In 1995, Sue Berk bought a condo in Dallas, and gave it a complete renovation. “I painted it, tiled the floors, I did the electrical and plumbing work,” she shares. “I was working in corporate doing high-tech marketing, but I loved renovating, so I decided to do it full time,” she continues. This bold move found her making tiles; she bought a kiln, started creating ceramics and backsplashes, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Berk+Walters Homes (Berk+Walters) specializes in developing spec homes. Sue’s husband, Brad Walters is an integral part of the company, although he has a full time job in a corporation, but he helps at night and on weekends. Sue highlights that her modus operandi involves purchasing a piece of property, tearing down the existing house and then rebuilding. “Although I like to build homes, I also love design; it’s my favorite part of this job. I work with the architect on the design of the house, and then I come up with all the colors, the countertops, the styles, the tiles, the purchasing of the fixtures and that’s really the best part of the work,” she shares.
Sue goes on to discuss the style of her homes, and how she takes a contemporary approach to her design. “I use clean lines with some elements of traditional inspiration as well. Our cabinets are shaker-style cabinets, rather than the flat panel cabinets. I also like gold accents. I am lucky in that the home industry in Dallas is ahead of many other markets. For example, we put all our electric outlets in the baseboards, which offers a much cleaner look, and that is something that when I built my first house, my electrician told me this is what all the multi-million-dollar houses are doing now. I think it also comes down to using the right subs, who are used to doing things that are high-end luxury.”
When asked from where she derives this level of inspiration, Sue discusses how she takes pride in being closely observant of her surroundings. “I walk around a lot of new builds, and many of my friends in the neighborhood live in beautiful houses that I admire. I go to trade shows, for lighting and home building, to get insight into what’s trending. I also draw inspiration from nature. I love the blues of the ocean, and sunset colors. However, I am careful to use neutral hues. A lot of people like that our spec houses don’t just do white and grey colors. I like to throw splashes of blue in to try to make my tiles more interesting, which people seem to like.”
There have been many challenges within the supply chain that have had their consequences on the construction industry, and to mitigate these obstacles, Sue shares how she has had to stay ahead of any disruptions. “At first, we had no trouble getting supplies, and the first couple of houses we built after the pandemic started ran very smoothly. On those houses, I ordered lumber, and it arrived within a week. Now, we have to order lumber a month in advance. For the project I am currently working on, the biggest impact has been the windows I was told by my suppliers that windows are among the products most affected by supply chain issues, predominantly because the materials are sourced from so many different places. The handles for the windows subsequently delayed us by six weeks, and it was very frustrating,” she says, adding that she has had to accommodate the extra stock and early deliveries as well. “We live in a big house with a lot of storage. I literally have boxes of light fixtures everywhere, boxes of plumbing suppliers, everything all over the house. I bought my appliances before we even started building the house and then for some reason, they arrived quite early, so I had a dishwasher, a microwave, all these electrical appliances kept in storage in my house.”
Higher end finishes
On top of the business’ supply chain challenges, the company also had to grapple with the increase in prices. From Sue’s perspective, she is trying to minimize the overall cost to support potential buyers. With some of these uncertainties still prevalent within the market, Sue is looking at ways that she can best mitigate the challenges to ensure Berk+Walters remains a leader in the Dallas homebuilding industry. “If the market bears it, I will keep building spec houses. I am lucky that there are loads of opportunities to build within ten minutes of my house. The biggest advantage with having all my projects nearby is that I can be on site at least three to five times a day, back and forth, and by doing that, I can oversee any problems. So, I’m keen to maintain that.
“If the market drops, like it did in 2008, then we might have to go to renovations. I’m finding it quite tricky to predict now. It all depends on interest rates. Dallas is an extremely competitive market; it’s number two in the nation of places to live, but there are a million builders out there building houses. At Berk+Walters, we know who we are; we use better materials, and our finish is higher end than a lot of other builders out there. I am proud of that. So, we will do our best to see how the market responds, and then push to adapt accordingly,” Sue concludes.