A $3.5-million beachfront home in Longport, N.J., exemplifies
the work of Haffelfinger & Standeven Construction, which has
made elegant, durable exteriors a prime selling feature of its
The partnership of Haffelfinger & Standeven Construction has
been in the business of building large single-family beach houses,
duplexes, and commercial properties in the Ocean City, N.J., area
for the past 12 years. In the midst of a busy summer season that
includes construction of four custom singles, two duplexes, two
commercial properties, and a 149-unit "55 and over" age-qualified
community, Anthony "Smokey" Saduk recently took time to discuss the
New Jersey shore market, his business, and how a background in
exterior siding and trim turned into a valuable business
As on the exterior, so in the interior. Precision detail and
elegant woodwork are the hallmarks that win the company its
HOW BIG IS THE PARTNERSHIP RIGHT NOW?
We're somewhere between a $3 million to $4 million company. We
usually have at least six projects running at once, but these jobs
take a while. Last year we only did two really big customs. One we
owned as a spec project, so for five months a lot of our effort
went into that one house. The permitting process has a huge impact
on how many projects we can do each year. They're really trying to
slow it down at the state and local levels because expansion has
been so great. Around here, you can be held up for four or five
weeks on the permitting end for no reason.
WHO ARE YOUR MAIN CLIENTS?
Everyone from lawyers in their 30s to retired stockbrokers. Most of
what we do is for second-home use. We do 40% end-user, about 60%
speculative. Once a year, we'll do a big rehab job, upward of
DO YOU GET THE BULK OF YOUR WORK ON
Probably half. If end-users or developers come in, the real estate
agent will put them in contact with us. During the bidding process,
we'll walk customers through houses that are in different stages of
construction, from rough to finish. Basically, we'll take them
through the entire building process, so they can see every stage
HOW MANY CREWS DO YOU WORK WITH?
We have eleven full-time employees, essentially broken down into
three crews. The makeup of those crews depends on the type of work
we have at any given time. In effect, we have two framing crews and
what we call a "pickup crew." Pickup includes anything technical
with framing — packing for exterior cornices or windows, prep
out for interior stairs, the frame for an interior shower, special
soffits, columns — that kind of work. But our lead framers
are great at the siding and interior trim work as well. So as a job
progresses, we may move a lead over to the exterior and the
interior work, as needed, and give him the laborers that can handle
Typically, we like to have a job getting framed at the same time
that one is being finished, and other jobs may fall somewhere
between, at all stages, so we can move the people around where we
need them. That becomes a goal in how we schedule the work.
HOW DO YOU GET YOUR CREWS UP TO
Normally, we start new employees out with the framing crew. After
they do so many houses, we'll move them over to exteriors and
eventually to the interior work.
We want them to learn it all. Once they've proved they can handle
some framing, I usually pull them in with me and stay with them
throughout an entire house, sometimes more, until they're capable
of working on their own.
I'll generally lay out everything, either on paper or directly on
the building. I make it clear what we're getting to in the end. For
example, all the recessed lights would be exactly centered; ceiling
fans, ductwork, grilles, and cabinet lights should align with the
interior spaces. The soffit should be consistent with the door trim
and window trim. The framing and the interior and exterior details
all relate. Eventually, we want our guys to understand this and be
well versed in every part of the job. That's a big part of what
distinguishes a custom home from a production home. In custom work,
everything is geared to the exact finish from the very start.
Attention to fine carpentry runs through the entire house,
including the kitchen, where a classical cabinet design sets a
traditional tone for a modern kitchen.
YOUR BACKGROUND IS FIELD
When I first started in business for myself, I was a
contractor/builder — mostly framing and siding. I have lot of
site-work background. My grandfather and father were both builders.
Before my dad semiretired, I was general contracting with him. I've
been on my own for 10 years.
HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO JOIN THE PARTNERSHIP?
John Haffelfinger and Bob Standeven have been partners for about 12
years. John focuses primarily on the operations and sales, and Bob
is in the field, managing production.
I was a subcontractor for these guys for five or six years,
starting with interior trim and tile setting, then taking on
framing and exterior work. I was taking on more and more work with
them, and eventually most of my subcontractor work was with them. I
liked what they were doing and where they were going. So joining
them as a second field manager was easy.
