Van’s Realty & Construction of Appleton Inc.
It really is bizarre to think that when many young couples start their lives together, one milestone is the purchase of their first home, and more likely than not, neither has been taught the basic principles of how to buy one. Information relating to the purchase of a home, which will have a major, immediate and lasting impact on their lives, should be widely disseminated before the opportunity arises. Until that happens however, first time home buyers in Appleton, Wis., are fortunate to have Van’s Realty & Construction of Appleton Inc. (Van’s) there to advise them through the complicated process.
The third generation family-owned company specializes in the development and construction of homes for first time home buyers. Jason Haen, president of Van’s, says that guiding a young family through a purchase brings him an immense amount of pleasure.
“I like working with customers at closing. We do a walk through before and after the closing and the satisfaction of seeing a happy customer is the best part of what we do. A home is the largest purchase you can make and when we can satisfy our customers, that’s reward for us,” says Haen.
Van’s has a long history in the region; the company was started by Haen’s grandfather in 1958 with a partner. “They built 12 to 14 homes per year on scattered lots in the Valley. Originally, my grandfather started in the mobile home business. He would go down to Elkhart [Indiana], buy the mobiles down there and bring them up here to put on sites. When my father joined the business in 1965, they started selling mobile homes that were manufactured by various companies out of Elkhart, and eventually started building their own mobile homes.
In the ’70s, my grandfather and father started to develop their own subdivision and build homes on their own. They gave up the mobile home business to concentrate on stick built homes, and in the mid-70s were building 75 homes a year. They increased that number up to 100 to 125 homes a year between the late ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Ultimately, they became the largest builder north of Milwaukee,” says Haen.
Today, Van’s is a completely different organization than the small mobile home installer envisioned by Haen’s grandfather. The company is now the region’s leading developer and builder, which has successfully fought off competition from larger developers who have tried to encroach upon the company’s traditional operating area in a 40 mile radius of Appleton.
“Now we’re buying 100 acres at a time and developing it ourselves,” continues Haen. “Most of our competitors around here will buy one to three lots at a time, but we’ll develop 40 acres at a time and put in 20 houses at the same time.”
The company enjoys its position as a regional leader in part due to its 50-year history in the region as a high-quality builder, but it’s also owed to the unique nature of the region’s residents. “We’re in a small pocket of the world here. People know what they want and they want to work with someone that they can trust. We’re more mom and pop-shop types here than most people,” adds Haen.
Van’s has successfully earned its reputation as the go-to home builder. A member of the Marks’ family expresses the sentiment most commonly felt by Van’s customers. “It was never a question of ‘who will build my new home?’ More like, ‘which subdivision should I buy a lot in for Van’s to build my new house?’ The quality and exceptional effort that goes into every project Van’s takes part in, alleviates the tremendous strain off the ‘new home’ owner. Since 1976 my family members and I have worked with Van’s to make our ‘new home’ dreams become reality – 10 times to be exact.”
Variety to Victory
Van’s has remained profitable throughout the economic slowdown, in part from the loyalty of its clients, but also of a move by Haen to diversify the company’s traditional market of first time home buyers. “We’ve always maintained a small amount of commercial business, but when housing dried up, we augmented our projects with commercial. We partner up with a local engineer or a local banker and we buy land and develop it with other investors. We’ve been focused on strip malls, duplexes and rent-to-own situations to keep revenue where it was during our peak years,” continues Haen.
The company has also remained profitable by maintaining an extremely small overhead. The company only employs six personnel full-time, but has a trusted network of subcontractors who in many cases are Van’s employees in everything but name.
“My competition will bid on a spec job and he’ll have to bid that out to three different plumbers. We are extremely loyal to our subcontractors, and we don’t have to bid out our projects because we already know what it’s going to cost,” adds Haen. “We’ve had the same third-generation painting crew since we’ve been in business, our electrician and heating subs have both been with us for 30 years and our plumber for 15. Our framing crew only frames for us and the same with our roofing guy. In the winter if it’s slow, we’ll throw up a couple of duplexes to keep them busy, buy them as a corporation and turn them into rental projects.”
“Many builders have come and gone, with customers wondering, ‘who’s going to take care of me if I have questions or problems?’ With us, that isn’t a concern,” says Haen.
Van’s is now in its third generation and growing strong. With 40 years of building in the Valley and over 3,500 homes built, Van’s Realty & Construction of Appleton Inc. is now a household name you can trust.
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