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At 60, Blair Homes ramps up 55-plus development

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Even as the economy arrives at a new “normal,” high-end custom homes have not yet made a comeback. But that doesn’t deter John Blair, president and CEO of Blair Custom Homes of Bethlehem, from taking new chances.

Blair has done the homework to get a real estate license and now operates John Blair Real Estate Group under the Prudential Patt, White umbrella. And he’s going ahead with a new 55-plus development, Old Saucon, adjacent to Saucon Valley Country Club in Upper Saucon Township.

“Before the recession, I had five or six very high-end custom homes going at a time. Now it’s down to one or two, and I don’t see that demand coming back for at least six or so years. During the recession, we downsized the company. The phone just wasn’t ringing. We had to pull back,” he said.

Blair said with the addition of the real estate venture and the Old Saucon development, the company spans a wider range of the market.

Chuck Hamilton, executive officer of the Lehigh Valley Builders Association, concurred with Blair.

“The real estate market will come back in increments. Right now, homes in the $350,000 range are moving. Next it will be the $750,000s, then the million dollar homes. Right now, we have inventory out there for when things pick up,” Hamilton said.

He said he knows of one custom builder that doesn’t have any projects at all in the million-plus category.

Blair has a lot of faith in the Lehigh Valley real estate market.

“I can ramp up very quickly when the demand is there,” he said. “When the phone starts ringing again we’ll be ready. High-end subcontractors are always available. I’m really excited about the future.”

It all started in 1953 when William Blair Sr. got together with a friend and built a house. Blair kept building homes in the $7,000- to $15,000-price range, never knowing his son would be building million-dollar homes. In 1999, the younger Blair took over as president.

Old Saucon has occupied John Blair’s time for the past three years. The 55-plus custom development features 56 single homes and 24 twins priced from the $300,000s to $600,000s. It’s a gated community, with plans for a grocery store and pharmacy, along with a bank, clubhouse and walking and biking trails.

Blair noted that Old Saucon homes have shallow front-yard setbacks and front porches, which along with tree-lined streets and sidewalks will encourage the creation of a user-friendly neighborhood ambiance of the past.

As John Blair Real Estate Group, he will be able to actively sell homes in Old Saucon.

“Pennsylvania is an aging state, so any 55-plus developments are a wise investment,” Hamilton said.

Blair isn’t a newcomer to custom-home developments. Along with his design team, he produced Stever Mills in Bethlehem, with $600,000 to $800,000 homes. Saddle Ridge, his development in Hellertown, has homes ranging from $500,000 to $1 million. And Valley Green in Center Valley is priced at $350,000 to $400,000.

Stever Mills is in Saucon Valley, next to the historic ruins of the Stever Mill Sawmill and among dwelling ruins. The 3,450-square-foot homes incorporate carriage-house design with custom amenities.

Stever Mills was named the “2008 Community of the Year” in the Building Excellence Awards conducted by the Lehigh Valley Builders Association.

Blair Custom Homes has been awarded numerous honors since John Blair Jr. took the helm. The American Institute of Building Design awarded Blair first place in “Design Solutions” for 2008. He won the same award in 2004, along with “Designers Choice” and “Custom Luxury.”

In 2003, the National Design House Competition awarded Blair first place in “Design Solutions” and “Custom Luxury.”

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