A Foundation of Teamwork
Colleen Ruefle-Haley definitely qualifies as a Jill-of-all-Trades. As Vice-President of Suncrest Homes, she never spends a day the same way twice. Her primary duties include overseeing jobs, selling homes, and handling the day-to-day operations of the company.
Her day begins at 6 a.m., checking schedules and looking to see who’s working which jobs. She visits job sites and talks to her superintendents on a daily basis. There is seemingly always something new and pressing to deal with. She often has to reschedule her day because of some urgent concern. Most recently, Colleen dealt with a gas utility emergency in one of their new communities. The gas line was running in the same direction as a sewer line, and she needed to meet up with the excavation team, her engineers and the gas company in order to remedy the situation. That same afternoon she met with a client and architect, and then spent the evening emailing folks back. Never a dull day for Colleen, and she’s been running like this–in one way or another–for 42 years.
Based in the Eastern Pittsburgh suburb of Murrysville, Suncrest Homes is a custom home builder, who also specializes in remodels and additions. They most recently got involved with land and parcel development as well. Colleen learned the business from her father, J. Michael Ruefle, Jr., a Navy veteran who started the company back in 1987. “I got into this [business] all because of my father. I was an only child and he used to take me into the office as a kid. Over time, I would spend more and more time in the office and eventually spend my summers on job sites.” She dabbled in various other areas; she attended Robert Morris University for a time (her dad’s alma mater) and studied marketing; she worked at an ad agency and she taught dance to middle schoolers–but Colleen always gravitated back to her father’s business. When asked what her favorite part about the construction industry is, she says, “I love watching the moving parts come together. I’ve always found it interesting, and I guess you could say it’s in my blood.”
Her father Michael, president and founder of Suncrest Homes, says that he’s still doing everything that he’s always done but “just not quite as much of it.” His business trajectory developed quite naturally. As a child, he spent time in his grandfather’s aluminum window and door manufacturing business. He became a carpenter and worked as part of a framing crew for Crawford Homes (who, at the time, was a leading builder in the Eastern Pittsburgh suburbs) before joining the Navy in 1966. Michael served for four years and upon returning home, graduated from Robert Morris with a business degree, having studied marketing. His brother Greg encouraged him to enter the construction business. Together, they installed storm doors and garage doors and soon that morphed into his first business: Sunshine Designers and Remodelers, established in Plum Borough in the early 1970s. Sunshine specialized in remodels and additions, but Michael always had the desire to build new construction. In 1987, he founded Suncrest. Michael acknowledges that “the success of Suncrest Homes is built on a foundation of teamwork. Most of our team has been with us from the very beginning.”
Meet the Suncrest Family
Colleen started as a bookkeeper and has never left: “I remember the days when Suncrest hired out their subcontractors. That worked for a while, but then we hired our own.” One of their own was Tom Haley, Colleen’s then-boyfriend and now-husband of 28 years. Tom technically earns the distinction of being Suncrest’s first employee…after Colleen, that is.
Seven of the nine Suncrest employees are family, either by blood or through marriage. Michael is founder and president. Colleen is vice-president and runs the daily operations. Michael’s wife Maureen, while a realtor for Howard Hanna, is considered an integral part of their sales team. Tom Haley, Colleen’s husband, started as a laborer and remains a carpenter but also works as a superintendent. There’s a second Tom, nicknamed “Uncle Tom,” Colleen’s uncle and Michael’s brother, who works as both a carpenter and their estimator. Dave Kozera, superintendent and carpenter, is a brother-in-law. Both Uncle Tom and Dave worked with Michael in the early Sunshine days. Mark Ruefle, member of the field team, is a cousin; bookkeeper Jamie Donkin is married to a cousin. Carpenter Tony Briggs has been with Suncrest for over 30 years, and Donna Gamrat works as the administrative assistant/customer service representative. Colleen notes that the lines are blurred on purpose: “We think of Tony and Donna as family.”
