Last month, I attended NAHB’s midyear meeting in Miami and had the pleasure of sitting in on a presentation by Daniel Swift, president and CEO of Des Moines-based architecture group BSB Design.
Movers and Shakers: Christopher Homes
Christopher Gibbs has seen a lot of changes during his 30-plus years in the home building business. Arriving in California in 1969, Gibbs worked for Trammell Crow Residential Partners and JM Peters.
|“By buying the Chevron land assets, we showed that we were capable of playing the big boys’ ballgame.”
—Christopher Gibbs of Christopher Homes
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Christopher Gibbs has seen a lot of changes during his 30-plus years in the home building business. Arriving in California in 1969, Gibbs worked for Trammell Crow Residential Partners and JM Peters. He also started his own company, Christopher Homes, sold it to Peters in 1987, then resurrected it in 1994 with the help of Saudi Arabian investors. “We re-formed Christopher Homes, since the trademark had not been sold to JM Peters,” says Gibbs.
Christopher Homes formed a partnership with Lennar Corp. and a third company, Westbrook, to create PLC Land Co. (part of the PLC Group of Companies based in Newport Beach). Early in 1996, PLC Land acquired the Chevron Corp. land portfolio in Southern California, which included over 3500 residential lots, a championship golf course and more than 11,000 acres of ranch land.
“We developed this land and started selling it to third-party builders,” says Gibbs. “About two and a half years ago land prices skyrocketed and we weren’t able to find the top deals we wanted. Since we had this group of seasoned veterans, we decided to go back into the home building business and started building in master-planned communities, along with a couple of coastal infill projects.”
These efforts came to fruition last year, which was stellar for Christopher Homes, earning $183.8 million in housing revenues from 336 closings. “In 1999, I think we did about $68 million,” he says. The company is on the Giants list for the first time this year, ranking 84th.
Christopher targets second-time move-up buyers with homes that sell for an average price of $543,000. Over the years, the builder has acquired a reputation for innovative housing design and a talent for finding land in a market where good sites are snapped up at lightning speed. St. Augustine, a hot-selling community in Huntington Beach, was honored with three Best in American Living Awards for architecture in 1999. Christopher has been equally successful in San Diego with the same product line. Gibbs says it’s due to a willingness to go the extra mile with design and detailing: “It’s money well spent.”
Christopher currently builds in Orange and San Diego Counties and is evaluating opportunities in Los Angeles and further inland. As the search for large building parcels continues, the company will continue to do infill projects on oil properties or sites where shopping centers and other nonresidential buildings are being torn down.
“By the end of next year, I hope that we’ve acquired another major piece of land,” says Gibbs. “Right now we’ve got the company yellow light on. We do have funds available, whereas some people might have overextended themselves a touch. There may be a little downturn in the market, which I think will yield us some projects.”
One thing Christopher Homes will not do in the foreseeable future is expand out of state. “In the price range that we’re in, home building has to be a hands-on, specialized business in order to produce the quality product and get the attention to detail and design.” On the human resources side, the company stays lean and mean with just 32 employees, including field and corporate office staff.
According to Gibbs, Christopher’s legacy of building quality houses only explains part of the success story. “By buying the Chevron land assets, we showed that we were capable of playing the big boys’ ballgame. It’s having the money to step up and do the deal.”
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