What was born of recession 50 years ago is today one of San Antonio’s most notable builders, and, oddly enough, even stronger due to the recent Great Recession.
Locally owned Sitterle Homes is celebrating its golden anniversary this year, reflecting on a 50-year journey that began when Frank Sitterle, Sr., lost his job as a homebuilder’s sales manager during a 1964 recession.
“The owner said he had to let me go because there was a recession and we would never again see as many houses sold as we had been selling,” Sitterle said. “That didn’t seem right to me, so I met with an architect, told him what I wanted and had five house plans drawn up. Not knowing any better, I called developers and asked if they would sell me lots. Then all I needed was money to build homes.”
Sitterle approached several businesses before meeting with Gulf Coast Mortgage, a Houston-based firm just entering the San Antonio market, which decided to finance the building of three homes.
“We talked and then the lender grew quiet and said, ‘I think you’ll make it,’” he said.
Her words were prophetic.
Fifty years later, Sitterle Homes remains locally owned and operates in three Texas markets, building hundreds of homes annually. The company grew considerably from 2009 to 2013 – 355 percent. Current projections indicate a 32 percent increase for 2014.
“In San Antonio, we’d like to maintain gradual growth,” said Jeff Buell, who now co-owns the company with Frank Sitterle, Jr. “We don’t need to be in 30 communities, but we do need to serve the developments we are in and possibly expand into sectors where we have no presence, particularly out west.”
In 2005, Sitterle Homes built in four master-planned San Antonio communities, a far cry from its current 18. Much of the growth occurred during the recent housing slump.
“A long-standing conservative approach helped us weather the housing downturn when so many builders were leaving communities,” Buell said. “We were determined to fulfill our promises in our existing communities to keep our models open, furnished and staffed. We also worked with developers in other areas to purchase homesites and build models in those communities, something other builders weren’t doing at that time.”
Frank Sitterle, Jr. says the reputation his father spent decades building for the firm was key to the company’s growth.
“Developers we work with know that if we say we will do something, we will,” he said. “That is what has enabled us to be successful in tough times — when many other locally-owned builders were absorbed by other companies — and during years the economy is prospering.”
Frank Sitterle, Sr. agrees that keeping promises is the root of the company’s success.
“I think the key to our long-lasting success is always keeping our word,” he said. “I was determined to do that even before I built my first house.”
That sense of commitment resonates with Buell.
“This philosophy to do things the right way dovetails nicely with my background,” he said. “My father always said you don’t have to remember what you said if you always tell the truth. I believe in that advice and feel I share a like-minded philosophy with Frank and his father.”
Customer satisfaction also has been a long-standing focus.
“When selling homes, I always heard people complain,” Frank Sitterle, Sr. said. “I was determined that I wasn’t going to have an unhappy customer. Even now, we have gone back to do warranty work 17 years after building the home.”
He recalls an instance where a Sitterle homeowner was having trouble cooling a room in her house. Sitterle staff investigated and found that the original contractor had neglected to insulate the room. Sitterle Homes insulated the room even though the home had been purchased 17 years earlier.
“Our customers are most important; housing is secondary,” Frank Sitterle, Jr. said.
It’s a lesson he learned even before he joined the company in 1991, starting with the foundation crew before working his way up to vice president and then purchasing Sitterle Homes with Jeff Buell in 2005.
“It is quite an honor not only to run the company started by my father 50 years ago, but to successfully lead a company that is still locally owned and operated,” Sitterle said. “Not many builders can say that. To come from such a distinguished lineage is very important to me.”
Buell also appreciates the family-owned aspect of the business.
“At a family-owned business, you’re able to conduct business with a much more personal approach than in a corporate environment. You can build value into homes, not just focus on the bottom line because Wall Street is not beating you up for profit increases. At the end of the day, we prefer to build long-lasting value year-over-year.”
The partners also carry on many traditions started by the elder Sitterle, including visiting California to see emerging trends in residential architecture and home décor and installing Sitterle Homes’ signature brass plaque on the porch of every home built.
“That plaque is our stamp of quality and is even known to add resale value to a home when it goes on the market,” Frank Sitterle, Jr. said.
Frank Sitterle, Sr. feels confident about the company’s current leadership.
“Because he went through every stage of the business, my son has a strong knowledge of the building industry,” Sitterle said. “And I have full trust in Jeff. He came from a production builder and bought homesites from me previously. I watched him, got to know him and liked him. He has a great work ethic and is smart, very smart.
“I put Jeff and Frank, Jr. together and it has worked out. Our emphasis has been on growing the company and that’s what they have done.”
These days, Frank Sitterle, Sr. is in the office daily and while he still watches the company’s progress with enthusiasm, he has returned to an old interest — geology.
“I’ve started drilling wells and putting that geology degree back to work.”
About Sitterle Homes
Sitterle Homes is celebrating 50 years of building homes in the San Antonio and Austin region this year, offering a broad spectrum of plans ranging from garden homes to estate homes. The family-owned company has won numerous awards for home design, energy efficiency and customer service, including the Avid Award for Best Customer Service in North America. Sitterle has also won more than 50 Summit Awards from the Greater San Antonio Builders Association, numerous Grand Awards from the Texas Association of Builders and several Energy Star Awards, including a Leadership in Housing Award and an Outstanding Achievement Award. In addition to San Antonio, Sitterle Homes builds in Austin and Houston.