A history of Morgan-Keefe Builders from 1980 to 2023, including a letter from one of their first homeowners
Between studying economics and psychology in the late 70’s, Malcolm Morgan and his buddy Kevin Keefe would pick up building projects. A deck here, a new screened porch there. Some remodeling. After Malcolm graduated from UNC Asheville in December 1979, he and Kevin launched into their first big project.
That’s when, 43 years ago in January, 1980, Morgan-Keefe Builders, Inc. was born.
Malcolm and Kevin began building spec homes in Hendersonville, NC. Their first stick-built home was on Stonebrook Drive in Hendersonville. Four more followed in that community, and soon Morgan-Keefe Builders started getting contract jobs.
From that very first house, their guiding principle was to build every home as if they were going to live in it. That meant no cutting corners, and building homes to last.
A lot can happen in 40+ years.
One of the very first homes that Malcolm and Kevin built in 1982 made such an impression on its owner, he would send a letter of gratitude 34 years later. More on that later!
Early on, Malcolm and Kevin worked second jobs while they gained traction with their new company. The 80s were a particularly challenging time to be starting up in the construction industry, with mortgage rates sky-rocketing up to 20%. They purchased and renovated some homes in the north Asheville community of Montford. But, it was the sale of a spec home that saved the company at that time.
The 90s were a decade of growth. Over those ten years, the Morgan-Keefe staff expanded from 6 to 30 employees.
1994 was a particularly transformative year. Malcolm’s father died unexpectedly at age 59. And, Malcolm bought out Kevin’s portion of the business and become the sole owner of the company. The two maintain contact to this day.
After that year, Malcolm’s focus shifted towards building larger, luxury custom homes.
In 1996, Morgan-Keefe Builders built their first home with Platt Architecture, out of Brevard, NC. It was a 3,000 square foot house. Next came a 6,000 square foot Platt-designed home. Malcolm loved the challenge of building bigger, more complex homes.
With every home, he would improve upon his building skills, and he continued to build new relationships with architects, interior designers, and other key trades people.
Morgan-Keefe got involved on the ground level of many communities that have become highly desirable luxury developments. In 1992, MKB built the second home in the then-new Champion Hills community in Hendersonville, NC. They’ve since built about 30 homes in that community. They were also the first, or one of the first, to build in the then-budding Cliffs Keowee Vineyards and Cliffs Valley. Later on, in the early and mid-2000s, Morgan-Keefe was one of the first handful of builders in Cliffs Walnut Cove and Balsam Mountain Preserve. Ultimately, MKB built 12 homes in the Lake Keowee area in the 90s for CEOs and CFOs of major multi-national companies. As time passed, their service area continued to expand.
A Chance Meeting
Working in the building business can bring up some unusual opportunities. In 1985, Malcolm and Kevin were building the 2nd and 3rd home in the Wilson Farm community in Hendersonville, NC. That’s when Malcolm noticed a sign on one of the buildable lots: it indicted the owners were Tom and Sharon Tolles of Cape Coral, FL.
A serious golfer, Malcolm had played on plenty of courses when he lived in Cape Coral, as a member of the Edison Community College golf team in ’74 and ‘75. Malcolm reached out, and eventually connected with Sharon. She told him her son Tommy wanted to come up to NC to see the lot. Would Malcolm meet up with Tommy and show him around? It happened that Tommy had played in high school on the same courses where Malcolm had played in college.
Malcolm showed Tommy around Hendersonville, and took Tommy and some of his friends to play golf in Tryon, NC. They stayed in touch casually over the years, but that visit set the ball in motion for what eventually became a decades-long friendship with professional golfer, Tommy Tolles.
Years later, in the 90s, Malcolm was having dinner at a restaurant near Laurel Park, NC, when in walked Tommy, visiting for business. The two caught up, and Malcolm indicated to Tommy that he’d be interested in caddying for him. Tommy responded positively.
Over a period of approximately 20 years, Malcolm caddied on and off for Tommy on the golf course. This included two PGA tournaments in ‘99, and a 7-month stint in 2004 where Malcolm would travel back and forth between the course and the jobsite, running the business remotely. Finally, he caddied for several Champions PGA Tours in 2016-2017.
