With a long-standing reputation for excellence, Nu-Era Homes has become known as “the builder to see” for projects that other builders would deem too challenging. Based in Camden, the family-operated company was established in 1998 by its 4 directors: Mark Johnson, his wife, Karen, and his parents, Arthur and Patricia, who retired in 2011. Typically producing between 40 and 100 homes per year, Nu-Era Homes’ projects have gradually transitioned from primarily small, first-time buyer homes to much larger residences, typically geared towards third or fourth-time buyers.
While retaining its competitive pricing, Nu-Era is able to deliver any project to the exact specifications of the client. “We work with the owner to personalize and individualize any part of our designs; they take a part and make it theirs,” Mr Johnson explains. “There is no different pricing for a custom design other than for the initial concept sketch; that is the only time that the purchaser has a fee involved; the actual costing rates are exactly the same as our project range.” Nu-Era is also known for its expertise with steep blocks, a talent carried from as far back as Mark’s father’s early businesses. A major point of difference for the business is its exclusive use of solid raft slab design, as opposed to the waffle pod construction used by the majority of builders. No matter the project, Nu-Era uses only Class P slabs, deemed to be the strongest available on the market.
Since its establishment, Nu-Era Homes has always worked to incorporate common sense green initiatives into its practices. The company’s standard inclusions for green building already stand above basic requirements, such as minimum 3.5 rated ceiling installation, and Corinthian Enviro-Seal entry units. “Our architects have always designed with solar orientation in mind, so we will tend to sway clients towards the necessary requirements for good thermal building practice,” Mark says. “We advise them why we recommend something different to what they might request, and if they do require something that isn’t a sound building practice for energy saving, we will incorporate glazing requirements or shading requirements to offset the difference.” When working onsite, Nu-Era practices 4 to 5 site cleans during construction, with a full, integrated recycling service from its plasterboard supplier, CSR. Whenever possible, natural gas or a high efficiency heat pump is used for water heating, with solar heating being gradually implemented as well. “Generally we find that the cost of solar doesn’t yet equate to its benefits, but the heat pumps and the instantaneous gas hot water are very efficient,” explains Mr Johnson. “At the moment, about 25% of our houses have solar on them, so we’re trying to incorporate common sense practice with it.”
A prominent amount of Nu-Era Homes’ overall workload is made up of contract work, primarily for individual dwellings, and occasional townhouse developments. At any given point, the business may be carrying out the construction of up to 20 projects, spread out from St. Georges Basin through to Blackheath, and, at times, even as far as Goulburn. Within the Macarthur region, Nu-Era’s main area of operation, it has also offered a small degree of house and land packaging in association with Urban Growth, and is currently seeking arrangements with new developers following urban growth’s withdrawal from the public market.
The HIA and MBA play significant parts in Nu-Era’s business, providing technical expertise in addition to legal advice. Mark also attends UDIA meetings, which provide him with a broader perspective on the industry as well as a look into its future.
The diminishing availability of land for the housing industry, which Mark points out has been a growing issue for many years, has recently come to the forefront, particularly for Nu-Era’s land packaging branch. In response to the increasing scarcity, larger project companies have also begun communicating directly with developers in order to purchase land before it is publically released, further worsening the situation for smaller businesses. Mark also expresses concern with the equally low availability of skilled trade availability. “My theory is that there is none out there;” he says, “everyone is paying top dollar to keep them, people are offering huge amounts of money to get them. We are lucky, in that our trade base was rolled over from my father’s company, Avery Homes. My concern now is apprentices; all these tradespeople are getting ready to retire, and there is just no one there to replace them.”
Prior to the establishment of Nu-Era Homes, Mark worked for 4 years as construction manager for his father’s business, Avery Homes, until his father’s retirement from the company in 1998. “I thought, ‘If I’m doing this for someone else, I may as well do this for myself,’” he says. It all just happened to fall into place that my dad wanted to retire at the time and his partner had other directions that he wanted to head. It was all amicable and it sort of just pushed me into the position.” One of Mark’s major goals for the coming years is the incorporation of his son into the business, should he be willing. “If I do get him in, I want to get him involved and make him an integral part of the company and keep doing what we have been doing,” he says. “I love building, and I love to see people’s faces when they move in. I’ve made some good friends that we’ve built for; it’s an enjoyable game, and I enjoy doing it.”