Homes. But for Turner, he understands and underscores the importance real estate’s cardinal rule of location, location, location.
“It’s the lifestyle that drives our market,” he says. “The reason we’re in business is because people want to live in the middle of town. People want new house with all the amenities and finishes in an urban location so you’ve got good access to downtown. Texas is a big state and you don’t still don’t have that walk-ability that is more common in urban areas.”