With its balance of culture and outdoor recreation, the Twin Cities area is luring many young people away from the coasts. Those transplants tend to stay to raise their families.
Between 2010 and 2020, Minneapolis itself grew more than 10 percent, its fastest rate since 1950. The demand for housing has spurred business for builders like Streeter Homes, which since 1988 has been constructing high-end custom homes on the area’s many lakes and in suburban and urban neighborhoods. Today, what started as a band of four brothers has morphed into a multifaceted company with 55 employees and two locations, in Wayzata and downtown Minneapolis. Over the course of 32 years, it has flourished by thinking laterally, not just as project teams but in adapting to opportunities.
“You have to stay fresh and current to keep a good group of people together,” says president Steven Streeter. In a jujitsu move earlier this year, Streeter Homes brought its affiliate, Elevation Homes, into the fold to leverage leadership, building processes, and supply chains. That rebranding brought four divisions under the Streeter name: Elevation builds luxury custom homes starting at $1.5 million, while Signature takes on projects of $2.5–$3 million and up. “There is some overlap, as some clients want a smaller home but with a lot of detailing, which would fit under the Signature category,” Steven says. Two other divisions include renovations starting at about $200,000, and custom condominium build-outs.
A look back tracks the company’s trajectory from scrappy startup to A-list contractor for a dozen or so local architects. Steven and his older brothers Donald and Kevin started the company, and a fourth brother, Mark, joined them several years later. Steven’s brothers had all gone to carpentry school, and although he had studied business finance, “I really wanted to be an architect,” he says. Their crack construction skills soon caught the attention of local architects, particularly Charles R. Stinson, who had just arrived in Minneapolis from Florida and helped put Streeter Homes on the map. “An interior designer put us together, and from there we created a great working relationship,” Steven says. “Charles’ work is complicated modern. We started doing one project at a time, making sure the quality was there. We probably did well over 150 projects with him over the years; he still refers us, and we refer him.”
It didn’t take long for the rookie company to ramp up. After completing four houses on their own, the brothers began to train framing and finish crews and developed a roster of trade partners with whom they could execute challenging projects. “Workmanship was always our passion, and modern architecture is the hardest to pull off,” Steven says. “We kept growing slowly, not taking just any project but making sure it was a good fit. Collaboration was important to us, developing relationships with interior designers and landscape architects.” With Steven’s passion for architecture, it was probably inevitable that the company dabbled in design/build for about five years. But the synergies never developed. “We had all these relationships with architects we didn’t want to upset,” Steven explains. “It wasn’t worth the potential conflict, and working with different architects keeps the work fresh.”
An inflection point came in 1999 with the city’s push to repopulate the urban core after decades of white flight. The firm regrouped around the logistics of condominium build-out, with dedicated staff handling five or six custom apartments at one time, including at ELEVEN by Robert A.M. Stern. Even then, Steven says, there was a demand for $5 million condos ranging from 3,000 square feet to 7,500 square feet, taking up an entire floor. That sector remains so strong that in 2018, Streeter Homes opened the Minneapolis office, serving downtown and the surrounding lakes area.
Soon the company restructured around custom home projects, too. By 2007, with price points rising, Steven hired Nate Wissink, who has a finance background, to head up a separate company called Elevation. There was a need for a middle ground for people who wanted a “starter” architect-designed home in the million-dollar range, he says.
Managing that process expertly for clients puts Streeter Homes in the running to be their move-up builder too. For example, seven years ago they built an Elevation house for a couple in Edina, who are now getting ready to build a Signature house on Lake Minnetonka. “When people experience good architecture at that price point, it builds the market for more,” Steven says.
In his role as president, Steven continues to develop relationships with clients, architects, Realtors, and other partners. But he has plenty of rainmaking help. Nate is now vice president of business development, aided by four other directors of business development and a marketing director. Architect Bill Costello, who joined the company in 2012, is now director of operations/business development. Kevin Streeter, who retired this past January, is continuing as a consultant, teaching master carpentry skills to the new director of field operations, Dave Bohnsack. “There’s nothing Kevin can’t figure out,” Steven says. “It’s so nice to have him teaching a younger guy.” His brother Mark passed away in 1999, and Donald retired seven years ago.
Clarity and Trust
With an updated leadership team in place, projects are perking along, despite the coronavirus pandemic. No clients have canceled jobs, and several multimillion projects that were on hold are moving ahead. The Wayzata headquarters, 25 miles west of Minneapolis, is well-located between its strongest markets in Edina and Lake Minnetonka. While no jobsites have shut down, field crews are operating at 75 percent capacity in order to social distance. “It’s worked pretty well,” Steven says. “A couple people wanted to take time off to figure out child care, but we haven’t had to let people go.”
Supported by 10 or so project managers, 10 site supervisors, and a carefully curated subcontractor base, Signature is typically building four houses at one time, while Elevation handles 12 to 14 projects a year. Not only does this two-tier structure leverage workforce strengths, it keeps expectations in check. “If you have $1.5 million and want an architect-designed home, we help you get that product, but it is not as detailed as a higher-end home,” Steven says. “Our custom home construction costs range from $400 to $1,000 per square foot. People think that when they’re spending $500 a square foot, they should be able to get everything. There are endless possibilities with materials today. We educate them up front about what they can get for their budget. In-floor heat, solar panels, geothermal—we’ve done it all, but it comes with a cost. You have to bring them along early so they understand that. And we find solutions to help them hit their budget—we can do it this way, but not that. You hit the budget differently by managing the complexity and materials.”
Building ambitious homes is a tough business, but dedicated job teams help the company hit its profit targets. In contrast to many contractors who have a centralized estimating system and hand the production work off to a project manager, the project managers prepare their own bids. “They know what’s going into that house,” Steven says. “Dialing in the project manager from the beginning—that’s the key.” Another is building a strong multidisciplinary team up front. Clients are asked to pick the people they want to work with. For example, a current client who wants to spend about $4 million bought the land and hired an architect, interior designer, and landscape architect. “I think landscape architecture is as important as the architecture,” Steven says. “The architectural concept has to fit into the land. All of our best projects have the team up front, and we act as guides to help our clients get the product they want.”
While pristine showpieces are Streeter Homes’ calling card, it finds opportunity in humbler commissions too. A property management team handles monthly maintenance and home repairs for about 30 custom home clients. And in 2018 the company launched an owner’s rep sideline called Curated. “We will put together a team for owners wherever they want to build, including finding a lot and hiring an architect, builder, and other disciplines, and oversee construction,” Steven says.
The hard work and market research will continue as Streeter Homes looks to the future. “There’s always competition, but since we’ve been in business so long, we offer a lot of clarity and trust; people can see our products,” Steven says. “When things are built beautifully, you take care of them. We want the work to be meaningful, and the end results outstanding.”