Jim Downs’ construction company Dow Con, and architectural firm Summit Design Associates, make up The Downs Group, a progressive design/build firm that serves the upper echelon of luxury homebuilding in the New Jersey/New York metropolitan area. First and foremost, Downs is a luxury builder focused on delivering high-quality solutions to his custom clients. But a situation with a client a few years ago incited him to get involved in developing land, a concept he admits he hadn’t thought of favorably until then.
"We built a home for a client, and after they had moved in, he said to me, ‘That was fun, I want to do it again,’" Downs says. "They fell in love with the process."
The client financed the project, and The Downs Group built the home. For Downs, the incident put the idea of developing land under new light. His market niche — well-built luxury homes on sought-after land — has a way of attracting buyers.
But it isn’t revenue alone that inspired Downs to build the development business.
"Truthfully, it started to become disheartening to see land get bought up for McMansions," he says. "We’ve taken an interest in preserving open space, and have developed deed restrictions and an architectural review process in areas of significant impact, providing a local sensitivity that other developers and builders lack. This development company exists because we know how to do it right."
As The Downs Group has taken on developments, it has attracted additional investors — some very high profile — interested in the builder’s services.
But the heart of the company remains custom design/build. One of The Downs Group’s best practices is the use of an extraordinary design and sales tool developed by a former associate. Using a customized software program, the firm employs a series of high-tech computer animated renderings to showcase the design concept to the client. Nearly indistinguishable from reality, these animations allow the client to virtually drive up to the home, view exterior and landscape details, even tour the interior of the home. Uploaded from CAD drawings, Downs is able to store these animations as a film strip on DVD and on his website.
"The client can basically spin around the home, ponder it and understand what it’s going to give them. They want to make sure they get what they want," Downs says. "We don’t need this as designers. We see this detail from the beginning, but you don’t know how good each client is at visualizing. We see that the light goes on with the client, and it reduces some changes down the road."