IN 1988, AFTER NEARLY 20 SUCCESSFUL years in real estate and home building, Gene McKown went belly-up, a victim of an economic slide in the Southwest brought on by collapsing oil prices. Two decades later, the 62-year-old McKown—in partnership with co-owners a generation younger—not only has recovered from that setback but also can lay claim to being Oklahoma City's largest and most innovative builder.

What's behind that rebirth? McKown's own savvy in assembling and developing land in the metro area's choicest locations. Just as important, co-owner and son Vernon McKown has revved up a bright young sales and marketing team and made Ideal Homes a national leader in energy-efficient homes. Meanwhile, Todd Booze, the firm's remaining co-owner and Vernon's friend from the University of Oklahoma, presides over a buttoned-down building operation that wins praise from trades and suppliers alike.

Front row: Vernon McKown, president of sales; Middle row, l to r: JaRee Stambeck, CFO; Russ  Gammill, vice president of purchasing; Gene McKown, president  of development; Back row, l to r: Todd Booze, president of construction; Brian  Rice, vice president of operations
Ideal Homes Front row: Vernon McKown, president of sales; Middle row, l to r: JaRee Stambeck, CFO; Russ Gammill, vice president of purchasing; Gene McKown, president of development; Back row, l to r: Todd Booze, president of construction; Brian Rice, vice president of operations

Together since the company's start in late 1989, the three owners have spearheaded a growth surge that took Ideal from 29 closings in 1990 to 435 in 2005. Even in a real estate market off by about 20 percent, Ideal was on track in 2006 for more than 500 closings and about $75 million in revenues. In all, the company has notched more than 6,000 sales in 16 years.

And Ideal isn't about to rest on its laurels. Whether it's a new Web-based scheduling tool, employee courses in financial literacy, or a gleaming new design center for home buyers, the management team keeps looking for more ways to gain an edge.

“They are not builders who make a lot of money in the boom times and then go off and lead the good life,” says Bob Schultz, a Boca Raton, Fla., sales and marketing consultant. “They are very good business people who just happen to be home builders.”

CHASING SCHOOL DISTRICTS Learning from Gene's bankruptcy, Ideal now owns free and clear about 1,500 acres of undeveloped land, paid for out of $15 million in retained earnings and investor capital. Moreover, it has methodically accumulated that land primarily in close-in suburbs that encompass the area's best schools.

“If you are going to be a large builder over the long haul, you need to buy land in the right places,” says Gene McKown, “and our strategy is to chase the school districts.”

Case in point is Valencia, a 600-acre tract that two years ago was part of a vast wheat field in the fast-growing community of Edmond, north of the city. Ideal's first master planned community, Valencia straddles two of the area's blue-chip school districts.

MID-RANGE WINNER: The Hendrix model in Ideal Homes' Signature line starts at $150,000 and  features an open 1,654-square-foot floor plan.
Ideal Homes MID-RANGE WINNER: The Hendrix model in Ideal Homes' Signature line starts at $150,000 and features an open 1,654-square-foot floor plan.

That $7 million land investment is paying off. With a product mix that caters overwhelmingly to first-time buyers and those moving up from their first home, Valencia accounted for 50 percent of Ideal's sales in the first half of 2006. The firm also is building at 15 smaller sites in the metropolitan areas—almost always on lots it has developed.

Valencia, with its winding streets, cul-de-sacs, and 40 acres of parks and open space, offers Ideal its first chance to offer all of its product lines in a single community that will build out over a seven- to 10-year period. The mix ranges from a 1,000-square-foot model costing about $110,000 to models running more than $250,000 with 2,600 square feet and even some larger custom homes that top $300,000. Among the fastest sellers in Ideal's largely brick façade, ranch-style lineup is the 1,964-square-foot Kingsley, featuring an open floor plan with study off the front entrance, formal dining room, chef's kitchen with island, and vaulted 10-foot ceilings in the living room and master bedroom. Price: about $160,000.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Jose, CA, Oklahoma City, OK.