For this special dR Tampa Bay series, “Real Estate, Real Lives,” we’re profiling six people who work in five disciplines essential to the industry. Hard-working and visionary, thick-skinned and sensitive, they serve their clients above all. And each has a deep and abiding connection with Tampa Bay.
Home Builder Bobby Alvarez: He’ll Build Your Dream
“Some of my customers have homes with rooms they’ve never been in,” he says, grinning.
The conference room walls of Alvarez Homes in Carrollwood are covered with large, unframed photos of stunningly opulent houses, all of which the company built, no two of which are the same. “We’ve done over 450 of them and never the same one twice,” says Bobby Alvarez, founder and president, in a tone that’s more matter-of-fact than proud.
Bobby pulls a photo off the Velcro wall and brings it over. It’s the 42,000-square-foot, $20 million estate of Don Wallace, the “RV King,” on Lake Thonotosassa — the company’s biggest project ever. The “French castle,” as Bobby describes it, is an outlier. Most of his houses run from $1.5 million to $3.5 million.
Alvarez has built homes for billionaire Eddie DeBartolo Jr., the shopping mall magnate and former owner of the San Francisco 49ers; Vince Naimoli, the original owner of the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays; former Tampa Bay Buc and current Monday Night Football announcer Booger McFarland; New York Yankees legend Mariano Rivera; and tennis pro Jennifer Capriati.
When Bobby says his company builds custom homes, he means it in the most comprehensive way. The process starts when he meets with potential clients to come up with ideas. That leads to a round of preliminary spec drawings and a proposal. Then some tweaking; then, if all goes well, a deal.
Alvarez Homes often helps with a site search — “finding the right location is the hardest thing,” Bobby says — and always acts as the general contractor. They work with a small pool of favored architects. Occasionally, they even put buyers together with finance people, although Bobby says about half of his houses are cash deals.
Alvarez Homes sees its projects through to when the owners turn the key — and when they walk in, the interiors are finished. “We take them by the hand the whole time,” he says.
Bobby and his wife Kathy do not live in an Alvarez home. Their remodeled 1950s ranch house in South Tampa runs about 4,000 square feet. “Maybe I can’t afford one of my houses,” he quips. Turning serious, Bobby says he wouldn’t feel comfortable living in a capacious mansion. “Some of my customers have homes with rooms they’ve never been in,” he says, shaking his head and grinning.
His current residence is certainly a step up from the one he lived in as a kid. Bobby was 11 when his large family fled Cuba and arrived in Miami in 1960 with nothing. Nine people crammed into a small rental house, four brothers in one bedroom. His father, a once prominent businessman, took three jobs, one of them selling encyclopedias. But because Jose Alvarez spoke fluent English — having done post-graduate work at Columbia University in New York — he landed a job with an oil company and relocated the family to Tampa in ’62. Their house in the Palma Ceia neighborhood cost $17,000, Bobby recalls.
He went to Jesuit High School, then on to University of Florida. After college, he and a friend helped design, open and manage the Brass Balloon, a popular restaurant and disco in the long-gone Tampa Bay Center mall. He met Kathy while doing damage control after a waiter dumped a bowl of spaghetti in her boots.
Bobby acquired his construction license and went to work for Islander Homes as general sales manager. He struck out on his own in 1983. His breakthrough came a couple years later when a developer approached him to take over 32 lots in Odessa as the exclusive custom homebuilder. “At the time, new houses in the area were going for around a hundred thousand,” Bobby recalls. “Ours ranged from 375 to 450, which people thought was outrageous.” Not the buyers. Hammock Woods became a prestigious suburban Tampa address.
In 2009, in the wake of the housing crash, Bobby and his team spun off a new venture called Alvarez New Concepts. “It came about because of a lack of things to do at the time,” he says.
They acquired a lot in Hyde Park and constructed a home that emphasized green, safe and efficient living, while meeting the neighborhood’s historic requirements. His son, Brian, an attorney and Alvarez Homes partner who handles the legal work, now lives in it.
The idea blossomed. “Just about everything we do these days is New Concepts,” Bobby says.
At 68, Bobby Alvarez gladly remains the client point man for his company. He rarely lets his cell phone go to voicemail — it might be a client, or an opportunity, or a problem. This affable, unassuming fellow rightfully does not consider himself a closer, or even a salesman. He offers prospective customers frank advice on their dream homes, even if it’s not always what they want to hear. “I try to put myself in their shoes,” he says, “and help them make the best decisions they can.”
Click the links for other profiles in the “Real Estate, Real Lives” series:
• Developers Brian & Debbie Taub