As Seen in QC Exclusive Magazine Summer Issue (2020)
The Triumph of Sisters Cove
Nest Homes Champions the Noble Art of Building Sustainable, Family-Focused Communities
It all started with two ambitious, entrepreneurial young men. Zeno Hawkins, CEO and Eric Woods, Chairman of Nest Homes, were buddies at UNC-Chapel Hill. Eric played college baseball, and Zeno was on the wrestling team. They’re still friends now and travel together with their wives and combined eight children aged between five and ten. When you talk with them individually, they use similar adjectives and metaphors when describing their business – as if brothers. Their passion for Nest Homes and each other is evident: “We have never argued about the business ever,” affirms Zeno. Both men underscore the importance of their respective fathers’ mentorship along the way, teaching them a hard work ethic and supporting them to follow their dreams. David Woods, Eric’s father, was their sales and development advisor later on. “We would not be where we are now without them,” explains Eric,“It was especially rewarding for us to build my parents’ empty-nester home in our first development project.
The formation of Nest Homes in 2014 combined the culmination of their growth inside the industry from different sides. They were striking their ambitions during the challenge of a recession. Eric focused on land development and the financial side of redeveloping and repositioning land in Salisbury and Mooresville. “I learned how to be fiscally conservative and leverage good business choices into purchases,” explains Eric. During this time, Zeno ventured to Greenville, SC, which was faring better in the recession. He quickly became popular in building affordable, unique urban residential architecture. “I wanted to satisfy my creativity while making a contribution to better-looking products in a cool vibe downtown market,” says Zeno. Eventually, his infill projects in historic neighborhoods earned him an invitation to serve on the urban planning board. It was exciting, but Zeno, with a young family in Charlotte, lived two lives, staying in hotels and “burning up the roads” between cities. As the Charlotte market recovered, Eric and Zeno decided to join forces and bring their talents to bear on a new collective goal. With their combined expertise, they would seek to develop sustainable communities with semi-custom homes that offered value without compromising popular design and lifestyle trends. Their brand promise: To provide a cost confidence guarantee to families and empty-nesters in planned neighborhoods in great locations designed to be inviting and intimate. They call it “nesting.”
Nest Homes’ first community project was a 56-acre waterfront parcel on Sisters Cove, a land investment patiently held onto through the recession for better times ahead. Since the 1800s, this land was surrounded by over 400 acres of grazing dairy cows, farmland, and the home of the Cornelius family. Its rolling hills and mild weather were well suited to crops and cattle, and the farm flourished back when farms and markets were close to each other. Clarence and Anna Liza Cornelius founded the farm and passed it to their twins, Henry and Homer. In the early 1960s, the completion of Lake Norman touched the edges of the Cornelius family farm, forming the deep water cove. Like them, many farmers found themselves the owners of lakefront property. In 1970, the farm and family received the distinction of being recognized as a North Carolina “Century Farm Family,” which continued to be a working cattle farm headed by third-generation farmers, the now-retired judge Preston Cornelius and his wife, Marsha. The cove on their land was home to recreational campgrounds until 2011 when Nest Homes acquired the property. To this day, it remains one of the quietest and calm coves of Lake Norman. The farm’s red barn with its decorative quilts punctuates the community today. Out of good faith and love for the area, Nest Homes enjoys being good stewards of the civil war era farm property. They conducted an extensive reclamation project on the property and maintain the buildings, gardens, pastures, and animals alongside the family. Caring for twenty cows and a flock of chickens is integral to Nest Home’s vision for this area to flourish.
When work started on Sisters Cove, Zeno and Eric were particular about how the structures would be designed and built, and who would live in them. “We turned away a lot of buyers,” says Eric, “We were picking the right people to create a genuine community.” This “right fit” philosophy is key to the success of Nest Homes. At Sisters Cove, you will not find big boats, boathouses, or McMansion architecture. “You’re not going to build a Tuscan Nest Home with us,” laughs Eric. Instead, there is a rural feel with sustainable topography. The homes have a northeastern coastal cottage look, influenced by trips to Martha’s Vineyard. The community collection focuses primarily on Neo-Classical, Shingle, and Low Country vernacular, with architectural details from Key West and the Caribbean. They also focused on rethinking the porch element and brought it to the back facing the water, envisioning people boating to one another’s house or waving to them as they travel by.
Sisters Cove is one of the few waterfront coastal lines on Lake Norman with relatively flat lots, making it even more appealing. Nest Homes’ community development approach starts with a conceptual idea based on the land itself. Nobody can call Eric Woods when he walks through a land parcel he has scouted, which could be several days. “I have to be one with the land,” explains Eric, “A process that I refer to as earth sculpture. And we try to keep as many original native hardwoods intact when possible.” Finding great land opportunities to develop for people to settle in happily is one of Eric’s innate talents he brings to the company, and Zeno jokes with pride, “And that’s why we call him the land whisperer around here!”
“We like to think of ourselves as Gentlemen Builders,” muses Zeno, “We aren’t corporate-type guys. We were able to create a noble business that excites us and makes a lasting impact with our family, friends, investors, employees, vendors, and community. What could be better than that?” Indeed, Eric’s and Zeno’s genuine zeal and optimism are palpable. They enjoy getting to know generations of families and have close relationships with many of them. “We can’t tell you how many of our homebuyers have been expectant parents, and we get to watch these kids grow in the homes we built for them!” smiles Zeno. With 98 waterfront homes now completed and only nine lots left, Sisters Cove has matured into the small, peaceful, and quiet lakeside village encircling a low traffic cove, and a finger of water, on three sides of deep water – just as once imagined. Nest Homes offers eleven additional communities now, four new ones yet-to-be-announced this summer, and exclusive luxury custom projects underway from Troutman to Southpark. Across all price points, Nest Homes’ purchasing power affords them the ability to have luxury standard selections such as Kohler soaking tubs, Barefoot & Co. shower glass enclosures, Canada’s Richelieu upscale cabinet hardware, and durable hardwood flooring. Nest Homes has developed 2,500 acres since its inception, plans on developing 4,000 more, and projects several hundred new starts this year. This volume is deftly managed by smart systems that keep their 25 member staff in lockstep with a lot of trust and independence, including a rigorous 39 step system that reports daily progress. “We have great stars working among us and with us. A lot of amazing talent, including thousands of subcontractors. We are touching lives and feel the journey is the best part,” concludes Eric.
This post was written by Nest Homes