By coincidence, Denise Sorin met Thomas K. Fischer during a walk-through of a historic home in Upper Makefield that she and her husband, Gary, were considering buying. Their first meeting was brief, but in the ensuing months the three of them would be spending a lot more time together.
The Sorins, who were moving to Bucks County from Florida, saw much promise in the Upper Makefield home, yet they also realized it would need some substantial improvements to make the space suit their needs, especially considering the fact that Denise was caring for her 86-year-old mother.
The Sorins ultimately bought the property, and they hired Fischer to help them “make it theirs.” The day after the Sorins closed on the home, Fischer was on site to get started on renovating the house, which Sorin admits needed “a lot of updating.”
“Tom was at that first walk-through helping the sellers with their new home, and we heard very good things about him from the start,” she says. “For me, us finding somebody like Tom to work with to help with such a massive renovation … well, he was a godsend.
“He had the foresight and consideration to do everything in phases, making sure with each phase that we would have an area to live in [that wasn’t being renovated] so it wasn’t an inconvenience,” she continues. “It was a total collaboration, and Tom was open and honest with me the whole way; he would tell me when something was not going to work. … Overall it was an amazing experience, which is probably something you don’t hear too often about builders.”
Fischer, a Newtown native who grew up in a 300-year-old stone farmhouse on Creamery Road, has become perhaps the most sought-after local builder of architecturally designed reproductions of historic homes—“harmonious, functioning period pieces,” as he calls them. He’s also as a gifted restorer and renovator of carriage houses, converted barns and other signature Bucks County structures.
“People can’t sell their house and make any money right now, so they’re going to get comfortable,” he says. “We’re finally seeing people make a decision to fix up the house they are in and live in their money.”
Fischer has formed three different companies, each one finely tuned to serving a homeowner’s specific needs: Thomas K. Fischer Builders and Developers Inc., an award-winning luxury home builder and developer; Historical Developers Inc., a regional firm specializing in historical renovations and development; and Preservation Partners LLP, a local real estate acquisition firm. His corporation is registered in Pennsylvania, and he is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.
Earlier in his career, Fischer developed three local sub-lot subdivisions—two on Creamery Road (a five-lot on 26 acres and a four-lot on 20 acres) and one on Lurgan Road (a two-lot on 10 acres). Those may sound like big numbers, but Fischer wants people to know that he’s simply a carpenter and master builder who has acquired the education, skills and confidence to handle any job, regardless of its size. In fact, current market conditions have meant most of his jobs stem from homeowners in need of capital repairs and renovations.
“There has been a recalibration of values,” he says. “The people who are staying in their properties are making them user friendly, and the people who are buying a new property want to make it theirs. I’m a dreamer, and I see possibilities. The only limitations are the ones you put on yourself.
Whether you’re building a house or doing a renovation, you do have to have form, function and finance, but really you just want to be able to dream and see what could be possible.”
By form, he means the design and layout. By function, he suggests a home can’t just look nice; it has to be livable and adapt along with the homeowner’s needs. And finance … well, that simply means the homeowner has to be able to afford it. Fischer can help in all three areas, thanks to resources and relationships he has cultivated throughout his career, including affiliations with talented architects and banking institutions that can help provide financing.
“Most of the time, it doesn’t matter the size of the project; I can arrange bank financing for a renovation, restoration, new home or real estate purchase,” he says. “Whether it’s a new build or renovating a multimillion-dollar house or fixing the roof on their rental home or putting on a new front door, I want people to have the confidence to know we can help them.”
‘A Good Feeling’
Home renovations and maintenance aren’t simply a matter of “living in one’s money,” as Fischer puts it; they are wise investments in what is typically someone’s most valuable asset.
“The magic word is sustainability; you need to be able to sustain a property, and in order to sustain you need to pool maintenance on it,” he says. “‘Sticks and stones’—my analogy for houses—are in limited quantities, and the cost of building these resources is only going to go up. We can do capital improvements on heating and air conditioning, with better roofing materials, windows and heating and cooling systems so properties will be a lot less expensive to maintain and be much more sustainable for a longer period for less money.”
Roughly four years ago, Marla and Russell Freid interviewed several builders—including Fischer—to renovate their Bucks County home. They chose Fischer because of his sparkling references, the quality of his past works and the fact that they “just got a good feeling from him,” says Marla Freid. The renovation included a master bedroom and master bath, as well as the addition of an additional bathroom.
“We enjoy the space more now,” she says. “The original bedroom was very dark, with a lack of windows, and the renovation brought a lot of light into the space, which always changes things for the better. … I was absolutely happy with the results—no complaints at all. I had been used to having contractors not call me back, but he always was reachable, which is a big plus. He was very responsive and dealt with everything right away.”
Fischer has developed his expertise over his 37-year career, enhancing his knowhow early on through classes at the George School and the San Francisco Art Institute, and learning from world-class talents such as woodworker Palmer Sharpless. His artistry and precision have earned him numerous accolades along the way. In 2006, for example, the renovations and improvements he did on a prominent residence on State Street led to the Newtown Borough Historic Architectural Review Board bestowed him with the Preservation Award.
He is also heavily involved in the communities in which he works. He is a board member of Washington Crossing Historical Park; member and corporate sponsor of the Heritage Conservancy; member of the Upper Makefield Business Association and Newtown Business and Professional Association; corporate sponsor of the New Hope Historical Society; and corporate partner and sponsor of the Michener Museum in Doylestown.
“I have this wonderful confidence because I know how to do all the trades,” he says. “On a job site, you can have 40 or 50 people working on someone’s home, so it also takes a certain degree of choreography. … The bottom line is this: If the framer doesn’t show up, I can frame it. If the tile guy doesn’t show up, I can tile it. If the roofer doesn’t show up, I can do that, too.
“I’m a bit of a perfectionist,” he adds. “I believe it’s not worth doing if you’re not going to do it right. No matter what business you’re in, if you don’t have a good product, it doesn’t matter what price you paid for it. It’s too much hard work for you to do it wrong.”
Fischer also consults homeowners on what needs to be done on property to make it sellable and/or livable, depending on the owner’s intentions, and maximize its value. He can also consult on potential home purchases, designs and anything else that relates to a person’s “estate management,” as he calls it.
The Sorins would know, even though they no longer live in the Upper Makefield home that Fischer so expertly renovated. When Denise Sorin’s mother passed away, the Sorins no longer needed as much space and downsized to a smaller house. Unsurprisingly, they turned to Fischer when it came time to pare down their options.
“He accompanied us to any houses we considered ‘a contender’ so he could give us his blessing; we respect him that much,” Sorin says. “He has never steered us wrong.”
Thomas K. Fischer
Phone: 215-860-8053 | Website: www.tkfischerbuilder.com