Meet the company building ultra-luxury houses in Dallas — and take a look inside
The high-end residential construction business is booming, especially in Dallas, says John Sebastian.
George Sebastian, a native of Dallaser, a graduate of Southern Methodist University and a self-trained architect, founded the Sebastian Construction Group in 1948. What began as a company building post-war homes for a rapidly growing Dallas population gradually turned into the high-end Dallas market in the mid-1950s, with an emphasis on renovating the mansions in Highland Park.
Today, run by George Sebastian’s son, John Sebastian, the company has a highly specialized niche market, building many of the most expensive homes in the most prestigious areas of Texas, with an emphasis on Preston Hollow and the Park Cities in Dallas and River Oaks in Houston.
In this gallery you can see which plots are completed or in progress by the Sebastian Construction Group.
The high-end residential business is booming, especially in Dallas, said John Sebastian, chairman, president and CEO of the company.
“We have a wave of wealthy Californians coming here,” Sebastian said in an interview with the Dallas Business Journal. “They’re fed up with the regulations and just trying to run a business in California and have additional state income taxes (considered) for all the super-rich there.” They’re all wanting to get out of California as soon as possible, and Dallas and Austin are the big beneficiaries right now. “
Around 64 employees work for Sebastian Construction, around half of them on site and the other half in offices. Projects currently run in the $ 4 million to $ 40 million range, with most being between $ 12 million and $ 15 million, Sebastian said.
With a growing project size and number of projects, Sebastian Construction has grown from gross revenue of historically $ 40 million per year to about $ 70 million this year and will reach $ 100 million in two years, Sebastian predicts .
In the following interview he talks about the high-end real estate market and the company:
Where are most of the houses you build and what is your niche in the market?
Preston Hollow and the Park Cities here in Dallas, then River Oaks and Memorial in Houston. These are the main focuses. It has to do with land costs and construction costs that support our work. Our approach is not a developer-oriented approach. It’s people building 100 year old houses, great architecture, that kind of thing, so it’s a different model. In this world you build an old house. It’s not a real estate game.
We are building contractors, site managers. I’m an architect with a background, (but) we don’t practice architecture. We work for architects across the state and across the country. It’s a separate relationship, a separate contract. So we really only do the construction side of things.
In which price range do you build?
Our projects are currently between $ 4 million and $ 40 million. It’s a crazy range, I know.
How do you deal with the business development?
It was word of mouth. We’re probably doing a little more now than we have been in the last couple of years, but it’s definitely his reputation. Our sustainable people, who really give us and then run the work, are the architects. We know and work with the best architects.
What volume do you work at?
There are currently 12 or 13 projects running in this area from $ 4 million to $ 40 million. That’s probably six in Dallas, three in Houston, and about three ranch projects.
Do you do more ranch projects?
I bet in two years it will be 80 percent of our work. With this COVID thing, despite its high wealth – I don’t care if you own a jet – there is nowhere to go. The resorts are closed and I think it drives a lot of people crazy. I almost feel guilty for having friends in the hospitality industry and various industries only affected by the COVID outbreak, but it’s almost rocket fuel poured on our world and one big reason is just that – the ranch phenomenon.
It’s always been strong in Texas. There is always some mystique. People love their ranches and they will put a lot of money into their ranches. It’s a quieter place to put your money because nobody knows about it. It somehow disappeared from the radar – not as ostentatious as the big house in Dallas, so to speak.
How are your projects managed?
Our projects are large enough to be managed like a commercial project with branch offices, laptops and iPads, as well as full-time project managers and superintendents. It’s a team. We are not a house builder. We are site managers.
How long do your projects take on average?
Two and a half years or so. So you get these long marriages. I tell customers at the front end, you have to love the process. If you are impatient and just want to get in (a house) please try to find something close enough to what you like in the as-built market.
You have to love architecture and the building process and really enjoy it because it’s a practical thing. On the architecture side, it will probably take a year and our construction will take two and a half, so this is a three or three and a half year journey that they begin. It takes patience and commitment.
Explain more about how Sebastian Construction applies commercial construction methods or systems in the residential sector.
In the early 1990s, our projects became so complex and demanding. I’ve had all of these high net worth clients who had very high expectations for budget delivery and on-time delivery. So I made a change. I brought in a few commercial construction people to add to my high-end residential work.
It was a conscious effort to combine the best of both worlds. When I brought in the guys from the trade groups, the main thing I had to do was get them to slow down. These projects are much more complicated than those in the commercial field.
This is not a Walmart that you open for the holiday season. This is about quality and law. The schedule won’t be lighthearted, but if it’s two months late this customer will forget about it in a year because they will love the quality and beauty of their home and how it will be held over 20-30 years.
What trends do you see in terms of customer needs, especially in Dallas?
Oh, very drastic (changes). In Dallas, I can say 10 years ago, 90 percent of our projects were classic, traditional, very buttoned, conservative projects, and 10 percent were modern and contemporary.
That has completely turned. The next year will be 90 percent modern, which to me is amazing for Dallas as Dallas has never taken a huge risk in its architecture. And suddenly there was an explosion of interest in it.
Will it go back the other way? Who knows? These things go in cycles. As an architect with a background, I love both. Architecture can be done very well or very badly in both genres. So I’m a fan of well-made architecture. That’s my sure answer.
What is causing the shift?
Different things. One is the influx of people from the West Coast and New York who, in my opinion, bring out different styles, lifestyles and tastes.
Another thing is that Dallas has a large community of modern art collectors. People say it’s number 3 in the country after New York and LA. It’s big and growing. We were lucky enough to be part of this group. When you have a great collection of modern art, you want a very simple environment. Very clear aesthetic in which to place your art. You don’t want to be busy.
It’s kind of a tail wagging the dog, as it sounds like, but I have three clients we’re about to build houses for right now, and it’s all about the art. The house is about art.
This interview has been edited for the sake of clarity and brevity.