Being Tucson’s largest local homebuilder doesn’t mean the owners of A.F. Sterling Homes sit on their laurels.

A few months after homeowners move into A.F. Sterling homes, they are surveyed about their satisfaction with the floor plans, ceiling elevations and other features.

“Before purchasing property to build homes, we try to make sure we have certain market advantages and are filling a niche that the customer is looking for,” said Randy Agron, vice president and chief operating officer. “Typically, we need to have certain distinctions from other new-home builders in that particular market and the resale homes that are available.”

In business since 1987, A.F. Sterling currently has four active communities. Its first community was Rancho Palomino near Fort Lowell and Swan roads.

All of the company’s developments are in the Tucson area and the dominance of national homebuilders in the market does present a challenge.

“Typically, national homebuilders have easier access to capital and their economies of scale can, at times, give them a cost advantage,” Agron said. “However, as a local builder we are able to focus on our homebuyers’ needs as opposed to corporate mandates.”

Some of the perks offered by A.F. Sterling are standard features — not upgrades — such as high ceilings, finished garages, granite countertops and brick-paver driveways.

“A.F. Sterling has built their success on a niche of building high-quality custom and semi-custom homes in small subdivisions or custom lots,” said housing analyst Ginger Kneup, owner of Bright Future Real Estate Research LLC. “They do extremely well in capturing buyers in this market segment as they are able to offer what many consider to be a more highly customized home than is available from most of the national builders, while still remaining competitive on price.”

Although the level of building permits taken out here remains low, A.F. Sterling believes in Tucson’s potential.

“Especially in cases where a particular piece of land may not fit the national builders’ current requirements,” Agron said. “With new home permit levels still near historical lows, in the near future there could be large increases in our homebuilding activity when we see job growth and/or population growth in Tucson and Pima County.”

A.F. Sterling has 18 employees. The company declined to disclose annual revenue.

Childhood friends Peter Aronoff and Jon Fenton — both graduates of Tucson High School and the University of Arizona — started the company after careers in the building industry.

Fenton was a framer and traveled the country building apartments. Aronoff bought, built and managed apartment complexes in Tucson.

Once they decided to go into the homebuilding business, they discussed a company name over dinner at the former Li’l Abner’s Steakhouse.

“They wanted something in their name that speaks to the highest quality and ‘sterling’ from ‘sterling silver’ seemed a great fit,” Agron said. “And, of course, the A and F come from their last names.”

Contact reporter Gabriela Rico at grico@tucson.com

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