Business Monday

Hollub Homes plants roots — and homes —deep in South Florida

FAMILY SUCCESS: Marvin Hollub ( kneeling), Aaron Hollub, Amy Marcus Hollub, and Harry Hollub (rear and standing), of Hollub Homes gather at an $8.45 million custom home they built in Coral Gables.
FAMILY SUCCESS: Marvin Hollub ( kneeling), Aaron Hollub, Amy Marcus Hollub, and Harry Hollub (rear and standing), of Hollub Homes gather at an $8.45 million custom home they built in Coral Gables. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

The first house Marvin Hollub built — a three-bedroom home with a swimming pool in the area that would later become Pinecrest — sold for $19,000.

The year was 1954.

Today, the company Marvin founded, Hollub Homes, is putting the finishing touches on a nearly 12,000-square-foot custom home in Coral Gables’ exclusive Snapper Creek Lakes development. The ultra-luxury house, with an asking price of $8.45 million, includes a home theater with 20 seats, an elevator and a 12-foot stone “water wall” that flows into a hot tub and infinity pool.

The changes in the home building company’s business model reflect Miami’s evolution as a city. A once-sleepy tropical backwater, the Magic City is now an international center of commerce, luxury and wealth.

“There was land everywhere back then,” said Hollub, an 81-year-old originally from New York who likes to joke that he voted for Abraham Lincoln.

In the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, Hollub expanded and began building custom homes in Coral Gables and then entire communities of custom homes in the southern part of Miami-Dade County, including Galloway Glen in Kendall, Clinton Grove in Palmetto Bay and Arabesque in Pinecrest. The company won praise for its building methods after Hurricane Andrew blew away many newer houses but left decades-old Hollub homes still standing.

As land in South Florida became scarcer, the Hollubs started building more expensive, luxurious homes, breaking the million-dollar mark for a single home in the 1990s.

“It’s damn near impossible to find a 30-acre parcel of land in Miami-Dade County today,” said Jack McCabe, an independent analyst on Florida’s housing market who is based in Deerfield Beach. And skyrocketing building and labor costs mean it’s hard to secure a profit building tracts of single-family homes as developers such as the Hollubs used to do, he added.

“That makes it very difficult for a smaller home-builder unless they can find a niche they can be very competitive in,” McCabe said. “By being at the very high-end of the market, where South Florida has the strongest pool of available buyers, builders can maximize their profit opportunities. We’re seeing a similar trend in multi-family construction with all the luxury condos.”

After more than 40 years in charge, Hollub handed over the reins to his son Harry in 1995. (The elder Hollub still plays an active role in the company, going into the office every day.)

The company is very much a family affair. Hollub’s daughter Helene now handles the interior design for custom-built homes and renovations. His daughter-in-law Amy (Harry’s wife) is in charge of sales. And his grandchildren Aaron and Shayna also work for the company.

“They’re young and they want to do different things with the company,” Hollub said. “It’s wonderful to know the business will continue.”

The majority of the company’s work is still in its core markets of Pinecrest and Coral Gables, but Hollub is also building homes and doing renovations in Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton.

In Miami-Dade, Harry Hollub said, a more contemporary and modern style is replacing the traditional Mediterranean design. Farther north, where the clientele runs older, buyers want more space to entice grandchildren into visiting.

“One thing we’ve noticed is that people aren’t look for McMansions anymore,” said Amy Marcus Hollub.

Instead, Hollub tries to make its larger homes seem warm and more intimate by using drop ceilings, wood, soft lines and darker colors in its design.

And an influx of out-of-town capital, mainly from Latin America but also increasingly from the Northeast, is allowing the Hollubs to keep up with escalating land and construction costs. “Miami is on fire,” Hollub said. “The buyers want to be here.”

Subcontractors appreciate the company’s devotion to quality.

“They tell me, we want it done as perfectly as possible,” said Arsenio Blanco, who has done tile and marble installation at Hollub homes for about 10 years. “We take a lot of pride working for them because we’re putting our name alongside theirs.”

The Hollubs build some of their homes on spec, meaning they purchase land and start building a home without a firm commitment from a buyer. Sometimes a client will come in with an offer during the construction process, which usually takes between 16 and 20 months.

Spec homes can be a risky business in South Florida’s cycle-heavy real estate market, especially if a major crash happens. But Hollub Homes was able to escape the financial crisis largely unscathed.

“I want to call it dumb luck, but we were very fortunate,” said Harry Hollub. “We had a whole bunch of homes on the drawing board for different clients at that point, but only one on the market. When the downturn came, we started taking on a lot of renovation jobs and smaller projects.”

The company also works with buyers from the beginning on custom homes — it currently has two spec homes and five custom homes under construction with 2016 completion dates — and does large-scale renovations.

Barbara and Gary Davis have had almost their entire one-story ranch house in Pinecrest redone by the Hollubs.

“They did a major renovation and added a whole master section in 2004, they renovated our family room in 2008, our kitchen in 2011, and they’ve renovated our floors and redone our roof, driveway and backyard,” said Barbara Davis. “I think we’ve spent well in excess of $500,000, but you get what you pay for and their work has been incredible.”

Some clients who start out with a renovation enjoy working with the Hollubs so much that they turn to them for a new home.

In 2004, the Hollubs did a renovation down to the cinder blocks of a home in Coral Gables that belonged to Jackie Green and John Grossman.

Green said she was taken with Harry Hollub’s integrity. “Harry gave us a choice on everything,” Green said. “He never tried to talk us into anything. He laid out all the options at different price points and let us make up our mind with the designer.”

Now with their youngest daughter heading off to college, Green and Grossman are thinking about building a new, custom home. And there was only one logical choice, they decided.

“My husband has said that he’d only build a home if Harry Hollub were the contractor,” Green said.

The Hollubs’ deep roots in South Florida mean they have the chance to build for generations of local families.

In 1966, Marvin Hollub built a custom home for Blair Retchin’s parents for $135,000. Today, Retchin is turning to the Hollubs to build a 7,000-square-foot “dream house” for him and his wife, Monica, near the Briar Bay Golf Course.

“It’s very nostalgic for me to be working with the Hollubs now,” Retchin said. “It brings back good memories of my parents.”

Hollub Homes

Business: Hollub Homes is one of South Florida’s premier luxury custom home-builders. A family company since 1954, Hollub Homes does new construction and renovations primarily in Coral Gables, Pinecrest, Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton. A full-service builder that also provides maintenance and upkeep services, Hollub has worked with many of the same subcontractors, designers and architects for years and even decades. The company doesn’t take on debt to finance its speculative homes, which take about 16 to 20 months to build. The vast majority of Hollub’s sales are in cash as its buyers are generally wealthy enough to not need mortgages. Patriarch Marvin Hollub led the company through its first four decades. Now it’s run by his son Harry, whose sister Helene and wife, Amy, play key roles. Grandchildren Aaron and Shayna also work at Hollub.

Owners: The Hollub Family

Headquarters: 9771 S. Dixie Highway, Pinecrest

Employees: 12

Homes sold since 2000: 58

Square footage range: 5,000 to 11,000 square feet

Price range: $2 million to $10 million per home. The company usually has five or six homes under construction at one time, and finishes about two or three per year. About half of the company’s revenue comes from building custom homes, 35 percent from spec homes and 15 percent from renovations.