Tycoon (and blues guitarist) in the making
Master builder Albert Cummings sings the blues, but not about his construction business.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - As home prices seem poised to fall, housing industry businessmen may need a contingency plan for riding out what could be a rough stretch.
That shouldn't be too hard for master builder Albert Cummings -- he already has worked out a combination right for him. His primary business is building expensive homes for a recession-resistant clientele, but he's also an up-and-coming blues musician.
The 37-year-old Massachusetts native plies his building trade in and around his home town of Williamstown, in the bucolic Berkshire Mountains. He followed a long line of Cummingses into the business. "I'm a fourth generation builder," he says. "I believe we're the oldest surviving business in town."
When he first worked on the family business throughout high school, it was a fraction of its current size, grossing maybe $150,000 a year.
"My dad would take all sorts of jobs, many of them nobody else wanted," says Cummings. "One time we put a foundation in under a church, one section at a time. It was very tedious. My father liked to do virtually everything -- dig the foundation, pour it, frame out the house, do all the detail and finish work. I learned to do all that stuff."
In the mid-1980s, Albert went off to the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, where he learned more about building and architecture. After graduation, he rejoined his father, and they benefited from a booming home market in the area.
"Within two years we were doing over $1 million a year," he says.
After six years, Albert's father had a stroke, and Albert took charge of the business. He gradually segued the company into a specialty of high-end, custom homes. He builds big, highly detailed houses mostly sited on large country properties. He recently completed two homes of 11,000 plus square feet. Their prices ran well into seven figures.
For Cummings, music too is part of his heritage -- his dad played big-band guitar semi-professionally.
Ordinarily, you don't find many musicians who double in construction, since handling power tools is too much of a threat. "You can tell an experienced carpenter by the missing fingers," says Cummings. "I've become very careful, almost too careful, around power saws."
Though he played in his youth, once he entered the building business full time, he had little energy left over for music. It wasn't until his late 20s that he decided to devote more time to guitar, and about five years ago, his music career began to take off.
At a concert at RPI in nearby Troy, New York, he connected with another act on the bill, Double Trouble, the old rhythm section of his guitar idol, the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. Impressed with his playing, Double Trouble offered to produce and play back-up for him on a CD, which was released with the title From the Heart.
Since then he's played around the country, opened for such headliners as Johnny Winter, Sheryl Crow and B.B. King, and released another disk, True To Yourself. (For a look at the CD content, go to www.albertcummings.com.) This month, he was in a Memphis studio, recording his fourth disk.
He has not neglected his real estate business, which continues to flourish. One of his houses took Best Custom Vacation Home honors from Custom Builder magazine. Another was named the Best Custom House in New England by Professional Builders magazine.
"The houses we build can be extremely detailed," he says. "Each tries to reflect the person who will live in it."
That means customizing to fit owners' interest -- outfitting a circular staircase with extensive bookshelves for a book lover; putting in a tatami room with rice fiber mats and soaking tub for a Japanophile. Cummings's wife, Christina, contributes her design skills to the operation and runs the business when Albert is on the road.
Together, the couple has built the business into a still-growing concern that books more than $5 million a year.
Almost all the jobs Cummings now takes on are new constructions, but in 2005, he did a renovation project for a very special client -- his own family. He bought a house built in the 1970s and did a complete renovation.
So now the master builder lives in a house he built. And, of course, it comes complete with a music room.
As the market slows, sellers are employing creative tactics to move inventory. Click here for that story.
Williamstown is filled with beautiful homes old and new. For a look at the Best Places to Live in the United States, click here.