Few in the Field
Colleen takes in stride the fact that she’s one of the only women in her field. In a male-dominated industry, she’s had to prove herself time and time again. “It took a lot of years to get where I am, but still, some people don’t believe I know what I’m talking about. [Men] still have a hard time, but once they see that I can talk shop, they come around.”
She says that she’s never shocked when faced with old prejudices; she simply bites her tongue and talks the talk. She lets men know that while, no, she has never worked as a laborer who “poured a footer,” she knows the business extremely well. What she doesn’t know, she works until she finds the answer. Once she shares her thorough knowledge of building codes and construction details, she sees that people start listening. She is a card-carrying OSHA member and has acquired extensive knowledge of the business from her years of asking questions. Says Colleen, “I’m very inquisitive. I’ve been lucky to have wonderful trade partners who have taught me so much, and it all started with my dad.”
Her awards definitely help sway opinions. In 1993, Colleen Ruefle-Haley was named Homebuilder of the Year by the Westmoreland Homebuilders Association. Three years later, she was elected the first woman president of the group. In 2016, she became president of the Builders Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh (BAMP), becoming the second woman to serve in that role in its 78-year history.
“During my time as BAMP president, I presented two big platforms. First, I wanted to stress that we need more women in the trades. Secondly, I wanted to elevate trades as a very viable and respectable education path, which 100% they are. I wish more females would be recruited by local trade schools.”
Michelle Petrovsky, Senior Vice President with First National Bank, Investment Real Estate Group, has known and worked with Colleen since 2012. She describes Colleen as “game-ready and ‘on.’” Michelle finds Colleen to be “always professional, considerate, and helpful,” and she compliments Colleen on her abilities, stating, “She’s pretty impressive, having to juggle all the personalities she encounters, manage daily operations on every level, and balance all the personal relationships of both employees and clients.”
Over the years, Michelle has watched Colleen “make her way in a man’s world. She learned the business; she knows the business and yet has to prove herself time and time again. [Women have] to work harder to stay successful.”
Twice is Nice
Nothing speaks more to the reputation of a builder than “repeat clients,” such as Kim and Dave Shott, who first built with Suncrest 23 years ago and then recently hired them for a major remodel. The Shott Family was first impressed all those years ago, when they walked around neighborhoods, looking at sites with Michael. They had heard of Suncrest’s good reputation and liked the products they saw. They eventually settled in Lyons Run in Murrysville and were completely happy with their decision.
Fast forward two plus decades, when the Shotts debated whether or not to add outdoor living space or to finally refinish their basement. Ultimately, they chose to refinish their 1,400 sq. ft. basement, and they immediately thought of Suncrest. Dave talks about the genesis of the remodel: “Our basement was completely unfinished. I have a hobby (collecting vintage stereo equipment) that turned into an obsession and renovating allows me to accommodate the equipment and enjoy the music that I love. We also decided to include a bar and kitchen area, as well as a full bedroom and bath for when our kids visit with their families. Kim also designed a 5 by 5-foot niche for my other hobby (collecting unique beer taps). I can now display those in an artful, designed area. Suncrest provided an entirely new living space, framing all the drywall, and adding a limestone rock face fireplace. It’s beautiful.”
Says Kim, “Meticulous is one word that comes to mind when I think of Suncrest. We were so impressed with the level of cleanliness [the workers maintain.] Colleen is a great listener; she listens to our ideas. I mean, really listens, as do the workers.” For Kim, it was the listening and quality of materials that stood out. She talks more about Colleen: “She’s just so nice and good to work with. Colleen and her team are excellent communicators. They’ve always been on time with the scheduling. It feels like your own family is walking into your house when they come over.” Both Dave and Kim appreciate the way Suncrest works with clients. Dave adds, “It’s so nice to be in their office. Colleen pulls up to the computer and projects ideas onto a screen. She suggests ideas by showing photos and providing samples. We had a lot of back and forth before reaching a decision, and we appreciate how they bring another dimension to the decision process.”
