By Emily Williams
In November, Cahaba Heights residents Jessie and Billy Barnhill embarked on a new way of life with their two children.
The couple started Barnhill Homes, a family-owned and -operated building and remodeling company.
Though becoming their own bosses was a new experience, the work is something both are familiar with, each growing up with parents who operated construction-related businesses.
“Growing up, my father owned a door and window company – a millwork company – where they supply doors and windows and trim to new construction houses,” he said.
Billy was 12 when his dad started his company, and he quickly began working for his father when he could – through his time at Chelsea High School and all the way up until he began working for Signature Homes in 2015.
Jessie, meanwhile, grew up in Washington, D.C., where her parents worked in the commercial sheetrock industry.
“My parents did framing and sheetrock for grocery stores, department stores, apartment complexes and so on,” she said.
While attending college at the University of Alabama, the couple met through mutual friends.
After college, Billy spent 7 years in the Alabama Army National Guard, serving as a 1st lieutenant before earning his Home Builders License in 2014 and joining Signature Homes.
Jessie attended and graduated from Cumberland School of Law at Samford University and began practicing in personal injury and divorce.
“I was ready to leave the law shortly after getting started,” she said. “We knew at some point we wanted to carve out a career for ourselves that involved more family time, more autonomy, and Billy has had it on his bucket list for his whole life to become an independent homebuilder and contractor.”
In 2018, she left her job and became a Realtor while Billy continued to learn as he worked with Signature, fostering relationships with his coworkers and vendors.
“Even when I was doing doors and windows, the entire time I just wanted to own my own business eventually and start working on new houses and what I am doing now,” Billy said.
In November 2018, he left Signature on good terms with the full support of management and staff, and the couple created Barnhill Homes.
Success Despite COVID
About three months into their new business, the COVID-19 pandemic set in; but while many things slowed down, their work has increased both in building and in real estate.
“It’s kind of a two-prong situation,” Jessie said. “Interest rates are at record lows. So, you’ve seen the housing market exploding because of that.”
Billy noted that homeowners are jumping on the opportunity to refinance their homes due to the low interest rates and are then putting the money they gain back into their homes.
In addition, home improvements in relation to purchasing and selling homes have remained steady.
In that respect, Jessie said, “People are hiring Barnhill Homes in order to get their house ready for sale.” The owners are completing projects that they have been putting off for a while, so that they can get the highest return on their investment.
Remodeling Is Popular
The Barnhills have seen a more noticeable increase in homeowners who are remodeling for themselves.
People are stuck in their homes, perhaps with their children, and they are feeling a need for more room, Jessie said.
“I think we have had four offices built in the past couple of months – people who wanted to finish off attic and basement space so they have a quiet place to work during a pandemic,” Jessie said.
Some of those rooms are also being used as playrooms so kids can spread out and play without getting in the way of their parents’ working in the kitchen or living areas.
“Everybody is realizing what it is that their house is missing, and the funds are accessible because of those low interest rates,” Jessie said.
For example, the Barnhills completed a full kitchen remodel on a home in Cahaba Heights that was built in the early 2000s. The owners just wanted a more functional and updated kitchen.
Reconfiguring the kitchen island in the center of the kitchen was the biggest task, according to Billy.
Before the renovation, there was a two-tier island in the center of the kitchen, which Billy said he used to see a lot of but has now become quite dated.
One side of the island offered lower counterspace and a sink for the kitchen, and the other side was raised up to accommodate bar-stool seating.
Billy and his crew brought the island down to one level and then put in a large farmhouse sink, outfitted with a gooseneck faucet.
“Then we wrapped shiplap all around the sides of that island,” he said.
A breath of new life arrived in the kitchen as Billy and his crew installed a new backsplash, new countertops, new lighting and other details.
Sharing the Work
While the work is continuing to rev up and the pandemic rages on, the Barnhills have noticed that being their own bosses and working together has made family time and organizing child care easier than ever before.
“We can just hand off the kids whenever either of us have appointments,” Jessie said.
The kids are getting used to helping out both of their parents, tagging along for some of Jessie’s home showings and helping Billy out on the weekends.
“Usually on Saturdays, we take the dump trailer to the dump and my 4-year-old son absolutely loves that,” Billy said.
“And our 7-year old daughter is convinced that she is a lucky charm for sellers or buyers, because any time she tags along for an appointment, they end up going under contract,” Jessie added.
Pandemic or no, the Barnhills count themselves fortunate to be doing what they love.
“We just wanted a family business and to use all of the relationships that we had built up until that point and put them all to use to form our dream career,” she said.