Rodney Lowe admits his timing isn't the best.
The housing industry was red hot 6 1/2 years ago when the prominent Modesto builder quit the business. Lowe publicly predicted the real estate market had soared too high and was about to crash.
He had built 1,000 homes, and he didn't want to suffer through another housing slump. So after 25 years in the business and twice being honored as "Builder of the Year," Lowe retired at age 49.
While that was good for him personally, his forecast was way off. Modesto's building boom continued for another four years while Lowe sat on the sidelines and did things like teach yoga.
The crash he warned about finally materialize in 2006, and it continues still. New home construction now is almost at a standstill.
Here's the weird part: Lowe has decided to start building houses again.
"When many builders are exiting the industry, I'm making a return. I guess I'm a glutton for punishment," Lowe said. "I think people would say that my timing is pretty crazy."
He said he's glad to be back.
"I'm feeling refreshed and optimistic," assured Lowe, 56, who recovered from health problems during his short-lived retirement. "I bring years of experience and hopefully a talent at what I do."
But he's not going to do things the same way.
Lowe vows to avoid the high-stress "feast or famine" field of tract home construction.
He did that successfully for 13 years, building Tuscany, Autumn Glen, New Brighton Circle, Yosemite Meadows and The Classics in Modesto, and Cherry Glen, Parks and Blueridge in Ceres, plus developments in Riverbank and elsewhere.
"I'm back to that portion of the home building business that I always most enjoyed -- building custom homes," Lowe explained.
Before entering the tract home market, Lowe built custom houses for 12 years in the Central Valley and Livermore Valley.
He's started constructing a 6,000-square-foot home adjoining the Del Rio golf course. It's his first venture running the new Rodney K. Lowe Construction Services.
"I don't have to do it, but I feel compelled to," Lowe said. Though these are trying economic times, he sees an opportunity in working one-on-one with buyers. "There is a certain segment of the population who really desires to have their own home built the way they want it on that special homesite."
That describes Nick and Shirley Trani, who picked Lowe to build their dream home on Del Rio Drive.
"He's a very detail-oriented, quality person," Nick Trani said of Lowe. "Honesty and integrity are very, very important in a contractor. We are absolutely confident the costs we're getting (from Lowe) are true and there aren't any kickbacks."
Establishing such a trusting and personal relationship with buyers is not a niche big national builders can fill.
Lowe competed with Wall Street-financed big builders during his tract home days, and he said their purchasing power and construction capacity are difficult for small local builders to match.
He recalled how publicly trading development companies helped push up land prices in Modesto's Village I from $35,000 per acre to $350,000 per acre, which was far beyond what small local builders could afford.
But now that the region's real estate market is in recession, most of the national builders have scaled down or canceled their construction projects. Land prices have plummeted, and many ready-to-build-on lots have been deeply discounted.
That's good for local builders, according to Lowe: "I think you're going to see a lot of local contractors come back into the game."
And that's good for consumers, Lowe said, because "we have a vested interest in our community."
"I live here. I go to grocery stores here. And I talk to my former buyers all the time," explained Lowe, who grew up in Ceres and lives in Modesto. "I care about what I build because I want my grandchildren to be proud of my homes."
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2196.