The Boy Wonder of Houston Real Estate Grows Up Fast: Million-Dollar Dream Home Maker Embraces Tech & AnalyticsBY Chris Baldwin
The pool needs to fit into the general feel of the backyard.
John Leggett looks over the blueprints of one of his custom homes.
One of John Leggett's homes gleams with distinctive glass and lights.
Outdoor spaces are designed to be showpieces at John Leggett's homes.
Master bathrooms are more important than ever these days in homebuilding.
Million-dollar-plus homes often need to incorporate a dream pool.
Living rooms that incorporate plenty of light are coveted.
John Leggett thought he was going to make his mark in the financial world.
Kitchens can make or break a home from a selling standpoint. Everyone thinks they're a gourmet chef these days.
Dreams homes needn't look traditional.
Spaces in a dream home need to have a standout feature — or three.
There are professions where having a baby face provides huge advantages. Teen movie star. Olympic ice skater. Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Pool boy. But being a home builder is not one of them.
John Leggett, who still looks younger than he is now that he’s well into his thirties, learned this the hard way early in his career. When he first started his high-end, custom home building firm, On Point, he caught flak for his youthful appearance nearly every day. “People would ask me, ‘Where’s your dad?’ They’d want to know when he’d be joining the meeting,” Leggett says. This still-young CEO is able to laugh about it now, but that doesn’t mean he can forget it. Even now, he knows he must be more prepared, more focused and more on top of every number and nuance than a grizzled developer with a shock of gray hair has to be.
“In this business, if people think you look a little young, they almost try and test you,” Leggett says. “You can see them asking questions just to see if you know the answer. They’re trying to figure out if you really know what you’re doing.”
It’s funny. If Leggett worked in Silicon Valley, no one would think twice about seeing a fresh-faced, go-getter running a burgeoning multi-million company. But in the world of high-end Houston real estate, Leggett’s sandy blonde hair and young Luke Skywalker looks are almost seen as red flags. Oh well. Leggett simply busied himself with crafting a new perception, one million dollar home after another.
It’s been more than a decade since Leggett founded On Point Custom Homes and he’s become a respected player in the market, crafting homes for people who know what they want their dream house to look like. Leggett’s company builds 14 to 18 ambitious houses in an average year — and has recently expanded to building three “transitional design homes” at a lower-but-hardly-low price point (the $600,000 range) in The Heights on Dorothy Street.
Leggett’s been around real estate most of his life. His airline pilot dad started dabbling in house remodeling and soon started a construction company on the side. The son would tag along on trips to the job sites and became versed in the real estate nomenclature the way other kids his age were versed in Power Rangers or Transformers. Still, like any self-respecting teenager, Leggett resisted the idea of following in his parents’ footsteps.
So he pursued accounting and business administration degrees at the University of North Carolina in his home state. He’d go into investment banking, concentrating on the oil and energy sector. That landed him in Houston and brought in a stream of nice paychecks. But something was missing.
Leggett bought a few condos as investment properties — and suddenly, the bug was back. He slowly started sending more and more time on his real estate “side projects” and five years after starting his investment banking career, he left it all behind to start his own home building company.
“There were people who told me I was crazy to be leaving such a secure job,” Leggett says.
No matter. The boy wonder didn’t have much time for doubt. The type of home seekers he went after — typically $1 million buyers and up — demand near total focus on the project at hand. You have to deliver the dream home you promise — and you’d better be up on all the latest trends.
For Leggett and On Point, this means dropping old staples like crown molding for more clean lines, paying extra attention to the lighting in rooms and delivering the showcase kitchens that today’s would-be master chefs expect. It also means using the technology that those gray-haired real estate veterans may not be comfortable with to his full advantage.
Three years ago, On Point brought its architecture in house — and it provides 3D modeling to its clients that makes the concept of dream homes come alive in ways the most elaborate and beautifully done paper blueprints can’t. “I sometimes miss 2D myself,” Leggett says. “But you have to adapt.”
When you’ve switched careers midstream, adjusting to things like the the new love for outdoor kitchens (yes, even in steamy Houston) isn’t so difficult. “It used to be that everything had to be granite,” Leggett says. “Now stainless steel’s become the new granite.”
On Point started as essentially a two-man company and now it has a sleek, modernistic-looking office not far from Central Market and Highland Village. But it’s easy to see how Leggett’s background in accounting helps keep some of the costs down. Rather than plastering its logo all over little trinkets such as pens and key chains like many real estate companies, Leggett put On Point’s on very useable, large disposable cups — the type people always need in their car and tend to reuse. The ex-investment banker is comfortable with using numbers — analytics for the Daryl Morey or Moneyball sports crowd — to help determine prime building spots as well.
The baby face of Houston real estate is all grown up —yet there’s still more expanding to do.
“You can never get too comfortable in this business,” Leggett says. “People are always looking for the next best thing.”
John Leggett stares across the conference table in On Point’s offices. He does not look like a guy who’s willing to cede way for the next boy wonder.