What started as a request for advice from a local homebuilder has lured a Delaware-based builder to the Richmond market.
Schell Brothers is preparing to start work locally, making its first expansion southward with the help of Shane Burnette, co-founder and former partner of Midlothian-based Perkinson Homes.
Burnette, who is leading the local effort as division president, decided to join up with Schell Brothers after reaching out to the 14-year-old company, which he said last year totaled $209 million in sales and 351 closings.
Discussions with partner Brian Perkinson and Schell Brothers president Chris Schell led to an offer to do business together, redirecting Schell Brothers’ compass to Richmond and away from Charleston, South Carolina, where the company was leaning toward expanding, to Richmond.
Ultimately, Perkinson, a third-generation builder, decided to stick with the business that bears his family’s name, while Burnette accepted the offer, arranging for Perkinson to buy out his 50 percent stake of their company.
“We didn’t mean for this to happen,” said Perkinson, who co-founded the company with Burnette in 2008. “It kind of happened by accident with us reaching out to them for mentorship.”
“Brian was great,” Burnette said. “He said, ‘I never want to stop you from doing something you want to do, so I want you to do this.’ It was an easy process for us.”
Burnette said he enjoyed his time with Perkinson but was drawn to Schell Brothers’ company culture and approach to construction.
“I was blown away by the passion, the industry IQ and just literally how happy all these people were,” Burnette said of his new coworkers, who total about 200. “I was so enthralled with the company, so on a high just from being around them, I knew it was the right place for me.”
Burnette said the company will bring new techniques to Richmond and standards that will raise the bar among builders. He’s hired Adam Copenhaver, a 13-year veteran of Eagle Construction of Virginia, and is working on training subcontractors on techniques that he said are not currently done in Richmond, listing examples such as poured wall foundations, full excavations and two-by-six-stud walls.
“We use some advanced construction techniques, we build high-efficiency homes, and from an energy-efficiency and construction standpoint, I don’t think you’re going to find a better builder,” Burnette said. “We’re really going to do some things in this market to raise the bar.”
In an interview this month with a Delaware newspaper, Chris Schell described Richmond as behind the times in several aspects of home construction. The article, published on CapeGazette.com, quoted Schell as saying about Richmond: “Energy efficiency is not a big deal. They don’t know much about solar. I think we will force other builders in Richmond to step up their game.”
Reached last week, Schell said he could see how the quote could be offensive to Richmond builders, adding that he apologizes to anyone it may have offended.
“We are known for working with and partnering with other builders, and we’d like to continue that tradition in Richmond,” Schell said in an email. “The article was based on a conversation…specific to energy efficiency and solar, so the condensed quote is somewhat out of context.”
Nonetheless, Schell added: “The Richmond market doesn’t appear to have adopted a lot of the innovations in building science and energy efficient construction that we see in our Delaware market and in other parts of the country. Solar is everywhere in our market.
“So, yes, the Richmond market does seem to be somewhat ‘behind the times’ when it comes to energy efficiency. That being said, there are quite a few things the builders in Richmond do very well that may require us to ‘step up our game,’” he said, listing examples such as architecture and curb appeal of newer homes and production builders’ execution on Craftsman-style homes.
Schell has its first two local projects under contract: a 69-lot section in Magnolia Green, and a 28-lot community by developer Casey Sowers adjacent to Hallsley. Burnette said he’s working on getting two more projects under contract.
Unlike Perkinson Homes, which he described as a full custom builder, Burnette said Schell Brothers is a semi-custom production builder, meaning it offers certain home styles and sizes that can then be customized within. He said the company does full customizations too.
Perkinson said that his reasons for deciding to stick with his firm had a lot to do with his family and his status as a third-generation homebuilder.
“We had a lot of fun together, we learned a lot, and we probably taught each other a lot, because we’re polar opposites,” Perkinson said. “He’ll do a great job, he’ll learn a lot. I’m sure he’ll do extremely well no matter what.”