When a press release comes in announcing an unknown national homebuilder will build 2,400 homes in the next year, it grabs your attention. That’s what happened when Serene Homes announced that it entered the northwest Fort Worth market with control of 1,432 acres. The land includes 1,284 lots in the Hills of Windridge and 467 lots in the Trails of Fossil Creek, where it will join Centex Homes in the north Texas community.
The new entrant seeks to delight homebuyers with never-before-seen augmented reality and 3D capabilities in the design and build process. The company will also include smart home integration as a standard feature.
Jeff Peterson is the executive vice president of land acquisition and development for Serene Homes. After exiting the Las Vegas homebuilding market at the bottom of the recession, Petersen had settled into running his own business accounting firm. After enduring the cyclical, risky construction market, the financial side of things was comfortable. But this isn’t a story about staying comfortable.
“Before the market collapsed in Vegas I had sold a home to a gentleman based out of Singapore,” recalls Peterson, who continued a professional relationship with Singapore-based Dirk Foo while arranging maintenance for his second-home in Nevada. “Out of the blue he called me and said, ‘Come to Toronto.’” Soon after, Peterson was back in building, working with Foo on commercial developments in Canada.
“While we were working on that, I kept my eye on the U.S.,” Peterson says, “I kept looking at the Vegas collapse. I had seen so many people lose everything they worked for. I didn’t want to see that happen again.”
In the Lone Star state, Peterson thought he found a haven from volatility. “Texas, I saw, had a constant, slow growth,” he says. “That, to me, is a healthy market.”
With the financial support of Serene Home's parent company out of Asia, Peterson flew to Dallas. “It just showed me that this is the place where the future is,” he said. "I kept seeing news of businesses moving here: Amazon, Motorola, Toyota. The state is creating jobs everywhere, and that doesn’t even account for the supporting companies. It’s a friendly environment for businesses to come to. It’s a friendly environment for people to come live and to raise a family.”
Peterson hit the ground running in north Texas. He joined the local builders association, chamber of commerce, and interviewed land planners and engineering firms. Peterson’s extended family in the area includes a real estate attorney, who facilitated even more introductions.
“We get all of our funding through Serene Home's parent company out of Asia,” Peterson says. “But I’m the vision guy. I find the land and create the vision of what the business should be.”
Having vision, funding, and a clean slate can be a great advantage. Untethered, Peterson has invested in some high-tech toys. Peterson envisioned homes with modern, family-centric home designs, integrated smart home technology, never-before-seen insulation techniques, and an industry-pioneering design center. Here are his innovations:
The RFID Design Center: Serene Homes created a product, exclusive to the company, meant to ease and simplify the selection process. Using RFID scanners on each product sample, buyers will interact with large touch-screen tables in the company’s design center to see their new-home take shape. “The buying experience is going to be different,” says Peterson. “It used to be you held this four-by-four square of granite and a sample cabinet door and you had to imagine what your kitchen would look like. In our design center, each sample has an RFID sticker on the back. Scan it, and the selection pops up in the screen in front of you as a photo-realistic rendering of your kitchen. You can then take away that piece of granite, choose another, and see the change.” Once selections are chosen, buyers will take home a key shaped flash drive with all of their renderings. There’s also a kid’s station with tablets and games to keep them busy.
Energy Efficiency: “We’re the new kids on the block so we have to be offering more and everything has to be better,” says Peterson. To achieve new levels of energy efficiency, Serene Homes will install a new insulation product, Blue Energy Board, for which the company has an 18-month exclusive.
Smart Home Technology: A fully integrated smart home system is built into every home the company builds, from move-up to luxury. “I looked at my phone. I saw how everything is based on technology,” says Peterson. “Homes have become more energy efficient, better in design, and are built with better products, but the technology part has never really entered.” Peterson says the firm’s integrated user interface, another product exclusive to Serene Homes and developed under the close direction of Peterson, is accessible from any iOS or Android device and can control anything with a plug. “One of my biggest concerns was my Dad. I new it had to be easy, as simple as a picture and a button.”
Design: “I’m smart enough to know that the buyers are women. Selections are based on her opinion,” says Peterson. This sentiment comes through in myriad design features. Every kitchen will have a desk area, every master bath a make-up desk. Seats in master showers, linen closets “everywhere,” larger secondary bedrooms, and, of course, large closets in every master bedroom are also in each plan. Trends like open floor plans and attention to universal design also followed Peterson and his vice president of construction from the west coast.
Sandra Malm is an associate editor at BUILDER.