If If you’ve been previously named America’s Best Builder, it’s a good bet your company is doing something right. But you know you’re special if you win the honor twice in eight years. This year, Bethesda, Md.–based Eakin Youngentob (EYA) finds itself in that enviable position.
EYA is a moderately sized builder/developer specializing in mixed-used and mixed-income infill developments in and around the Washington, D.C., area. A 16-year-old company, it has developed a reputation for architecturally driven, progressive developments that appeal to urban-lovers. “Our general market is every type of urban lifestyle–driven buyer you can think of,” says president Bob Youngentob. “It’s everything from Gen X and Gen Y to professionals, singles, couples, and empty-nesters.”
The builder’s projects are relatively small, 98 percent attached, and thoughtfully conceived and designed. Exteriors mostly skew traditional, but interiors feature contemporary, open plans. And the design is specific to the neighborhood.
“We don’t design a catalog of a bunch of models and take a suburban land plan and start plopping them down,” says Greg R. Shron, vice president of architecture. “They’re all contextual with the existing neighborhood and existing vernacular,” Shron continues. “We spend a lot of time and energy making sure we respect the existing architecture in the neighborhood.”
As a testament to its success, the builder has achieved above-average returns on over $1 billion in sales for the past 16 years.
Urban infill was the focus from the moment chairman Terry Eakin and Youngentob started the company in 1992. Having previously worked on similar projects at local developer The Holladay Corp., the two men recognized an untapped market for urban projects and saw growth for the future.
“We felt that if we really focused our energy on this one particular segment, there was a tremendous number of people, both young professionals and empty-nesters, who aspire to the lifestyle,” Youngentob says. Other builders ignored this niche and EYA benefited. “Nobody was really trying to recreate neighborhoods or go in on a large scale and take two or three city blocks and rebuild those neighborhoods,” Youngentob explains.
Today, EYA’s project locations contribute directly to its success. Its motto, “Life within Walking Distance,” sums up its philosophy. “We wanted to do one thing well, and we’ve kept virtually the same focus for our company since the day we opened our doors,” Eakin says.
But not all of EYA’s infill projects are in typical downtown urban locations. The company built its brand doing market-rate projects in sought-after Washington suburban edge cities such as Alexandria, Va., but its strategy has evolved.
“We’ve also done really well going into areas that have been under-supplied with new housing alternatives or have had some challenges,” says COO Andy Warren. Such areas include the now-burgeoning U Street Corridor in Washington, downtown Silver Spring, Md., and the Hyattsville Arts District in Prince George’s County, Md.
Since the 2000 ABB win, EYA has reinvented itself, adopting new systems and processes along the way. “We’re a different company from an operational standpoint [than we were back then], but we have the same philosophy and core values,” says Eakin. One of these core values is the emphasis of long-term relationships. Believing that they are vital to the company’s success, EYA uses the same architect, lender, equity investors, subs, and attorney on all of its projects. And operations continue to evolve.
The company started identifying key trades and subs to join its Subcontractor Alliance program, under which subs agree to provide timely service and high quality in return for consistent workload, prompt payment, and priority bid review. The program is essentially a recruitment tool for quality subs but also a way to keep the good subs it has rather than lose them to other jobs in the suburbs. It also means the builder gets safe, reliable workers that deliver high-quality work.