President and CEO David Chatham with Chatham Neighborhoods joins the Atlanta Real Estate Forum Radio podcast to share the company’s 74 year history and current product offerings. Chatham joins host Carol Morgan on the Legends of Real Estate series and compares the post-pandemic market to the Great Recession.
Growing up learning the business of Chathambilt Homes, Chatham recalls working for his father early in his life. He started with tasks such as sweeping houses, stacking lumber and more. During this time, he received hands-on education and learned the crucial principles of the industry.
Chatham said, “My dad always taught me that a clean, neat, well-kept house would always sell faster and for more money.”
Through high school and college, Chatham spent summers working on framing crews and in other various trades. In 1972 during a meeting with his father, he expressed his wish to make a personal mark on the Atlanta housing market by starting his own business and was met with his father’s disappointment.
Howard Chatham worked tirelessly and built a family business from the ground up. This business, Chatham Neighborhoods will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year. When David Chatham expressed to his father that he wanted to start his own building company after graduating from College, Howard was disappointed and expressed his strong wish to partner with his son.
Chatham said, “From that moment, it was like a light came on in my mind and I thought…I’ve got the greatest opportunity to work with my dad and to continue to build this company.”
From then on, Chatham worked together with his father, and eventually his sons, to continue building the legacy of Chathambilt Homes.
In 1948, Howard Chatham stumbled into the homebuilding business. After coming home from WWII, he temporarily returned to his family farm in Milton, Georgia. He secured a job on the Fulton County survey crew, met his future wife and decided to build a home in the Northern Buckhead area. Working nights and weekends with the help of friends and family, and the family mule, the two worked tirelessly for the next few months to build their family home from the ground up.
After finishing the home, Howard Chatham was approached by a buyer interested in purchasing the Chatham residence. After discussing the potential sale with Mrs. Chatham, the two agreed to sell the home and acquire the lot next door to begin construction on their second home. While their next project was in the works, the Chatham family rented the basement of their first house. This pattern continued through a third and fourth home.
Chatham said, “My earliest memory is…we would build a house and move into it, sell it and build another one. We moved around a lot in my early years.”
Howard Chatham caught the beginnings of the post-war baby boom generation and accidentally began a homebuilding business. He took a leave of absence from his Fulton County job and began building during a six-month period, procuring advice from anyone in the business on whether to leave his position and start a homebuilding business.
With only one exception, most advised him to keep his government position versus entering the Atlanta housing market as a new business. Most offering opinions placed great importance on the security and benefits that accompany a government job. Chatham’s grandfather, Fred Chatham, offered his son his approval, his life savings as well as financial help from a neighbor to start Chathambilt Homes.
Over 75 years, Chathambilt Homes has built over 6,000 homes in 150 neighborhoods across the metro area.
Howard Chatham expanded into many other businesses, including grating, building supply, plumbing, electrical, lighting and appliances as well as several True Value hardware stores.
The most notable venture occurred in 1950 when Howard Chatham possessed an inventory of houses he couldn’t manage to sell. After deciding to open a real estate brokerage company, he founded Northside Realty Associates. Within six months, he sold out of inventory. As the company continued to grow, Howard Chatham hired Ed Isakson to head the company.
Northside Realty Associates flourished under Isakson’s leadership and in 1991, Howard Chatham decided to sell the company.
Speaking on significant industry changes, Chatham remarked that Atlanta development was previously headed by small entrepreneurial builders. Today, it is common to see larger regional and public development companies possess a vast majority of the market shares.
Chatham said, “It seemed like every time we would have recessions and setbacks, you would see smaller builders go out of business or decide to retire. These large public companies took more and more market shares.”
Another change Chatham noted is the product density today compared to years ago. There is a greater presence of townhomes, apartments, age-restricted cluster homes and the newest phenomenon, build to rent. An increase in government regulations has also slowed the process of homebuilding, delaying zoning, planning and more.
After selling Northside Realty Associates, the company continued to build and develop. After a brief non-compete period, Chatham co-founded Legacy Realty, which exclusively sold homes in Chathambilt Homes neighborhoods. After several people approached him asking to sell their home in Chathambilt Neighborhoods, he proposed searching for another franchise opportunity focused on resales.
