Hallmark Communities is offering burned-out owners in greater San Diego three different ways they can rebuild their homes that were damaged or destroyed by wildfires in late October.

The builder has reassembled the same six-person rebuild team that it used four years ago, the last time fires swept through San Diego. At that time, Hallmark thought it would rebuild entire blocks of neighborhoods by offering owners a limited number of house plans. Hallmark even based its pricing for those homes on anticipated economies of scale from building them in clusters. But the builder found that buyers wanted more customization than it could provide. So instead of building a projected 250 homes, it built only around 50, and construction was far more scattered geographically, which made finding subcontractors to do the projects all the more difficult.

"We made plenty of mistakes," admits Tom Archbold, Hallmark's executive vice president.

This time around, Hallmark is offering its expertise and far greater flexibility to owners. Prospective buyers can choose from one of Hallmark's 30 house plans and can peruse completed homes built to those plans at nearby subdivisions. Hallmark is also offering to rebuild an owner's home the way it was before the fire if that owner can provide house plans. "We'll also allow them to tweak those plans with changes," says Archbold, such as bringing the house up to code or installing upgrades such as tankless water heaters or electronic packages. The third option allows owners to order a completely customized house, and Hallmark has hired three architects specifically to work with these clients. "No matter what, we'll need to involve an architect for new drawings," says Archbold. While Hallmark is using many of the same subcontractors it employed four years ago, Archbold says it will probably bid out the custom homes.

Any builder has to deal with many factors when rebuilding a home destroyed by fire, including insurance and demolition. "Every lot has different conditions," says Tim Marquard, Hallmark's vice president of operations, to say nothing of the owners' personal circumstances. "These people have real problems, and we're here to help these people." Consequently, Hallmark is taking a relatively low-key approach to reaching local residents about its rebuild programs through radio and newspaper ads, and through a direct mail campaign that will contact each of the estimated 2,000 addresses of homes that were burned in greater San Diego.

Marquard says that some of the product that Hallmark is offering allows for "streamlined" construction. Nevertheless, he estimates that any rebuild would take about 11 months to complete. (He acknowledges that some competitors are offering a quicker turnaround, which he believes is unrealistic, based on Hallmark's past experience.) As for pricing, neither Marquard nor Archbold wanted to say what the range might be (according to its Web site, Hallmark's homes sell from the $400s to the $800s). But Marquard notes that if a typical house costs between $190 and $215 per square foot, "we'll be far below that."

The company has already accepted letters of intent to buy from some owners. Archbold estimates that Hallmark will end up building 200 homes and expects more of the construction to be groups of homes on the same blocks. "We'd like to build all of them," he says.

To read more about what builders are doing in the aftermath of the Southern California fires, click here.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Diego, CA.