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Close-up: Michael Turk

KD Development a local, family affair

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Real estate development runs in the Turk family's blood.

San Diego native Michael Turk’s parents bought and restored old buildings when he was a child, and he inherited their love of home improvement and construction.

In 1975 he branched out on his own to found KD Development, and the recent addition of his son and daughter make the company a family affair.

KD Development has completed roughly 600 projects in the last 12 years, all of which were sustainable infill or restoration work and almost entirely residential, with a small number of mixed-use buildings.

Turk said this infill niche is the future of development in California and most of the country, save for some oil boom states like Wyoming and Montana with cash to kill.

“That’s all we do,” Turk said. “I think it’s the future. A lot of companies are in it, I mean I’m surprised because there’s small firms, some medium-sized builders do it, but I’ve seen major companies, nationals, that if it’s 50 or 60 units they’ll do it.”

Turk said part of this shift from developing greenfield McMansions to smaller units in denser areas is due to a lack of land and the economic consequences of the recession, but a large part stems from what customers now want in a home and community.

He’s found that people prefer to live closer to work and transportation hubs, and in neighborhoods where they can walk to shops and entertainment.

That’s exactly what he hopes to provide in the Heritage on Ivanhoe in La Jolla, one of KD’s five projects in the works. The site, with six single-family units and four twins for a total of 14 homes, is close to major freeways, downtown La Jolla and the beach.

KD Development had to change the permits when it bought the site from the Copley publishing family, since the city wanted Turk to make the block higher-density with 31 homes. This put him in unknown territory.

Michael Turk and his daughter Lauren Turk of KD Development. Staff photo by Katherine Connor

“I didn’t want to do that, and that’s an unusual spot for me,” Turk said. “I’m usually the one arguing with them for more places, you know with infill. But this didn’t fit.”

“Fitting” in the community is another of his goals. For the Ivanhoe site, that meant maintaining the historic feel of the area with cottage-type homes, restoring two existing buildings rather than demolishing them, and going so far as to work around a 100-year-old oak tree on the premises.

All of the houses have ocean views from their roof decks, with offices and elevators, a feature that Turk says is becoming increasingly popular, especially with the empty-nester crowd that he expects will be interested in these properties.

The photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of each house have also been a staple of KD Development since 2000, when Turk first ventured into the world of sustainable energy. He admits it wasn’t profitable at first, but has become so as technology improves. His own house on Mission Bay, which he built in 1999 and added panels to in 2000, only racks up a $60 to $120 energy bill per year, for a house that should run him about $5,000 annually.

The only exception to this solar rule is at a current project in Napa Valley. Turk chose to build around an existing oak grove rather than tear it up, and the branches hanging near the roofs make the solar option unviable. He thought preserving the trees was more important and beneficial in this case.

Turk said the 35-name waiting list for the Ivanhoe home sites, which are not yet on the market, is a sign of the housing market’s improvement during the past two years. KD Development didn’t drop projects during the recession, but found it more difficult to find buyers and sometimes didn’t make any revenue on units.

He said major companies scaling down and picking up projects that were halted in the recession, along with more work for contractors, also proves there’s an uptick in the market.

“You can tell that it’s starting to pick up a little bit, there’s starting to be more work because you don’t have contractors waiting to come and bid your plans when you walk in the door at 7 in the morning,” Turk said. “Now you’ve kind of got to call them and say ‘Hey, we’ve got a job, would you like to bid it?’”

With the market creeping out of the recession, he said the challenges KD faces now are with increased regulations from the city, especially environmental ones, and fewer workers to process them in light of cutbacks. The Dodd-Frank Act also makes construction increasingly difficult, but Turk has no plans to get out of the business.

KD Development is what Turk calls a “soup-to-nuts” company, handling everything from permitting and design to the construction work. The only thing the firm doesn’t touch is the building sales, since banks require separate ownership entities for the projects.

Turk, who was born and still lives in Pacific Beach, is the son of one of San Diego’s first female Realtors.

His father worked for the former Department of Highways, now known as Caltrans, and Turk helped his parents fix up properties to rent during his summers, until he founded KD Development after graduating from San Diego State University.

His 29-year-old son Michael Turk, also an SDSU grad, joined the firm in the height of the recession, and now works as a project manager in charge of all of the company’s construction.

Twenty-two-year-old Lauren Turk, a Point Loma Nazarene University graduate, left a job as a Del Mar lifeguard and turned down an offer from RE/MAX to work for her dad as well, and handles contract administration and assistant project manager duties.

“I really like working for the family business because you can’t trust anyone more than family, and you have faith that they’re going to do it right,” Lauren Turk said. “But then there’s the downside, where you don’t only disappoint your boss, you disappoint your dad or your brother, or whoever you’re working with.”

Michael Turk said the plan is for his children to take over the firm in the next few years, and Lauren Turk admits that she and Mike Turk already drive around scouting out sites that they’d like to work on.

The family also uses their small plane to travel around California, Nevada and the Southwestern states looking for new sites, with pilot-licensed Dad in the cockpit. Michael Turk developed some apartments in Las Vegas a few years back, but this lifelong San Diegan said he prefers to stay local whenever possible.

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