The 2000s to Today
Over time, Malcolm had earned a solid reputation within the luxury custom home community. Word was spreading that Morgan-Keefe Builders was reliable, honest, and built homes to the highest standards. That served the company well to withstand the next challenge to face the building industry: the economic housing crisis of 2008. That downturn lasted well into the mid 2010s, but Morgan-Keefe had locked in enough projects to last them through the toughest times. Thanks to their reputation, jobs continued to roll in.
Things moved along naturally. Malcolm built strong relationships with people in the trades, architects, interior designers, and suppliers. The company’s portfolio of homes grew increasingly impressive. Their ability to estimate and lay out expectations at the start of a build was a testament to their transparency; historically, the company has managed to stay within an average of 2% from the original estimate to final costs—barring change-orders after plans had been finalized.
Morgan-Keefe’s footprint expanded from those first five spec homes in Hendersonville, NC to upscale developments throughout western North Carolina and upstate South Carolina. Today, MKB builds in all seven Cliffs communities, The Reserve at Lake Keowee (SC), The Ramble Biltmore Forest and Town Mountain near Asheville, Bright’s Creek, Highlands/Cashiers, Lake Toxaway, Balsam Mountain Preserve, and Champion Hills in NC. This is not an exclusive list; Greenville, Black Mountain, and areas east of Asheville are not out-of-bounds.
MKB Continues to Grow
The company expanded its services, too. By 2018, enough time had passed that early Morgan-Keefe homeowners contracted MKB again, asking for updates and additions to their original Morgan-Keefe-built homes. And so, MKB added a luxury renovations branch. This is now the fastest-growing area of the company, serving communities in Asheville, NC and beyond.
Similarly, it became clear there was a need to assist homeowners in maintaining their homes. The Home Care branch was born. Home maintenance helps to protect homeowners’ investment and catch small problems before they become bigger. It adds peace of mind, particularly for out-of-town owners.
In 2020, the pandemic altered business processes, but did not slow it down. Nationwide materials and labor shortages, and price fluctuations, added unprecedented challenges to building. However, in 2021, MKB hired six additional construction staff to handle the demand. Communicating expectations to clients became more important than ever.
Now, in his 43rd year of business, Malcolm Morgan is teaching his son, Max Morgan, to take the reins one day. They’ve already spent a full year working side-by-side, daily. Having grown up in the company, Max started with a leg up. But, he also has education from a self-designed degree in Real Estate Development with a minor in Urban Planning from UNC Chapel Hill.
A Letter From an Early MKB Homeowner
When running a business, the tendency is to always look ahead for new opportunities. But sometimes, it is meaningful to reflect. In January 2016, Malcolm received a heartfelt, hand-written letter from a homeowner who’d purchased one of the first Morgan-Keefe spec homes. He enclosed two photos of the home; one in spring and another during winter.
The letter read:
In the Spring of 1982 my wife and I and our two small children moved to Hendersonville, NC, & bought a home on Stonebrook Dr. It was a beautiful cedar-sided house on a hillside with trees on two sides. It was very well made & was our home for 8 years.
We move[d] many times over the years, but I have never loved a home like I did this one. I remember sitting on the front steps after the moving truck left, all teared up & very emotional realizing we were really leaving this sanctuary.
If I am not mistaken, you and Mr. Keefe were just getting started & this was one of the first, if not the first, homes you had built.
A few days ago you and your new company came to my mind out of nowhere & I felt I should write & thank you for providing us with this amazing home.
It was not a huge or ornate home. We could not have afforded something like that. But it was solid, safe, beautiful & put in a wonderful setting.
So, thank you! Whatever you are doing in your life, may God bless you & your family & company.
What comes next is sure to be more change, as the company grows and evolves. But, at the heart of this letter is the spirit of Morgan-Keefe Builders that has remained consistent for more than 40 years: A Morgan-Keefe home is more than just a structure; it is an unforgettable work of art.
To see more examples of completed Morgan-Keefe Builders homes, visit the custom homes gallery.