BrightLeaf Homes specializes in sustainable homebuilding with a one-stop-shop process that makes its client experience second to none.
By Janice Hoppe-Spiers
Scott Sanders founded BrightLeaf Homes in 2008 with the aspiration to build better homes and provide homeowners with a green, healthy and sensible housing option. The company says it was building sustainable homes before sustainability was trendy.
“We saw there was a need for a better way to build homes as low-quality homes were being slapped up in the ’90s and before the housing market crash,” says Rick Thompson, managing partner and head of acquisition and sales. “We heard a lot of negative connotations about other builders.”
The La Grange, Ill.-based company specializes in building green, high performance homes in the western suburbs of Chicago. BrightLeaf’s homes average in price between $400,000 and $600,000, but can reach up to $1.1 million. “Having a positive impact in Chicago and its suburbs is important for BrightLeaf Homes,” the company says. “We acted where we saw a need and collaborated as a team for the greater good of residential building. We know we’re different and we’re always getting better.”
Sanders, Thompson and his brother, Alex Thompson, are managing partners at the company today and ensure every BrightLeaf home is Energy Star certified and built to be Net Zero Energy Ready. “Green construction has a ton of benefits for the buyer and everyone around them,” Thompson adds. “They are getting a home that will last longer, be healthier to live and breathe in, they will spend less on energy bills and be more comfortable.”
For three consecutive years, BrightLeaf has received the U.S. Department of Energy’s Housing Innovation Award for its ability to construct energy-efficient and high-performance homes at a moderate cost. “We make all the benefits of a green home clear,” Rick Thompson says. “When homebuyers see a builder who has put this much care and thought and scientific design into a home, they ultimately can trust the builder and that they are getting a far superior product.”
BrightLeaf’s streamlined process offers clients an easy solution to customizing the home of their dreams and allowing them to live in their preferred location. The company offers land location services to help clients acquire property to build on followed by an integrated design process.
“What really sets us apart and why we’ve seen tremendous growth is the homebuilding experience we provide,” Thompson says. “We developed this to shatter negative connotations that are associated with traditional builders. A home is the biggest investment someone will make and there are a lot of decisions to be made; we don’t want people stressed out and it should be an awesome experience.”
BrightLeaf offers its clients four different models ranging from 1,600 to 3,200 square feet. Clients then have the flexibility to customize their homes as much as they want, including altering floor plans and selecting different façade options and finishes. “Client changes don’t happen often once we begin construction because we put such an emphasis on selecting everything in the preconstruction process long before we begin the project,” Thompson adds.
The company partners with professional construction lenders and assists its clients in construction financing. BrightLeaf prides itself on never going over budget and maintaining clear communication with its clients throughout the process. “We take a client’s budget and work with them to determine the type of home they need and the features that are most important to them so we can design the home that they can afford that will work best for their family,” Thompson says.
Once construction is ready to begin, BrightLeaf creates a schedule that is sent to all its trade partners so they know when and where they need to be months in advance. In addition to its 10-year envelope warranty, BrightLeaf provides a 30-day, six-month and one-year check-up on all of its houses to ensure they are functioning the way they were designed to and to answer any questions the homeowners have.
In August 2016, BrightLeaf started working with a family to find land in La Grange where they could build a customized green, high performance home. “We call this our land-plus build package where we find the land and then walk you through customizing the home you want,” Thompson adds.
The homeowners fully customized their house, requesting an integrated sound system, finishes that suited their taste and a bonus space above their garage. In all of its models, BrightLeaf has developed a flex room that can adapt to the homeowners’ needs. “The husband’s mother might come live there one day, so he loved the flex space,” Thompson says. “Right now it will be a playroom for their son. When his mother comes to live, we have the bedroom on the main floor and a first-floor full bathroom so she can live on one level.”
The Bluff Avenue home was completed in March. The lengthiest part of the process was locating and acquiring the property, Thompson says. “While we waited to close on the land, we had already customized the house how they wanted it,” he remembers. “They picked out everything before we started building and we came to a fixed price agreement so everyone knew the final cost.”
Moving forward, BrightLeaf’s goal is to build 20 homes this year and double that number in 2018. To diversify its portfolio, the company is building its first high-performance multi-unit, rental building in Brookfield, Ill., in partnership with another developer. “We will continue to focus on our product and the client while providing the best homes and customer experience possible,” Thompson adds. “We always look to improve in every aspect of the company no matter what.”