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Hallmark Communities holding true to family values

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Since building its first neighborhood of just 20 homes in La Mesa in 1984, Hallmark Communities has become one of the fastest growing home builders in the United States with over 1,000 San Diego County families now residing in a Hallmark-built home.

Yet for Mike Hall, founder of Hallmark Communities, success is not about volume but about creating homes and neighborhoods that bring buyers back again and again as their housing needs change.

Mike Hall

Dennis and Peggy Dean, center, who lost their Alpine home in the October 2003 wildfires, stand in front of their new home that is being built by Hallmark Communities under the company's Rebuilding San Diego program. They are joined by Mike Hall, president of Hallmark Communities (far right) and his son, Chris Hall, far left.

"Our goal from the outset has been to create intimate, inviting neighborhoods that bring a sense of Americana along with outstanding value for our buyers," said Hall, whose company expects to close on 215 homes with total sales volume of $100 million in 2005. "We judge our success on our ability to meet our buyers' needs, not just today but as their families grow or downsize. The greatest compliment for a job well done is having a satisfied homeowner come back to you for his or her next home, and this is our goal with each and every home we build. We have some loyal buyers who have bought four to five homes from Hallmark over the years. We have set up a buyer for life program where we take in your older Hallmark home in trade for a new model Hallmark home."

The Hallmark Communities trademark has been, and will continue to be, well-located neighborhoods. The company, which began by building homes for the first-time buyer, now offers neighborhoods at a variety of price points to serve the growing San Diego County marketplace. However, its primary focus is providing San Diegans the opportunity to share in the American Dream of home ownership.

"Our growth is due to our commitment to build quality homes that offer San Diegans optimum value for the price they are paying," Hall said. "Our attention to detail includes everything from carefully positioning each house on its lot to maximize views, to evaluating ingress and egress to enhance the intimate neighborhood feel. Hallmark's design team thoughtfully creates each home with an eye for the types of features today's buyers are looking for.

"We try to give each homeowner the opportunity to personalize their residence, providing room options as well as the ability to choose their cabinetry, finishes and fixtures," Hall said. "Depending on how early they begin the process, they can even select their lot."

According to Tom Archbold, Hallmark Communities vice president of sales and marketing, what sets the Hallmark company apart in a market where more than 300 homes have been added over the past two years is its commitment to be a builder for San Diego.

"Many builders enter markets based on the opportunity to build and sell a high volume of homes in a short time frame," he said. "Mike's objective from the very beginning is to be a builder for San Diego. Being the biggest has never been part of the Hallmark equation, and I attribute this to the fact that the company was founded on family values -- values that continue to direct its momentum today."

These values were most evident last year, when Hallmark Communities stepped forward immediately after the devastating wildfires to offer families who had lost their homes the ability to rebuild at below market cost -- with no profit to Hallmark. Despite skyrocketing materials costs, the company is fulfilling its commitment and currently has 50 homes under way and another 60 scheduled to begin construction in the next six months. The company donated over $350,000 in cash and services, including permitting, planning and free plans to fire victims, and is saving existing Hallmark customers anywhere from $50,000 to $200,000 per house.

Giving back to the community is evident in other ways at Hallmark. The company has an educational program to teach youngsters about the home-building process. After showing a BIA-produced video of building a home in four hours, company representatives then take the youngsters to a nearby site and walk them through a house in framing.

"Not only do the kids have fun, but we have fun too," Hall said. "Most importantly, they get exposure to our industry, which is a huge part of the San Diego economy."

Hall said the affordability crisis in San Diego is one of his biggest concerns and an area that Hallmark Communities is dedicated to trying to help solve.

"Only 10 percent of the median income residents can afford the median-priced home, and this is not acceptable," he said. "Over-regulation by local governments and community groups, along with a lack of courage of government officials to solve traffic problems and prevent runaway litigation by the trial lawyers' association, contributes to these issues. The public and private sectors need to work together to find solutions -- putting the people of San Diego first, not special interest groups."

In the meantime, Hall said his company has established a number of services to try to help San Diegans navigate the home-buying process. These include a "build on your lot" division that uses 21 of the company's existing floor plans to build on the buyer's existing lot. The company also has partnered with two mortgage companies to offer buyers a broader and more affordable range of mortgage options. It has also established a sales division called Hallmark Realty that resells homes in the general real estate market as well as for its new homebuyers.

Looking to the future, Hall notes that he and his team judge the company's success to a large extent to their loyal employees and their enthusiasm and commitment, as well as to their subcontractors who prefer to work for Hallmark Communities because they are paid on time and receive a fair price. Most importantly, Hall said "We judge our success by being a respected industry leader and a builder that our buyers trust and will come back to again and again."

Grove is president of The Grove Agency Inc.

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