December 17, 2015

Homes Still Heart of the Matter for Builders

– The  Commercial Appeal –

Chamberlain & McCreery Inc., one of the most active home building firms in the Memphis area, is actually a diversified small company.

Home building is still its core business. But the company also develops lots for houses. It develops land and builds commercial projects from Horn Lake to Cordova, including small retail, office and warehouse buildings.

Phil Chamberlain is the principal in charge of the home building business. Chamberlain, 46, spent much of 1996 through 1999 running a drywall distributing company.

During that period, his partner Jon McCreery ran the home building business. Now, McCreery, 41, focuses on land acquisition, development and commercial building.

"It (the partnership) has worked well for us. I think it goes back to the fact that we share a good work ethic," Chamberlain said.

He oversees the company’s home building programs in 10 subdivisions from Collierville to Millington to Fayette County.

Their newest subdivision is Sterling Square in Collerville, a rare combination of attached and detached houses.

Located south of Winchester one-half mile west of Byhalia, Sterling Square is part of Schilling Farms, a mixed-use development of office, office-service, retail, apartments and hotels.

"We just started marketing two weeks ago. The model isn’t furnished yet, but it (Sterling Square) is our highest traffic area now," Chamberlain said.

Size, price, design, concept and location set it apart.

When it is completed, Sterling Square will have 75 zero-lot-line homes clustered tightly on small, low-maintenance lots.

It will have an almost equal mix of attached and detached houses. Sizes range from about 2,000 to 2,800 square feet.

Twenty-one houses are under construction. A few are almost finished.

Prices go from $215,000 to $250,000, Chamberlain said.

Attached houses there have two units that share a common wall. But, from the street, they look like a large single-family house.

Garages are in the rear. Access is from private alleys.

The houses are expected to appeal to empty nesters and young professionals who don’t want to cut or water the grass.

Those chores will be covered by homeowners’ association fees, which also will fund maintenance of a community swimming pool and cabana.

In all, Chamberlain & McCreery Inc. expects to build about 160 houses this year with an average price of $187,000.

Their house prices range from about $140,000 to more than $300,000 and are being built in a variety of markets.

Next year, they expect to build another 160 houses and continue their diversification efforts into related businesses.

"For several years, we were just home builders. We spent most of our time in the field," McCreery said.

"By default, we got into some related businesses, and we sold two of them after a few years to national companies."

About 1990, the company started Gypsum Supply Co. because they and other builders were having trouble getting drywall on a timely basis to build their houses.

Their drywall business expanded rapidly, especially after they acquired Kaiser Sales in 1996 and merged operations under the name Drywall Supply Inc. About a year later, they bought Wal-Board Supplies Inc. and merged operations in that name, which had a 50-year history in the business.

In 1999, they sold the operation, which had stores in Memphis, Horn Lake, Collierville, Tupelo and Jackson, Tenn., to U.S. Gypsum.

Similarly, but on a much smaller scale, Chamberlain & McCreery Inc. bought 10 Dumpsters a few years ago. They were having trouble getting Dumpsters delivered to their building sites. Other builders experienced the same problem. So, they started Dumpsters Inc.

After owning it almost two years and expanding to own more than 150 Dumpsters, they sold it to Waste Industries.

"We didn’t intend to sell either business. But the lessons we learned helped us grow and led us into other related businesses," McCreery said.

He now heads the company’s land division, overseeing the development of about 650 lots for houses with an estimated market value of about $15 million. Those totals include works in progress and raw land to be developed next year.