Courtesy Flight Builders

In school, it can be difficult to be the new kid in class, adapting to new settings, meeting new people, and discovering ways to thrive in that new environment. It must feel similar to be a brand-new home builder breaking into an industry where many companies have been around for decades perfecting their craft as they rode the real estate waves through the years.

Emerging as a home builder just last year, Jacksonville, Florida–based Flight Builders is ready for the challenge. Pat Flynn, founder and president of the company, not only has a strategic vision focused on affordable infill product but also is striving to shape and mold the next generation of leaders.

BUILDER had the opportunity to speak with Flynn to learn more about how Flight Builders came to be, how the builder is differentiating itself in the market, and its main goals and motivations moving forward. See below for his responses.

What is the history of Flight Builders? When did it start?

I moved to Florida in 2013. I had a former company called Yellowbird, and we developed a rental portfolio, bought and sold a lot of houses, and bought a lot of lots. A local builder built for us on those lots. We put together a fantastic team at Yellowbird, and, in 2022 during the market shift and interest rate rise, that business model wasn't as feasible anymore. In 2023, I took all the leadership team from Yellowbird, and we planned on going down the road of being a home builder. I had fantastic leaders at Yellowbird that didn't have a ton of opportunity to grow because we weren't in a very scalable business model. It was very localized. I looked at the model of home building and our skill set, and I thought it was the perfect combination for us. Being in Northeast Florida in Jacksonville, there's a ton of land and infill lots, and the housing crisis is real here. I saw an opportunity in the affordable housing space, where our houses are selling in the $200,000s to $230,000s. We're building in rougher areas where it's not quite as profitable to build, but it was a great way to get our foot in the door.

What was your inspiration for the company’s name?

There's a fiction book called "Rebirth" that I've read several times in my life during big transitional periods. There's a quote in the beginning that is basically like "don't flap your wings so hard against the wind." The way eagles fly is they spread their wings and kind of soar. I love that quote because it tells me that you can work very hard toward your goals and have the grit to go through bad times, but it should in your gut feel right. It shouldn't feel like work. It should feel very natural. We could have continued to hammer at Yellowbird and try to flip houses and make it work, but I knew in my gut it wasn't right. Even though starting a new home builder from scratch is painful, it feels right to do so. That's the concept of it, spreading your wings and flowing with the currents while at the same time driving toward what you ultimately want.

What market is the company based in and where does it build?

Currently, we are in Duval County, Florida. We will expand by the end of this year into Nassau County and Clay County. We're building our first home building division right now in Northeast Florida. At the three-year mark, when we start building division number two, we're going to take another look at what's happening. In my mind, I see us continuing to build another division in Northeast Florida. Once we have tapped everything here, I see us staying in the Southeast of the U.S., but getting out of Northeast Florida probably in the next five to 10 years.

What does the company build and specialize in?

We specialize in infill urban core. We'll start 225 houses this year, and I would say 95% of that is going to be infill lots. I think Jacksonville very much needs that. It's incredible what happens to these kind of rundown downtown areas when you put a brand-new house on those streets. It changes the whole look of the street, people start taking care of their houses more. At this point, we can still buy those lots for a pretty good number. Flight is a cost-plus-fee builder. Flight doesn't own any land. We're cost-plus building for investors and also buying our own lots in a different entity on the side. As far as affordable housing goes, we build the same 10 models. Eighty percent of what we do stays under that $230,000 price point because that's kind of the market for affordable housing in Jacksonville right now. There's a ton of great grants with different banks around the city that give $20,000 downpayment assistance for people to get in those houses. I think that sweet spot of $195,000 to $230,000 is as low as we're able to go at this point for putting people in new houses. We try to do as cost-effective as possible.

As a relatively new home builder, what was your main motivation to start a home construction company?

To be honest, Yellowbird was humming, and it was fine. We could have let some staff go and continued to roll, continued to flip, operate the rental portfolio, and life would have been just fine. I found that I get my energy from growing leaders. I mentioned I saw the opportunity and real estate is what we had experience in, but I'd be lying to you if I said I had this massive passion for home building or affordable housing. To be honest, I have a massive passion for growing leaders not only on this team but in the country. I think we need more emotionally intelligent people that live intentional lives. I get a lot of satisfaction out of watching people grow here. The home building space is scalable. There's an affordable housing crisis in America, so I feel like the sky is the limit with how far we can grow this. I enjoy working with high-level people and this gives me the opportunity and the vehicle to allow them to grow and make more money. At Yellowbird, we were very segmented to Northeast Florida. At some point, people were going to cap out and my best people were going to leave. Home building is a scalable operation. I understand real estate and it allows me to grow and develop leaders and build a fantastic team.

What does it take to start up as a new builder today?

We started in June, and we'll build 225 houses this year. We've decided to grow quickly, and I'm able to do that because I have a fantastic team that I brought over from Yellowbird. We could not do this without our fantastic leaders we have already. But the challenge is you're fighting a lot of battles at one time. The route we're going now we're hiring highly paid, really good people. We're fighting the cash battle. We're fighting the pipeline battle. We're fighting an infrastructure battle. At the same time, permitting through the city is another battle. So because we tried to scale quickly, we have a lot of these battles going at one time. Knowing where we're going volume wise makes the decisions easier, but you still have challenges implementing and scaling so quickly. I think it would be much less stressful to do 15 (homes) in year one and 30 (homes) in year two, but that's the challenge specific to us.

How will you set yourself apart from other builders in the area?

That's an easy one for me. We are people leadership-centric company. I think that in order for us to scale we need fantastic leaders that take ownership and live intentional lives. If everyone is feeling good in all areas of their life physically, mentally, etc., it will be very hard for us to fail. What sets us apart is we are a people in leadership development company first, and a home builder second. I completely believe that I could take this team and we could get into any business and be successful because it's all about people. That was the other reason we got into home building in the first place is we're very good at technology and using virtual assistants, and all of that will come into play to our costs and why we're effective, but the real piece of it is you need fantastic people in your operation to run and drive things. We are incredibly focused on leadership and leadership development here.

What are the company’s main goals? What’s in your Vivid Vision plan?

The Vivid Vision is a very powerful document. It took us a whole quarter to complete. There's a book "Vivid Vision" by Cameron Herold, and it's just who we are to be intentional with what we're doing. We've painted a picture of exactly where we're going to be in October 2026. We want to be at the divisional level, completed division number one and moving on to division number two in October 2026. That document talks about culture, it talks about leadership, but it also has our numbers and our pace. We are building an affordable housing product. We're not upselling homeowners on countertops. We are being cost-effective and keeping everything affordable. The strategy to do so is going to be dipping our foot in the door with infill, and that's what we're doing now. I can't compete with Dream Finders, D.R. [Horton] at this point, but I do have a massive edge in the ground game and being able to buy this lot for $5,000 or this lot for $10,000. I have a massive advantage in relationships with these build-to-rent funds that want to build out communities with different investors and developers around town. That's where I can beat them. That's where we're focusing right now.

So, the first year 225 houses, like I said mostly infill, but by the end of this year we will have some developments and some subdivisions in the works. If we're going to 350 next year, my guess would be 100 to 125 those houses will be small subdivisions. I'm not quite sure what's going to happen after that at the end of 2025 or where the market is going to be, but we're going to be opportunistic with our growth and opportunity. For the next 18 months, we're going to dip into infill. We're going to get our systems and everything in place to know exactly what we can pay for these finished lots and start doing some real purchasing of them in 2025/early 2026.