Familiar designer and builder of custom homes is back


Joel Peterson is building three custom homes in East Grand Rapids, which he sees as his primary market. Photo by Michael Buck

After a brief sabbatical, Joel Peterson has returned to building customized homes.

Sixteen years ago, Peterson was a founding partner of Insignia Homes, a firm known for its custom work across western and northern Michigan. Earlier this year, he sold his Insignia shares to his partners and started a new real estate brokerage company called SilverLeaf Properties.

But Peterson couldn’t stay away from the industry he had made his mark in for 17 years, so he recently assembled a team and formed J. Peterson Homes.

“I had a lot of people tell me that I should really jump back into the building business because your name is really synonymous with custom homebuilding. So that’s what I’ve done. I’ve put together a really good staff of inside people, subcontractors and vendors,” said Peterson.

A key member of his new crew is Marcy Stellin, an experienced business manager and certified public accountant who will handle many of the intricate details that come with running such a specialized business.

Peterson said he just finished filling out his team with a project manager — so recently he couldn’t release the individual’s name because the person hadn’t given notice to his current employer.

Peterson has selected East Grand Rapids as the primary market for his new business. He said up to 40 percent of the custom homes he helped build at Insignia were in and around that city.

“It’s a market that I know very well,” he said. “I have three homes going up in East Grand Rapids right now — all are new construction.”

Two of those houses are going up in Gaslight Village, and are being built on lots that are smaller than normal for a custom home. But Peterson said small is a growing trend because people are looking to live in walkable communities, and Gaslight Village fits that bill.

People also are looking to lower their bills.

“People want to be more efficient with the way they spend their resources as far as utility costs and for property maintenance, things like that. There are a variety of reasons that have made this a real market trend,” he said.

Peterson described the houses he is building in Gaslight Village as two-story family homes. Both have four bedrooms and 2.5 baths, with an opportunity for an additional bedroom if the basement is finished. If all three levels are used, Peterson said each home will have 3,500 square feet of total living space on just a 50-by-130-foot lot.

Peterson said a lot of time and effort was spent on making the homes look like they belong in the neighborhood.

“Most people have said they really like what we’re doing there because we’re trying to respect the historical nature of the village,” he said.

Peterson has already sold one of the homes. He expects it will be finished in a few months and has entered it in the Fall Parade of Homes sponsored by the Home Builders Association of Greater Grand Rapids. Construction has begun on the second home in the village, and he will be starting work in October on a third home at San Lu Rae and San Jose, just a few blocks from the village.

“In Gaslight, you’re buying smaller lots for $100,000 to $150,000. On San Lu Rae and San Jose, the values get a lot bigger because the lots are bigger and people can build more estate-size homes there. I won’t give the exact number, but we’re going to have a well-over $1 million home … on San Jose and San Lu Rae,” he said.

“It’s just where a lot of people are choosing to invest their custom-home dollars these days, rather than the five acres in Ada somewhere,” he said of East Grand Rapids.

Even though East Grand Rapids is the firm’s primary focus, Peterson said it isn’t his only focus. “I have a house going up in Leland right now. We’re willing to go anywhere to work.”

Despite his new venture, Peterson hasn’t abandoned his brokerage firm, but he has changed the name of it to J. Peterson Realty.

“This isn’t the traditional start-up. I have 17 years in the industry now. I know a lot of people and my name is pretty recognizable with the real estate and construction industry. I’m having a lot of fun doing both the real-estate side and custom-home side,” he said.

“But then there also is the development component. We’re working on townhomes for Gaslight Village that will be going to the Planning Commission in the next month or so. We’ve got condominiums that we’re developing in Leland. So it has been a lot of fun on all the different fronts.”

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