Bizbrief: BuilderFish rises from real estate ruin
The last time the Hook caught up with Todd Hawkins, his employer, American Home Mortgage, had just declared bankruptcy, and the loan officer best known as a 1990s sports anchor for NBC29 was moving stuff out of his office before the doors were padlocked.
That was in August 2007, relatively early in the credit crisis that took down mortgage lending, home sales, construction, and the stock market.
He was commiserating with contractor Jonathan Fishbeck, who was remembering the good ole days of building million-dollar houses and talking about going back to that most rudimentary marketing tool–- stuffing fliers in mailboxes.
That's when Hawkins' interest was piqued: How to market Fishbeck's Class A contractor skills in a market where new construction has tanked.
And that's when the concept for BuilderFish–- motto: "Recycle your house"–- gelled.
Fewer than 10 percent of homes have been built since 2000, the year when energy efficiency in construction and technology dramatically improved, says Hawkins.
He points to people who have aging, wheezing houses that are "chewing up energy," seniors who want to make their homes ADA-friendly for their looming decrepitude, and purchasers of short sale or foreclosed houses who have no idea what they're getting into.
For the latter, one project is called "trash out." Explains Hawkins, "People just up and leave because they don't have the money to move. These places are beat up. They need a contractor to come in and clean up."
He sees an educational mission as well, in helping clients see their house as a whole system, rather than individual components. "The choices you make are going to make a difference to your wallet," observes Hawkins.
Despite the limping-along housing market, the BuilderFish team injects a bit of levity into their business. Fishbeck is "captain of construction," and Hawkins is "director of client happiness."
Acknowledges Hawkins, "I'm really putting my butt on the line. We're trying to be everything builders have not been." That includes showing up early or even, egads, coming in under budget.
"We hope to be atypical of contractors," says Hawkins. And there could be a market for that.