Southern Homes of Polk County Enters a Neighboring County to Meet Demand
Southern Homes of Polk County hangs its hat on being the hometown builder of Polk County, Fla., but with that recognition comes the extraordinary responsibility to deliver homes that are second to none. The company’s homes are not sold to a faceless homebuyer; but, rather, to a friend or neighbor. It’s those deep community roots that inspire the Southern Homes team to take pride in its work and deliver the highest-quality product.
“Many of our team members live in our communities and the areas in which we are building homes,” Director of Marketing Ashley Link says. “We are serving our own community members, so pride in our work is very high. Our team is like a family and when you combine that with being a local company, I think you get a greater-quality product.”
Greg Masters and Ed Laderer founded the Lakeland, Fla.-based company in 1991. Working with their wives, the couples were happy to build about 10 homes per year nearly three decades ago. Today, Southern Homes has grown to more than 50 employees and builds about 315 homes per year. It has achieved that growth through its best practices of quality craftsmanship and customer service.
In nearly 30 years of growth, the company has never wavered from Polk County and just recently ventured across the county line. Southern Homes’ collection of award-winning home plans can be found throughout the county. “We are continuing to develop new communities throughout Polk and have seven or eight planned for 2020,” Link says.
Targeting First-Time Homebuyers
Southern Homes develops homes for clients ranging from first-time buyers to move-up buyers and retirees looking to “right-size.” Its homes range in price from the mid $100,000s up to the $400,000s with options, ranging in size from 1,100 square feet to close to 4,000 square feet.
Although the company’s products span the market, 60 to 70 percent of its business is with first-time homebuyers. Director of Sales Wesley Clark attributes that percentage to Southern Homes developing homes in more affordable communities. “Interest rates are stable and many of our homes are priced more affordable than rent,” he notes.
Southern Homes’ 1,700- to 2,000-square-foot floor plans — which can include four bedrooms and two or three bathrooms — are the most popular among first-time buyers. As far as home design, the company surveys the market, attends trade shows and looks to builders throughout the country for inspiration.
A design trend that is still holding strong in Southern Homes’ market is the “modern farmhouse.” First-time homebuyers often demand this style, which Link attributes to the popularity of HGTV’s home improvement and real estate shows and Pinterest, where the farmhouse look is all the rage.
“The first-time buyer has changed,” Director of Construction Zach Diaz says. “They do their research and know more about what they want. I think that’s because the average first-time buyer is now starting later in life than previous generations.”
Delivering the Best Value
Being a local builder, Southern Homes differentiates itself from the national builders by working closely with homebuyers to get them pre-qualified. The company’s sales team is trained to coach its clients through the pre-qualification process, as well as how to improve their financials if they are not pre-qualified.
“In most cases, the national builders send you to a lender and see if it sticks,” Clark explains. “If the customers’ credit scores prevent them from being in a position to invest in a new home now, they move on to the next customer. We continue to work with and guide them so that they can one day meet their goal of home ownership.”
In fact, Southern Homes has a proven program that allows its sales people to coach customers through the financial process – not only for the home purchase, but more importantly, for their financial well-being. In addition, the company’s purchasing department works closely with its trade partners to get the best possible cost so it can offer the best possible value to homebuyers.
“Our purchasing department works hand-in-hand with sales and marketing to find out what homebuyers are asking for as far as options, and then works with our trade partners to offer those options at a price point homebuyers can handle,” Link adds.
Many of Southern Homes’ relationships with trade partners and suppliers date back to the company’s founding. The company maintains a core group of partners so not all of its work is given to one vendor, which ensures it receives competitive costs.
“The ones who are loyal, proven and efficient at what they do, we give as much work as they can effectively and successfully take on,” Diaz says. “We are always hiring new trade partners because we are growing.”
Quality is non-negotiable at Southern Homes. “If it’s a question of quality, we will undo everything, stop work and get it right,” Diaz notes. “Our trade partners know that, and they do it right the first time, so they don’t have to come back.”
Diaz and his team perform numerous checkpoints throughout construction. At the end of construction, Southern Homes performs two quality walk-throughs with its production manager to find anything that doesn’t meet their standards. So, when the homeowner does a walk-through, there’s nothing on the punch list.
“Ninety-five percent of our homes turn over with zero exceptions, and we achieved 100 percent this year with zero exceptions at close,” Diaz says.
Expanding into new Territory
Although Polk County will always be home to Southern Homes, the company is expanding into neighboring Highlands County, as the demand for new home construction rises. “There are numerous new employers coming to that area, and we are seeing an increase in demand for new homes,” Clark says.
Because Southern Homes’ trade partners were also new to Highlands County, they had not gone through the county’s approval process. This delayed Southern Homes from initially starting work. It also caused Highlands County officials to examine their process. Southern Homes held numerous meetings with the city and county planners and commissioners to change the procedure, paving the way for Southern Homes to enter the county.
“The county provided us with the opportunity to collaborate and share our thoughts and experiences regarding their process because they wanted us there,” Link notes. “Southern Homes appreciates that level of communication and partnership.”
Southern Homes recently entered Highlands County’s Avon Park subdivision with homes starting in the low $170,000s. Southern Homes has about 34 home sites in the gated lakefront community, ranging from 1,600 to 3,000 square feet.
“The bulk of our homes are not in big communities,” Link explains. “They are more intimate communities with an average of 50 to 60 home sites.”
In December, Southern Homes began selling sites in the established Sun ’N Lake community in Sebring, Fla. The golf course community is amenity-rich and its homes will range from 1,200 to more than 3,000 square feet. The price point starts in the high $150,000s.
“We will continue to develop new communities in Polk and Highlands Counties,” Link says. “One of the many great things about being a local builder is that we deeply care about and are engrained in our community. That means we are here if the market peaks and if it slows. We hope our homebuyers find comfort in that.”