Invalesco Developer Dive | Smith & Meade

Invalesco Developer Dive | Smith & Meade

By Olivia Hamman - June 12, 2024

Invalesco Developer Dive | Vol. 1
Smith & Meade


What inspired you to become a developer/builder? Take us through your journey.

The inspired answer: I have always been drawn to beautiful homes. Growing up in Minnesota, I spent a lot of time walking around the city lakes, admiring the stunning homes along the shores. The architecture, size, and quality of those homes left a lasting impression on me. When I moved to Denver and had the chance to build my own custom home, those childhood memories influenced my vision, though not quite on the same grand scale. I was able to sell that home successfully, which encouraged me to build another, and then a couple more after that.

The truthful story: I moved to Denver after selling a business in Minnesota and invested a significant amount of money into building my first home as a speculative project in Corey-Merrill. I partnered with a local general contractor, a friend of mine at the time. During the foundation digging, we disagreed over which subcontractor to use. I wanted to go with the cheaper option, but my partner insisted that if I was the type of person to choose the cheapest sub, he didn’t want to work with me.

There I was, literally and figuratively, in a hole. The only way out was to figure out how to build the home myself. Piece by piece, I constructed the home and assembled a team to help me. Somehow, it turned out to be a success. From that experience, I gained a reliable team, the confidence to build more homes, and the invaluable lesson that the cheapest option isn’t always the best.


What areas of town do you like to build in?  What do you look for? 

 At Smith and Meade, we specialize in building Luxury single-family homes. Our preferred areas range from as far north as Park Hill to as far south as Cherry Hills. I often joke that we stay out of the Highlands because it's a bit to cool for us.

When evaluating a potential site, our primary consideration is whether we would want to live there ourselves. We avoid locations near busy roads, neighborhoods with problematic neighbors, and areas prone to flooding. Our goal is to find sites that offer a pleasant living environment, ensuring that our homes provide comfort and value to future residents.


What sets your projects apart?

Honestly, I think two things set a Smith and Meade project apart. First is the significant female influence on our design and build process. From my partner, Liz Meade, to our female architect and interior designer, our homes are heavily influenced by a female perspective, with a particular focus on the needs and preferences of mothers.

Second, building a home is a deeply personal experience for us. We often make small decisions along the way that we would want in our own homes, even if they don't always align perfectly with the pro forma. Our hope is that these thoughtful touches are felt by the future homeowners and that the homes sell well. Ultimately, it’s about creating a space that feels right for us and for the families who will live there.

What has been the most challenging project you’ve undertaken and how did you overcome those obstacles?

Oh my gosh, I think I could write a book on this topic. We've faced numerous construction challenges, such as an exterior wall collapsing during a remodel. Supply chain issues during COVID-19 presented another significant hurdle, with 30-50% price increases and 12-month delays on windows and appliances. Internally, we've dealt with hiring challenges, where individuals who initially seemed like great fits turned out to have a negative impact on our team and products. Additionally, market fluctuations, like those we're experiencing now, add to the complexity.

Honestly, development and home building are not for the faint of heart. It’s never a straight line, and every day brings new challenges. However, these challenges allow us to learn and improve. Each obstacle is an opportunity to grow stronger and better at what we do.


What are the biggest risks/challenges facing developers in our market right now? 

The biggest risks and challenges facing developers in our market right now stem from market uncertainty. We are unsure if inventory levels will continue to rise, whether labor and material prices will decrease, and what will happen with interest rates. This uncertainty makes it challenging to plan and execute projects that take over a year to complete. Building homes in such an unpredictable environment requires careful consideration and adaptability, as the economic landscape can shift significantly over the course of a single project.


How do you prioritize sustainability and environmental concerns in your development projects?

This is a complex issue that our team deeply cares about. However, integrating sustainable and environmental practices into the building environment presents significant challenges. While it might seem like an excuse, doing things differently in the building world is tough both from a cost standpoint and an operational standpoint. Let me start with our challenges and then address the positive aspects.

1. Recycling Efforts: Our first attempt was to recycle some of our wasted lumber. We purchased a pink dumpster and informed our crews and site supervisor that this dumpster was for recyclable waste materials like cardboard and lumber scraps. However, week after week, we found the pink dumpster filled with trash that couldn't be recycled, while the regular dumpster was filled with recyclable materials. Despite numerous discussions and even arguments with our framers and site supervisors, we couldn't get our subcontractors to execute this correctly. Policing it full-time seemed like the only solution, which wasn't feasible. We tried it for a couple of projects but eventually had to stop.

2. Repurposing Materials: We engaged a special demo company that repurposed materials from homes that were torn down to make room for new construction. We were excited as this was supposed to save money and help reuse items that would otherwise go to waste. However, after two projects, it turned out to be very expensive and time-consuming. As a result, we had to discontinue this practice.

There is a delicate balance in the construction world between sustainability, cost-effectiveness, and efficiency. Unfortunately, these values don't always align, and careful choices are necessary.

The Bright Side: The City of Denver is doing a lot to mandate these initiatives. Recycling is becoming mandatory, and new energy codes are pushing the industry to move away from natural gas, increase solar usage, and improve the energy efficiency of homes. While these changes will increase construction costs and slightly slow down the process, they are being implemented industry-wide, ensuring that everyone participates.

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