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Homebuilders dish the dirt on style trends, the new must-have amenities and more

Each Friday, Robbie Briggs, CEO of Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty, writes about luxury, trends, business and more in the advertising pages of the Mansion section of The Wall Street Journal. Below is his letter of August 6, 2021.


Real estate agents aren’t the only ones negotiating one of the hottest markets we have ever seen. Homebuilders are, too. Because there is such a tight supply of existing houses for sale, all eyes are suddenly on builders — who are building as fast as they can.

I recently interviewed three experts in the building biz — Richard Bragg, vice president of development for Milan Custom Build in Dallas; Michael Dike, co-founder and president of Village Homes in Fort Worth; and Nicholas Smith, owner of Kensington Custom Homes in Southlake — during one of our companywide virtual meetings. Though these firms build such different homes in different neighborhoods across North Texas, they are seeing the same trends — and sharing the same challenges. Here is my executive summary:

The hot style trends: All agree: Transitional architecture is tops. “Really clean lines; a very stark look,” Bragg says, “with not much molding, lots of glass and a lot of natural light.” Says Smith: “Less trim, more white, more gray, more black.” Says Dike: “We’re seeing the same trends in Fort Worth — which has historically been more traditional.”

The new must-haves: Bragg, Dike and Smith agree on this, too: generators, elevators, heated bathroom floors, catering or prep kitchens (now that entertaining at home is hot) and areas to serve cocktails, wines and spirits. “I don’t know if it was the pandemic,” says Dike, “but we’re seeing a lot more requests for bars.”

What’s tricky now: Predicting the prices of materials and the total cost of a luxury home that could be two years in the building has gotten very tough. Another challenge: timing. “We’re not in control of everything in the supply chain nor of our trade partners working at the site,” says Dike. “Flexibility and patience are the keys these days.”

What sellers should consider: Gently renovating a Tudor, Georgian or Mediterranean home so that it feels more sleek, more Transitional in style. Says Smith: “Homes built 10 to 15 years ago [can now be viewed as] Old World, dark and pigeonholed into that period of time: plaster moldings everywhere, a lot of cast stone — things that are fairly rare [in building] these days.”

The push for property: Lots are in the midst of the same buying frenzy as existing homes. Bragg: “Inventory is limited. It’s so aggressive when a quality lot does come up. Everything is going for over the list price. It’s an all-out war to get the good building lots.” Smith: “In the year that I’ve been involved in a 34-lot subdivision in Colleyville, they’ve had four price hikes. Every time they sell three or four lots, up the price goes again. Now we’re at $750,000 for a half-acre lot in Colleyville — but people are buying them.” Dike: “Lot prices have gone up at an incredible pace on the west side of Fort Worth.”

Plan ahead: A 4,500-square-foot home that previously took eight to nine months to build is now a one-year build. Plan on at least an extra three months, the experts say.

The influx of Californians: Smith: “They’ve lived in an environment which is hostile to their income, so they see a great deal more value here in Texas.”

What clients expect: Smith: “There is a general expectation for better quality and quicker builds.” Dike: “But, at the end of the day, we’re still building — by hand — a product, on the ground, outside, dealing with weather, a challenging labor market and a challenging supply chain. Communication is more important than ever.”

So, are you ready to get building? Despite a few challenges ahead — the theme of the last 18 months — I think it’s an adventure with very big rewards.

Robbie Briggs


Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty



PICTURED AT TOP OF POST: A textbook definition of the new Transitional style: 3737 Normandy Avenue in Highland Park

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