Crummer Alumnus Wins Parade of Homes, Named Top Custom Home Builder in Orlando

Ryan Courech `08MBA co-founder of Meridian Homes, is bringing award-winning unique home designs to Central Florida, winning the Parade of Homes for his category just off of Park Avenue in Winter Park.

It was 2009 and it was the wild, wild west for the housing market.

You could find foreclosed homes in nearly every neighborhood, and many developers had their projects come to a screeching halt. In early 2009, U.S. foreclosure filings spiked by more than 81% or one in every 54 households, according to a government report.

Amidst the chaos was also plenty of room for opportunity.

Prices for homes were cheaper than they had been in a decade, and banks were selling off foreclosed properties as a way to offload these failed mortgages.

It was the perfect storm for Ryan Courech, a corporate finance professional and one of the many who was a part of corporate downsizing at a Fortune 50 company.

“While I was at Crummer, I started thinking about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” said Courech, who was thinking about transitioning into the real estate field while at Crummer.

“This was the perfect opportunity for me to try something new,” he said.

Courech teamed up with a childhood friend’s father, Howard Axner, a serial entrepreneur who was also becoming interested in real estate.

Co-founding Meridian Homes together, they starting navigating the rocky landscape of the real estate field at the time.


From the Courthouse Steps

They started by flipping homes by buying them from the Orange County Courthouse steps, where at the time, foreclosed homes were sold via live auction.

It was about as uncivilized as you could imagine.

“There would be about 10-15 regulars there and they would be trying to intimidate you, yelling out things like, ‘is that the one with the hole in the roof?’,” explained Courech.

It was also common for the regulars to purposely bid up the home you wanted, even if they had no interest.

“It was a pretty crazy time,” laughed Courech.

If you did end up winning the auction, the risk you were taking on was immense.

Courech said you immediately had to give them a nonrefundable check for 5% of the purchase price and you inherited anything associated with the house.

“There was no title insurance and you inherited any liens on the property,” he said.

While this provided Ryan and his business partner with a good start in the real estate business, eventually the availability of flipable homes dried up as more competitors entered the market. They pivoted their business strategy to buying homes in nice neighborhoods, adding additions to the homes, and then re-selling them.

“It was fairly inexpensive to build, and then you could sell it at a much higher price, so it worked out well,” he said.

They pivoted their strategy once again when that market started to dry up, so the next logical extension was buying land and building new homes.

Growing Meridian Homes

As Ryan and Howard’s business evolved fromhouse flipping, to adding extensions, to full-time developing, Meridian Homes grew into one of Central Florida’s premier builders/developers.

Under their ethos of creating exceptional value for their customers, Ryan and Howard found their niche in the new home construction business.

Ryan utilized the analytical and problem-solving skills he gained during his time at Crummer to overcome the hurdles of new home construction.

“It also helped when we were meeting with everyone from bankers, to investors, government officials and potential clients. When people learn I have a Crummer MBA, it gives them another level of confidence,” he said.

He also became a licensed Certified Building Contractor, Certified Distressed Property Expert and Realtor, which was necessary in order to learn all the zoning, laws, and planning skills required for new construction.

Meridian Homes’ prowess was on display when they were named as one of the 14 top custom home builders in Home Builder Digest’s 2019 Orlando edition.

They were also the 2018 Parade of Homes winner for custom homes in their category. The custom home they built, located just a couple of blocks off Park Avenue, was a special project for the Meridian Homes team that highlighted their versatility.

“Winning the Parade of Homes in our category was totally unexpected and it was fun working with the home owner on that project,” said Courech. “We had probably 300 to 400 people come through the home. The homeowners were amazing to let us do that.”

Being the opportunist he is, Ryan is ready for any changes the market may throw at him in the future.

“1,500 people are moving here per week. There’s a housing crunch from rentals, to first time home buyers and even higher priced homes,” he said. “Whatever the market throws at us, we’re in a really good position to take advantage of it.”