Jim Katz and Coventry
Building TomorrowÕs Legends
by John Fries
During the 1980Õs, a young entrepreneur named Jim Katz was selling
consumer electronics for the Breyhar Corporation, founded by his brother
Harry Katz as the Pittsburgh-area distributor for Sony. It was the
era of the Walkman and the Betamax, and business was great.
Like most astute businessmen, Katz realized the importance of a great
location as key to the success of any endeavor, so when he wasnÕt
moving televisions, stereos and radar detectors, he was searching
for the right property in which to open his own retail store.
On the way to opening his own store, the road on which he was traveling
took a sharp turn, opening his eyes to some new possibilities. Ultimately,
it led him to a new career as a land developer and builder of large
homes for upscale clients.
Today, Jim Katz is president of Coventry Estates, Inc., which builds
upscale custom homes primarily in Fox Chapel on land that his other
company, Pittsburgh Land Co., has developed.
Currently, Pittsburgh Land Co. has two developments on 90 acres in
Fox Chapel. One plan is named The Enclave; the other is Coventry Estates,
the same name as KatzÕs construction company. He has spent more than
11 years developing in Fox Chapel. Coventry Estates (the home builder)
features single-family dwellings valued at $900,000 and up, with many
homes costing in excess of $1 million.
In an age of cookie-cutter homes, Katz is a hands-on developer and
builder, working closely with each client to create a home of the
"Each home is truly unique," said Katz. "My clients, most of whom
are very sophisticated individuals, are building a home that they
have dreamed about for years. They bring a personal vision of what
they believe their ideal dwelling should be, and my job is to create
and implement their vision.
"At Coventry Estates," he continued, "each home is not only very large,
but also unique in character and flavor, and often incorporating interesting
and exotic materials."
The single thread that runs through each home is a strong attention
to overall quality and specific details, both of which share the top
spot on KatzÕs priority list. He is totally customer-focused, a fact
that does not go unnoticed by his clientele. He admits that his quest
for client satisfaction keeps him nearly always on the go, meeting
with clients, architects, engineers, lawyers, bankers, and, of course,
ItÕs impressive that Katz has built a loyal following and reputation
for excellence in a relatively short time, and even more so, given
that he never planned to enter the development and real estate field.
He believes, however, that it was inevitable.
"I grew up in Squirrel Hill, in a home that was custom-built by my
parents," he explained, "and from a young age, I was exposed to the
construction process. Because I had an interest, my parents took me
to many meetings with architects, some of whom I use today, and trade
people. We were always at the construction site. I loved it."
From a career standpoint, though, he decided to go in a different
direction, and attended Boston University, where he majored in business
and political science. After earning a BachelorÕs degree, he returned
to Pittsburgh and accepted a position at the Bryhar Corporation, where
he worked for 13 years. In his spare time, he explored the real estate
In 1987, convinced that it was time to make a career change, Katz
quit his job with Sony and started the Pittsburgh Land Co.
"The first property I acquired was a large home on South Negley Avenue
in Shadyside," he said. "After I bought the property, I immediately
began to renovate it. I then purchased several additional properties
in Shadyside and renovated them all."
The experience served him well, but his real entrˇe into the world
of real estate development didnÕt come until three years later.
"In 1990, while searching for additional properties to renovate, one
of the banks I was dealing with approached me with an opportunity
to buy a large estate in Fox Chapel. It was then that I thought, Ōwhy
not buy this land and build a business as a land developer on the
145-acre parcel of virtually untouched farmland in Fox Chapel?Õ"
Katz envisioned creating a plan of large, upscale, single-family homes
that would be nestled in a serene, pristine, woodsy setting. He bought
the land for more than $4 million, setting a record for the most expensive
home site purchase in Allegheny County historyŃbut the land justified
In 1993, he introduced The Enclave, which sits on a 49-acre portion
of the property. Four years later, he developed an additional parcel
of the eastern side of Fox Chapel Road, which he named Coventry Estates.
In the early days, Katz worked with a variety of construction companies.
"I would sell the land to builders, then, in some cases, help them
design their homes." This was an admittedly ambitious undertaking
for someone who doesnÕt have a formal education in architecture, but
what he lacked in training, he more than made up for with his design
instincts and innate understanding of what would appeal to clients.
Knowing that his electronics experience had no relevance to real estate
development, he realized the acute need to build a network of associated
professionals. The people and companies with whom he affiliated in
the beginning of his career in real estate continue to work closely
with him today. They include Steve Victor Associates of Sewickley
for land planning and Ron Hartman of Reed Smith for legal assistance.
