Executive Q&A: Self-described ‘hooligan’ in high school finds his strong suit is in building houses

During their childhood, when televisions had on/off knobs, Oklahoma City homebuilder Jack Evans and his identical twin, Jay, didn’t know — until their friends told them — that the same TV knob also controlled sound. Their deaf parents never turned up the knob, and communicated with their sons through sign language, which was the twins' first language. They needed speech therapy to perfect their English. From a model home in the Pleasant Grove addition near Memorial and Council, Evans, who is managing partner of TimberCraft Homes, recently talked with The Oklahoman about the effect his silent household had on his life and career.

Evans, 47, not only had an unconventional upbringing, but also was a nontraditional college student and worked several different jobs before finding his niche in homebuilding 10 years ago. His twin since has followed him into the industry. TimberCraft had annual revenues last year of $16.5 million and employs 16, including an interior designer and two planners who draw the firm’s unique blueprints, Evans said. With paintable exterior sidings, open floor plans, multiple windows and cathedral ceilings, his homes, even those smaller than 2,000 square feet, “give the illusion of volume and a cleaner feel,” said Evans, who’s built in northwest Oklahoma City, Surrey Hills, a little in Mustang and around to Edmond. He’s also built on 42 tornado-ravaged lots in Moore. The following is an edited transcript of the sit-down with Evans:

Q: Who’s older, you or your brother, and how identical are you?

A: I’m seven minutes older than Jay. We were born, two months premature, in Ponca City, where our parents were passing through. We lived our first two years in Afton, my mom’s hometown, so that my grandparents could help care for us. Then, we moved to Enid. My mom didn’t identify us in most of the pictures from our childhood, because she couldn’t even tell us apart. Today, we don’t look so much alike. But when people see us separately, they still struggle with who’s who.

Q: What did your parents do?

A: My dad, who was born deaf, and mom, who lost her hearing at age 4 or 5 after getting tuberculosis, met at the Oklahoma School for the Deaf in Sulphur. My mom, at 20, was about to graduate and dad, at 32, had returned for a football game. He had trained as a pressman at the school, but worked 29 years as a butcher for the Enid State School for the intellectually disabled. He died of kidney cancer at age 60, shortly before he’d planned to retire. The most he ever earned was $17,000, but he left a good pension for my mother, who’s retired and lives outside Lawton. My mom worked as a housekeeper for the school, until she was hurt in a car accident. She was riding a Vespa and turning back into the school after a lunch break, when she was hit. Afterward, she couldn’t work and, until she was approved for disability benefits, we for a few years were on food stamps. It was not great. Jay and I can remember standing in line to get cheese and pinto beans. We were old enough, at 11 or 12, to know our friends were not doing that. We have a sister, a few years younger, who has her own business as an interpreter for the deaf in Fort Worth.

Q: In which extracurricular activities were you involved in school?

A: Jay and I just hung out, often with two other friends. We were hooligans and not the best kids. Our parents taught us a good work ethic and the value of keeping our credit clean; we threw morning and afternoon papers from the time we were 11 or 12 and saved and bought our own motorcycles and cars. But they were satisfied with only passing grades. Meanwhile, largely unsupervised and with an accomplice in each other, we vandalized and shoplifted. Some of our teachers are probably surprised we’re not in jail.

Q: And college?

A: I’d graduated high school four or five years before I started college, and that was mainly because I wasn’t getting the kind of job I wanted. Having worked as a supervising night stockman for United Foods in Enid and a day stockman for a grocery in Fort Worth, I started at Northern Oklahoma College in Enid toward earning my associate’s in business admin after I graduated, I decided to continue, commuting to UCO in Edmond. I figured I could always go back and be a food broker, but after earning my bachelor’s in finance, I joined MidFirst Bank and worked five years as a servicing and acquisition analyst in the administration of home mortgages.

Q: What made you decide to work for yourself?

A: Though I enjoyed working for MidFirst, and got great training in understanding finance and contracts, I didn’t like being chained to the office from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Theresa already had started her own business doing title work for banks on repossessed cars, and I saw how she could come and go as she wanted. My first venture was buying a commercial industrial paint business that was a wholesale supplier to area manufacturers. It was successful, but I hated it. It was a culture shock, coming from a professional bank environment. I found my niche in the housing market, blending white- and blue-collar work by working with banks on financing, but overseeing construction outside of the office. Before I was a builder, I fixed up and flipped homes I bought in sheriff sales, doing most of the work myself. But after shows on flipping houses starting airing in 2005 on HDTV, there no longer was any money in it, and I transitioned to homebuilding. Within six months after the house flipping shows started, the number of people showing up at foreclosure sales ballooned from 50 to 400, including stay-at-home moms pushing baby strollers who thought they could make a little money on the side.

Q: Did you and Theresa ever plan children?

A: I joke that Jay had my share. He has five kids, ages 8 to 25. And on Theresa’s side, we have 29-year-old fraternal twin nieces, who lived with us for a time when they were attending OU. Theresa had a hysterectomy before we married, so we knew we wouldn’t have biological children. We’d considered adopting, but when the time came, after I’d completed my degree and we’d started our separate businesses, it just wasn’t part of our life.

Q: Is it hard competing against your twin brother, Jay Evans of Two Structure Homes, who also builds houses in the same additions as you?

A: I don’t see it as business he gets, I lose. Our products are as different as a Subaru and Ford Truck; my homes are more modern and his, more traditional. In general, my buyers are younger, ages 28 to 32, but they’re sophisticated buyers. Many are buying their first homes, only these aren’t cracker box stereotypical starter homes or tract homes, but distinctive homes that reflect them. As twins, Jay and I have competed our whole lives, and the competition has — and still does — make both of us better.