During his 30 years in the homebuilding industry, Jerry Linder has seen many changes, survived challenging times, and has succeeded as a custom homebuilder, applying lessons learned along the way.
President of the J.L. Linder Group Inc. in St. Augustine and Vintage Homes in Tallahassee, he is a past president of the Northeast Florida Builders Association, the Florida Home Builders Association, and in 2018 was named Builder of the Year by the state group.
Last year, he also helped roll out the Certified Florida Master Builder program.
The certification program, which he helped create, is aimed at homebuilders, remodelers and commercial contractors, dedicated to excellence and customer satisfaction, who hold themselves to higher standards than those required by the state of Florida for licensure.
“The state of Florida does a good job with their requirements,” said Linder, one of the first in the industry to meet the strict Certified Florida Master Builder list of conditions.
“But we wanted to create a certification that bumps that up,” he said.
In development for two years, he said it “helps customers find or identify builders they can trust and who are on the elite side of builders.”
Requirements include having at least seven years of experience in the construction industry or holding a bachelor’s degree in the construction field; having a contractor license for five or more years; passing client satisfaction reference checks; and passing subcontractor and supplier reference checks.
Applicants also must be vetted and approved by the Florida Master Builder Certification Board.
“The program is not only good for homeowners, it is also beneficial to builders who qualify because it puts them at a different level,” Linder said.
Medicine to construction
Linder, 52, who grew up in Orange Park and now resides in St. Augustine, became involved in construction while a student at Florida State University.
Initially targeting medicine as a career, he switched his major to economics but discovered while working construction part time that he “really enjoyed being able to work on something and see results after a day.”
That led him to start his own construction business while still in college, “which took over my world,” he said. “I went full bore at age 22 into the business world.”
In the past three decades, he witnessed many changes in the construction industry, including increased regulation and rising land values.
But he said one of the most significant changes is in the drastic deterioration in the labor market. “There are not enough people in the trades. The amount of labor to pull from has really decreased over the years.”
Linder believes one reason is because high schools eliminated vocational education programs that once trained students to become plumbers, electricians and carpenters.
He also blames the economic downturn and real estate collapse a decade ago, because many trade workers left the field at that time and did not return.
Surviving the recession left Linder with less appetite for risk, one of many lessons learned during his career.
While he might buy a lot or two in a community, he said he no longer buys a position in a neighborhood. Most of his customers already have their lot, or he helps them find one that suits their needs.
He builds around Northeast Florida and he also does a lot of custom renovation work for people who like where they are living but want to renovate and update.
Communication is key to success in the industry, Linder said.
Over the years, he learned the best ways to communicate with customers, staff and subcontractors — and that begins with being thorough.
“You really have got to be thorough in what you are requiring,” he said. “With the amount of detail that goes into custom building, you cannot be detailed enough.”
He sees a growing trend for smaller homes, but with a concentrated effort on “fit and finish of hive” areas of the home, including the kitchen, great room and master bedroom.
Linder said 12 years ago, people were building big houses. But the up-and-coming generation is scaling back. “A lot of our younger buyers are not necessarily building a home they will stay in until they retire. And younger baby boomers are downsizing.”
While most of his clients are not seeking enormous square footages, he said they still want the nicer finishes and appointments. “And the custom market is still driven by location. That has not changed.”
Linder said he works hard to stay above the competition, and the Certified Florida Master Builder designation lets customers know that.
The certification was unveiled in August at the Southeast Building Conference in Kissimmee, said Allison Finley, director of marketing and communications for the program.
“It is still in its infancy,” and Linder is one of its pioneers.
Linder said he has enjoyed his construction career.
“I have been through some very good times and very challenging times,” he said. “It has been a great industry to be part of, and to be a leader in.”