Bill Handler
Bill Handler

Vero Beach, Fla.–based GHO Homes has changed hands more than once over the past few years, but its commitment to active adult home building hasn’t wavered. The company has enjoyed a remarkable comeback since the recession ended, making it one of the fastest-growing firm on BUILDER’s latest Next 100 list, which is made up of the 101 to 200 biggest builders in the country.

After leading the firm to unprecedented growth in the early 2000s, president Bill Handler sold the company to Woodside Homes in 2005, just before the housing market collapsed. Handler stayed on to run the company and when Woodside went bankrupt in 2008, he saw it as an opportunity: He bought back the company’s assets and vowed to restore the GHO brand.

Thanks to “strong headwinds” in the market and a lot of sound business decisions, the company is back on track, rebounding from 26 closings in 2012 to 121 last year, an average yearly increase of 133%. “As the buyer confidence has come back in the last couple of years we’ve been at the right place at the right time,” says Handler, a second-generation builder. GHO offers its one-story homes from $200,000 to $800,000.

Leveraging trusted partnerships with longtime vendors and trades allows the 42-employee firm to move quickly on new ideas as the market changes, and the central Florida retirement market is changing rapidly. GHO buyers, mostly empty nesters who have relocated from other parts of the country, have relaxed their budgets as the economy has rebounded. “The fear is gone,” Handler says, recalling the bleak days of the recession. “It’s not crazy optimism, but the fearfulness is gone now.”

These days, GHO customers want bigger homes with nicer detailing, including granite countertops (which GHO offers standard), separate his-and-hers bathrooms in the master suite, and oversized garages. Floor plans have grown from 1,800 square feet in 2007 to 3,000 square feet and beyond. 

The company’s Tailor Made program allows buyers to customize their homes with options such as enlarged kitchen islands, workshops, expanded pantries, and sitting rooms. 

Despite the firm’s resurgence, Handler is pragmatic about its future. He worries about overpaying for land, labor shortages, and ballooning home prices that could drive retirees out of Florida and into other southern states. “We’ll continue to expand—but we’ll do it with discipline,” he says.