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Published September 27 2010

It's My Job: Broker to builder

As a real estate agent, Chris Thomsen has plenty of experience showing off new homes with enthusiasm. But there’s a particular glint in his eye as he describes his latest offering, a three-bedroom, two-bath home in the Veterans Park neighborhood of Fargo.

He has reason to be proud – he built it.

Three years ago, Thomsen made the leap from home seller to homebuilder. The Moorhead native spent three and a half years with Realty 2000, selling mostly starter homes to first-time buyers.

He liked the product so much that he decided to put up a few himself.

He still caters to first-time buyers looking for homes in the $150,000-to-$170,000 range. His signature touch: Giving his starter homes a few of the upscale amenities – granite countertops, custom woodwork – typically reserved for homes that cost twice as much.

It’s what buyers want, he says – and it’s working. Even after a slow summer, he said he expects to build twice as many homes this year as he did last year.

We caught up with Thomsen as he put the finishing touches on one of his homes and picked up a few details of his approach.

Q: What pushed you to make the transition from real estate agent

to builder?

A: I started as a Realtor, and I sold a lot of new construction. I really

have a passion for new construction. About three and a half years ago, I built my first home … I love real estate in general. I worked with the clients and really found, I think, what new buyers are looking for.

What are they looking for? What makes your homes work?

What has made my homes work is the upscale, those extras that you usually see in the $300,000, $400,000 price range, that’s what has made my homes sell in the past – custom alder cabinets, custom stained millwork. We put a lot of quality into them, and the visual amenities are definitely there, too.

In Fargo, $160,000 is the median home price. What makes your homes, which are priced in that area, starter homes?

It’s starter in terms of the buyers that I work with. We’re marketing it to first-time homebuyers … It’s some single people, but mostly I’m seeing younger couples who are just getting engaged or just getting married. Typically, our buyers run in that 22-to-35 range.

Tell me about the difference in skill sets between being a Realtor and being a builder.

A lot of managing to do. I’ve got a great project manager that’s had about 20 years of experience that overseas my job sites … Right out of high school, my first job actually was in concrete, putting in foundations, so I have some experience building.

Do you sell your own homes as a real estate agent?

I’m still licensed, but I actually don’t. It’s just so time-consuming now with the building side of it. A colleague of mine who I used to work with, Aaron Nissen, over at Realty 2000, he markets and sells all my homes for me now.

The housing market has been up and down in recent years. How have you fared?

It’s just really taken off for me. This year we’re getting set to do about 35 homes. Last year we did 18, and the year before that we did two.

We did see a little bit of a slump here the last few months … All of the buyers over the first couple months of the year were really buying to get that tax credit, so we had a little lull.

Over the last three, four weeks though, the calls have really picked up. I think people are looking to get into a home here before the winter.

To submit an idea for “It’s My Job,” e-mail businessnews@forumcomm.com.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502