Kessler Construction LLC
When Kessler Construction LLC broke ground in March 2016 for an exclusive subdivision just a couple of miles from the traffic beltway that encircles the hustle and bustle of Tallahassee, Florida, the foundation was laid for much more than just another neighborhood of upscale, custom houses.
The Southern Oaks project marked the start of Leon County’s first and only sustainable residential community, where each house would be built to meet the Florida Green Building Council’s (FGBC) stringent criteria for energy sustainability and efficiency, and that includes savings on one of the biggest expenses for any Sunbelt homeowner: air conditioning.
With the homes customizable, one owner even had a litter box built in for a cat.
While the properties are certainly pricey—they range from the upper $400,000s to $700,000 on half- to three-quarter acre lots—they include savings that could be a long-term bargain for the farsighted buyer.
“We have a model home of 3,300 square feet where the monthly utility bill is just $156; that’s smart construction,” says Mark Kessler, who runs the company with his wife, Teresa, who handles the financial end of things, and daughter Nicole, involved in marketing and accounting. The team also includes construction manager Jason Kessler (Mark’s brother), sales manager John Hugunin and four more employees.
With carbon footprints and utility costs a growing concern for contractors and clients, green building standards are more and more in demand, and in order to earn the designation a building must pass a technically rigorous assessment and construction process to ensure it has little or no negative effects on the environment and is occupant-friendly.
Such a project includes multiple benefits for all parties concerned, the FGBC asserts.
For the owner, the likelihood of more affordable expenses can ensure easier access to mortgage financing. The structure of the house is more durable and its indoor air quality pure, and that’s a major consideration in a state like Florida where AC is more necessity than luxury. And when it comes time to sell, the house’s resale value is likely to be significantly enhanced with less wear and tear.
As the builder, Kessler stands to gain as Southern Oaks is proving to be a valuable marketing tool. Two houses are going up, with plans for eight more, and if the three secrets to successful real estate are “location-location-location,” this subdivision is a three-fer.
“We pride ourselves for thinking outside the box and doing things to meet a personal need. Building is just in our blood. My business may be in building homes, but we also do furniture.”
It’s within an easy drive of Tallahassee’s major institutions—among them Florida State University, Florida A&M University, the Florida Statehouse, an international airport and world-class cultural and health-care facilities; and it’s within walking distance of the Miccosukee Canopy Road Greenway, six miles of scenic and canopied trails for hiking, jogging, cycling and horseback riding.
And there’s still another beneficiary of such a green subdivision: the community, which is better able to conserve water and energy, and save on wastewater and trash disposal.
“Through its commitment to green home building, Southern Oaks is demonstrating how our individual choices impact the ecological balance of our community, while also promoting healthier homes for our families,” Suzanne Cook, the FGBC’s executive director, was quoted as saying in the Tallahassee Democrat last spring when the first Southern Oaks model home was completed and Kessler was awarded the coalition’s award for most energy-efficient home over 1,900 square-feet.
Smart in spades
For Kessler, the smart concept extends beyond going green. As a design-build company, clients have the option of designing their home from scratch or from any of numerous plans, all of which can be modified. And while Southern Oaks may be Kessler’s current gold standard, the firm can build far more modest domiciles.
“Custom doesn’t have to mean expensive; it just means one of a kind,” says Kessler, who recently completed a two-bedroom house under 800 square feet. “We’ve never built the same home twice.”
Kessler explains a smart home is not necessarily the technology, but helping the customers decide what they want and providing the plan to make it affordable. The firm’s modus operandi includes an initial site visit, preliminary cost assessment, retainer and construction agreements, a final walk-through at closing time and a five-year workmanship warranty that Kessler calls “the best in our area.”
And it’s not just houses that Kessler Construction will build or remodel.
Furnishings to the finish
Kessler also prides himself as a furniture builder, so a custom-built home can come with custom-built furnishings that for one customer was a concealed kitty-litter box in the master bathroom.
“We’re not just about bricks and sticks,” Kessler says. “We pride ourselves for thinking outside the box and doing things to meet a personal need. Building is just in our blood. My business may be in building homes, but we also do furniture.”
Ditto for community service; in 2014 Kessler Construction built, pro bono, an animal shelter for Jefferson County, which neighbors Leon County. “We believe in giving back to the community,” he says.
Kessler Construction’s green interests also have led to partnerships with Florida State University’s Environmental Service Program and Leon Trees, a grassroots coalition that promotes the plantings of native trees and hails Southern Oaks as a project friendly to all kinds of Florida flora and fauna.
Kessler is generous with gratitude of his own. He and his wife started the company during the Great Recession when Florida’s boom-or-bust housing market was in the latter, and many builders went under. Operating in north Florida presented its own challenges, as large estates and public lands have made buildable property scarce and expensive.
“A lot of people didn’t make it through the tough times, but we did,” he says, giving ample credit to his family and others working at the firm. “Every year we’ve done better than in the previous year. Right now construction is pretty busy. I feel very good about it.”
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