Spanning Venice’s Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge stands any test of time. Built by the 16th-century architect and engineer, Antonio da Ponte, its two stone ramps rise drawbridge-like from each bank, connecting to a central portico in the middle with arched windows looking out at the historic city. Critics’ predictions of structural collapse proved, to say the least, greatly exaggerated, and the bridge should continue to cross that canal for centuries to come.
Its endurance and iconic look has inspired builders worldwide, including the father and son team that operates Rialto Homes on the edge of the Texas Hill Country in San Antonio. Southwest architecture has long borrowed heavily from Mediterranean styles, and Kobi and Eyal Avnon say they can take that a step further by mixing Old World design with New World technology, resulting in dream houses that offer the best of both worlds.
Examples abound in one of the area’s most exclusive subdivisions, where Rialto Homes is building on lots bought from a third-party developer.
Located in the San Antonio enclave of 3.4-square mile Shavano Park, Shavano Highlands is a growing, gated community of luxury homes where its dwellers are treated to a landscaped entrance, mature trees and access to hiking and biking trails, all within an easy drive of the hustle and bustle of the Lone Star State’s second largest city.
The highest of Rialto’s high-end model is the stone and stucco Hacienda, starting at $724,000 and available in a number of plans that live up to its Spanish name, bringing images of an estate befitting a sugar baron. Just a shade under 5,000 square feet, the Hacienda model includes two floors, five bedrooms, four-and-a-half baths, two dining areas, three living areas and a three-car garage.
Somewhat more modest is the single-floor Leon, the most basic model at $569,990. Its 12 rooms offer space that’s more than ample.
Then there’s the Barcelona that can give a castle-like appearance, starting at $640,990. Other models that hark of that European-Mediterranean look include the Aria, Ryan, Madrid, Weston, Taladera, Barcelona, Camela, Milan, Cordova, Romeo, Angelo and Juliet.
While none of these houses could be labeled “starters” for anyone who hasn’t hit it big at a young age, they’re still good investments, the younger Avnon says.
“And we work hard to carve any anxiety out of the process.”
Energy efficiency is a consideration even for the affluent, and Rialto builds houses capable of harnessing solar power while reducing the costs of air conditioning in a part of Texas that can experience four variations of summer year-round. Couple that efficiency with solid workmanship, and Eyal says the houses will—like that famous bridge—stand up over time.
“Part of our unique approach is we offer custom homebuilding services, but we’re able to deliver a streamlined process that you typically find only in a production environment,” he says.
“The build-to-suit environment is littered with moving parts; our focus from day one is on an ever-evolving structured process, measuring milestones which help us evaluate where we’ve done well and where we may have room for improvement. All of this results in constant gains in our customer experience, both external and internal, and a tighter process leading to fewer mistakes and less waste both in cost and time, and all the while without compromise to the design experience and without limiting choice.”
Whatever the budget, the choices are virtually endless, with variations for each house model, a minimum of three elevations for each floor plan, and custom options and upgrades from an extensive design gallery that can give each home the unique feel that customers expect, whether cost is or is not the primary factor.
“And we work hard to carve any anxiety out of the process,” Eyal says, adding that some more decisive clients might meet just a few times with the team, then disappear for months on vacation or to another house elsewhere, and return to south-central Texas to a move-in-ready custom home.
Others may want to stay closer to the process, as this is likely to be their biggest investment.
“With either client type, we enjoy being accommodating spirits,” Eyal says.
Twenty-something, ambitious and willing to get his hands dirty, Eyal was learning the real estate business from the ground up in the mid-2000s, working with homebuilders and ultimately as a “land guy” managing projects in divisions across the vast Texas landscape.
About that time, Kobi had retired after owning and operating a string of businesses, though none in real estate. But the elder Avnon wasn’t one to fritter away his golden years and had his eyes open for a new venture. For a short while, he dabbled with some partners in Dallas, but turned his attention 250 miles south to the city of the Riverwalk, Alamo, Spurs and springtime bluebonnets.
Since its 2006 founding, Rialto Homes has built over 400 custom, high-end homes, and the pace is up to around 70 a year with additional growth anticipated. While subdivisions have become 90 percent of Rialto’s business, the company will build on individual lots.
“We’re a well-capitalized company,” says Eyal. “We have the wherewithal to make commitments with land owners and third-party developers to control substantial chunks of suburban projects. And if you want a one-off house on a city lot or around the corner in the nearby Hill Country, we love to do that, too. That’s something only a few of our competitors are capable of.”
And the father-son working relationship goes smoothly, aided by the fact that until five years ago, both Kobi and Eyal had separate careers in which they proved themselves capable. Now they’re able to complement each other on the job.
“We have our debates from time to time, though we work surprisingly well together,” says Eyal, who’s in charge of day-to-day operations. “Dad is focused on finance and managing the business needs on a more global level.”
San Antonio glows
The San Antonio and New Braunfels area offer an interesting real estate market, Eyal says. Unlike Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin or Houston, there’s less boom and bust, and maybe a greater tendency to put down roots as the Hill Country’s charms can arouse envy in Texans from Galveston to El Paso, not to mention out-of-staters wanting a change in lifestyle.
Last year, the area’s market hit a sales record, with 29,508 houses sold—an 8.2 percent increase from the 27,256 that changed hands in 2015, according to the San Antonio Board of Realtors. The median sales price jumped 6 percent, from $192,800 to $204,300, with wait times a record low of 3.1 months.
Rialto Homes has factored in that growth, and Eyal sees more of that.
“We’re focused on growth, but it’s a responsible growth,” says the savvy 34-year-old. “We maintain a conservative attitude and keep a rainy day fund. Our focus is not on the quick buck. We’ve got a team that deserves not only growth but also long-term stability. And I believe that, as a result, every year for the past five years has been our best. We’ll work thoughtfully to try and continue that trend.”
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