NORMAN — Think of the most difficult thing you can remember about being a teenager.
Chances are it wasn’t “fleeing a war raging in your home country.”
But when Ali Farzaneh was 14, he had to do just that. His family sent him from his native Iran to Norman, to live with his older brothers and quite possibly to save his life.
Arriving in Oklahoma as a teenager flipped Farzaneh’s life upside down and set him on the path where he finds himself today, as homebuilder, designer and founder, in 2005, of First Oklahoma Construction Inc.
Farzaneh, his brothers and his father have made their family name synonymous with homebuilding in central Oklahoma. But, Ali said, that wasn’t exactly the plan in the beginning.
“My brothers wanted to open a grocery store,” Farzaneh said.
When they applied for a loan, the bank officer asked if they knew anything about grocery stores. They didn't. So they didn’t qualify.
But the bank officer, in times of looser lending, asked what they did know about.
“They told him about our father’s success as a builder back home in Iran, and the officer changed his tune,” Farzaneh said. “My brothers left that day with a construction loan instead.”
The older brothers, Jalal and Mohammed Farzaneh, took that loan and grew it into Home Creations, one of the largest home construction firms in Oklahoma. Beginning with “office work, filing, everything,” teenage Ali learned his brothers’ business from the ground up.
Their father, Jafar, eventually moved to the United States as well, founding Best Homes, which he operated until his retirement three years ago.
Two other Farzaneh brothers also are active builders: Saeed, the owner of Florida Construction in Norman; and Amir, the founder of AMF Homes in Norman, who is also an attorney.
Ali Farzaneh, whose projects span the metro area from Norman in the south to the Montague addition in northwest Oklahoma City, said that his houses in the Summit Lakes Villas addition — off Alameda Street just east of 24th Avenue Northeast in Norman — were especially popular in 2013, and so far this year.
Summit Lakes Villas was “dead for a while,” Farzaneh said, known primarily for duplex and four-plex construction, but his company found new interest when it began to develop odd-shaped and zero-lot-line sites with custom single-family designs.
“I have some raving fans for customers,” Farzaneh said of the garden homes, many with lake views, marketed primarily to “empty nesters or downsizing baby boomers.”
Among the empty nesters, count Jim and Beth Myers. The couple took possession of their First Oklahoma-built Summit Lakes Villas home in December 2012.
After discovering Norman soon after the turn of the millenium when their daughters were students at the University of Oklahoma, the Myerses made it their home after Jim retired from Durant Distributing Corp. in Denver in 2007.
They settled at first in the Royal Oaks addition, but found "exactly the right size" in Farzaneh's design, with the gated community and other neighborhood features "just the kind of thing we were looking for," Jim Myers said.
“I really listen to what retirees are asking for in a home, and make it work for them,” Farzaneh said.
Three of his “low maintenance,” one-level patio homes in Summit Lakes Villas — three of the 30 he built in 2013 — are closing immediately, Farzaneh said.
This year, Farzaneh said he expects “about a 25 percent increase” in the number of custom and model homes he’ll build.
He said he was “honored” that First Oklahoma Construction was named a finalist, out of more that 400 participating companies, in the Best Overall Company and Best Community Impact categories at the 2014 Business Excellence Awards.
Farzaneh’s recognition in the Best Community Impact category was for offering to install free storm shelters in his custom homes after the May 2013 tornadoes. Last year Farzaneh was named a finalist for Best Customer Service in the awards, sponsored by ActionCOACH business coaching firm.
Now with a firm foothold in Oklahoma, he said, the extended Farzaneh family has earned “about 30” degrees from OU. And it won’t stop there. His daughter Mercedeh is an OU student, and though he said he’s not certain whether she’ll go into the family business, she could: She’s majoring in interior design.