Turning Dreams into Reality
John Andrew Tammaro II, President and CEO; Gus Pappas, COO; Alan Simonini, Advisor (founded predecessor company in 1994)
Simonini Homes is serving the market with homes and whole neighborhoods designed to blend into traditional communities like Myers Park and Eastover while providing the sought-after livability of modern floor plans. Advisor Alan Simonini describes how people are used to nice things but want to downsize. He says, “I take great pride in making homes that look like the neighborhoods they’re going in. They fit right into the fabric of the neighborhood.”
Simonini Homes Turns Dreams into Reality
As Charlotte’s economy diversifies and recovers from the Great Recession, Simonini Homes is serving the market with homes and whole neighborhoods designed to blend into traditional communities like Myers Park and Eastover while providing the sought-after livability of modern floor plans.
Alan Simonini, who started building top-quality homes in Charlotte in 1994 and now is an advisor in the firm, achieved his excellence goals years ago—the National Housing Quality Gold Award (2002 and 2010), America’s Best Builder (2003), Builder of the Year (2006), and induction into the William S. Marvin Hall of Fame for Design Excellence (2010).
He’s still building on that experience, from new single-family homes and upscale renovations to high-end multifamily housing, luxury town homes in some of the city’s most prestigious zip codes. His accomplishments include City Homes on Kings Drive, Dilworth Crescent, and Stephens Square (named for the founder of Myers Park). Current projects include Lombardy City Homes, SouthPark City Homes, and the most recently announced 19 townhomes on 1.5 acres at Sharon Amity Road and Woodlark Lane.
“We’re known for our custom homes and renovations,” Simonini says. “But we also work for other developers to start developments from scratch that are in our area and price point. We’ve also been hired by some developers to fix and finish some stalled neighborhoods. Instead of building just one custom home, we’re building a whole neighborhood of homes. We’ve got a track record of that.
“We’re at a higher price point,” Simonini continues, “ranging from $500,000 to $1.5 million or more for homes from 2,700 to 5,000 square feet, with lot sizes from one-fourth to one-half acre. That’s why we typically do neighborhoods that are infill or gated or lakefront or golf course, because that’s where the more expensive homes are.”
Design and sales expertise give Simonini Homes an edge, he says. The firm has a complete design studio on Morehead Street where customers can choose their design preferences.
“That’s how we are different than most other custom builders in Charlotte,” Simonini says. “We have the designers and the salespeople. When somebody buys a home from us or does a renovation job with us, we’ll get the house designed for them, we’ll get the plans drawn and priced, we’ll do all the interior design they want. We can do a neighborhood because we have salespeople in the model who sell that neighborhood.”
Contemporary Inside, Classic Outside
These days, the typical desired interior design is a significant departure from the old days of formal living and dining rooms with L- or U-shaped kitchens. A common floor plan involves a big kitchen with a big island that includes seating, a family room, a family dining room, and an outdoor covered living space, all connected and flowing together.
“All of our houses have this module today,” Simonini says, adding that the style has arisen since 2006. “It’s a space that is comprised of where you live. It is a big kitchen with an island, so you’re not trapped by an L-shaped kitchen or a U-shaped kitchen, which is typical of years past. The kitchen becomes part of your living room.
“The kitchen looks right into the family room and the family dining room, which is the same size as a traditional dining room but it’s attached to the main part of the house. That creates one big rectangle, and they’re all interconnected. That’s where you spend 90 percent of your waking hours in the home.”
Depending on the floor plan, the family room might be 20 by 20 feet, the kitchen 18 by 15, the dining room 12 by 14, and the outdoor space 12 by 20. The outdoor space, accessed through sliding glass doors, can be used comfortably for about eight months of the year; some owners add heat sources for extended use.
While the floor plan is a break from the past, Simonini is committed to harmonizing with the traditional look and feel of the established communities where he builds infill housing on cleared tracts.
Years ago, he noticed that a California-inspired community of stucco homes in Charleston was not selling well; when Hurricane Hugo destroyed the subdivision, the traditional Charleston look replaced it and flourished.
“It was a lesson to me,” Simonini explains. “I said I’m never going to build something that doesn’t look like Charlotte. I take great pride in getting homes that look like Charlotte and look like the neighborhoods they’re going in. Those duplexes and townhomes look like they’ve been there a hundred years. They fit into the fabric of the neighborhood.”
When he started the Heydon Hall subdivision near Quail Hollow Country Club, before the recession, Simonini took pictures of his favorite homes in Myers Park, Eastover, and Dilworth and told the designer to make the new homes look like that, with modern floor plans. More contemporary designs can fit downtown or near SouthPark, he says.
Pursuit of Quality
Simonini, who grew up in Chicago, attended Culver Military Academy in Indiana, and earned a degree in biology at Arizona State University, got into the building business after his father, Alfred, who had retired from a family business, moved to River Hills Plantation and started building a few homes for sale.
“Back then, the builders didn’t finish the house and do what they said they were going to do, not on budget or on schedule,” he recalls. “I saw an opportunity to do something different. I went in business for myself and brought in a business partner who kind of ran the business, Simonini Builders.
