Case Studies

Jett Builders Inc.

Flexibility helped see Tallahassee home builder and remodeler through the Recession

“The first good part about my story is that my father taught me how to work from a young age,” says Brandon Jett, owner of Jett Builders, a custom-home building and remodeling company in Tallahassee, Florida.

When Jett was a kid, his father bought a piece of property outside of Tallahassee with two large tobacco barns on it. From the age of 10 to 15, Jett spent weekends on the property, helping his father dismantle the barns by hand. Together, they cleaned and salvaged the lumber.

Jett Builders Inc.

“Even though a lot of times I didn’t enjoy it while I was doing it, when I got older I was glad my father taught me how to work,” Jett says, laughing.

That work ethic and experience doing manual labor set Jett up for the success he’s found as a custom-home builder and remodeler.

Custom home building in Tallahassee

After working with his father, Jett worked his way up from “grunt” with a local home builder to carpenter, home framer and superintendent for large residential subdivisions. In 2004, he set out on his own to launch Jett Builders, which now has a staff of four.

When he gets the chance, Jett loves building custom homes. He works with clients and draftsmen to design everything from country-style farmhouses to standard brick houses and craftsman-style homes.

A recent project was a craftsman-style home in Centerville Conservation, an exclusive community on the outskirts of Tallahassee, situated near two lakes, pine forests, oak groves and horse pastures. In that case, Jett Builders helped a couple based in North Carolina design the home from afar.

He worked with companies like Brian Barnard’s Flooring America, a full-service residential flooring store that’s served the Tallahassee area for more than 40 years, so the couple could select features like hand-scraped wood flooring.

They chose features such as 22-foot, rough-sawn beams running across the ceiling of a great room and a custom-built dry stack stone fireplace that has built-in custom cabinetry and shelving on each side. They also wanted a screened-in back porch with a large gas grill, outdoor sink and refrigerator. Jett Builders incorporated dry stack stone into the porch, as well, and used tongue-and-groove pine for the ceiling.

Keeping faith during the Recession

While Jett has an affinity for custom-home design, that market has fluctuated over the years. In the beginning, the company’s work was split between about 80 percent custom-home builds and 20 percent home remodels. In the early 2000s, Jett says, he was building at least two custom homes each year.

“But then, when what I call the depression hit—a lot of people call it a recession, but I think it was a depression, especially for builders—I completely stopped new custom homes, and we were doing all remodeling and additions,” Jett says.

A few years were especially tough for the company, but instead of laying off workers, Jett got creative. He launched a commercial concrete division, which still supports the business today. At one point he had his team build a duplex on a small piece of land he had near Florida State University, and paid them with his own money just to keep them working.

“It got to the point where if you wanted your gutters cleaned, we’d come do it,” Jett says.

In 2011, he got a phone call from a couple who wanted him to do some work at their Tallahassee home, built in 1888. Jett says he was just about five days from closing his doors when that phone call came in.

“I hit my knees,” he says. “That job actually saved us. It kept me busy for a good five months, and we made good money, and I could really focus on that job, which I needed to at that time because of the type of job it was. I could give it all my attention, and then we went on from there and business started getting better and better.”

Today, Jett Builders’ work is split between roughly 70 percent remodels and 30 percent custom homes. In 2016, Jett Builders completed two custom homes.

Saving a home and a company

When the owners of that 1888 home first contacted Jett Builders, they simply wanted to remodel their kitchen and bathroom.

Though the original part of the house was built in 1888, it had been added onto over the years. As often happened in the South, one porch would be closed in and another would be added to the house. That new porch would be closed in and so on. As a result, there was a two-inch differential from the back of the house to the front.

“After meeting with them a couple of times and meeting with a draftsman architect, they decided, if we’re going to do this, let’s do it right and go ahead and go for the whole shooting match and make it like we want it.”

Collectively, they decided to gut the house, leaving only the roof trusses, exterior siding and exterior walls, which were held together with peg and mortise. Jett Builders also left four main beams that ran through the house. Those were 10-inch by 12-inch heart pine beams that had been hand hewn by axe and never touched by a saw.

“It’s not all about the all-mighty dollar; it’s about quality and relationships, and that’s what I want to keep.” – Brandon Jett, owner

When Jett Builders exposed the floor joists, it found they were sagging and chose to remove them. It had the joists, which were heart-pine 2-by-8s that spanned 16 feet, re-milled and turned into tongue-and-groove pine flooring for the whole house.

In total, the new master bedroom suite and kitchen—complete with an almost commercial-grade oven and stove, Shaker-style cabinets and an overall Craftsman aesthetic—added 400-square-feet, requiring a complex structural support, which Jett Builders incorporated into the kitchen’s center island.

Jett Builders replaced all of the windows and covered the original exterior siding with foam board insulation and put Polar Wall® vinyl siding over that. The new siding replicated the original lap-siding but gave the home a new envelope and added insulation. The new siding also helped the new home look more like one cohesive structure.

“I think that they [homeowners] liked what I presented and what I offered, as far as ability to do the work and maybe some of the ideas I come up with,” Jett says.

As the economy picks back up, Jett says projects like these, and new, custom-home builds will keep him busy for years.

“I’ve got more than enough work to do, and I don’t want to grow,” Jett says. “I don’t want to get any bigger because it’s big enough. It’s not all about the all-mighty dollar; it’s about quality and relationships, and that’s what I want to keep.”

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Spring 2018

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