Howard Rooks builds custom waterfront mansions, while Stephen Weeks sells more modest prefab homes.
SARASOTA — At first glance, new partners Stephen Weeks and Howard Rooks seem to be working opposite ends of the real estate street.
Rooks builds “spec” custom waterfront mansions costing $5 million to $10 million each.
Weeks is the former Florida Budget Realty Realtor who specialized in selling much more modest modular or prefabricated houses made by Palm Harbor Homes.
Weeks made news last April by assembling a $400,000 prefabricated Palm Harbor home on Sarasota’s Bahia Vista Street in a day.
At that time it may have been the most expensive modular home offered in the county, but a mere four months later, that record has been almost tripled by a pair of Palm Harbor homes on Siesta Key, which are both being offered for $1 million or more, although they are not being offered by either Weeks or Rooks.
The new partners agree that the current era of high-end real estate must include offerings of prefabricated houses, some of which which have gotten so elaborate they can easily top $1 million in price, as the two Palm Harbor homes for sale on Siesta Key have demonstrated.
Rooks is a veteran Realtor who founded Mount Vernon Realty in the 1960s in the Washington, D.C., market.
He expanded it into 13th-largest independently owned real estate brokerage company in the United States with more than 2,500 agents in 35 offices.
In the 1990s, Rooks sold Mount Vernon to Weichert Realty and “retired” to Sarasota, only to become a founding partner, last year, of St. Armands’ Rooks Morris Real Estate, a new luxury real estate brokerage and development company.
So far this year, the company has sold about $50 million worth of mostly luxury real estate.
“I guess I flunked retirement,” joked the youthful septuagenarian, who rose from humble roots in eastern North Carolina’s “tobacco patch.” He spent his youth picking the sticky weed “for 12 hours a day” on his parent’s small farm.
Today, Rooks is also an investor in high-end residential and commercial real estate and is one of the developers, along with Guy Peterson, Rick Carlisle and Pat Ball, of The Houses of Indian Beach, an enclave of modern homes in Sarasota.
Rooks’ two partners are his daughter, Lisa Rooks Morris, and her husband, Robert Morris, who is president of Rooks Morris.
Robert Morris previously spent three years working in the mayor’s office in the city of Indianapolis. Before that, he was a Marine Corps captain and Eagle Scout, and spent two years in Washington, D.C., serving as executive assistant to U.S. Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind.
Lisa Rooks Morris is a licensed Realtor who used to work with Michael Saunders & Co., where she was named “Rookie of the Year,” closing more than $3 million in sales during her first year in the business.
She was then recruited by the development team of 1350 Main to help develop the marketing plan and to sell their $75 million, 137-residential-units condominium project in downtown Sarasota, which “sold out in 90 minutes,” she said.
Weeks, who has been a Florida Realtor since 1987, was 2005′s top producer for Florida Budget with sales of more than $10 million.
Nicknamed “Landman,” Weeks specializes in modular homes as well as commercial properties. He is married to Kim and is the father to five boys.
His furnished, $400,000, two-story, prefabricated modular house, with a two-car, detached garage, was assembled in a single day by a team of 12 at 2540 Bahia Vista St.
“It went from permit to CO in 60 days,” Weeks said, meaning a certificate of occupancy.
In an era of failed and struggling builders who have often strung out buyers for years, that time frame is a deal closer, Weeks said.
Apparently Rooks agrees, because he recently hired Weeks to work at Rooks Morris.
The luxury Bahia Vista house is a 2,400-square-foot home, with three bedrooms and three baths, called “The Catalina” model. It was trucked to Sarasota during February in four sections and was factory-built in Plant City by Palm Harbor Homes. Weeks has an expanding relationship with that company that he thinks might gain significant traction in this region.
Palm Harbor Homes’ 2007 series of prefab houses has won a couple of awards from the National Home Builders Association, Weeks said.
The Catalina models meet Miami-Dade hurricane standards of 140 mph wind load, and are built on a concrete stem wall with solid-poured footers and lintel.
At the time, the home was “likely the most expensive modular home ever offered in the region, but probably not for long,” Weeks said. He was right.
Today there are two Palm Harbor-made houses in Siesta Key’s Palm Island enclave, unrelated to Weeks and Rooks, that list for about $1.2 million.
Weeks also has broken the million-dollar prefab mark with another Siesta Key Palm Harbor model called the Rancho Bonito that is now available.
Another 10 or so such homes are coming soon to Siesta Key, priced from $750,000 to over $1 million, Weeks said.
Based in Dallas, Palm Harbor Homes bills itself as one of the nation’s largest marketers of factory-built homes. The company builds, sells, finances and insures the homes, and Palm Harbor’s bread-and-butter is the high-end, customized niche.
Four out of five homes it makes are customized with owner-selected features. The company’s factory in Plant City has a decor center, allowing customers to choose all of the colors and options.
Palm Harbor sells through 115 company-owned super-stores and more than 350 independent retailers, including Weeks.
The company also has an insurance subsidiary, Standard Casualty, that offers a range of packages with a specialty in manufactured homes.
Palm Harbor, which trades on the Nasdaq, reported sales of $710 million in 2006.