Alex Akel, however, is 27. His company, which employs six staffers, not counting he and his father Ramsey, got going a little over 12 months ago as it broke ground on Villamar at Toscana Isles, Akel Homes’ first single-family community in Palm Beach County. This is a 27-year-old talking about the blend of patience and bold risk-taking the home building business demands of its vested and invested stakeholders.
Yes, the Akel pedigree goes back a stretch, a full generation in the real estate development and home construction business. His current partner, mentor, primary friends-and-family capital source, and father in Akel Homes, Ramsey Akel, spent 32 years working for his father-in-law at Ansca Homes, building some 4,000 homes in South Florida going back to 1986.
You could say that young Akel is wiser than his years. Or you could say that his raw intelligence, his studies, which include an advanced degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and fully-licensed status as a Florida state contractor, and his passion for what he calls solving this “ginormous Rubik’s Cube” that is home building, add up to an accelerated learning curve.
It's a business that has a lot of barriers to entry. You have to want to be a creator; this is not just about vertical construction, we get the property as a clean slate and we literally make value on it by taking it through planning, zoning, building codes, designing to market constraints, price for the lot, and a million other variables and moving parts where all these worlds collide. There are very few sectors of the economy where you get to directly impact people's life on so intimate a level for many important years of their lives.Alexander AkelPresident, Akel Homes
Akel the younger is particularly drawn to the entrepreneurial rush that comes from the nimbleness, authentic local connection, and customer-centricity only a private home builder can deliver in a marketplace, which, he professes, “give a private builder a huge advantage because we can put the customer at the very center of our universe and business and operational model.”
Akel works under no illusion that when it comes to resources, sheer heft, clout, and staying power the big public builders bring to their game in the markets they serve.
When you're competing with public builders, they have almost unlimited spend when it comes to omni-channel marketing, geo-fencing, targeting by behavior, and other data and digital tactics we'd love to use, but don't have the same resources for. Ultimately, I don't have the same technology Lennar has, where they can micro-target and laser-pinpoint customers at the precise moment to engage, and then map them through their journey. That's definitely a barrier that keeps getting higher for us.Alexander AkelPresident, Akel Homes
The counter-move every successful private home builder draws on as the money, power, and profit odds stack higher and higher against them, and one that Akel knows reflexively, even in his short years of experience is both the most simple and the most difficult code to crack.
Focus on the customer.
Nothing beats going out into the community and getting in tune, says 27-year-old Akel. Involvement in the local schools with programs, the community centers, and other public and community organizations, events for teachers, and municipal activities, we're committed to living with and participating, and having a stake in all of these groups. The 'human level' is something we feel can not be underestimated for its impact on our business. Everything, these days, lives and dies around the customer experience. Without customers, you can't have a business.Alexander AkelPresident, Akel Homes
Now, that’s a pearl of wisdom that, as 27-year-old Akel proves, you either get immediately in home building, or may never get at all. It’s that master imperative that defines what Akel believes to be two essential differentiating factors that will keep making customers prefer Akel Homes to those of his competition, one is the “concierge/boutique-style home buying experience” the Akel team provides its clients on a name basis. The other is a level of quality and finish bigger, more value-driven builders find it different to match.
Here, verbatim from a 27-year-old builder, is the Akel manifesto on both:
What I want to know is how we get more people like Alex Akel into the business.
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