Many of Suncrest’s clients are couples looking to downsize. Earl and Sandy Seitz are in their 80s and had been looking for a smaller, one level home for several years. They were living in a large ranch home on a large lot, and the maintenance became too great to comfortably manage. The Seitz family shopped for homes in several neighborhoods, but eventually chose a carriage home in Sterling Oaks in Penn Township. Recalls Earl, “Suncrest had exactly what we wanted, which was the exact duplicate of a model home we had seen. The price was right and we loved the neighborhood. During construction, [future neighbors] would introduce themselves and then willingly volunteer ‘You’re going to love it here.’ And they were right…”
Sandy reveals that the favorite part of her new house is the modern layout of the home and that “on a Pittsburgh grey day, it’s still so nice and bright, especially in the morning room. Suncrest made sure the job was done thoroughly. It was a fantastic experience. Whenever we had an issue, they were right there! We had no complaints.”
Adds Earl, “It was mind-boggling how solid the construction was. We never built with a custom home builder before and it was a very nice process. Colleen may be the smartest woman I have met. She takes care of the details. No matter if the question is simple or complex, Colleen gets you an answer and it’s a good answer! There is no falseness with her.”
Suncrest went the extra mile with the Seitzes. Because their construction start time was slated during the beginning of a global pandemic, Earl wasn’t sure they were comfortable going forward and had asked for a two-month hiatus. Suncrest worked with them to accommodate their request, and the couple were still able to move in on time. During their closing meeting, Earl got emotional because they are “just so thrilled” to live in their new home.
A People Person
Michael never wanted to be a big company guy. In his own words, “I’m a ’Burgher. I’m a Western Pennsylvania builder. I’m the same guy I always was. I attend my high school reunions. I love developing communities and I am lucky to have a great family.” He attributes some of his success to the fact that he’s a total people person: “I have lived in 60% of the communities that I’ve built. I can walk the streets in these places and say hello to many friends. Some of my best friends are people I met through work.” One of Michael’s favorite things to do is–around the holidays–drive through the communities and think about the families that he’s built homes for. He especially loves that some clients’ children are now building or remodeling with Suncrest.
Part of Suncrest’s success is owed to Michael’s visionary nature. There were many artists and creative types of people in his family, and he relies on his innate sense of design and a good grasp of scope to complete a project. Michael is willing to take risks and has always done his homework. He drives around a lot, and spends time on houzz.com and pinterest.com as part of his ongoing homework. Even on vacation, he and his wife Maureen will visit open houses to see and learn new things. Says Michael, “I study the market very closely. Always have. It’s important to stay aware.”
Setting Realistic Expectations
Colleen Ruefle-Haley takes after her dad, in that, she too is a people person. She enjoys spending time with her husband and two children, and she loves skiing and boating and travelling with family and friends. Her family likes to bike and play cards together. Not surprisingly, she likes to watch HGTV, citing the show Hometown as one of her favorites. She likes it because Ben, one of the hosts, is not a production builder but rather a craftsman. The emphasis of quality, not quantity, resonates with Colleen. She acknowledges that while HGTV home renovation shows make for great TV, the downside is that they make it seem “too easy and too fast.” Her advice to other home-buying seekers? “Give it time. Be patient. Be realistic. HGTV and the internet have set unrealistic levels of expectation, so you should just trust the experts.” NH
Current projects for Suncrest Homes:
The Acres (Murrysville)
Suncrest’s newest community. Coming to Murrysville in January 2021. Ten wooded homesites (between two and six acres) on a cul-de-sac.
Sterling Oaks (Penn Township in Westmoreland County)
Award Winning Plans for 1,500 sq. ft. to 3,000+ sq. ft. single family and one-level, low maintenance luxury carriage homes, starting in the $390s.
Serenity Pointe (Murrysville)
Complete home site packages start in the $590s. Only one executive home site remains.
Siena Ridge (Murrysville)
Decorated model, with new designs and floor plans, available to tour. Single family homes starting in the $690s.
Allegheny Woodlands (North of Vandergrift/Apollo in Allegheny Township)
Single family homes starting in the $290s.