How Houston “Spec Mansion” Builder Hopes to Change the Game


specScreenwriters, graphic designers and other creatives frequently work on spec, making something with the hope of selling it rather than creating it for a commission. Al Ross, a developer from Houston, is looking to bring that line of thinking into custom home creation.

Generally, custom homes are built when prospective home buyers approach builders and design a layout for a home from the ground up. Houses are then created to their specifications, and they move in when their home is done.

Ross set out to change the game 12 months ago by building four dazzling mansions in the Houston area with no potential buyers lined up. Ross’ work is some of the first speculative luxury home building in years in the River Oaks neighborhood, a market which is currently booming from positive financial growth and negative housing inventory.

Each house is built as cheaply as possible but still decorated lavishly, borrowing finishes and molding styles from French châteaus to Spanish Revival homes. Ross differentiates the styles of his custom homes to give potential customers a wide range of styles to chose from.

Customers can also ask for minor alterations after they purchase the house so it really can become their ready-made dream home. Amenities for the homes include energy-efficient HVAC systems, elevators, and smart home capabilities for controlling sprinklers and sound systems from a mobile device. Ross’ company also offers a three year warranty and one-year of concierge service for any maintenance work, so home buyers don’t have to do anything for the house once they move in.

“There is a growing market for this type of build, but there are also a number of large, production builders who have established lines or even divisions to build these types of homes, that have many of the ‘luxury’ features people want, but are basically like any other home, so margins are greater,” says Erik Cocks – A marketing manager at Arthur Rutenberg Homes. “We build custom homes from plans for customers, and they tend to customize quite a bit for their homes but also demand very high levels of detail, finishing and quality.”

The homes are all going for about $4-5 million, and Ross shouldn’t have trouble selling them. Speculative luxury homebuilding has been on the rebound in recent years, especially in high-end markets, which often signifies a recovering housing market.

Building his own 17,000-square-foot french château-style home was what inspired Ross to start building spec homes. He wanted an outlet for his creativity and was enthusiastic enough about the growing Houston market to buy River Oaks teardown homes for $1 million each, an investment he believes will pay off.

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