Once upon a time in Central Texas, four brothers—Owen, Tilghman, Jesse, and Lee Nalle—joined together to build homes that would stand out from the crowd, homes whose only limitations would be the boundaries of their future residents’ creativity. Since its founding nearly 10 years ago, Nalle Custom Homes’ (NCH) attractive façades have caught the eyes of more than 250 satisfied customers, but what has those clients recommending the family-owned business to friends and strangers alike is its process. From planning to the pouring of foundation, there is an experienced Nalle (or two or three or four) to walk each buyer through each build and turn every individual’s vision into a reality.
As NCH’s website details and some of its clients have testified, building a home with the Nalle brothers entails much more than a bid and a build out. Tilghman says the brothers pride themselves on having the flexibility to cater to clients’ budgets and visions. He likes to think of himself and his brothers as “facilitators” more than builders. “We don’t want to just be another builder that builds a good house and expects the client to pay a premium to achieve that result,” Owen says. “With the combination of all four brothers and our partnerships, we are able to customize and build at the highest quality without having to charge the premium to the client.” And when clients need to get in touch, the brother’s have four sets of eyes and ears to better keep themselves abreast of any issues or changes that may come up.
The brothers’ pedigree might make their partnership seem like a given, but NCH is only a first-generation family business. Their mother had tried her hand at developing speculative properties in Austin, and her father (the brothers’ grandfather) had been a developer in the area as well. The oldest brother, Tilghman, spent a couple of summers digging trenches for his father’s commercial landscaping company and was intrigued by the creativity and management responsibilities of the general contractors he met. He knew he wanted to enter homebuilding, and while he appreciated the work ethic he and his brothers learned from their father, it didn’t take long for him to realize he wasn’t cut out for manual labor.
“When times are down, buyers are very selective. In the middle of a housing crisis, it was a big compliment that they were choosing us.”
After college, he got further exposure to the construction business and its processes through an internship with a large, privately owned production homebuilder. After five years, he decided he had the experience and the knowledge to forge his own path in the industry. Focusing on custom homes would allow him to begin with less capital and compete in a smaller market, so in 2004 NCH began with a sole owner-operator, no vendor relationships, and a simple business plan: build enough homes to be sustainable, but maintain the flexibility to customize. The latter has become the company’s specialty.
Lee was the first of Tilghman’s siblings to join NCH, and Owen and Jesse interned for the firm and came aboard after graduation. “It’s somewhat a leap of faith to come work with your brothers right out of college,” Owen says, but family-style ownership proved to be the best incentive for joining the venture as well, and it made good business sense. Because all the Nalle men wanted to go into homebuilding, it only benefitted them to work together rather than as competitors.
The brothers were fortunate to build in a market that remained relatively stable throughout the economic downturn. Even so, they watched many of their contemporaries shutter operations in 2008 and 2009. While NCH didn’t experience the kind of growth it had in years prior, Tilghman says even maintaining the status quo in the thick of a recession was a true test of the company’s viability. “Vendors would ask us all the time how we continued to build homes,” he says. “When times are down, buyers are very selective. In the middle of a housing crisis, it was a big compliment that they were choosing us.”