Serenity Homes is a family-owned luxury custom builder based in South Australia. The company was started in the home of husband and wife team Gary and Jennifer Barnes in March 2001, who later expanded to offices in Holden Hill. Serenity Homes specialises in unique designs and innovative use of materials and their emphasis has always been on quality and client satisfaction. According to Gary, their ultimate goal is to provide an enjoyable building experience resulting in the home of their clients’ dreams.
Where Serenity Homes really excels is on difficult sites, such as hillsides. Gary says they have the skills and the experience to take on those challenges, and deliver the exact home a client wants. “We have built homes over three and four levels, with indoor pools and home theatres and cellars – basically we can construct anything the client wishes,” he says. “We like to build dream homes, so quite often the wish list can be quite long. But I love what I do; I have the absolute pleasure of building these homes for my clients, and bringing their dreams to reality.”
Gary is an almost-30 year veteran of the building industry, having started off as a carpenter, and then working his way up to building supervisor roles at some of the most prominent companies in Adelaide. Jennifer, too, comes from an experience-rich background, having worked on the administrative side of the industry.
“Between us we realised there was an opportunity for ourselves to create a company that appeals to a niche market,” Gary says. “We saw there were potential clients who had not been adequately serviced by the mainstream builders.” After coming to that realisation, the couple registered Serenity Homes and started the business.
As owner of the company, Gary is highly involved in all of their jobs from beginning to end. “The first contact a client normally has is with me,” he explains. “I take them through the design and quoting process, and then I make regular site visits. All my clients have my mobile phone number, and I’m available to them 24-7.” That intense personal commitment helps set Serenity Homes apart from their competitors.
Another, more important way Serenity Homes set themselves apart is by being customer focused – and being truly custom builders. “We’ve never built two homes the same in 11 years,” Gary reports. “We literally let the client and the block of land determine what the build will be.” The company does operate one display home, at 43 Isla Circuit in Mawson Lakes, but they use that to demonstrate the quality of their buildings, not for duplication purposes. “I tell potential clients this is a representation of what you may have in a different design, shape, or colour,” Gary says.
That display home, which the Barnes’ called CHAKRA – which means ‘Spinning Wheel of Energy – is highly energy efficient. “We set out to make it eco-luxury from the start, and we’ve got a number of energy efficient initiatives in there,” says Gary. In general, energy efficiency is a focus for Serenity Homes.
“We try to build all of our homes with energy efficiency and sustainable practices,” Gary explains. As a result, the company’s green initiatives are numerous, and include using recyclable materials wherever possible, and having their painters utilize an environmental wash-out system on site. That system ensures all wastewater is contained in a drum. At the end of a job, they add a powder to that drum, forcing all soluble materials to sink to the bottom. After draining the water, they are left with a “brick” of all soluble material, which they can safely dispose of, rather than tipping it back into the water system or onto the ground.
“That’s the sort of thing we do on every job we build,” Gary says. “We try to maintain those sorts of practices everywhere we can.” Serenity Homes is serious about their environmental responsibility – the Barnes’ even sold their company cars and bought hybrid vehicles. “We try to really walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”
“We’ve always tried to stay ahead of our opposition,” Gary adds. “Rather than think ‘Oh, we’ll wait until the rest of our competitors pick up on environmental issues,’ we decided to head out there first and lead the way.”
Serenity Homes is GreenSmart accredited, and has won several GreenSmart awards. In general, the company has taken home numerous awards, including some for South Australia HIA’s Professional Small/Medium Builder of the Year – an award they have won four years out of the last five.
“I didn’t set out to win awards,” Gary says. “I set out to build a reputation as a quality builder, and it’s really nice that the industry recognition has come along with it. It means a lot to us, and all it does is make us strive to be even better, and make what we do better.”
A guaranteed product
Serenity Homes has forged strong, long-lasting relationships with their suppliers and contractors – many of whom, including their architect, have been with the company ever since their first home. “We strive to build a better relationship with our tradesmen, and we’re aware of the importance of a strong relationship with our suppliers,” Gary says. “Those relationships allow us to achieve greater productivity and reduce wastage, achieve better efficiencies in supply, and potentially earn us better cost prices – which ultimately leads to a great profitability for the business.”
“We’re conscious of our role as a contributor to the building industry,” he adds, “So we try to maintain harmonious relationships with everyone we deal with. We try to make them feel like they’re all a stakeholder in a sense. That way they take some responsibility and pride in what we do, even if they supply to other builders as well.”
Serenity Homes currently construct around a dozen homes every year, and Gary says he does not intend for that number to ever exceed 20. By staying in that range, they can give each client and build personal attention, and can rely on a small, trusted group of suppliers and craftsmen. If they were any larger, Gary says, he may not be able to guarantee his product.
“I explain to all of our clients that we will wait until our particular tradesman is ready to come to site and construct the home,” he says. “I won’t just pick up the phone and enlist a substitute tradesman that might not meet our high standards just to get the home finished two weeks quicker.”
Serenity Homes also fosters strong relationships with their clients, both past and present. “Their satisfaction is of great importance to our business,” Gary states. “We often build for the family and friends of past clients. We must be doing something right, if they’re passing on our name.” While Serenity Homes does utilise the services of a marketing agency, Gary says their most successful advertising is word-of-mouth.
For Serenity Homes, the key to earning that client loyalty is by giving them exactly what they want, down to the last detail. “When we go through the design and construction process we are very flexible,” Gary explains. “We can adjust so we can service their entire needs, unlike some of our competitors.”
“Being a true custom builder, we are able to adapt very easily to different forms of construction,” he continues. “We let our client’s wishes determine the form of construction and the design itself – they get to choose every nut and bolt. We don’t say ‘Look, here’s our brochure, page 10 fits on your block of land, why don’t you have that one?’ When the client walks in the door, there’s nothing pre-empted. All we know is we are going to sit down and collaborate with them to design and construct a new home that suits their particular site and their lifestyle.”
This client-centred strategy has served Serenity Homes well over the years, and has helped them maintain their share of the market through the good times and the bad. Fortunately, the future is looking good. “Our aim for the future is to earn a reputation as South Australia’s most outstanding builder,” Gary concludes. “We want to build the specialty types of homes that people dream of.”