SEP 12, 2007

Different products and market for reinvented firm of Benach family

Builder Magazine

Different products and market for reinvented firm of Benach familySo heady was the home-building industry in the 1990s, houses nearly sold themselves. Then the economy crashed and builders burned. Now, like a phoenix, Chicago-based Lexington Homes is rising from the ashes. Compared to its predecessor by the same name, Jeff Benach's Lexington Homes has different products and serves a different market. The first Lexington was founded in 1974 by Jeff's father, Ron. The second, which was launched in 2006, focuses on "quality, not quantity," says Benach. Instead of rows of single-family houses in cornfield subdivisions, the reinvented Lexington is building townhouses on infill lots in Chicago and its suburbs.

Lexington's current projects include the 58-unit Willow Place in Wheeling, where base prices start at $329,990, and Lexington Park in Des Plaines, where the 120 units start at $324,990. Slated to begin in January is Lexington Square in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood, where townhouses will begin at $439,000.

Lexington's townhouse buyers, says Benach, are young, professional couples and singles, plus some empty-nesters. Compared to their parents, these buyers don't necessarily look at their townhouses as stepping stones. "They plan to stay for a while," says Benach. They value proximity to public transportation and employers, Benach adds. "Especially with the high prices of gas, they don't want long commutes," he says.

Now the Lexington staff of 16 includes co-principals Jeff Benach, Wayne Moretti and Max Plzak. Benach's wife, Denise, is the company's director of interior design. Semi-retired, Ron Benach is the tie-breaker when the principals disagree, says his son.

Their goal, says Benach, is to build 300 to 500 units a year. "More than that, and you lose touch with your buyers," he says. "You learn a lot about what people want by asking them what they really like and really don't like about their current homes. That's why, for example, we don't skimp on kitchen sizes, regardless of the size of the homes. People tell us that's where they spend most of their time."

Within two weeks of their home purchase, Lexington buyers return for a "meet and greet" with the staff, who walks them through their paperwork. "We want to be very transparent," says Benach. "If they have questions along the way, they have our phone numbers."

Benach says he didn't enter the family profession automatically. He collected a degree in communications, then became a radio disc jockey. "Not a stable profession if you have a family," he admits. By age 25, he joined his father.

After 25 years in the homebuilding business, Benach says he's passionate about it. When he vacations, his camera phone fills with pictures of houses. Retirement? Not likely. He dismisses the notion as rapidly as he talks.

But making time for his daughters and "keeping it all balanced" are important, Benach adds. Lest he forget to be humble, the 1934 "The Guy in the Glass" poem by Dale Wimbrow is stored on Benach's cell phone, too.

"You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years," reads the poem. "And get pats on the back as you pass. But your final reward will be heartaches and tears if you've cheated the guy in the glass."

"They were very responsive."

- Wagar Habib & Sana Mukhtar