When the going gets tough for homebuilders, the entrepreneurial-minded professionals tend to find alternative uses for their construction skills in an effort to stay employed.
Whether felled by the recession, sidelined by sickness or happily moving into retirement, one-time contractors have channeled their love of building into crafting everything from furniture to toys to chicken coops.
For the birds
Omro, WI, builder Scott Kumbier recalls that his wife laughed at him when he decided to walk away from his job as a home remodeler after he was diagnosed with cancer — so that he could build and sell chicken coops.
But within a couple of years, he had an eight-week backlog for his cedar coops, which come with optional solar-powered door openers, sturdy wheels so the owner can move them to the spot on their lawns with the freshest grass, and enough room to house up to 16 birds.
Scant competition from other coop builders has kept him selling up to five, $375 to $1,875 coops per day during the busy summer season. Lately, he has started building cedar beehives as well, and says he prefers his new job to remodeling homes.
When the recession toppled Alan Dunavant’s once-thriving home-improvement business, the Jacksonville, FL, contractor didn’t stop building. But instead of backyard decks and home additions, though, the one-time lifeguard crafted pressure-treated pine lifeguard chairs.
He sold his first creation to a former lifeguard trainer and swim coach, who placed it in his front yard. Once passersby took notice of the extra-tall, bright red chair, orders started pouring in.
“It felt good to build again,” Dunavant told The Florida Times-Union. By 2012, he had started a company, Dunavant Décor, which custom-builds lifeguard chairs, benches with backs that look like surfboards, and other beach-themed wood furniture in an array of sizes and colors. He also makes mailboxes, picnic tables, coffee tables and decorative shutters. Prices range from $250 to $850.
Creating furniture, he told the newspaper, taps the same skills he learned on the job site: interior and exterior painting, trim work and repairs. And since the economy has perked up, he’s back in the home-improvement business as well.
Just months before the recession became “official” in late 2007, architect Kraig Kalashian sold his interior design business to make time for a new passion: building modern, highly crafted homes in northeastern Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.
When “nobody would even give [him] a credit card,” he improvised, Kalashian told The Philadelphia Inquirer. He had planned to outfit the homes with handcrafted furniture that he hoped to design and sell through a second start-up, Pocono Modern. So while he waited for the new homes market to rebound, he launched a retail business in nearby Morris County, NJ, to sell the furniture and accessories, sans houses. And he started a new architectural firm in 2009.
His home furnishings — from hardwood benches to concrete end tables to picture frames made from salvaged barn wood — sustained him through the downturn, and his goal is to sell $1 million worth of merchandise by 2020.
Along the way, he started building one fully outfitted custom home a year.
Hayden Construction in Rockingham, NC, builds homes and office buildings. And its crews clean up crime scenes.
The long-time builder early this year diversified into emergency cleanups involving fire, flood and felonies, and will even disassemble meth labs. The eight-member crew works for individuals, businesses and government agencies.
When the builders aren’t cleaning and restoring properties, they specialize in quick-move-in homes; commercial construction; lot sales; garage additions and title services.
At 88, retired master builder Walter Hillman isn’t finished making things.
The former U.S. Marine has redirected his passion for building luxury homes into crafting toys to donate to Toys for Tots, a foundation created by the U.S. Marine Corps.
In a backyard workshop, Hillman free-styles wooden trucks, fire engines, doll houses, boats and tiny toy furniture.
Hillman told The Asbury Park Press he remembers the Marine Corps’ first efforts to interact with children, even before Toys for Tots was officially created in 1947.
If you can't beat 'em
For one real estate agent-turned homebuilder, the housing recovery stoked his passion for sales — and he returned to his roots.
Randy Bacchus, who founded Bacchus Homes in the 1990s, became the new director of Edina Realty’s Builder Resource Group in Minnesota last year.
Just as he used his sales acumen to sell the homes he built, he’s now using his homebuilding expertise to sell houses for other builders.
Bacchus told The StarTribune that fewer than 10% of new homebuilders in his area employ their own sales agents, so his firm steps in to fill the void.