New Ideas Traditional IdealsFamily Company Focuses on Quality While Constructing Niche Community
By Joe Clements
The hallmark of C.P. Berry Construction Co. is not innovation or new ideas.
“We are all hands-on and take pride in what we do,” founder Carlton P. Berry said last week in explaining the family owned firm’s time-tested approach to building residential properties throughout the North Shore, an award-winning formula which has yielded such upscale results as Fuller Pond Village in Middleton, River Run in Danvers and Bartlett’s Reach in Amesbury. Three generations are active in the company founded by Berry in the mid-1960s, including brothers Robert Berry and Amos Berry, who both did masonry work for C.P. Berry’s latest venture, the Caldwell Farm adult living community in bucolic Newbury. The 125-acre parcel sports a 15-foot high stone wall contributed by Robert Berry, at age 75 the eldest of four Berry siblings adept at masonry. The other two are Carlton Berry himself and Alan Berry, with the latter said to be still dabbling in the craft despite being officially retired.
Learning to “put two bricks together” following a stint in the Korean War, Carlton Berry became confident that he could enter development after watching none other than Thomas J. Flatley emerge from a rank-and-file plumber into one of the Northeast’s leading commercial real estate players. Carlton Berry did masonry jobs for both Flatley and Hub real estate icon John Corcoran in the 1960s before taking a gamble on his inaugural project, a 42-unit apartment complex in Danvers, with that upbeat result eventually leading to creation of C.P. Berry Construction in 1983.
Since its inception, the firm has concentrated on old-school concepts such as service and product quality, acknowledged Carlton Berry, offering that, “one unhappy customer can undo all the good you get from 100 satisfied buyers,” and estimating that nearly 70 percent of his firm’s sales comes from word-of-mouth advertising and repeat business. When the initial phase of Caldwell Farm was announced, approximately half of the 40 immediate reservations were made by former residents of a C.P. Berry community, Carlton Berry noted.
“Our reputation is very important,” he said. “That’s a huge selling point for us.” When residential developers throughout Massachusetts failed to survive the brutal industry downturn of the early 1990s, C.P. Berry opted toCaldwell Farm, which sits on a 125-acre parcel in the country community of Newbury, offers 66 age-restricted units. Family Company Focuses on Quality While Constructing Niche Community stay on the upper-end of the equation and not enter into a price war that might compromise their projects. Part of the reason, he explained, was to protect the value of existing homeowners at such properties as the Ipswich Country Club where the firm was a prolific developer, but also reflected a staunch belief that “quality always sells.”
“It just seemed that if anybody was going to buy anything, it would be on the high-end,” he said, cementing the firm’s approach. “We try to build something above all the others,” he said. “In that sense, we don’t have any competition.”
Caldwell Farm is a product of that philosophy, said Carlton Berry, who said company officials felt the burgeoning age-restricted development boom would fit in well with the firm’s background. Having an upper-level development approach meant dealing with many older people, said Carlton Berry, simply because of the income range. As a result, the idea was put in place to seek out a site that could support the pricing needed to deliver a luxury adult community, an increasingly popular living concept just now taking hold in the Bay State.
“When you do high-end, location is very important,” said Carlton Berry, whose firm was tipped off by a friend of the opportunity available at Caldwell Farm, located just a few miles off Interstate 95 at Exit 55 near the New Hampshire border. The family which owned the property had already sold off some lots near the roadway, and was amenable when approached by C.P. Berry to do a more comprehensive adaptation. Vice President Alan J. Berry, Carlton Berry’s son, met with neighbors and town officials to pitch their concept for an age-restricted development.
According to Carlton Berry, “it fit right in” with what the community was seeking, i.e., a tax-generating project that will not burden the local school system or other town services. C.P. Berry has provided its own wastewater system, as well as snowplowing and other maintenance, said Carlton Berry. The design also was careful not to overburden or alter the site. Besides retaining the name of the family which owned the property for centuries and restoring an 18th century farmhouse near the front, Caldwell Farm also has 100 acres of open space as a result of the clustered development approach, offering a series of walking trails and two man-made ponds built to enhance the aesthetics.
“It is probably one of the best settings we’ve ever had,” said Carlton Berry, crediting son Alan J. Berry’s background in civil engi neering and geo-technical science for bringing out the most in the property. Having grown up in the business and working as a geo technical company prior to return ing to the family firm full-time, Alan J. Berry is playing a lead role in moving the firm forward, said his father, calling him “gifted” and praising his skills in dealing with clients and the public. Carlton Berry’s daughter works in the firm’s Topsfield office, while anoth er son is a successful carpenter.
As for Caldwell Farm, the public appears to have responded favor ably, with the initial phase of the 66-unit complex already sold out and the majority of the second phase spoken for as well. Besides an on-site fitness center, heated swimming pool and community garden, Caldwell Farm has such exterior architectural features as copper-topped cupolas, classic weathervanes and granite stoops, while many units feature attached garages and master suites on the ground floor. Units have sold in recent months at prices such as $675,000, $790,000 and $890,000, and sales director Mark O’Hara reported substantial interest for the remaining condos.
“We’re encouraged by the reac tion,” O’Hara said in a recent inter view, while Carlton Berry said he believes market demographics and an aging population should create an opportunity for similar projects in the future. Alan J. Berry con curred, but said the firm is moving at a measured pace to ensure qual ity is not compromised. Alan J. Berry also voiced his gratitude for the company’s showing this autumn at the Builders Association of Greater Boston’s Prism Awards program in Boston, at which Caldwell Farm secured four gold medals and one silver.
“We weren’t really expecting that, but it was nice,” recalled Alan J. Berry. “We appreciated the recognition we received.” Held every other year, the Prism Awards honor companies for their contri butions to the built environment. C.P. Berry’s coup included top prizes as the best attached commu nity of the year, best multi-family design for an attached community over $600,000, best innovative land planning and the BAGB’s highest marks for community service. A sil ver award was given for landscape design, with that designation given to C.P. Berry and its landscape designer, the Green Co. The MZO Group shared the gold award for Best Multi-Family Attached Over $600,000.
Carlton Berry cited his family and other C.P. Berry staff for pro ducing the results, which he acknowledged were especially wel comed given the firm’s attention to detail. The company namesake also agreed that age-restricted development is on the rise in Massachusetts, and predicted it will be a viable concept through at least the next decade. “It will sell,” he said, “if it’s done right.” Caldwell Farm in Newbury is one of Carlton Berry Construction Co.’s new endeavors.