Bell Homebuilders began life as an engineering firm forty years ago, founded by Julian Bell. Julian, born in Virginia Beach, was an engineer graduate of Virginia Tech before making his way to Chattanooga, Tennessee in the late 1960s to take a job with Dupont. From there he worked as a mechanical contractor and then became both Director of Public Works for the City of Chattanooga and Assistant City Engineer prior to starting Bell Engineering.
As strictly an engineering firm, Julian's company provided industrial clients with structural and civil engineering services, designing projects like subdivisions, roads, and sewer systems. It was his neighborhood design work that opened the door to building homes. Julian discovered that when he finished designing a new subdivision, there was a need to supervise the rest of the project. Homeowners were not able to manage their own contracts, and a group of them asked Julian if he would take propriety interest in their subdivision to supervise the work. He quickly learned that every time there was an economic downturn, he had as much or more tied up in the deal as the people for whom he was working. He began therefore to develop his own subdivisions. As financing became more and more difficult in the late 80s and 90s, Julian dug his feet deeper into the building business to protect his investments.
Bell Engineering was slowly becoming Bell Homebuilders and one of the largest of its kind in East Tennessee. Simultaneously, Julian Bell and his three sons built seven subdivisions and two townhome developments in a variety of market classes and economic ranges. “In truth, we’re building communities,” Julian explained. “We look at a piece of land, decide what type of individuals or families would be interested in the kind of community that could be built on the land, and determine the probable economic class of potential buyers. If we do our homework correctly, we will build a community that meets the needs of a compatible range of homeowners.”
Along with a well-planned and researched subdivision design, Julian realized he needed to learn every facet of the residential building industry. He attributed much of his success to the Home Builders Association of Chattanooga. Julian went to contractor seminars, pursued events with the Urban Land Institute and local Planning Association, and checked every other source that offered guidance.