Md. firm starts project near Prague

BUILDING LUXURY HOMES IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC

June 20, 1993|By Ellen James Martin | Ellen James Martin,Staff Writer

It's a new development of luxury homes, where the properties will have leaded-glass front doors, solid-oak kitchen cabinets, first-rate appliances, two fireplaces and two-car garages.

Homes for the U.S. market?

Hardly.

The houses are destined for Prague in the new Czech Republic, where nouveau riche families are expected to pay the equivalent of $1 million for the privilege of purchasing a 2,400-square-foot property.

A father-son business team from Rockville are shipping the first containers of building supplies for their new subdivision through the port of Baltimore.

The containers will be delivered to a site 10 miles south of Prague near Dolni Brezany, where ground for a new 200-home community is expected to be broken this month.

"The site is incredibly beautiful. It is walking distance to the Vltava River and is no more than a 20-minute drive to the center of Prague," says 26-year-old Martin Sumichrast, who has teamed with his Czech-immigrant father to create the development.

On April 30, the father and son, both general partners in a new company, USA Builders, bought the first 19 lots for the luxury subdivision. Work began May 10. The next step is to build two model homes -- a two-story house known as the "Vista," and a one-story rancher known as the "Horizon." The models should be done in October.

Petr Kojzar, a Columbia resident and Czech-born veteran of the U.S. homebuilding industry, was recently hired by the Sumichrasts as president of USA Builders.

He is in Prague to oversee construction of the company's development there.

The 19 units being built this year, like all of the homes planned for the 200-unit development, will have city water and sewer, telephones, cable television hookups and even a homeowners association -- rare features in the Czech market.

Financing for the $5 million project was arranged in Prague by the Velkomoravska Banka (the Great Moravian Bank), headed by a wealthy Czech entrepreneur who was originally set up in business by the Sumichrast family.

Building homes in the Czech Republic is a strenuous ordeal yet a labor of love for Michael Sumichrast, who escaped from his once-Communist homeland in 1948. He built homes in Australia until 1955 when he came to the United States.

He was a homebuilder in New Jersey and Ohio and for two decades he was chief economist for the National Association of Homebuilders.

After leaving his high-profile position as chief forecaster for the trade group six years ago, Mr. Sumichrast -- who holds a doctorate in economics -- began Sumichrast Publications Inc., which publishes a newsletter forecasting residential real estate trends.

The company also focuses on commercial real estate, publishing "Real Estate Perspectives," with the Arthur Andersen accounting firm.

Mr. Sumichrast was drawn to the Czech market after Communism fell in November 1989. The privatization of the economy is progressing rapidly and the need for new housing is great -- much greater than in the United States, where homebuilding is enjoying a slow recovery.

"Demand is obviously stronger in Czechoslovakia than in this country," Mr. Sumichrast said.

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