Building Big in Southwest Florida

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harwick.jpgHarwick Homes of Naples, Fla., has seen slow times before. In business for more than 25 years, the high-end custom builder thrives by doing what it’s always done: taking care of the customer.

“I always stress to people that quality does not cost, it pays,” says Mark Smith, Vice President and General Manager of Harwick Homes. “Everybody has a budget and a tipping point, and the sooner we find that the better we can serve the customer.”

“We always build the best house we can build for the budget,” he says. “And we think our homes should last 50 or a hundred years, not 10 or 20.”

In the boom years, Harwick Homes delivered 11,000-square-foot mansions to retired or nearly retired executives looking to spend at least part of the year enjoying the surf, sand and country clubs of Southwest Florida.

And while, this upscale demographic is still Harwick’s target, Mark says they have identified two additional needs their clients have, and they are making up for some of the business lost due to the slow economy.

In addition to new construction, Mark says Harwick Homes is also doing upscale remodels and additions. It’s also offering what it calls the Estate Management maintenance program, where his company inspects a home, reports on what work it needs to be ready for a busy executive’s family, performs the work and has it ready when they arrive.

At the end of the season, Harwick inspects the home, performs whatever maintenance is needed and secures it for the summer, which includes locking the home down for any storms that may pass through.

Harwick Homes was founded by Rick and Kathy Harwick in 1986. Today, Mark and his staff manage the day-to-day operations, which also include building smaller custom homes and smaller remodel projects in addition to the high-end work.

Mark says Harwick Homes gets most of its customers by word of mouth. He says the company’s work speaks for itself. The typical Harwick customer is a retired or nearly retired executive who wants a second home on the water or on a golf course.

“We are broadening our horizons,” Mark says. “I just met with a client who wants to build a home that’s 2,700 square feet, which is way under what our typical house would be. They came to us through their bank who knew us and knew our work.”

Mark says Harwick is anxious to show the community the quality work they can do on a $500,000 home, giving a customer the care and attention they’d get if they were building a $5 million dollar home.

Harwick is based in Naples, but they build across Collier County and into Lee County, including Bonita Springs and Fort Myers.

Mark says family is very important to Harwick customers. They want space for family and friends to visit, which is why remodeling and additions have become and important part of what Harwick provides.

Harwick itself is something of a family. Mark has been with the company since 1993, and many employees have been with Harwick for more than 10 years.

Mark says retooling for the new economy has been challenging, but they have found lots of great ideas and support through NAHB’s 20 Club program. NAHB 20 Clubs consist of similar type builders from non-competing markets who meet several times a year to share ideas and learn from each other. Members compare financial information, look for trouble spots and offer each other advice on how to increase profit ratios.

“We just came off a really great season. In 2009-2010, people were looking for deals and holding their wallets close to their chest. In 2010-2011, people were still very cost conscious; but once they decided to do something, they moved very quickly. We think things will continue to improve.”

Mark says that warranty work and follow up is critical to Harwick’s success. He says that’s one reason Harwick is proud to partner with Bonded Builders Warranty Group.

“Our warranty and follow up is second to none,” Mark says. “That’s one reason we created the Estate Management program. Inevitably, if a caulk joint lets go after five years or 10 years on a window or a door, they immediately think it’s a structural problem, when it’s actually a maintenance problem. You should have painted your house. Those are things we look for to make sure that the warranty is even better.”

For more information about Harwick Homes, visit their website. For more information about Bonded Builders Warranty Group, click here.

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