Hank McCullough made just $2,500 on the first house he ever built more than a decade ago—but he couldn’t even call that tiny profit his paycheck. He had to split the earnings with his dad, who had fronted him some money for the down payment.
The house was a 1,500-square-foot farm style home in a rural county near Raleigh, North Carolina, and McCullough quickly realized what he’d done wrong: He had priced it too low. “It sold really fast,” he remembered.
But McCullough pressed on. He’d grown up around construction. His dad has always built things. His mom is in real estate. And his stepfather is a general contractor. While working as a brick salesman, McCullough caught the building bug. “I was around builders all day,” he said. “And they said, ‘Why aren’t you doing this?’”
Fast forward more than a decade, and McCullough is making far more than $2,500 per house.
His business, Urban Building Solutions, is now a $12 million enterprise, and McCullough focuses his work in sought-after neighborhoods near downtown Raleigh, a city and surrounding area that has experienced tremendous growth in recent years amid an overall surge in residential home values nationwide.
McCullough has also gained international fame as the general contractor during a season of the popular HGTV show “Love It or List It,” which filmed multiple seasons in the Raleigh area.
Now, the business is a family affair. Urban Building Solutions’ exponential growth—thanks, in part, to the booming Raleigh economy and McCullough’s TV fame—prompted his wife, Cindy, to leave her job as a nurse and join Urban Building full time.
“I just never would have dreamed in a million years that I would be running a $12 million a year construction company,” McCullough said.
Sticking with it
McCullough never formally learned how to build; he never worked as an apprentice or under another builder. He just studied hard for the general contractor’s exam and passed. For seven years, starting in 2007, McCullough toiled in rural-but-fast-growing areas near Raleigh, building small houses and doing small home improvement jobs like porches and renovations.
“I had one building inspector one time say, ‘Are you even a builder?’” McCullough remembered. “But I figured it out. I stuck with it.”
In 2014, McCullough heard that neighborhoods just north of Raleigh’s downtown were booming with new construction. Older homes were getting torn down; new homes were sprouting up in their place. Builders were buying property for $200,000 a lot and selling new homes for $550,000, McCullough said.
McCullough picked up his life—buying an 800-square-foot home in the neighborhood—and started the company from his kitchen table. Demand was so great in the neighborhood that a buyer put a contract on his first house before he ever scratched dirt for the footings. “So, I said, ‘I think we got something here,’” McCullough said.
The prices in the neighborhoods that McCullough works in have skyrocketed since. Now, lot prices are between $450,000 and $500,000 for a teardown, and new homes are selling for $1.4 million or $1.5 million. McCullough is building as many as 18 homes a year.
“Love It or List It” came calling around 2018, and McCullough seized the opportunity to work behind the scenes as a contractor. He wasn’t initially on camera, but as the show’s representatives got to know McCullough, they asked him to audition for an on-camera spot.
McCullough got the gig, filming a season as the show’s general contractor from 2019 to right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020. “That was a couple of hectic years,” McCullough said, as he juggled his growing business with all-day filming.
The extra work was worth it. “We had so much fun,” said McCullough, who added he now often gets recognized when he’s out around town. “We laughed, and we all cut up. I’ve made some friendships out of that.”
The TV stardom didn’t hurt business, either. “The pros are that we’ve gotten some exposure and people reach out to us,” said Cindy. “It gives Hank some notoriety.”
At the same time, some people expect their project to go just like the renovations they watched unfold on “Love It or List It.” “They think it’s going to be that type of back and forth,” Cindy said. “But when you renovate something, you price the job and they do it or not. It’s not the same process that’s on television.”
Making time for each other
McCullough and his wife had just started dating when the show first approached him, and it was a whirlwind romance. “I told her I loved her after seven days,” McCullough said. They married in 2019.
The combination of McCullough’s work on the show and the demand for houses in the area prompted the need for Urban Building to hire an additional project manager, so Cindy came aboard full time. Today, the couple lives in the neighborhood, not far from their office and surrounded by homes they’ve built or are working on.
It can be hard to take a break, but they both focus on taking time for each other, squashing work talk at lunch or in the evening. “I’ve got to turn it off,” McCullough said. “Because if I don’t turn it off, there’s no rest, there’s no peace.”
Just as it has for other builders across the country, COVID-19 has presented plenty of challenges for McCullough’s business. The cost of materials has skyrocketed and delivery can take months. And the growth in the neighborhoods where they build has forced the couple to get creative. They are wading into townhome construction as well as working on a project to build 18 high-end units with rooftop decks that overlook downtown Raleigh.
But, in an industry fraught with labor shortages, the two said they have never run into labor issues. McCullough has worked hard to cultivate a roster of top-notch subcontractors, and he treats them well. “We pay people weekly,” McCullough said.
Added Cindy: “When you pay someone every Friday, when you call them and you need them to do something soon … they do your job first.”
McCullough has no plans to slow down, but he is thinking about the future. At the moment, his 21-year-old son isn’t interested in following in his father’s footsteps. But McCullough said one of his young employees has what it takes to potentially take the business over one day.
For now, he’s looking for the next opportunity. And McCullough and Cindy are proud of what they’re doing—building homes where families and their neighbors are making memories, and supporting the other small businesses who work for him.
The landscaping company McCullough uses, for example, had only rudimentary tools when they started working together. Now, the owner has four trucks, owns his own home and was landscaping houses on “Love It or List It.”
“Our life feels very gratifying,” McCullough said. “I just feel like we’re making a tremendous difference.”