Jefferson Street construction is the beginning of a new trend.
By Nathan Mayberg
They say money talks. Large-scale, multi-million dollar purchases of commercial properties on Fort Myers Beach throughout 2023 were a testament to the belief in developers in the future of the island. A modular home going up on Jefferson St. this past week is one of dozens of such houses on the way for Fort Myers Beach, a signal to the optimism of builders and homeowners as well.
Leslie and Charlie Hornfeck lost their home to Hurricane Ian and are now the proud owners of a two-story modular house on Jefferson St. Before Hurricane Ian, their house was used as a vacation rental and the plan is for the home to be used again as a vacation home. For now, the home will be a show house for the builder and manufacturer.
“We were devastated by the loss,” Ms. Hornfeck said. “But, once we processed it, we really didn’t have an option other than to rebuild and move forward. We have loved Fort Myers Beach for a long time and for as much as this beach has given to us, we certainly wanted to be a part of the recovery.”
The couple lives year-round in North Carolina. Ms. Hornfeck said the idea of rebuilding “was overwhelming. That’s where the modular home came in.”
They toured the Affinity Modular factory in Georgia and were impressed with the quality and the firm’s specialization in building homes that can sustain high winds. Affinity Modular manufactured the home and it is being installed by Idyll Construction of Bonita Springs.
Mark Raudenbush, owner of Idyll Construction, said the show house will be available for tours by appointment through November. Raudenbush said the house is one of more than two dozen he is working on for Fort Myers Beach. He said modular homes are the “most cost-effective way to build a home.” Raudenbush said modular home construction is about two-thirds of what it costs for regular home construction and takes about half the time. “It’s just as good of a quality,” he said.
“We found a house that fit our need, our lot size, and the process was relatively simple from there,” Ms. Hornfeck said. “Now, less than a year after touring the factory we have a brand new house and couldn’t be happier.”
Katie Smith, the marketing manager of Affinity Modular, said the company has several dozen contracts for modular homes in the area, including Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel. Another benefit of modular home construction is that it’s done inside a factory which keeps out any moisture, Smith said. “We have in-house engineers who can build pretty much everything you want.”
The show house will allow local property owners still making rebuilding plans to get a tour of the island rather than travel up to Georgia. “They will be able to see the quality of the construction,” Smith said.
Raudenbush is one of several contractors Affinity Modular is working with. Smith said Raudenbush has been helpful in working through the town’s permitting process. Raudenbush also worked on designing the Jefferson St. home. Hurricane Ian has helped contribute to an increase of about 30% in production for Affinity Modular, Smith said. They had several homes in the area before Hurricane Ian and all survived, she said. “We build up to 180 mile-per-hour wind codes.”
The installation of the home garnered some attention on Jefferson St. when it went up by crane. The home went up in one day with Raudenbush putting the finishing touches on it. “When I see dozens of neighbors standing around (watching the installation), I see more positivity in all of that than I have since the storm,” Raudenbush said.
Former Fort Myers Beach Councilmember Bill Veach, who lives nearby, is working on his own home reconstruction after his beachfront house was washed away by Hurricane Ian. He is working on a modular design himself.
“We were initially working on a custom design, but have switched to a custom design modular,” Veach said.
“I support giving property owners as many options as possible to rebuild,” Veach said. “These homes are built to code for our area and I am confident they would withstand another major storm. I would encourage anyone with a ground level house to consider lifting or rebuilding, particularly in low elevation neighborhoods that flood regularly. It may cost more upfront, but you will pay less in flood insurance and increase your property value.”
Raudenbush said there has been some concern on Fort Myers Beach that the old, quaint cottage-style homes that were lost to Hurricane Ian will be replaced by larger, imposing houses.
“A lot of people will say the old Fort Myers Beach is gone and it will be replaced by Mcmansions,” Raudenbush said. The modular homes going up, he said, are “small, they are cute and they are family-owned.”
Raudenbush is bullish on Fort Myers Beach.
“I am really excited about the future of Fort Myers Beach. I think it’s going to be a lot better than people think,” he said.
Originally published on Jan 12, 2024