Morales Construction Co. Inc.
The housing market, which helped plunge the U.S. economy into recession five years ago and continued to lag through recovery, is now a major economic driver. Luxury homebuilders in northeast Florida, such as Morales Construction Co. Inc. (MCCI), are an important part of this upswing, realizing an unprecedented recovery in the high-end residential market. “We are extremely busy,” says Rick Morales III, president of MCCI.
Business is booming for the Jacksonville-based general contractor. “We specialize in multimillion-dollar estate and waterfront homes,” says Rick. “We also do some light commercial work, as well as office buildings, banks and health care facilities, but, for the most part MCCI is involved in high-end residential properties.”
MCCI is anything but average. “We’re not a typical homebuilder,” Rick says. “We don’t work in subdivisions or buy lots. Our customers purchase a piece of real estate, they hire an architect and then they come to MCCI as the general contractor.”
Becoming an Atypical Builder
Although MCCI has been in the Florida building market since 1978 when Rick’s father, Ricardo Morales Jr., founded the firm, the company didn’t enter the high-end sector until the late 1980s. “My father was a warehouse developer,” recounts Rick. “He started MCCI as a construction firm to build solely for the needs of his real estate development company. He built a few projects for friends, but didn’t really venture into residential or commercial construction for others.”
After graduating from college, Rick took over his father’s construction company and started growing it from the ground up outside of its development company purpose in 1987. “I thought I would be a banker, but I took one of those personality aptitude tests,” Rick reveals. “And the test pointed me away from banking and into the construction realm.”
Before taking over the management of MCCI, Rick worked for a large-scale general contractor. “I ran jobs all over the Southeast,” he recalls. “We mainly worked on grocery stores and restaurants. My father asked for my help in building his house so I stepped in to finish it and the word spread. Before I knew it, other friends starting asking me to do their homes. The first major one belonged to a doctor friend and now 80 percent of what we do is high-end residential.”
From Rick’s first leap into the residential world, he says the market has always had a deep appeal to him. “I love the attention to detail and the amazing architecture that goes into our line of work,” he says. “It’s what I was meant to do.”
Life’s a Beach in Ponte Vedra
Once Rick had a few solid projects under his belt, MCCI quickly found a niche in its own backyard. “We serve the greater part of northeast Florida with 17 employees,” details Rick. “Nearly everything we do now is waterfront; we’re talking hefty price tag real estate, where someone can spend millions on a 100-foot lot, and as much, if not more, on the house itself.”
Most of MCCI’s work spans Ponte Vedra Boulevard, known locally as the boulevard, which is the road that runs parallel to the coast from the Duval-St. Johns County line south toward St. Augustine, Fla. “We have numerous projects on the boulevard, including a home that was just featured in Florida Architecture, the third time one our projects was featured in the magazine,” notes Rick. “We’re surrounded by water in this region, be it the beach, the Intracoastal Waterway or the St. Johns River. The river is 4 miles wide, so there’s a tremendous expanse of water for those seeking a beautiful view.”
Rick adds that while building on the water is indeed beautiful, it also requires a particular expertise in design and structural engineering. “Not only are we dealing with government regulations on waterfront property, we’re also building in an environment that’s extremely corrosive and weather-dependent, so all of those factors come into play,” he says. “Building on the ocean involves a permitting process that is extensive and usually takes months.”
The company recently finished two brand-new homes on Ponte Vedra Beach. “We utilized timeless design to make them look like they have been there forever,” Rick says. “They’re brand-new homes in an old neighborhood, but they fit right in like they have been there for a long time.”
A Luxurious Price Tag
From the beach to the river to the Intracoastal Waterway, MCCI consistently delivers beautiful, exclusive estates that are all unique, custom works of incredible architecture. The company’s website features several such projects, including a Georgian-style home.
“Located on the St. Johns River, this Georgian-style home welcomes guests with a stained concrete driveway adorned with a brick border. The roof is of asphalt shingle and the exterior cornice is constructed of synthetic materials that will not deteriorate over time and will continue to exhibit the beauty of real wood,” – MCCI’s website reads.
Another image highlights an English-style cottage with a slate shingle roof nestled among trees along the St. Johns River. The home’s exterior is reclaimed brick from a demolished warehouse in Columbus, Ga., with a mortar-wash finish. MCCI also showcases a towering luxury home positioned alongside the Intracoastal Waterway, with a sprawling view and a front elevation utilizing stone, stucco and a concrete tile roof. Other beachfront homes showcase a more natural look with red cedar exteriors.
To deliver such inspiring and attractive residencies, MCCI relies on some of the best subcontractors in the business. “We’ve been working with some of the same people for 20 to 30 years or more,” notes Rick. “But, unfortunately, the recession forced some of our labor base to shift elsewhere for work.”
While the high-end residential market has picked back up, Rick says the current problem isn’t about finding work, but finding subcontractors. “Over the last year, we’ve seen a huge boost in the market, but the subcontractor base remains very thin,” he details. “Labor is our biggest challenge. Our core subs are still around, but some don’t have the depth and multiple crews like they used to.”
However, Rick remains positive, relying on MCCI’s more than 30 years of experience in the market. “There are a lot of great opportunities out there for us,” he says. “We’re busy and I don’t see things slowing down over the next year or two.”
After 35 years in the industry, MCCI retains an exceptional reputation in the midst of a real estate boom in its backyard. Morales Construction Co. Inc. continues to bring luxury to the boulevard and other high-end areas in northeast Florida, building timeless works of architectural art.
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