CHOCTAW — Things got a little too hot one afternoon last year in the Castle Gate neighborhood as wildfires thrashed through the thick woods surrounding it. Though the flames didn't actually destroy any homes, the aftermath was grim, said Josh Simmons, vice president of Gemini Homes.
“Everything was black and dead,” he said.
“It looked like the Black Forest in ‘The Wizard of Oz,'” added Jim McWhirter, Gemini's founder and owner.
But the 20-acre neighborhood near Hiwassee Road and Reno Avenue, part of the East Area Festival of Homes, didn't get through unscathed, Simmons said. There was smoke damage, melted siding, scorched landscaping, and heat from the blaze popped the brick off one house.
“We had to redo all the gates because it burned all the wiring,” he said.
Simmons spent about a year cleaning up and repairing the damage, McWhirter said. The
“You bite the bullet to do the dozer work because there's not insurance or anything,” McWhirter said. “It comes out of your pocket. But we've put three more houses in here since that, and there's a fourth one about to start, and we've sold another lot that we will be building in the future.”
Visitors have a chance to see the work there and in nearby neighborhoods Saturday and Sunday and again May 5-6 during the East Area Festival of Homes. The homes will be open free to the public from 1 to 7 p.m.
Castle Gate's model home at 13439 Glen Eagle Point is among those open. The 2,300-square-foot place features three bedrooms and 21/2 baths with extra-wide doorways and hallways, plus an open floor plan to ensure accessibility no matter who ends up calling the house home.
An extra 400 square feet in the form of an unfinished bonus room is tucked up a flight of stairs beyond the utility room. To finish it or not finish it — that's up to the buyer, Simmons said.
“If they wanted a bonus room, they could,” he said. “If they didn't, they could use it for storage. It's just an option,” he said.
The festival features 14 homes this year, fewer than in recent years. The fire may have been a factor, said McWhirter, who helped start the festival about 20 years ago and serves as chairman.
But the lingering effect of the national housing crash is the bigger culprit.
“Personally, this is the third slump I've been through in 30 years,” McWhirter said. “It happens every 10, 12 years, and it's a cleansing process. There were a lot of people who were ‘builders' who probably shouldn't be. There were probably banks that were getting a little too liberal with who they were lending money to. Same thing with the
The crisis led to more stringent lending standards for builders as well as buyers, he said. Only the strongest builders are able to construct a house that hasn't presold before the ground is broken for construction.
“You've got the serious builders that are in this festival,” he said.
Other homes in the show are:
• 4325 Huntly Drive (Stonehaven).
• 12005 Tuscany Ridge Road (Tuscany).
• 12604 Forest Oaks (Forest Glen).
• 12510 Forest Ridge (Forest Glen).
• 2700 Forest Glen Circle (Forest Glen).
• 2708 Forest Glen Circle (Forest Glen).
• 13600 SE 94 St. (Foxmor Estates).
• 628 Silver Tree Circle (Silver Chase).
• 854 Fox Drive (Silver Chase).
• 2512 Red Oak Drive (Timber Ridge Point).
• 15325 SE 41 St. (Huntington).
• 2992 Piper Lane (Kingsgate).
• 14384 Lanes Crossing (Beacon Hill).
A map to the additions is printed elsewhere in the real estate section.
Personally, this is the third slump I've been through in 30 years. It happens every 10, 12 years, and it's a cleansing process.”