Hearing about the then-new company Keller Williams, Chatham met with Gary Keller about entering the north Atlanta market. In 1999, the first office in Alpharetta opened. Today, there are offices in Alpharetta, Peachtree Corners and Roswell with over 1,500 agents on the roster.
Chatham said, “The philosophy of Keller Williams is so interesting because it is so different from what I had grown up with…The agents really flourish and grow.”
Still clear in his mind, Chatham remarked that although the Great Recession was a tough time for many, Chathambilt Homes made it through, stronger and better for the experience. Mainly a credit and banking liquidity crisis, more homebuyers were approved for home mortgages. Wishing to take advantage of it, Chathambilt Homes ramped up production.
When foreclosures started to increase and credit tightened, developers went out of business and banks began to fail. In his opinion, The Great Recession was the longest and deepest recession since the Great Depression. In contrast, the pandemic shut down the entire economy.
Chatham said, “Unlike the Great Recession, the underpinnings of our economy were pretty sound (before Covid). Home inventory was in a good place, interest rates were affordable, credit standards were strong [and] inflation was in check. There was no reason for a recession other than this pandemic which had just hit.”
It has taken many months for manufacturers to restart the production of supplies and materials needed to build homes and boost the economy, creating supply chain disruptions and delays. It is difficult to determine not only the cost of a house but also predict delivery dates.
While the pandemic unleashed detrimental effects on the housing market, many homebuyers found their homes lacking as they attempted to work from home. This caused homebuyers to search for suburban residences more suited to their needs, creating a severe housing shortage and a hot seller’s market.
A third-generation company, Chatham’s sons also work for Chathambilt Neighborhoods. The oldest, Gabe, focuses on land acquisition and development, Miles works primarily on design, marketing and social media and the youngest, Lance, heads up construction.
Chatham said, “There’s a lot of challenges but there’s a lot of rewards in having a family business. We end up with a product that is really a collaboration of everyone. I’m very proud of the job the boys are doing.”
When asked what the most rewarding part of his career is, Chatham remarked that he is still excited to build great places for families to live, grow up and make memories. Many families remain in their Chathambilt home for generations and a good portion of the company business comes from word of mouth.
Chatham said, “Just to go back and drive through communities, some that were built long before I became active in our business, is just exciting.”
Still developing neighborhoods in the north Atlanta area, Chathambilt Neighborhoods is currently constructing communities in downtown Alpharetta, Milton and Cherokee County, with two recently completed in Forsyth County.
Chatham Neighborhoods continues to construct homes in its niche market of luxury, custom-built homes in the metro area. A testament to their legacy, the builder was recently named the Southern Living Builder of the Year.
Having to adapt to the changing market, Chatham previously developed and sold lots primarily to smaller custom home builders. The builder currently develops for the national builders and recently sold neighborhoods to several public companies.
For anyone entering the Atlanta homebuilding market, Chatham advises working for another successful builder to learn the aspects of building and systems larger companies employ. Chatham also cautioned industry members to be well-capitalized as recessions tend to come and go in this uncertain world.
Chatham said, “You have to be able to withstand a lot of the things that may come your way.”
Georgia Residential Mortgage Licensee, License #22564. NMLS ID #6606. Subject to borrower and property qualifications. Not all applicants will qualify. New American Funding and Chatham Neighborhoods are not associated. Click here to view the terms and conditions of products mentioned during the show. Corporate office 14511 Myford Rd., Suite 100, Tustin, CA 92780. Phone: (800) 450-2010. (June/2022)
New American Funding is a family-owned mortgage lender with a servicing portfolio of over 216,000+ loans for $56.8 billion, 171 branches and about 4,500+ employees. The company offers several niche loan products and has made Inc. 5000’s list of Fastest-Growing Companies in America seven times. For more information, call 678-898-3540 or visit https://branch.newamericanfunding.com/Atlanta.
The Atlanta Real Estate Forum Radio “All About Real Estate” segment, presented by Denim Marketing, highlights the movers and shakers in the Atlanta real estate industry – the home builders, developers, Realtors and suppliers working to provide the American dream for Atlantans. For more information on how you can be featured as a guest, contact Denim Marketing at 770-383-3360 or fill out the Atlanta Real Estate Forum contact form. Subscribe to the Atlanta Real Estate Forum Radio podcast on iTunes, and if you like this week’s show, be sure to rate it.