Dobson's Choice: Ex-regional builder starts up venture crafting upscale, mid-price homes

The two-story Sandpiper floor plan with detached garage is one of the designs from Dobson Homes, a new builder east of the Cooper.

He had ventured into the Charleston area once before as a contractor, but Dick Dobson had arrived this time in the early 2000s to settle down.

The lifestyle change came after spending two decades molding the Newport News, Va., company that bears his name into one of the larger builders in the country. “I was in 28 cities,” he says.

C. Richard Dobson Builders entered the Lowcountry market in the mid 1990s, when the Charleston Naval Base and Shipyard closure was made public. Dobson would be one of the early builders on Daniel Island.

“I was going at a pretty rapid rate,” he said, and national builders started to take notice. “I had five buyers try to buy me.” In 1998, he chose to get out, selling the business to D.R. Horton.

Soon after, Dobson started scoping out places to live. “I wanted to stay near the water,” he says. “Charleston was my top choice.” He bought a house on Meeting Street in the historic district.

From the sidelines, Dobson watched the national real estate market surge and sink. By 2010, it was “treading water.” The builder’s itch returned. “I wanted to get in,” he says.

At some point, he would meet developer John S. Popelka, who runs JSP Realty in Mount Pleasant. “John really knows a lot about land, selling land to builders,” Dobson says. In turn, Popelka respects Dobson’s building acumen and supports his plans to design upscale, mid-price houses.

They hooked up as business partners, and the new Dobson Homes launched Jan 1. It is located in the JSP Realty offices just off Ben Sawyer Boulevard.

“I’ve been a builder all my life,” Dobson explains. “This is my expertise.” He acknowledges that he is pacing himself this go-around. “I started building houses one at a time,” he says.

The first homes are in newer neighborhoods off Rifle Range Road such as Shell Point, Phillips Park and Laurel Lakes as well as a house in I’On off Mathis Ferry Road and one in Hibben in Belle Hall. Homes are priced from $320,000 to $380,000.

In time, Dobson wants to build 20 to 30 houses a year, focusing on Mount Pleasant. “I don’t have any idea to get big again,” he says.

The company is constructing five homes in Phillips Park, including four on a piece of property that had been planned for a commercial development. One house is completed across the street. Four homes are built or planned in Shell Point and three are in various stages in Laurel Lakes.

A recently-sold 1,856 square foot house at 1304 Parkton in Shell Point is an example of Dobson’s penchant for style and detail at a moderate cost.

The Sandpiper floor plan from Dobson Homes showcases a fireplace, hardwood floors, extensive crown molding, 10 foot ceilings, granite countertops and stainless kitchen appliances, Popelka says.

The three bedroom, two-and-a-half bath home with detached garage was priced at $379,900.

“This is a semi-custom build,” Popelka says. “There are a lot of features you don’t see from other builders.”

For instance, the Shell Point house sports a side porch as well as a balcony off the master bedroom with stained, bead board ceiling and outdoor fans.

“You need to do something to differentiate yourself,” Dobson says.

To get to the completed Dobson Homes properties from downtown Charleston, cross the Ravenel bridge staying to the right. Follow Coleman Boulevard through Mount Pleasant, and turn left on Rifle Range Road. Phillips Park is on the left. Continue on Rifle Range through a roundabout and turn left on Appling Drive into Shell Point. To reach Laurel Lakes, take Rifle Range to a second roundabout at Venning Road. Turn left.

All of the Dobson properties have JSP Realty signs in the yards.