“We decided to go for being a National Housing Quality award winner and America’s Best Builder, so we set about the process of doing that.”
When their first few applications were turned down, the pair of entrepreneurs studied the detailed comments and learned from them. Simonini says simply, “We improved those things.
“We got to be known in our industry around the country as having really high customer service ratings,” he touts.
However, the recession that devastated the housing industry nationally hit Simonini Builders hard. The company built 122 million-dollar homes in 2007, two in 2011. Fortunately, renovation work held steady.
“That business never really slowed down much during the recession,” Simonini says. “It was a bridge—we had the renovation work going all the way through there, so we didn’t go completely out of business.”
In response to the downturn, the owners divided Simonini Builders—Simonini remained with Simonini Homes in 2011, another part of the business became Classica Homes, and his business partner became a developer-broker for another builder.
John Tammaro, who earned a degree in building construction management from Purdue University in 1998, is president of the company. Gus Pappas, who has a degree in mechanical engineering and Spanish from N.C. State University and an MBA from UNC-Charlotte, is chief operating officer.
Last year, Simonini Homes did about 20 new homes and 20 renovations; Simonini says they expect to do 30 new homes this year, including townhouses. About half the firm’s 30 employees work in new construction, half in renovations.
“I wouldn’t say it’s coming back,” Simonini says. “I’d say it’s improved from the bottom. It’s not back, but we’re doing fine. We’re happy.”
Among other things, the firm has several homes under construction in Foxcroft and at Lake Norman, and plans are taking shape for a new townhome community in Cotswold. Demand is rising as a recession-triggered oversupply dwindles to undersupply because so little was built for years.
“It’s been a while of no building, so that’s kind of been absorbed,” Simonini says. “The market of available homes for sale has really shrunk a lot in Charlotte. The existing homes, there’s not very many on the market relative to the past. Not many, if any, are built on speculation, so there’s a limited number of new homes for sale.”
Choosing New Construction
Simonini Homes’ market is typically mature families with high school or older children, empty-nesters, divorcees, retirees, or young professionals with two incomes and no children.
“Our buyers are typically older because of the price point,” Simonini says, adding that among other things, they don’t care about the house’s school district. “The buyers used to be three-fourths from out of town—people moving here with the banks and businesses moving to Charlotte. Now it’s half the people. We’ve replaced some of the banking with the energy sector here in Charlotte. We have doctors moving here; the hospitals hire a lot of people. We’ve built a lot of doctors’ homes.”
Customers often choose to build when they see the total cost of purchasing and renovating an existing house.
“People look at a house that’s an older home,” Simonini says. “They almost always need some renovation. People are paying the market price for their home and then having to renovate it. Only a portion of what they spend renovating it goes to adding value to the house.
“Price is on a per-square-foot analysis. If you just redo the kitchen, you don’t get 100 percent of your money back; if you replace the roof, you get nothing back. There are a lot of things you do in a renovation, like replace the pink bathroom tile with white, where you don’t get your money back.
“People look at that versus building a new house. A new house becomes a little more attractive when you look at the old house plus the renovations, then the new house makes more sense a lot of times.”
While Simonini is building houses 5,000 to 8,000 square feet, in places like Foxcroft and Lake Norman, some buyers are downsizing but determined to maintain quality even when they reduce quantity of space.
“They live in a nice home in a nice neighborhood; they’re used to nice things,” Simonini describes. “They’re not willing to give up the nice things, but they may be willing to have a home half the size of the one they’re in.
“Perhaps giving up formal areas and a bedroom to go from 6,000 square feet to 3,000 or 4,000,” he points out. “They’re not willing to give up any of the finishes they had in their old house—hardwood floors, moldings, granite or marble countertops, nice hardware, solid doors.”
Newly-constructed homes are also energy efficient, environmentally friendly, low-maintenance, and more comfortable because they filter outside air into the space to compensate for the tight defense against outside weather, and because builders use water-based paints and other materials that do not emit the toxic gases of past construction.
“We’re not putting anything that can rot on the outside of the home anymore,” Simonini says. “The wood has been replaced with wood substitutes. The houses are all Energy Star, so they’re very energy efficient. They’re healthier to live in.”
In whole neighborhoods that Simonini develops, the yard maintenance is usually provided by the community—a practice that started before the recession that yields pleasant, uniform landscaping.
“In almost all our neighborhoods, your lawn is taken care of by the same person for the whole neighborhood,” he says. “You can augment that if you want, but your basic lawn care is taken care of by the community. If you want to have our own English garden or a vegetable garden in the back, that would be your responsibility.
“Everything looks uniform. Everybody’s yard is mowed at the same time. The neighborhood looks really good. This is another advantage of developing neighborhoods. It’s rewarding. People love living in them.”
Simonini Homes LLC
501 E. Morehead St., Suite 4
Charlotte, N.C. 28202
Principal: John Andrew Tammaro II, President and CEO; Gus Pappas, COO; Alan Simonini, Advisor (founded predecessor company in 1994)
Business: Construction and renovation of high-end homes, neighborhoods, and multifamily communities