10/03/08 12:34pm

A couple of tipsters are telling us that Royce Builders is back in business, only a little more than a week after shutting everything down! Members of the Speer family, say our sources, have started up a new company with about 10 employees in the same Royce Builders building on Beltway 8, in the space formerly occupied by Royce’s sister company, Hammersmith Financial.

Even more fascinating is the name of the new company, which one of our sources says is Vestalia. If that’s true, it’s a terrific choice! In ancient Roman mythology, Vesta was the virgin goddess of hearth and home. How appropriate!

Well, sort of. Vestalia is actually the name of a holiday that celebrated Vesta. Wikipedia provides the . . . uh, gory details:

On the first day of the festivities the penus Vestae (the curtained sanctum sanctorum of her temple) was opened, for the only time during the year, for women to offer sacrifices in. Such sacrifices included the removal of an unborn calf from a pregnant cow.

Can’t wait to hear what sort of business this new company will be!

09/22/08 5:03pm

Royce Builders Building, 7850 N. Sam Houston Pkwy. West, HoustonRoyce Builders has finally shut down. The company slipped out somewhere between gusts of Hurricane Ike, leaving only a note on its website.

Looking for an earnest money refund? Try Royce’s handy new sounds-like-spam Gmail address! But do it before October 1, because . . . well, just because.

Got a home warranty issue? Well then, just . . . read the warranty!

A reader comments:

My concern is for the people who closed on one of their poorly built homes in the last 365 days. Royce was the backer of the new home warranty for the first year of ownership and now they are gone. My friends who used to work for them tell me there are thousands of unfinished warranty requests that were never completed or even addressed. I wish all the home owners good luck on getting things fixed. At least they will have the Two to Ten Waranty beginning in the second year (if Royce paid the premium).

Royce’s happy farewell message is after the jump!


09/04/08 4:03pm

What’s in the Swamplot inbox? More fun news and comments about Royce Builders and mortgage-y sidekick Hammersmith Financial:

According to a source all sales was finally let go yesterday. . . . Subdivisions have been completely stone cold. In addition, Hammersmith finished up last Friday. Between both, lots of shredding going on. The remainder of Royce is in the Hammersmith offices as well. Also, many who may be interested, [Royce Chief Operating Officer James] Hunter’s last day was a week ago Friday.

For any buyers out there who feel the have been defrauded by Royce, all they need to do is contact the Consumer Fraud Division at 713-755-5836. This is the DA’s office and there is the possibility that criminal charges may be filed if Royce knowingly defrauded consumers, but they MUST make the call.

A little bit more on the shredding:


08/27/08 4:18pm

Royce Builders Building, 7850 N. Sam Houston Pkwy. West, HoustonWhat caused last week’s big implosion over at Royce Builders? And what’s happening now? A Swamplot informant tries to clue us in with this rich, extended view of the company’s problems:

Fact #1: Lavish spending by all of the Speers. At any given time one of two Bentley’s, Ferrari, Escalade or sports cars belonging to the family would be parked at the office. Shawn Speer and his wife Shonna were known for bragging about their lavish spending. Certainly, if you’re making money spend it, but when times are tight they were the only ones still spending money like water.

Fact #2: Example: Shonna told another employee about $30,000 shopping spree to New York and only a purse and few other items were on that steep tab.

Fact #3: As employees were crying and leaving Shonna and her best friend and manager Nicki K. were talking about moving forward with their new clothing line. This conversation opened up speculation that monies had been moved to accounts in Nikki’s name for this purpose.

Oh yes . . . there’s more!


08/25/08 11:24am

Bathroom and Toilet, 15451 Bammel Fields Ct., Bammel Village, Houston, by Royce Builders

A few commenters on the Home Builder Implode-O-Meter website refer to a unique regular participant in Royce Builders sales meetings: a barking toilet seat.

What’s the story here? A Swamplot tipster explains the innovative sales-motivation tool . . . employed by recently released Houston Division head John Zunker:

If anyone else mentions the ‘rubbing of the toilet seat’, that is true by the way. Bizzarre riitual he drempt up- when the meeting was at a close, he has a toilet seat with his face painted on it. The employees would rub it while chanting… Royce, Royce, Royce. Has nothing to do with their financial problems, but thought it was bizarre.



08/22/08 12:37pm

Another report on that Royce Builders sales meeting earlier this week:

I was in attendance at the infamous “Forget the Rumors and sell, sell, sell! [meeting.] We all thought the meeting was called to thank a dedicated and hard working group of sales people. Never once did the Speers humble themselves to utter a thank you for any contributions. We were asked to continue to sell the inventory, but they could not tell us where we would close the home nor how we would get paid. They had Countrywide Sr. Loan Officer Shawna Oakley present because we were told that all the sales on the books at been transferred to her. This did not make a bit of sense because the homes still have liens. We were told the bank was in control out of one side of the mouth and then told that they were trying to find another Title Co. It is no secret that Stewart Title out on Bay Area Blvd. is up to their ears in legals.

