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July 15, 2020

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Pacific Lifestyle Homes prepares for Puget Sound expansion

CEO says local builder has thrived by focusing on high-quality housing

By , Columbian business reporter
Published:
3 Photos
“I fell in love with the idea of building homes for people. My favorite part of the job is building teams and seeing people grow.” Pacific Lifestyle Homes founder Kevin Wann walks through one of the Pacific Lifestyle Homes under construction at the Seven Wells Estates community in Ridgefield.
“I fell in love with the idea of building homes for people. My favorite part of the job is building teams and seeing people grow.” Pacific Lifestyle Homes founder Kevin Wann walks through one of the Pacific Lifestyle Homes under construction at the Seven Wells Estates community in Ridgefield. Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian Photo Gallery

Following several years of growth in its original Vancouver market, local homebuilding company Pacific Lifestyle Homes has announced a plan to open a Puget Sound division that will expand the company’s homebuilding operations into the Tacoma and Seattle metro areas.

Pacific Lifestyle Homes was founded in 1996 by president and CEO Kevin Wann, and built its first community near Vancouver Mall. The company now operates offices in Vancouver and Lake Oswego, Ore., and has built more than 3,400 homes in the Portland area in the past 20 years.

“They’ve been one of the larger builders in this market for a long time,” says local Realtor Mike Lamb.

Pacific Lifestyle’s focus is on community developments with anywhere from 40 to 120 home sites. The majority of the company’s developments are in Clark County and the Portland area, so the Puget Sound area will be new territory — at least when it comes to large developments.

The new Puget Sound division will join the existing Puget Sound division of Garrette Custom Homes, a sister brand operated by Pacific Lifestyle that specializes in developing individual houses on larger acreages.

Pacific Lifestyle Homes

CEO: Kevin Wann

Founded: 1996

Homes sold in 2018: 292

Revenue in 2018: $167,190,000

Office locations: Vancouver, Lake Oswego, Ore., Tacoma

Garrette was founded in 2004 in Vancouver, and expanded to the Puget Sound area in 2014 with a branch office in the Fircrest neighborhood east of Tacoma. The past five years have been a resounding success, with annual closings growing from six homes in the first year to 80 in 2018.

“I think of it like Lexus and Toyota,” Wann, 50, explains. “Garrette is a brand that’s conducive to starting small.”

Last year, the northern Garrette branch moved to a new, larger office in downtown Tacoma, which will also serve as the headquarters of Pacific Lifestyle’s Puget Sound division. Garrette’s success in the region is part of the impetus for expanding Pacific Lifestyle’s presence to Puget Sound.

“It’s just the next step in the evolution of our position in the market there,” says Steve Bradford, vice president of sales and marketing at Pacific Lifestyle Homes. “We’ve gone south (with Pacific Lifestyle), but we really haven’t gone much further north than Woodland.”

Pacific Lifestyle will kick off its Seattle-area presence with its first community, Summer Lane, in University Place, another suburb east of Tacoma. The 40-home development is slated to feature 5,000- to 7,000-square-foot home sites with both one- and two-level home plans.

The company will focus on the southern portion of the Puget Sound region as it expands for future developments, Wann says. Bradford points to the company’s rambler-style designs as one of the key niches the company can fill in the Seattle-area market, in which he says single-level homes are scarce.

“We’re looking at communities where we can bring our vision to those neighborhoods,” Bradford says.

A local industry group says the South Sound region is a good place to get started, due to the high growth potential in the area and the much more expensive costs further north near Seattle.

“Some municipalities in Pierce County are eager to see development as housing in Seattle becomes so expensive,” says Jeremiah Lafranca, executive officer at the Master Builder Association of Pierce County. “Pacific Lifestyle chose to build in a jurisdiction, University Place, that’s very welcoming for growth given their recent attention after hosting the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in 2015.”

Customers in the Seattle region will visit Pacific Lifestyle’s design studio at its main office in Orchards. The company may consider adding another design studio in Tacoma in the future, but Wann says that so far customers have enjoyed making the trip to the Vancouver studio.

The 5,000-square-foot design studio recently underwent a series of upgrades, which the company performs every year in order to stay on top of housing design trends, according to Bradford.

“This time we focused on (kitchen) islands and countertops,” he says. “Last year it was bathrooms and doors. Next year it might be lighting.”

After a customer purchases a home, they’ll be invited to visit the Pacific Lifestyle design studio and pick out all of the specifics. Customers are kept updated at regular checkpoints during construction, including a “pre-drywall” walk-through to make sure everything is placed correctly and a pre-occupancy orientation.

Changing market

Wann grew up in Clark County and showed an early interest in the home industry. He began buying fixer-upper houses at age 19 and founded a real estate brokerage at 21. When he was 26, he founded Pacific Lifestyle Homes and began building houses from scratch.

“I fell in love with the idea of building homes for people,” he says. “My favorite part of the job is building teams and seeing people grow.”

Although it remains local, Pacific Lifestyle has certainly grown since its early years; in its first year, the company had four employees and built 16 homes, Wann says. Today, it employs 85 people and builds approximately 285 homes per year.

The company’s focus has also narrowed over time. At the beginning, Pacific Lifestyle handled lots and land in addition to housing, but in the past decade it has shifted to just the houses.

“Today we specialize, and we’re really good at one thing,” Wann says.

The change was also prompted in part by the Great Recession, which hit Pacific Lifestyle along with the rest of the housing industry. Specialization in high-quality housing has allowed the company to recover from the recession, Wann says, with annual revenue growing consistently, from a low of $14.6 million in 2011 to $167 million last year.

High-quality houses have allowed Pacific Lifestyle Homes to remain competitive even as national builders have gained a greater foothold in the Vancouver market, Wann says — and Lamb says that fits with a broader pattern in Vancouver’s housing industry.

“By and large, the quality of the local builders is really good,” Lamb says. “And that’s true of all top-tier local builders.”

The consolidation of the local homebuilding industry is driven in part by rising land prices as Vancouver has grown, Lamb says. There are fewer available lots, and they tend to get snapped up by the largest builders. Back in the 1970s, he says, smaller local builders were much more common in the Vancouver area, but over time it’s become more difficult to stay competitive.

“Today there’s just a few of us (local builders) left,” Wann says.

In the face of those challenges, Wann says he’s proud of Pacific Lifestyle’s consistent growth and the recognition it’s received as a local builder.

The company has certainly earned accolades for its Vancouver-area builds. The Building and Industry Association of Clark County has twice named the company Builder of the Year, and it won a national award in 2017 when Professional Builder magazine gave the company a gold certification at its annual Quality Housing Award.

“Pacific Lifestyle Homes has been a member of the BIA since 2001, and they’ve been very active during those 18 years,” says Avaly Scarpelli, executive director of the Building Industry Association of Clark County. “They’ve built in two different Parade of Homes shows, won BIA Builder of the Year twice and taken home numerous Building Excellence Awards over the years.”

The expansion into the Puget Sound area will bring its own share of challenges — Tacoma itself is largely built out, Lafranca says — but Wann says he’s optimistic that Pacific Lifestyle Homes will be able to find similar success in the new market.

“The challenges are similar to here (in Vancouver), in that there’s a scarcity of land and a scarcity of trades up there,” he says.

Wann doesn’t intend for Puget Sound to be the last stop for Pacific Lifestyle Homes. Five years or so down the road, the company may consider expanding into a third market. And although the location has yet to be determined, he says, it would definitely be in the Pacific Northwest.

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