Wriitten By Lisa Simek
Times change. Home designs constantly evolve. Construction technologies advance. Lifestyle routines adjust. New building codes are enforced. But one constant that will always remain is the desire to work with an impeccable builder. Since finding the best building contractor is in many ways not unlike the dating realm, perhaps applying the same relationship methodology towards one’s next construction project would—as with this local North Beach family—guarantee not only emerging with your sanity intact after building a home, but gaining a lifelong friend as a result of the process.
When Joan and Tim Fitzpatrick decided to build a home on a beach block lot in Surf City in 1990, they knew the most important piece of the puzzle would be finding and working with a great builder. Little did they know that one of their initial encounters with local contractor Thomas J. Keller would make such an impression on the young couple that he was enthusiastically commissioned for the job. “I loved his demeanor and the way he conducted his business,” recalls Joan Fitzpatrick. “His honesty and transparency struck a chord with us. He was very down-to-earth, had a beautiful portfolio of homes to show us, and was upfront with timeline and pricing.” The seamlessness of their first building venture would ultimately lead the Fitzpatricks to hire Tom and his crew once again—20 years later—this time to build a custom ocean front home in North Beach. “There was no question whether or not we would be going back to Tom. We wanted the same trust, quality, and craftsmanship that we had experienced the first time,” says Mrs. Fitzpatrick.
That’s not to say the Fitzpatricks hadn’t spoken to Tom within the past 20 years. On the contrary, Keller would be quite involved in their home maintenance over that span of time, be it a minor repair or major upgrade. His mantra of standing by his work held true and continues to do so present-day, fixing everything from a leaky 18-year-old roof to reconfiguring outdoor shower piping—even completely rebuilding an access stairway to the beach that withstood Super Storm Sandy in 2012. “We go above and beyond, even after the homeowner warranty expires; sometimes we even repair items for free. This is when our customers truly make us feel appreciated,” he shares. This quality was certainly valued by the Fitzpatricks, among other clients of the firm. Tom Keller recognizes that the potential for a delightful working relationship with clients is high if terms are candidly discussed and agreed upon, transparency
remains priority, expectations met, and communication flowing. “While building for the Fitzpatricks there was always direct communication; it was more like a friendship. After construction, we have remained close with them and will continue to always be there to help with small things as well as large repairs in their home. We check on their house every other week.”
On occasion construction projects may require modifications or an alteration to plans, but what the Fitzpatricks always felt was a sense of allegiance to their ultimate wishes. When Joan learned that she wouldn’t be able to install the stove she had chosen due to a glitch in the kitchen cabinetry blueprints of their second home, Tom stopped at nothing to ensure client satisfaction. She recalls feeling as though he was always “on her side” when faced with a subcontractor or outside vendor quandary. He always went the extra mile to ensure the best outcome, whether it was stunningly intricate trim work or enlisting the best custom painter available. Needless to say, those kitchen cabinets were tweaked and she was not disappointed with her stove.
Operating a successful business for over 38 years, Keller likens the relationship of a client and builder to that of a great marriage. “Communication is key and trust is a must. Knowing that your builder is financially secure is also very important.” But that is not to undervalue the significance of loyalty, sharing common goals based on mutual respect, and having a sense of humor. Joan Fitzpatrick noted this sense of loyalty and family when she recognized that the foreman and crewmembers who showed up to the building site in 2009 were the same employees she had met some 20 years earlier. Even today Tom’s wife Daphne shares that past clients stop by the Keller office regularly to visit, drop off treats for the crew, or simply just to have a neighborly conversation—as Tim Fitzpatrick often does to catch up with his old friend. This is the true testament to not only the type of homes, but also the quality of relationships this builder simultaneously develops.