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Steve Harden Builders, Shallotte, North Carolina

Beauty and brawn are two adjectives unlikely to be used in the same sentence, especially when talking about the construction industry. But the houses built by Steve Harden Builders reflect that juxtaposition quite well: They are both aesthetically leasing and built to last.

"We are focused on three major things when building homes," owner Steve Harden says. "We are dedicated to impeccable quality, are meticulous about every detail and are committed to completing projects on time and within budget."

Home building is in Harden's blood; he got his start helping with his dad's construction business as a young boy. In fact, he has been framing houses and pouring foundations since the age of 12. His early exposure to the industry built a foundation for a lifetime of experience and expertise in residential construction, and it shows in every detail of his homes.

Steve has managed his own construction business, building resort homes on Ocean Isle Beach in Brunswick County, North Carolina, for more than 20 years, but despite the size of his growing business, he still manages to supervise the construction of each home.

Steve's clients are impressed with his personalized service and his focus on their individual tastes and needs. "We were building a custom home, and Steve was willing to do anything we wanted," says client Dave Hickey. "We did a number of things that were out of the box. Steve and his crew were willing to do that. They were ready to step up and reach beyond what they normally do. They were open to helping us realize our vision." Steve's long-term relationships with his clients are based on trust and honesty, and they hire his company time and again to build their homes and investment properties.

"We were able to speak quite frankly and openly with each other," says Ronnie Ramsey, another client. "Our first impression of Steve was that he's honest and his word is good. We found that impression was correct, and his character held true throughout."

While starting out as a framing subcontractor more than two decades ago, Steve first met and worked sideby-side with many of the craftsmen he now hires to finish his houses. He knows their work; they respect his high standards and reputation for excellence. These long-standing relationships are key to controlling costs and meeting deadlines.

"I've dealt with contractors for more than 40 years, and Steve is one of the best I've ever seen," says client Gerald Huneycutt. "He builds a good house. Once he starts a house, he stays on it until it's finished, usually in six months or less.