Partners turning over a brand new SilverLeaf

May 2, 2009
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The two owners of Insignia Homes have added a power forward who can skate and shoot, and together the three are debuting a boutique reality company.

Joel Peterson started Insignia Homes in 1996. Six years later, Dave Morren joined Peterson at the custom homebuilder that also does residential renovation work and builds outdoor spaces. Morren is a former Kent County commissioner and commission chairman.

And now Mike Knuble has come into the fold.

Knuble is likely the area’s most talented hockey player, having skated for East Kentwood High School, University of Michigan and the Detroit Red Wings. He currently plays for the Philadelphia Flyers, after making stops in New York with the Rangers and in Boston with the Bruins.

The three are now equal partners in SilverLeaf Properties, a new reality company that developed from Insignia Homes but isn’t directly associated with it.

“We have a few leads already. I have no delusions or even desires that this will be the next Greenridge or Coldwell Bankers. What I’ve seen in the marketplace is you have so much consolidation of realtor offices that it really brought everything under about two or three names in town,” said Peterson.

“What we are going for is someone who has a personal connection with one of us guys. It’s all got to make sense. We’re looking to do things at a little lesser percentage maybe than a — let’s call it — full-service reality outfit would, just because we don’t have the overhead.”

Peterson got his start in the business by buying houses with his father, Merle, making improvements to the residences and using his broker’s background and license to sell the homes. He then moved into building homes and away from the reality side of the business. Once he began building spec homes, Peterson started hiring realtors to sell his products.

“We transitioned after a certain period of time where we really weren’t listing anything ourselves because we were doing all custom work. So as part of that, we often have clients of ours that we build a new home for, or we have someone who is downsizing their big house in Cascade or Reeds Lake. For the last five, six or seven years we’ve been referring those clients to a number of different realtors,” he said.

Rather than sulk about the sad condition of the housing market, Peterson said the slowdown gave him a chance to back off a bit and look at other opportunities, and that’s how the idea for SilverLeaf Properties took hold.

“I’ve always wanted to get this reality side of things kind of fired back up,” he said.

Peterson has had Morren as a partner for the past seven years. He met Knuble eight years ago when he built Knuble’s home in Forest Hills. They’ve become close friends since then.

“He doesn’t really have a lot of time on his hands but is always looking for opportunities, especially with people he trusts, because when you’re in a public position like he is, there are obviously a lot of people who are after your time and money,” said Peterson.

Peterson said he approached Knuble about becoming a partner in SilverLeaf Properties after he and Morren agreed to go ahead with the new firm. He said he didn’t think Knuble would take a really active role in the firm, at least not while he is playing hockey, but he won’t be sitting on the bench, either.

“My guess is that he’ll probably make a few phone calls for us — say, if he has a friend here who is selling a house. And he knows a lot of people in town, simply because of the kind of high-profile person that he is. I think his role will probably be more of a rainmaker for us,” he said.

“Down the road, we’re thinking of using this company as a development vehicle, too, when the market picks back up.”

It’s apparent that the current economic condition hasn’t deterred the partners from going forward with SilverLeaf Properties. Nor has it derailed Peterson’s and Morren’s plans for Insignia Homes. They consider it a good time for both businesses.

“We do. We look at that in our building business. We actually see this as a time when maybe we’re not doing the volume that we were two years ago, but I’m almost certain that we’re gaining market share,” said Peterson.

“So you have to look at these things as opportunities. As part of a growing concern going forward, you can’t retreat back into a hole and wait for things to blow over. So I see this as a good time for — for the lack of a better word — a boutique reality company to pop up and maybe fill a small part of the lead in that market.”

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