Gnu Homes Emerges in Supply-Constrained Housing Market

June 11, 2020

Published in the Daily Record.

Gnu Homes aims to fill a niche in Maryland’s for-sale residential development market dominated by large national home builders. Luke Yorke-Hart, CEO of Gnu Homes, said builders in the state, in large part because of complicated development process and regulation, are national companies doing huge developments. Gnu Homes, which looks to set itself apart with an emphasis on design, will focus on smaller projects tailored to the communities where they’re located.

Redfern Row. (Maximilian Franz)

“The 20- to 30-unit guy has died out, and that’s where we come in,” Yorke-Hart said.
The company recently celebrated the opening of its model home at Redfern Row, the company’s first project. The development consists of 15 homes in three separate buildings in Baltimore’s Medfield neighborhood. Nine of those units, which are four-story homes with 2,150 square feet and start in the mid-$300,000 price range, sold before the model home opened.

The company, formerly Emerald Builders, also unveiled its new name during an event on Thursday celebrating the completion of Redfern Row’s  model home. The new branding is a play on words referencing the wildebeest of Yorke-Hart’s native South Africa.

Jeff Barba, a co-founder of Gnu Homes, said the firm’s focus on midsized developments will enable it to offer design flexibility. Redfern Row, for example, offers a variety of interior design packages with names, such as “Hampden Hipster,” “Sleeky Geeky” and “Urban Farmhouse.”

“We’re a boutique home builder. So, we’re not afraid to design architecture specifically for a community,” Barba said.

Luke Yorke-Hart. (Maximilian Franz)

Yorke-Hart and Barba, a former land acquisitions manager at Richmond American Homes, acquired the Redfern Row property for $925,000. They were represented in the acquisition by Herbert Burgunder III, of Pessin Katz, and have hired Al Barry, of AB Associates, as a land use consultant.

The investment in the property where Redfern Row is located came partially as a result of Yorke-Hart and his wife struggling to find a modern house with an efficient layout in one of the city’s most popular neighborhoods. After initially considering selling the land to a home builder, and as demand for new construction in the area became obvious, Yorke-Hart and Barba moved ahead with developing the property as Emerald Builders.

Since Gnu Homes’ decision to develop Redfern Row, demand for housing in the Baltimore metro area has only intensified as the supply of for-sale units grows more constrained.

In the Baltimore metro area last month, according to data provided by MarketStats by ShowingTime based on listing activity from Bright MLS, median sales prices increased 4.9 percent year over year, and 3.4 percent from March. The median sales price of $267,900 was the highest April price in a decade.

Median home prices in the city slipped last month compared to the previous April by less than 1 percent. But the median price year to date in Baltimore is up by 5.5 percent.
At the same time active listings in the Baltimore metro area fell 11.4 percent year over year. That marks 32 straight months where year-over-year inventory decreased. That makes the number of homes on the market last month the lowest in the month of April in the last decade.
Much of the surge in home prices is the result of a lack of new home construction in the state, particularly for starter homes. The dearth of supply is the result of various factors, including state environmental regulations and suburban restrictions capping class sizes at schools.
Gnu Homes already has two more projects in the pipeline. Falls Hill View, located a few blocks from Redfern Row, will consist of 16 townhomes that will also feature contemporary architecture and views of Baltimore’s skyline. The company also plans a 28-townhome development in the Baltimore County neighborhood of Parkville called The Village at Gunpowder Falls. Those homes will feature a “modern farmhouse theme.”

“We’re no bull, just new,” Yorke-Hart said with a laugh.