A major hub for energy, communications, and technology companies, the Dallas–Fort Worth area has enjoyed significant growth and prosperity in the past decade and now consistently finds itself near the top of Forbes’ list of the cities with the most billionaires. (At last count, it had 17.) Local luxury homebuilder Hawkins-Welwood Homes (HWH) was conveniently placed to aid the area’s well-to-do population in their search for new living spaces, but since the real estate collapse of 2008, the firm has noticed that even the more affluent potential home buyers are less keen on large, costly estates. The trend has pushed the company to adjust its service offerings and find new sources of revenue, and it has had particularly good results moving into townhome design.
“[Adaptability] has been important to the success of our business, becoming more horizontally integrated,” president John Hawkins says. “We were building big homes for wealthy people, and with these high-end townhomes, we have a smaller product for these same people.” HWH has built its more modestly sized dwellings in Texas communities such as Park Cities, Preston Hollow, and, most recently, the Willow Bend Park neighborhood of Plano, and the homes are mostly meant for empty-nesters who want to continue living well without worrying about maintenance or excess square footage.
“We were building big homes for wealthy people, and with these high-end townhomes, we have a smaller product for these same people.”
John Hawkins, President
HWH’s history reaches back to 1961, when the Welwood family became a founding partner of Gagewood Homes. “I came to work with Gagewood as head of sales and marketing in 1989,” Hawkins says. “I was coming into the residential industry with a background in commercial real estate, focusing on office leasing and construction. Customer service and motivating the sales were the same, but the product was a bit different.” Hawkins had been active in the commercial real estate industry since 1979 and soon brought his experience to bear at Gagewood, with a sales volume of $15 million. Gagewood became Curt Welwood Homes in 1992, then Hawkins became president of the company in 1994 and partnered with Welwood in 1997, creating Hawkins-Welwood.
For the past 51 years, the company has specialized in luxury home and townhome construction in and around the Dallas area, recognizing and solidifying the region’s role as a steadfast residential and commercial center. As of 2012, the company had 11 full-time employees and a total annual sales volume of roughly $20 million.
Although the company has more than half a century of history and time-tried durability—even weathering the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s, the event which led Hawkins to join HWH—it was hit hardest by the economic crisis of 2008. “In this time, I was late to the party for reducing overhead and inventory,” Hawkins says. “I’m an optimist by nature, so it was a bit of a reality check. In February of 2009, we were up to $34 million in debt, but we were able to work that down to $5 million by selling homes, and we were able to preserve the company.”
It was partly the economic crisis that led HWH to consider luxury townhomes, the Willow Bend Park Villas and other such developments representing a shift toward a more compact form of elegance. “We made a decision in 2002 to start building high-end townhomes,” Hawkins says. “We did our first townhome community that year and have done three since then, and the transition to the high-end townhome has been very important to the success of our business. And since 2008, even if people have money, they still want smaller homes.”
Construction on the 62-lot Willow Bend Park Villas began in 2004, and properties are still closing today. Floor plans range anywhere from 2,000 to nearly 4,000 square feet, with two- and three-bedroom options and myriad high-end luxury finishes such as granite countertops, prefinished cabinets, stainless-steel Whirlpool appliances, prefinished hardwood floors, and covered outdoor patios. In the interest of sustainability, the homes also feature foam insulation, high-efficiency HVAC systems, and aluminum-framed windows. “These are high-end luxury homes that cater to empty-nesters who want luxury without having a pool or large yard,” Hawkins says.
Unlike much of suburban sprawl in Texas, Willow Bend encourages walkability by tying the homes together with tree-lined courtyards, stone walkways, garden pavilions, fountains, and rose gardens. The landscape and development plans inspire a boutique, European-villa aesthetic, but it’s all maintenance-free and geared toward a “lock-and-leave” lifestyle. Home prices range from $400,000 to $800,000, well above the median Dallas home price of $129,800. “These homes are unique because they are high-end,” Hawkins says. “There are no other townhome developments in the Dallas area that cater to the upper-income empty-nester.”
D Home magazine has named HWH as Best Builder every year since 2005, and the firm has further plans to remain competitive and adaptable as the building industry continues to recover. “In 2006, we had a volume of $60 million,” Hawkins says. “As such, we want to continue to grow in areas where our brand is recognized and where we can cater to the upper-end residential homeowner in the best locations in Dallas.”