Skobel Homes a model for success
Published: Sunday, June 16, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 14, 2013 at 5:08 p.m.
Alex Skobel was just two years out of college when he started building homes and, in one of the most challenging times for the industry, he turned Skobel Homes into one of the top-selling home builders in the Gainesville area — all before age 30.
Occupation: President, CEO, Skobel Homes
Personal: "I have been with my wonderful girlfriend, Loree Schulson, for eight years."
Dream partners for lunch: Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin
Last book read: "Killing Lincoln" by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
Favorite TV Shows: "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," "Curb Your Enthusiasm"
Favorite listening: "My song of the summer is Taylor Swift's ‘22' and I am a fan of Kanye West."
Hobbies: Basketball, running
Education: B.S. in finance, University of Florida, and master's in building construction from UF Rinker School of Building Construction
Since building his first home in Willow Oak off Archer Road in 2007, Skobel's company has built 110 homes, has another 20 under construction and bought more than 500 buildable lots in the Willow Oak, Belmont, Campo Verde, Grand Preserve, Brytan and Pradera developments, with another 500 lots available on raw land in Brytan. He is about to hire his sixth employee.
Skobel, 29, said his model for earning market share has been to build homes with high-end finishings usually limited to custom-built homes at affordable prices. He buys materials in bulk and has bought many lots at a discount from struggling builders or from bank foreclosures.
The family business also saves money by doing a lot of work in-house. Loree Schulson, Skobel's girlfriend, learned AutoCAD to help design floor plans and is the broker of Skobel Realty. Brother Michael Skobel of Skobel Law handles the legal work and brother Adam Skobel designed the computer systems. Alex talked his father, Barry Skobel, a retired physician, into moving up from Boca Raton last year to help with the business.
The savings are passed on to customers.
"There's always a market for housing, unless you're in an area that people are moving out of. The question is who's going to get that market," he said.
"We want to talk the most people we can out of buying resales into buying new homes. Our competition is the resales and the other new homes."
A normally tight-knit building community has been less than enamored by Skobel's business practices. In 2009, his application to join the Builders Association of North Central Florida was denied by the board. Adam Bolton of Robinshore, who was president at the time, declined to comment on the record about the reasons for the denial.
Skobel said he thinks it is because he undercut another builder's prices in Willow Oak and forced other builders to adjust their methods to compete.
"We were giving customers a better value than them," he said. "We stole a lot of their business."
Still, Skobel said he harbors no animosity toward other builders and would like to work things out.
Skobel was studying finance at the University of Florida and said he thought real estate would be a good way to get into finance "because it's local and I felt like, hey, I can know the real estate market better than a lot of other people. I thought what better way to get into real estate than to build the product."
He went on to earn a master's degree from the UF Rinker School of Building Construction.
After graduating, Skobel went to work for Transeastern Homes in Jacksonville and then for Pulte Homes in Orlando as superintendent for condominium construction.
He maintained an apartment in Gainesville to visit Schulson and when the condo market dried up, he moved back.
With investments from his father and others, he started Skobel Homes in 2007. The slowdown in housing gave him time to learn the market and how to build homes, he said.
"I did whatever it took to make sure we were able to build that house and built it right. I was out there myself. I worked very late at night every day," he said.
"At the beginning, I was doing everything — selling, building. I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off."