In September, with help from former Extreme Makeover host Ty Pennington, custom homebuilder Peter B. Rotelle, 48, will launch a new business — Studio E — based on a trademarked method for efficiently developing individual lots, from the acquisition and approval process, to custom site and house design, to putting the final touches on a $35,000 wine cellar off the kitchen.
Pennington "is pretty stoked" about the idea, said Rotelle, president and owner of Rotelle Development Co., who asked Pennington to be the celebrity presenter for the new business. "He's a great character. He's extremely creative."
Rotelle, who took over his family's business, regularly starts new enterprises, hiring MBA graduates to poke holes in his business plans. " `Don't placate me. That's not your job. I want you to tell me why I am foolish to put my money in it.' "
We’ll get to Studio E in a moment, but what else do you have cooking?
Restoring Airstreams to do a camp. I bought a campground. It has a lake on it. We're going to "refurb" Airstreams and lease them. It's like a hotel, but these are refurbed Airstreams with a big community kitchen where everybody can hang out together or you can do your own thing in your own Airstream. We may do a houseboat on the lake and have tree houses.
OK, now Studio E. What is it and what was the thinking behind it?
We've set up a system that's completely, with a red bow, turnkey for someone to buy a custom home on a lot. I looked at the inventory in our marketplace, meaning land and lots. There was a tremendous amount of lots in the multiple listing service for sale by individual people. The inventory owned by individuals was greater than by any single building company. How can I take advantage of that?
We come from a land-development background. Single-family lots are so complicated with today's regulations. It's almost like a miniature development project to get a permit — stormwater management. Twenty-five years ago, you could go in with a two-page plan and get a building permit. Today, it's a fully stamped, engineered, architectured plan that could be 25 pages thick. It's extremely complicated. We make that completely seamless. We have an algorithm called lot scrubbing, which we have trademarked.
Lot scrubbing? Getting rid of the brush? (Pun intended.)
Imagine your house came in on a helicopter and got dropped down on a lot. What's that piece of ground going to cost [for infrastructure and permitting]? We put that in the scrubbing calculator and come up with a number. There's not one building company in the nation that does this. You don't settle on that home or that piece of ground until we obtain a permit. We have an in-house architect. Then, at that point, we give you a solid price for your home. It's your home on the ground you chose and here are the infrastructure prices. Then our CFO vets different financial institutions to find out which bank provides the best construction draw financing for consumer. At the end, when the home is finished, your loan converts to a 30-year-fixed mortgage.
Sounds like a long wait for your money. During the design process aren’t you at risk that the customer will grab the blueprints and walk?
For us to produce all this stuff costs money. But if someone is going to take all that and feel good about it, that's for them to do. I know we've gotten better at understanding how far to go and to keep our eyes and ears open. We make our money during the process, with a five-draw schedule, in lieu of waiting for it to be 100 percent complete and getting paid at settlement.
What design features do you personally like in a house?
Small rooms. For example, I watched the World Cup qualifier with my two boys and three of their friends in an 8×10 comfortable TV room. Love it. Everybody is together. Everybody is tight. When you scream, you're touching each other. It's exciting and more personal. Small rooms are very quaint and I think they build tighter relationships inside the home. My shower is probably the most important. Some people want to be in and out of the shower in a minute. Put me in there for half an hour. It's my best think time.
PETER B. ROTELLE
Homes: Glenmoore, Chestnut Hill, Avalon.
Lives with: Oona McCullough, daughter Morgan, 17, and son Chase, 15. Also Owen and Nora Elliott.
Diplomas: La Salle College High School; Penn State, business.
Daily escape: Goes for an eight-mile run on the Horseshoe Trail.
What else: Rode his bicycle to Penn State. Distance runs, covering 50 miles or more. Collects coffee mugs.
ROTELLE DEVELOPMENT CO.
What: Luxury homebuilder, including Sycamore Estates, Worcester; Hearthstone at West Bristol, Bristol Township; Hibernia Glenn, West Caln Township.
Where: South Coventry Township, Chester County.
Output: 100+ units a year, averaging $500,000.
Employee perks: Hammocks under a tree, lunch cooked by the boss weekly, fresh flowers. 30 employees.
What's selling: Multi-generational housing.