Long days contribute to business success

November 9, 2014
Charlie Murphy of Crystal Lake, president of Icon Building Group, is completing a $3 million custom house in Lake Bluff

Charlie Murphy of Crystal Lake, president of Icon Building Group, is completing a $3 million custom house in Lake Bluff.

CRYSTAL LAKE — After rising early each morning, Charlie Murphy prepares for another 12-hour day. He could stay busy by driving to multiple construction projects east and southeast of his home in Crystal Lake.

The founder, president and chief executive officer of Icon Building Group has 65 new houses under construction this year in various Chicago suburban locales, including Hawthorn Woods, Vernon Hills and Lincolnshire. He also has a subdivision project almost ready-to-go in McHenry County.

The most sparkling jewel in this 2014 new-house building crown is at Lansdowne in Lake Bluff.

Lansdowne is a neighborhood of seven lots on a bluff above the waters of Lake Michigan. On one of those lots, Murphy has built a $3 million custom stone and stucco house with 9,500 square feet of living space for a North Shore executive. Attached is a four-car garage. An indication of ornate inclusions can be seen in the basement, which includes a home theater with seating for 10, a wine cellar capable of storing 500 bottles of various vintages, a fitness room, bar, family room, bedroom and bathroom.

The two-story house with a View of the lake includes three fireplaces, six bedrooms, six-and-a-half bathrooms, exterior paver patio and walkways. It will be completed for occupancy by midnight Dec. 31. If not, the contract calls for penalties to be paid by Murphy.

Lots are 1.5 to 4 acres in size at Lansdowne. House and lot packages are priced from $2.5 million and are projected to approach $9 million. Three of the lets have been sold, including two to Murphy. Although one of those two lots has a house that is paid for, the other lot will be a spec house. He speculates a buyer will come along to buy the house after it has been built.

“That house will be worth $2.5 million and come in just under 5,000 square feet in living space,” Murphy said. “We View it as a house for one more executive looking for North Shore schools, shopping, restaurants and the amenities available in a neighborhood near what Lake Forest, for example, has to offer. It will be someone looking for expanded living space. There are lots of property in Lake Bluff that are a third- or a half-of-an acre, but the ones at Lansdowne are much bigger.”

Murphy also has invested in another Lake Bluff subdivision called Wimbledon Estates, which also features seven lots. House and lot packages are smaller and less expensive at Wimbledon Estates than those at Lansdowne, but still cost a bit of money.

Pricing for the 1 acre lots starts at $339,900. House prices range from $1.1 million to $1.5 million. Square footage ranges from 4,000 to 5,500 square feet.

Wimbledon Estates is being developed by Hinsdale-based Foxford Communities. The Foxford company, through its president Peter Brennan, has partnered with Murphy’s company to design a 5,000-square-foot house in a French provincial style one of those 1 acre lots.

“This full-brick, $1.4 million house with an attached four-car garage is framed, the windows are in and so are the mechanicals and now we are ready for the insulation,” Murphy said in early October. “It is a spec house and it is not sold, but we believe a buyer will come along soon.”

Murphy said the spec will be ready for occupancy by the end of the year.

Located off Green Bay Road, a mile from downtown Lake Bluff, Wimbledon Estates is nestled in a cul-de-sac surrounded by mature trees. Buyers can purchase a lot and work with their own builder or they can work with Foxford.

“While custom-built homes are always in high demand on the North Shore, with only a limited number of undeveloped properties remaining in the area, this is an extremely rare opportunity for homeowners to have this many custom lots to choose from in one Lake Bluff community,” Brennan said.

This is not the first time Murphy and Brennan have worked together. In 2012, Foxford Communities bought 68 of the remaining 90 lots at the Hawthorn Trails subdivision in Hawthorn Woods. Brennan asked Murphy and his luxury home builders at Icon Building Group to introduce a new portfolio of custom home designs to the neighborhood. The result was house and lot packages priced from $600,000 to $800,000.

“Of the 68 lots at Hawthorn Trails, 54 are sold. I think we will be sold and out by summer of 2015,” Murphy said.

In recent years, Brennan and Murphy, 51, also have worked together on a townhouse project in Lake Zurich.

Besides investing in subdivisions, Murphy has developed his own subdivisions or is in the process of doing so. The developed subdivisions include Hidden Lakes and Whispering Lake Estates, both in Buffalo Grove. Under development is Lincolnshire Forest in Lincolnshire.

Closer to his Crystal Lake home is Lakewood’s Brighton Oaks Estates near the intersection of Haligus and Ballard roads.

“I have 12 lots. I bought them three or four years ago. It was a distressed property and now I am just sitting on it until I think the market is good,” Murphy said.

The three-quarter to 2-acre lots back up to conservation areas. “We are projecting custom houses of 3,200 to 4,000 square feet in size with prices ranging from $399,000 to $499,000,” Murphy said. “As noted before, I am waiting for the market to get just right before I open the subdivision up for sales.”

Besides the 65 new housing enterprises that are ongoing, Murphy also oversees a remodeling division which has an equal, if not more, number of projects.

Twenty-five years ago, Murphy and three partners invented a filtration product for restaurant exhaust systems. He and the three partners sold the company in 2000 to Ecolab, a $4 billion environmental company based in St. Paul. He did not reveal the sale price but acknowledged it was at least in eight figures. The money was enough to let him ease up. Murphy consulted and coached youth sports for several years. Then, in 2005, he became intrigued with the real estate market.

“A guy I met approached me looking for some money, and I became his financial partner,” he said.

Murphy struggled with the partnership.

“I am somewhat of a control freak,” he said. “I did not want to invest a lot of my money into something and not have full control over its use.”

Murphy ended up buying out his partner and becoming owner of the 11-home Villas in Hidden Lake subdivision in Buffalo Grove. The company changed its name from Icon Development Group to Icon Building Group several years ago. Murphy emphasized that guts, aggressiveness and keeping promises have made his company that success it is today.

“We focus on the customer, and the money always has to be secondary,” Murphy said.

For information, call 815-715-2536, or 815-444-7400, or visit www.icon-group.com