Florida Trend Magazine
GL Homes division President Jill DiDonna looks at her company's row
of model homes from its new sales center at Valencia Reserve, a 700-home
project among the farm fields west of Boynton Beach. "Who's building 12
completely furnished models in this economy?" she asks. "I think you
would be hard-pressed to find one in the United States."
As competing home builders retreated from the market in the past two
years, lightly leveraged and privately owned GL went forward, rolling
out new homes and developments such as Valencia, a 55-and-over community
concept that the Sunrise-based company has reproduced so often it's
like a movie franchise.
GL owes its good fortune to a confluence of factors. After
weathering the late 1980s real estate collapse, Israeli immigrant and
founder Itchko Ezratti's strategy has been to continue building
amenities such as clubhouses and to keep sales centers open to assure
existing and potential residents of GL's stability. In some of his
markets, as others stopped work, he became the only new-home game in
town. Real estate research firm Metrostudy says GL has captured half of
the new-home market share in Palm Beach County. "GL is really doing
extremely well given the economy and everything else. People are turning
up in droves to buy houses," says Brad Hunter, Metrostudy's chief
economist and national director of consulting. "They have strong
locations. They have strong product that appeals to home buyers. They
have a good reputation. They market well."
The company even has managed to sell 60 homes this year in the
foreclosure-shrouded Fort Myers market, third nationally in foreclosure
filings in August. Buyers primarily came from outside Florida; locals
can't sell their existing homes to move. The company has nine
developments under way totaling 6,475 houses in Collier, Lee,
Hillsborough, Palm Beach and Indian River counties.
Much of Ezratti's holdings had been land-banked at preboom prices.
And through onerous contract terms and even a "no investors" banner at a
grand opening, he discouraged the speculative buying that hammered
other builders when investors walked on contracts.
GL says it's profitable, but it's not disclosing financials. It has
taken its lumps. The company made 1,100 sales in 2009, down from 1,800
at the peak. Its employee count is half what it was.
The company has made some adjustments, lowering ceilings or
shrinking picture windows but otherwise, DiDonna says, has stuck to what
buyers in its price range — the average sale is $413,000 — expect.