Even as most small private builders fight to find financing for their projects, Ameri-Star Homes has bankers looking to loan it money.
“We had two of the banks chasing us to do deals with us,” recalls Dan Dinko, president of the Glen Burnie, Md.-based builder.
In 2010 Dinko had the credit he needed to increase sales by about 40%, closing 30 homes. In January 2011 he closed 12 homes, worth a total of $4.5 million, and he expects total 2011 closings to climb to between 36 and 40, which is in the range of what he sold at market’s peak.
During the downturn, he was able to keep all 10 of his employees on payroll.
There are several reasons why Ameri-Star Homes remained bankable during the recession, said Ameri-Star’s banker Chris Holt, managing director of commercial banking for Susquehanna Bank. Chief among them is that Dinko pro-actively communicates with the bank about what’s happening with his business.
“It doesn’t mean that everything goes well every time,” with Ameri-Star’s business ventures, said Holt. “But [when it doesn’t go well] it’s not a surprise to us. Bankers hate surprises.”
Second, Dinko immediately took action to adjust business when new financial realities set in. “When the market got tough, he didn’t put his head in the sand,” recalls Holt. “The truth is that relationships are made in tough times.”
Also, said Holt, Dinko is clearly a good operator.
“He understands what separates him from the competition are these little details,” Holt said. “People show up on time. His sites are the cleanest. The whole customer experience is that he’s better than the competition.”
Ameri-Star is also faster, averaging a 60-day turn-around time from sale to closing.
Dinko sums up the secret to his success in one word: “Hustle.” He keeps his hand in every part of the business, including dealing personally with buyers. And he continues to connect with buyers even after closing.
“On Saturdays … I go to homeowners’ houses and bang on the door and ask them how things are going,” said Dinko. He’s also been known to notice and replace dead shrubs months after closing without a word from the owners.
That kind of focus on satisfaction and quality builds a strong referral business.
“We have a lot of repeat customers,” said Dinko. “I had one family that we sold six houses to the whole family of kids.”
Ameri-Star is one of only eight Certified Master Builders in Maryland, another way the builder differentiates itself from other local builders.
Dinko’s recession fortunes were also better because he wasn’t caught with a lot of owned land when the recession hit. He typically buys land when it’s needed and not much before.
“I’d rather work hard every day finding land rather than working hard for a few months and having land for five years,” he said.
Dinko, who got his start in the home building business as a drywall contractor, opened Ameri-Star in 2000 and he’s hoping to pass it on to at least one of his three children one day.
“I love to work and give good product to people,” said Dinko. “I want my kids to hold their heads up high when they take over this business some day."
Teresa Burney is a senior editor for Builder magazine.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Baltimore, MD.