Seattle’s buildSOUND is invested in the extra details that create the spaces make its townhouses feel like homes.
By Tim O’Connor
The entry-level market is where Rob McVicars believes his development company, buildSOUND, makes the biggest difference. A few extra details such as a built-in bookshelf, a key throw or a well-designed fireplace can make a major difference in the value of a home and how inviting it is to a perspective buyer.“The biggest compliment we get from homeowners is “that it felt like a home the second they moved in,” he says.
Those details require some extra investment, but are not completely cost prohibitive. “We’re dedicated to making sure people get those details, even if the costs may be higher,” says McVicars, owner of buildSOUND.
The Seattle market’s median home price is $604,300, according real estate website Zillow. That high figureoften prices teachers, civil servants and young professionals out of living in the areas where they work. buildSOUND wants to provide those people with housing opportunities. Last year, buildSOUND completed a rowhouse project that sold for as low as $399,000, while maintaining some of the features and details found in its more expensive townhomes that sell for as much as $1,250,000. “We strive to provide higher quality at a lower price than our competitors. We are giving people what they can’t get anywhere else for that number,” McVicars says.
“We understand that we are building someone a home that they’re living in every day,” he adds. “Every day they wake up, we’re impacting their life. We take that responsibility to great lengths.”
Rob McVicars began his career as a painting contractor but his goal always was to transition into homebuilding. His passion for building began as a child working with his father in their garage and continued to when he and his wife, Katie, remodeled their first home. As a painting contractor, he watched projects get built, became familiar with the details and finishes inside the homes and developed a sense of how the process worked.
The perspective McVicars gained as a subcontractor aided him as he moved into leading projects and helped the company weather a tumultuous first few years. It was 2008 when buildSOUND began, just as the recession was turning into a national crisis. “Our first project went on the market the day Lehman Brothers went bankrupt,” McVicars says. “We had no idea what that meant at that point in time. In hindsight it was a great time to learn how to build.”
Had buildSOUND started two years earlier, McVicars figures the company could have had a large amount of construction debt and properties that were worth a fraction of what they paid for them. “We had to learn to build during the toughest times when things were hard to sell,” he says.
The key to surviving the recession was to find ways to set buildSOUND homes apart from those of other builders. Much of that differentiation comes from Katie McVicars, co-owner and an architect with a passion for interior spaces.
A timeless design means that a home that is highly valued today will be highly valued when the owners someday decide to sell, and in the meantime it will be a comfortable and welcoming place to live. Katie McVicars brings a modern style and sensibility to buildSOUND, with clean and contemporary lines and simple but appealing transitions.
“Our basic concept is exactly the same as it was 10 years ago and it’s all based on clean, simple designs,” Rob McVicars says. “If you can do something with clean, contemporary lines it will last forever. It’s just simple lines but they have to meet and transition properly.”
buildSOUND complements its modern design with a commitment to quality work. “We want to build a better product than anybody else we’re competing with,” McVicars says. “Our priority is quality even if that may cost more.”
The people executing on the quality buildSOUND demands are its subcontractors and superintendant, Steve Peeler. McVicars views those relationships as partnerships. These relationships are leaned on for their knowledge of materials and expertise of installations in helping buildSOUNd finalize decisions regarding each project. .
buildSOUND tends to work with only one subcontractor per trade, ensuring steady business between the companies. “We’re fortunate in our volume where we can grab the attention of quality subcontractors and continue to work with them,” McVicars says.
“To remain partners with our subcontractors and to have them do the quality of work that buildSOUND is known for is essential,” he adds. “They’re as big of a part of building our projects as we are. We don’t consider buildSOUND as their boss by any stretch. We look at them as someone to collaborate with and to accomplish the same goal.”
The company successfully established itself even as competitors struggled to stay afloat, putting buildSOUND in position to thrive as the economy recovered. During the recession, revenues floated at around $1.5 million annually but this year the company is on track to bring in close to $20 million in revenues in the next 12 months. Seven projects representing a total of 32 units are on track to be built during this time.
All of buildSOUND’s projects are located within the Seattle city limits. McVicars says there is a need for more density in the Emerald City and urban homes give workers access to public transportation, easing congestion. “We really like the idea of trying to produce a product where maybe you don’t need a car at all,” he says.
About 90 percent of buildSOUND’s projects are townhomes. The company’s units range in price from $399,000 up to $1.25 million. Most projects average four units in size but McVicars says buildSOUND is going a little larger this year with some townhome developments including as many as seven units.
Although the company has affordable options, the average buildSOUND townhome sells for between $700,000 and $800,000. It’s definitely on the higher end of what McVicars aims for and he is looking for opportunities to provide more units in a lower price range. However, the cost of land in the Seattle area – which is on its way to becoming the San Francisco of the Northwest with major tech-savvy companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks and Nintendo of America calling it home – makes affordable projects difficult.
Something will have to give to reach that lower price point, McVicars says, and a likely candidate is size. Most buildSOUND homes are 1,500 square feet but the company is planning 900-square-foot units in some of its new projects to put them in reach of more buyers. “We’re trying to be really creative about giving people an affordable product,” he says.