Scott Yonkman is a modest guy. Though the Building Industry Association of Washington in November named him one of its two Builders of Year for 2015, he is quick to credit his 10-person office for the success.
“This is a team effort,” he said during a recent interview. “We are succeeding as a company.”
With his brother Greg as his partner, Yonkman started building custom homes in Orange County, Calif. The brothers moved to Whidbey Island in 1979 and founded Yonkman Construction, Inc., of Oak Harbor.
Scott, 59, is the president and Greg, 63, serves as project manager.
Since then, the firm has built about 800 homes, mainly on Whidbey Island and most of them custom-designed. It has become one of the island’s better-known specialists in designing and building higher-end properties, including homes for the Nordstrom family on the island’s south end, Yonkman said.
He added that his firm will happily undertake remodels and simpler projects.
“We are glad to build a garage for you, or a small, modest home, and we do quite a bit of that,” he said. “If we want to keep 10 people employed, we can’t just say, ‘If your home’s not a half-million (dollars) plus, don’t bother.’ ”
The firm’s expertise, however, lies in two areas, he said: Working closely with those wanting a custom home, and knowing how to create one.
“To survive as a custom builder, you need to be flexible, tolerant, honest, knowledgeable and a leader but not overbearing,” Yonkman said.
“A lot of clients are smart and successful and used to running the show. They need to feel they are being heard, but you are responsible for the success of it all.”
“It’s a challenge.”
On the technical level, “we have the experience and the team to build high-end homes,” he said. “We can execute complicated, sophisticated plans and install high-end materials. It takes good craftsmanship to fit this stuff together, and you only get one shot.”
One deluxe custom home Yonkman’s firm built 11 years ago sits on a 160-foot beachfront lot eight miles north of Oak Harbor. The 3,470-square-foot house features wooden beadboard wainscoting, some wooden ceilings, a fully finished 900-square-foot guest apartment, a large, finished garage and a kitchen with $70,000 in high-end appliances, including two dishwashers and a wine refrigerator.
The house cost just under $900,000 to build. The real estate website Zillow estimates its current value at $1.9 million.
“This home represents very well what we do,” Yonkman said.
Margaret Olson, who owns the home with her husband, Greg, owns real estate and works with many builders, but praises Yonkman as “by far the easiest person I’ve ever worked with.” She called him “honest and fair.”
Olson said Yonkman or his staff still come out to her house regularly to make repairs or touch-ups.
“That says a lot for a builder,” she said.
Business on Whidbey is rebounding from the slowdown of 2011-13, Yonkman said, though not as much for custom-home builders as for builders of more conventional, tract-type homes.
Prices for building materials have risen over the past year, however, he said.
This isn’t the first time Yonkman has been named a builder of the year. The last time, in 2008, the award came from Skagit/Island Counties Builder Association, a regional group, rather than from the statewide group.
Because of a tie in the voting, the state organization this year also awarded the title Builder of the Year to Monty Smith, its president.
The award honors involvement with the community and with state and local builders’ organizations. For example, Yonkman served as a member of the Island County Planning Commission for more than 12 years and recently re-upped for another four-year term.
“Working on Whidbey Island is special because there are so many unique building spots, many on the water,” he said. “And working with folks to help build their dreams — it’s intense, but my brother and I are pretty easy-going, and we listen well.”
“You’ve gotta roll with it.”