It's 113 degrees on one mid-July afternoon in Phoenix, and Eric Brown is outside landscaping a 1961 vintage home he recently purchased and is renovating. A year after leaving Artisan Homes, a company he founded in 1998 and sold to Engle Homes in 2004, Brown is ready to come in from the swelter and get his career going again. But he's not desperate enough yet to take just any job that comes down the pike.
Brown left Artisan when Engle, part of Technical Olympic Homes USA, ran out of infill projects, “and there was no room left for my department.” Artisan specialized in innovative condominiums, and its crowning achievement may be Lofts on Central, an award-winning mixed-used design concept Brown developed in 2001 for downtown Phoenix that proved wildly successful and spawned five separate buildings. But in a telling finale to the product, Engle sold the land for what would have been the latest iteration of that design—the six-story, 80-residence Artisan Haus—to a company from Argentina, which is going with its own design, says Brown.
At 47, Brown says he's financially secure, but not to where he could retire, even if he wanted to. “I'm already getting bored, and I can't let this stretch on for another year,” Brown told BUILDER in July, when he started putting his name out into the employment arena. Brown calculates his odds of getting back into home building at 3 to 1. But he was reluctant to light out on his own because “that might be suicide right now” with the housing market as soft as it is. In this economy, he wonders if there's a builder or developer out there willing to ante up for someone with his talent and experience, which dates back to 1979. That's when he first got into the housing industry as a real estate agent. Over the next 29 years, he worked for several builders and developers, with a three-year stint as partner with The Meyers Group (now Hanley Wood Market Intelligence) thrown in.
During his latest hiatus, Brown says he can't help but remember advice he got from his boss at Pacific Scenic Homes: Get out before you have to. The waiting game has allowed Brown to mull professional and lifestyle alternatives, such as opening a restaurant in Australia or New Zealand. He's already designed a 10,000-square-foot pad for it and would consider investing in such a venture. Brown also recently received dual citizenship from Ireland, his wife's native country, and he's not averse to packing up the family—which includes three young children—and starting over abroad. “My wife would like to teach yoga, and I could sell ice to Eskimos, so perhaps we'll do something together, like opening a restaurant/deli with a yoga studio,” he says playfully.
If he were to get back into the business in the U.S., Brown says he'd be receptive to joining a company “that wants to make a radical change” to its business model. He believes the downturn has afflicted too many builders with what he calls “Mikey syndrome,” recalling the famous Life cereal TV commercials that featured two brothers who refused to try a new cereal until their youngest sibling, Mikey, did. Brown also relishes his reputation for being something of a maverick and thinks it might be “fun” going back to home building for a company that's struggling to turn things around when business conditions are less than ideal.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Phoenix, AZ.