He also works with Scholz Builders of Ohio and a number of local architects,
depending on the needs of the project.
In the beginning, an issue that occasionally cropped up was not having
an available model home that he could show to interested prospective
buyers. "When we were first getting started, contractors were obligated
to build specs. But, before they could start a spec, I would often
refer a client to one of our builders, who would get a construction
contract of more than $1 million, which would delay the construction
of the required spec."
Alongside The Enclave, a picturesque, 49-acre plan thatÕs the only
one in Allegheny County to exclusively feature homes with an average
price tag in excess of $1 million (some cost as much as $3 million),
sits Coventry Estates. Located here are some of the regionÕs largest
and most grandly designed homes. All of these homes incorporate exacting
details requested by the owners--clients who demand the very best.
"Just a few years ago, this plan was a wide-open field," said Katz.
"And Longmeadow Drive, the main road that runs through The Enclave,
actually was just thatŃa long meadow."
Because the land had not been previously developed in any way, Katz
and his associates first needed to build the planÕs infrastructure.
To keep vehicle traffic to a minimum and maintain a quiet environment,
the plan was designed so that thereÕs only one entrance. Among the
flat roads that run through The Enclave are four private lanes.
The EnclaveÕs exclusivity and charm are enhanced by such distinctive
amenities as gas street lamps and large, landscaped common areas.
The average size of a parcel of land in The Enclave is 1.74 acres.
Some lots are as large as two acres and some are as small as one acre.
Regardless of size, Katz stressed, "the prices are amazingly conservative,
compared to my competitors."
The homes in The Enclave are built of the finest, highest quality
materials, and workmanship is nothing less than excellent. "We over-engineer,"
said Katz, which often means using engineered wood and spending more
dollars up front to ensure that the job is done correctly.
Many of the quality features are actually hidden within the walls.
As a testament to this high level of attention to quality and detail,
Katz proudly noted that "we have very few callbacks (regarding warranty
work)." Every home in The Enclave is built to the exact specifications
of the buyer. Once a floor plan is designed and a home built, the
floor plan is retired and never used again.
Occasionally, Katz said with a laugh, even this can present an issue
once in a while.
"Recently, a doctor saw one of the homes weÕd built and really liked
it. When he contacted me about building one just like it for him,
I had to explain that we simply donÕt do that; that every home we
design and build is unique. Ultimately, after discussing his needs
with him and his family, we steered him toward something with a similar
floor plan--but a different facade."
As illustrated by this story, one of the keys to success in the large
home business is an ability to listen to the client and be, at once,
a consultant, collaborator and problem solver. Because prospective
clients have specific wants and needs, often based on personal likes
and dislikes, itÕs not unusual for the builder to use and often even
import exotic materials to create a desired effect. "Our homes incorporate
lots of mahogany, granite and other high-end material," explained
Sometimes, the clientÕs desire for a certain type of structure is
logistically difficult or even impossible to achieve on the land theyÕve
selected. "For example, a client might want to buy a flat lot, then
ask us to develop a home that canÕt be built in a flat space," he
said. "When that happens, we work closely with him or her to achieve
the effect they want, given the parameters we have to work in.
Sometimes it takes several months to finesse it, but, at the end of
the day, client satisfaction is paramount." Katz speaks with satisfaction
about the homes he builds, most of which are fairly elaborate, and
all of which seem to include some type of "Wow!" factor.
"ThereÕs a stone house on Longmeadow Drive that we built four or five
years ago, but itÕs designed to look like itÕs 100 years old, with
an Old World feel. All the stone was cut on site." He points to another
home for which he designed and built a curved trellis that looks very
much like a work of fine art. Some kitchens have floral backsplashes.
Then, there was the client who wanted the home design to incorporate
inlaid Indian medallions. "There are a number of them in this home,"
he said, "including a four foot-wide medallion in a hardwood floor
in the foyer, under a seven-foot crystal chandelier."
Every home at Coventry Estates and in The Enclave is built to last.
Coventry Estates uses both stick and truss construction. Bathrooms
feature a high level of quality, from the use of solid porcelain for
basins and sinks, to cement board, rather than green board, around
tubs and showers. And, of course, theyÕre finished with marble, granite
and specialty woods.
For Jim Katz, no project is too complex and no detail is too small,
as he continually seeks to implement his clientsÕ visions and create
properties that will provide them with many years of enjoyment. He
is "Building TomorrowÕs Legends."