We all felt that the Speers should have just told everyone goodbye. The building is basically empty, there are 2 construction workers, 1 accounting person, 1 hr per son and the poor girl answering all the dirty calls and giving callers the runaround. Hats off to Fox’s Mr. Carey for trying . . . to report the truth about Royce Homes.

08/20/08 3:06pm

Royce Builders Building, 7850 N. Sam Houston Pkwy. West, HoustonHow did that sales meeting go this morning at beleaguered Royce Builders? Just peachy, reports a reader:

John Speer was not in attendance, but Shawn and [Shonna Speer] were there. They will be running things. There are no project managers, only two construction managers, no VP of Sales, nothing. Corporate is down to 20 employees total. The sales staff was told not to listen to all the negative rumors, and most of the informaiton is all heresay and rumor. They were told they could sell from their assigned community and any other out there. Shawn assured them they would do their best to get the money form the banks when a home closed to pay the salesperson. (The HUD never shows commission due a salesperson, so I cannot imagine how they will get the salespeople paid.) He also addressed the question of Stewart [Title] not closing several deals in the past weeks due t new liens. Shawn again said that was rumor. He told them that was the case in only one closing, and it was for a $25.00 landscaper bill. That bill was also placed on the wrong home. (Yeah right!)

The salesperson I spoke with is currently looking for another job, as are everyone else I have either talked to or gotten word from. Why they would think that anoyone would give Royce a contract, and God forbid ernest money, is beyond me.

Meanwhile, over at the Houston Association of Realtors:

HAR discussed the Royce situation in their board meeting yesterday and decided to e-mail their Realtors. They basically informed the Realtors of the situation so they would not get caught in the middle of a huge problem.

Photo of Royce Builders offices at 7850 N. Sam Houston Pkwy. West: Stewart Title

08/19/08 4:54pm

Royce Builders now has “about 60″ employees — down from 220 earlier this year, reports the Chronicle‘s Nancy Sarnoff, who managed to get company president John Speer on the phone:

Speer said Royce is working with its lenders to complete homes that already have been started. It is also negotiating with vendors who have liens against the company.

Royce has between 60 and 80 homes that are under construction and will be completed, Speer said. Another 70 or 80 that have been contracted but not yet started are unlikely to be built.

Meanwhile, a tipster tells us that Royce

fired ALL of the project managers and construciton managers yesterday. The corporate phones are not being answered. Hammersmith mortgage, their in-house lender, was closed for good yesterday. The Stewart Title office branch in their corporate office was also closed yesterday.

. . . and adds this colorful story:

One of the PM’s (project managers) was holding a meeting yesterday with his staff of sales people and construction. This was in one of the neighborhoods he manages. He was telling the staff NOT to listen to the rumors and keep slling as usual. He got a phone call on his company cell and left the meeting for several minutes. When he returned, he informed the staff he had been fired and they are on their own.

More Royce rubbernecking . . . after the jump!


08/19/08 5:01am

Royce Builders Building, 7850 N. Sam Houston Pkwy. West, HoustonAt least a few of those swirling rumors about Royce Builders appear to have been on target. Yesterday, Fox 26 reporter Isiah Carey camped out in the parking lot of the company’s offices across Beltway 8 from the Sam Houston Race Park — as a stream of just-laid-off employees loped out of the building carrying boxes.

We’ve also learned Royce has had at least 70 [liens] placed on their properties and homes that have been sold.

Court records indicate the company has failed to pay a contractor for work done. Tax records also show Royce owes the tax assessors office at least $95,000.

How extensive were the layoffs?


08/18/08 3:45pm

Information Center, SouthFork Subdivision, Manvel, Texas

It sure is hard to keep up with all the rumors being floated about Houston-based Royce Builders over at the Implode-Explode forums. Has Royce Homes declared bankruptcy? Have recent Royce homebuyers in SouthFork been having problems with undiscovered liens? Were company parties truly that wild? Are layoffs imminent? Is Royce about to move its offices to a more . . . uh, residential setting?

An abortive news report by Fox 26 Reporter Isiah Carey, scheduled to air last Friday, doesn’t appear to have cleared up any of the questions. The Fox 26 news site reported that Carey was threatened with arrest by a Royce employee — identified by some posters on the Implode-Explode forums as VP Shawn Speer, son of company president John Speer. It’s likely the threats didn’t end there, however: the story has since mysteriously disappeared from the station’s website.

As one poster on the forum angrily suggests, it’s all probably just a big misunderstanding:

Just like the analogy of a run on a bank, things like this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy when too many people buy into it and effectively give up – blowing off walks or closings, and otherwise just flat not doing their job. Did you not get paid today? If these things I have read posted are truly your beliefs, at least resign and stop being paid for nothing…

Photo of SouthFork Information Center: Royce Homes