February 13, 2009 | By Leslie Mann, Special to the Tribune
Growing up in Freeport, Ill., Jane Levy spent her allowance on two things, she recalls: “Seventeen magazine, for the girl side of me, and floor plan books, for the future builder in me.”
Decades later, Levy has outgrown fashion magazines but not her passion for floor plans. As the owner/president of Levy Custom Homes in River Forest, she still delights in reading them.
Levy builds custom houses in the western and northern suburbs and in Chicago. Although she’s been in the business for 22 years, Levy chooses to keep her company small, building one or two houses a year, plus remodeling projects that range from bathroom to whole-house re-dos.
Levy works with several architects in the Chicago area to design her clients’ houses, depending on their budgets and their houses’ architectural styles.
Her name is on the company shingle by intention. “It says, ‘The buck stops here,'” she says. “The client works directly with me, not a superintendent, and I’m responsible for whatever goes wrong. My goal is to under-promise and over-deliver.”
Levy’s strategy has not only won her a steady flow of clients, but the approval of her colleagues. From the Home Builders Association of Greater Chicago, she has earned Crystal Key, Gold Key and Silver Key awards.
Being female in the male-dominated home-building business is to her advantage, says Levy, although she still encounters peers who assume she is the “wife of.”
“Women know how families live, entertain and really use houses,” she says. “And we know intuitively what questions to ask the clients. When a client told me she had eight kids, for example, I asked her how many laundry rooms she wanted and where she wanted them. It turns out she had been putting a lot of thought into them and, yes, they were a priority for her.”
Although her clients’ houses are large by most people’s standards, Levy says, “Quality is their first concern, not size.