Financially, it made sense. Obviously, when I was independent, I
had my own insurance, my own workers' comp. I would have to charge
for all those expenses. John and Bob were required to have the same
insurance and workers' comp, too. I'm sure you're aware that New
Jersey has some of the highest insurance rates in the country. And
they're really not subcontractor friendly — the premiums are
huge. So two years ago, I joined their team full time. I basically
shut down my business and went directly to work for them.
With more field management, the company has been able to take on
more work. And we've been able to keep costs down, not only by
reducing the insurance overhead but also by sharing labor. By now
I've been working with Bob so long, we've learned each other's
systems, and we try to optimize each stage of the job for the next
crew that comes in. We might both work on the same projects but in
different ways. Who takes what just depends on the logistics of a
EXTERIORS ARE STILL A BIG PART OF YOUR
Yes, we've made exteriors a large part of the business. On some of
our houses, the exterior alone may be $80,000 or more. We're able
to offer a durable exterior — something that can hold up to
the constant wetting and drying, the salt, the sun — without
sacrificing detail or compromising the look.
Five or six years ago, everything had to be cedar to get fine
detail. That's when I started experimenting with different trim
boards. With the cellular PVC, like Azek, we were able to do things
like fluted columns or 3/4-inch beads on fascias — details
that we couldn't do with other composites. I like to do full window
surrounds, a lot of arches, circle windows, arched walk-through
openings in cabanas, porticoes; anything that would have been
constructed in cedar that had a lot detail, any overlay and cornice
work, we can now do in some type of composite or vinyl. We also use
Fypon foam moldings, fiberglass columns, vinyl railings, decking,
and siding — all materials that can hold up in the constant
damp and high humidity. And they will hold paint longer, if they
need to be painted at all.
IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU'RE ALWAYS LOOKING AT WHAT DIFFERENT
MANUFACTURERS HAVE TO OFFER.
I do a lot of research. Lately, I've been using the new Jeld-Wen
solid-core composite doors instead of a true pine solid door. In
the custom market, everyone wants a solid-core panel door, but in
this climate, pine tends to warp. The Jeld-Wen composites are more
stable in the humidity. They have the feel and weight of a solid
door, but they're actually honeycombed material so they won't warp
We also own a separate business that does Rhino Lining, the
material you use to rubberize a truck bed. We use it for decks and
shower stalls. We own a machine that sprays it on. Instead of using
fiberglass for a shore house deck, we've been using this rubber
product that leaves a 1/4-inch solid rubber shell on regular
plywood. You end up with a permanent rubberized finish. By
comparison, fiberglass is temperamental: For one, it loses its
texture in two to three years, and for another, after about five or
six years, it cracks or the gel coat will come loose.
All of our interior showers are encased with this rubber spray,
too. Instead of using tar paper or backerboard, we'll plywood the
interior shower, then totally encapsulate it in rubber. You can
texture it, as well, so it will hold the tile mastic.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE OTHER CONTRACTORS WHO WOULD LIKE TO
EXPAND THEIR BUSINESSES?
Just stick it out with the time and money. We went through a lot of
pains figuring out what works and what doesn't work. When I started
out on exteriors, I sacrificed more profit because everything was
brand-new. I had to stay competitive with guys who were wrapping
fascias in coil stock in order to grow a market for the PVC. Now
it's getting very popular, but three or four years ago, it was
brand-new and I was eating a lot of that expense in order to grow
the business. Eventually, it became profitable. There is a growing
number of siders and contractors who are using it now, but only a
few of us taking it to the extent of a full exterior trim
HOW HAS THIS REAL ESTATE MARKET AFFECTED YOUR
From a developer's standpoint, the margins got a lot slimmer
because now the ground prices are so high. We have to build more of
a house to justify the sale price. Seven or eight years ago, it was
"build as many as you can, as fast as you can." You were still
providing a good product, but there was that definite financial
cutoff: If you built a duplex, the most you would be able to get
would be $300,000 per floor. Now our average duplex floor sells for
$1.5 and $2.2 million. With a sale price at that level, obviously
the interiors have to be up three or four notches. That means that
even if we're not using a totally clear oak trim, all the joints
have to be immaculate, all the reveals are perfect, even the paint
has to be perfect. Everything down to the carpet is planned out
ahead of time. The craftsmanship has to be there. ~
All photos by Anthony Saduk.