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Nevadan at Work: Homebuilder sees brighter future in real estate

When the housing market crashed in Las Vegas, Anthony Musso watched many of his fellow homebuilders give their land holdings back to the bank and go out of business.

The founder and president of Las Vegas-based Distinctive Homes knew it would be an exercise in futility to continue building semicustom homes when prices were plummeting. So he went dormant, riding out the real estate woes that affected Las Vegas worse than any city in the nation.

“I recognized that I didn’t want to risk what I had worked my whole life for just to make more money,” the 66-year-old building executive said. “So we paid off all our debt and didn’t pay an exorbitant price for land and that’s how we survived. Because we have no debt, we have a lot of flexibility. We own this land, so we can work with people on their time frame. We don’t push people.”

Now that the market is slowly beginning to turn, Musso is ready to move forward on development with a fully integrated marketing campaign and rebranding initiative.

Distinctive Homes is building at Canyons Estates, a gated enclave in the southwest valley where homes are starting from the $400,000s. Other Distinctive communities include Stetson Ranch in the southwest and Taos in the northwest.

Originally from Cleveland, Musso moved to Las Vegas in 1975 and worked in the casino industry as a craps dealer at the Aladdin and night shift boss at the Royal Casino. He started building custom homes on the side, and managed his own landscaping, framing, concrete, painting and drywall and millwork crews to save on costs.

Musso founded Distinctive Homes in 1980 and hired a construction management team with a proven record in accounting and profitability. His wife, Mary, works as corporate broker for the company. Together, they provide a personalized home-buying experience for every customer.

“Our buyer expects a higher level of quality and service,” Musso said. “We meet and exceed that expectation by providing the highest standard of craftsmanship, the next generation in technology and an exquisite attention to detail.”

His business is built on principles of honesty, integrity, commitment, responsibility, respect and giving back to the community, he said.

Each holiday season since 2007, Distinctive Homes has picked a local school to donate gifts for PSI World Giving Day. This year it’s Arturo Cambeiro Elementary School, where nearly one-fourth of the 650 students are homeless and 95 percent of the families receive some sort of assistance.

Question: Where do you see the business going?

Answer: We’re really excited about the future. I do believe we’re turning the corner and this is the beginning of Las Vegas coming out of the depression we’ve been in. Everybody is feeling more positive and it’s just a matter of time before we work through the foreclosures.

Question: What makes Distinctive Homes unique?

Answer: What makes us unique is we have a base plan and we customize it for people and they really love that. For example, the casita can be made bigger. We modify the home to suit the way people live. There are a lot of people who have cultural needs like our wok kitchen for Asians. These homes were designed with feng-shui in mind. We’re currently building a home for a Chinese family and they came out with their master and he blesses the lot and says which angle it should be.

Question: What’s the main selling points at Canyons Estates?

Answer: Our home has a three-car garage and then a carport and then a casita. It’s real popular for adult children or guests, or (for an) office. We have four decorated models and nine plans from 2,930 square feet to 4,990 square feet. Being close to the airport and the Strip and (Interstate) 15 and the (Las Vegas) Beltway, and having a gated community … when you think of the traffic in Las Vegas and the proximity, this is an ideal location.

Question: What are the challenges in today’s homebuilding industry?

Answer: The challenge for us is going to be competition for labor. So many people left the city when real estate crashed and the labor pool is stretched. We either need to start hiring or bring new people in. As far as selling homes, I’m the most excited I’ve been in five years because anybody who can afford to buy a home today – and not think of it as an investment – it’ll pay dividends down the road.

Question: We hear about the housing market recovery in Las Vegas, though some people are saying it’s an “artificial” recovery. Are we still in a declining market or are we recovering?

Answer: I realize there’s going to be more foreclosures entering the market. Warren Buffet said he’d buy 20,000 REOs (real estate-owned properties) if he could. Those companies are going to buy them and rent them and give somebody a place to live. When you think of the boom years, we were building 35,000 new homes a year, so 80,000 foreclosures is only a couple years of absorption from the boom years.

Question: Who’s buying new homes in Las Vegas these days?

Answer: People who are buying our homes are buying because they recognize the quality and value. We’re at $102 a (square) foot. They can’t believe what they get with the price. Also, the customization. We get families, empty-nesters, multigenerational families and we get people who work on the Strip.

Question: How have you been able to create better value in your homes?

Answer: We use our new-home building expertise to create innovative designs and quality custom new-home construction, while keeping value at the forefront of importance for all our customers. As you walk through our model homes, you will see many standard amenities most builders consider options or upgrades.

Question: Like what?

Answer: We include standards such as decorative paver stones on walkways and driveways, and beautiful trim finishes on entry and interior doors as well as base moldings.

Question: Your homes have a HERS rating of 70 and lower. What does that mean?

Answer: That’s the Home Efficiency Rating System. The new home today is 100 and the average used home is 130, or 30 percent less efficient. Our homes are 70, which makes them 30 percent more efficient. We’ve got low-E windows, vinyl windows, cellulose insulation. All of our homes exceed Energy Star compliance by 40 percent, saving you money long after the purchase.

Contact reporter Hubble Smith at hsmith@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0491.

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