Jim Esperson, president of David Weekley Homes' Chicago division, believes in the Sam Walton philosophy of giving the customer everything he or she wants and nothing more.
"If you over-include amenities when you are building a home or if you give buyers square footage in the wrong places, they won't see the value and you won't get paid," he said.
That is why Esperson believes in preference surveys, using them to periodically take the pulse of his customer base. He wants to make sure that David Weekley Homes is providing the mix of space and amenities that today's customers want.
The largest privately-held homebuilder in the country, DWH, based in Houston, quietly moved into the Chicago market in late 2015.
DWH is a $1.6 billion company that operates 24 divisions in 12 states across the United States. Since 1976 it has closed more than 80,000 homes and was the first builder in the U.S. to be awarded the "Triple Crown" of American home building: America's Best Builder, National Housing Quality Award and National Builder of the Year.
The company now has three communities underway in the Chicago area.
• The Reserve at Barrington is a gated, maintenance-free community that will feature 43 single-family homes. They range in price from the high $400,000s to the $600,000s.
• Easton Station in Buffalo Grove is a community of 15 townhouses that is almost sold out. It is within walking distance of the train and shopping and is in the Stevenson High School district. Townhouses are sold there in the mid-$400,000s.
• Finally, there is The Enclave at the Grove in Glenview. This is another maintenance-free, gated community that will feature 48 single-family homes. Homes there start in the high $600,000s and go up to the high $800,000s.
Later this year, DWH will open a fourth community, Amber Court in Wheaton. It will feature four single-family homes ranging from the mid-$700,000s to the high $800,000s. The homes will back up to the Illinois Prairie Path.
The company also builds "scattered site" homes on single lots in high-end communities throughout the suburbs.
"We consider ourselves to be very customer-centric. Since we currently build homes ranging in price from the mid-$400,000s to over $1 million, we are primarily catering to move-up buyers. Many are in their upper 30s to mid-40s and they are moving from city condominiums to single-family homes in the suburbs. They want to be close to transportation and are very concerned about good schools," Esperson said.
As far as the home itself is concerned, buyers want open floor plans that practically eliminate hallways because they want "through views," Esperson said. "The way that people live day-to-day has advanced and we have to keep up."
"Our internal staff of architects in Texas takes great pride in the cutting-edge plans we present," he said. "Many times we take plans that have been successful in other markets around the country and adapt them for the Midwest."
Esperson said the builder envisions expansion in the Chicago area beyond move-up buyers. DWH has several lines of homes it offers in other regions it could bring to Chicago, such as its "encore" line of ranch homes on small homesites, and its "imagination" line for first-time buyers and first-time move-up buyers.
"We envision steady, incremental growth of 15 to 20 percent a year in the Chicago area," he said. "In fact, we may potentially open one more community in the Western suburbs before the end of this year and expect to close approximately 80 homes across the area this year."
Immediately prior to taking over the reins of DWH's Chicago division, Esperson was involved in the land department of NVR Inc., the parent company of William Ryan Homes. Before that, the Chicago native was the regional president for William Ryan Homes' operations in Illinois, Wisconsin and Ohio.
"I enjoy all the different facets of the building industry," he said, "from the actual building, to working with customers, securing the locations for communities, discovering customer preferences and receiving letters from delighted new homeowners. The industry is always changing and those of us in it are constantly learning."
During April, all of DWH's 24 divisions are celebrating the builder's 40th anniversary by holding a "Showcase of Homes" at its communities. Every visitor to a DWH community who fills out a registration card will be entered in a drawing. The grand prize is a $2,000 electronics package for their home, while the first prize is a $1,500 appliance package. In addition, DWH will donate $5 to a Ronald McDonald home for every registration form completed.
"David Weekley Homes believes in giving back to the communities in which we do business. That is part of our pledge to build dreams and enhance lives," Esperson said. "Nationally, we raise money for and give to United Way, Habitat for Humanity and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Then, locally, we are involved with the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation Back-to-School Supply Drive, the Northern Illinois Food Bank, the Ronald McDonald House near Central DuPage Hospital, Big Brothers and Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago and other initiatives."