Let’s talk about new houses. What is happening in the Hamptons market? Steven Dubb: The part that gets overlooked in the Hamptons is that there is a segment of the population that wants to live in the Hamptons but wants smaller living. At Bishops Pond, we built 69 townhomes that were finished the same way that a spec mansion would be finished, but [offering a] lifestyle that people want without a lot of the hassle. Susan Breitenbach: People used to come out and look at houses with a garden. Once you start looking at all this new construction, it has made it a lot harder for some of the older, charming properties. Christopher LaGuardia: The speculative homes we work on are very high-end. They’re $15 million to $25 million. I could never have imagined a speculative product at that price point. There is a market for it.
Why do you think some buyers gravitate toward new construction? Nick Martin: Time. A lot of people don’t have the time to re-create their dream house here, or the taste, so they’re seeing a number of different qualities and sizes. SB: Sometimes it amazes me, too, that some of these people with all this money don’t care about the land. Who is buying these? It’s amazing. They don’t get that they’re getting maybe not the quality. They don’t understand that maybe one—or five—of the exact house could pop up across the street. Beate Moore: Especially in certain sections of Daniels Lane in Sagaponack. You have four different varieties of modernist houses with some ode to a tradition. They all have failed. They’re not well insulated, they’re not well designed, they’re not well built. Now everybody wonders why they’re being torn down. I just hope that in this new generation of spec houses, there is a little interest in sustainability. CL: We all know that corners can be cut. They’re seeing [the results] now.
A rendering of one of the four luxury custom homes of Bishops Grant, a new development in Southampton from the Beechwood Organization.
How would you describe the buyers of spec houses versus custom-designed homes? NM: There is a segment of buyers who don’t have the time to sit and design their own house. There are people out there who just want to move in and have it all taken care of for them. For those buyers, spec houses work. There are other people who do want to spend the time and want to agonize over every single detail and really do something that is a reflection of them. Different strokes for different folks. CL: There are three to four different brands of spec builders out here. There are people coming in and buying houses and doing quick renovations. Then there is the builder/ architect who comes in and does one or two houses. Then there are people who have really done this for a while and they’re building larger houses and more important properties. Then there is the machine that’s creating 30 houses a year. I think everything in moderation in life is always a good model. I’m not sure the world needs 30 of the same house in any given neighborhood. SB: It’s really kind of sad in a lot of ways. When I first came out here, what I used to really love, you would go down the street and there would be a great modern house, and there would be a little old farmhouse, too. Some of this is just all the same. I was marketing a house on Main Street and everybody who looked at it wanted to tear it down.
“Any project that has a sense of pride first—the fact that it’s called a spec house does not necessarily brand it as something bad.”—Steven Dubb
Will you deal with spec houses? SD: We have been entertaining the concept of building spec houses. We’ve done what I would consider more to be affordable houses. We’ve been asked to do larger-scale spec houses; we have not yet gone down that road. I think in general, any project that has a sense of pride first—from the financial person, or the builder, or the landscape architect—the fact that it’s called a spec house does not necessarily brand it as something bad. SB: It’s hard to find land now. We used to have maybe five or six builders; now everybody has become one. SD: You sort of cringe inside when your doctor is building a spec house. NM: The market works in cycles. It always gets to a frenzy point and then the market slows down. A lot of those people who really are not in the building business have washed out. We’re building a four-house subdivision in Southampton Village. It’s the first time the land has changed hands since the original grant from the king of England in the 1600s. I did not want to build something where you drive in and you’re looking at four of the same house. [That’s] appropriate in other parts of Long Island, but it’s not appropriate out here. We took great pains to design four very unique houses, something that feels a little bit more organic and less like it was conceived as one master plan. It is not an easy thing to do. Kevin Santacroce: We have always remained not heavily involved in spec houses, but we do do them, primarily for longterm clients when they know what they’re doing. So it’s not the doctor or his tenant; it’s a builder. I’m proud to say we worked with Steven and his company, because we believe in his product and what he does. We helped them out with Bishops Pond and stayed with them.
An airy, open living room at Bishops Pond, with its dramatic ceilings and oversize windows, also from the Beechwood Organization.
It sounds to me as if everyone is looking for more prominence, more sensitivity in the community. Do you think we’ll achieve this? SB: We can only do so much. We can suggest. I sold a major project on Ocean Road just last year. The people had very good taste and they said to me, “We’re going to renovate.” In the end, they were going to tear it down to put up just a spec house. I couldn’t say anything. I just kind of looked at them and said, “Maybe you should look into it just a little bit further. Look at your choices and do something special for yourself, instead of a standard house.” I could only do so much. SD: There is a trend, I think, just to be more preservationist. I really like a house when we have to do that. In a couple of cases we’ve taken, like, a 1930s or 1940s house and added new modernist pieces to it and opened up the floor plan, added some steel, and retained the original nature. It’s all more expensive, but it really ends up being an amazing project. It makes a real difference. BM: To follow a trend is always kind of questionable to me. For example, there’s the market for the modern barn, so then a company becomes a modern barn builder or a designer. To get out of the trends and to do things that are important and timeless, I believe, is what life is about. If each potential customer in all these fields thought of it as a positive experience and learned from each of these professionals, they might further their sensibilities about why they’re buying something. You have to take the time it takes to make it right.