When Steve Rogai builds a home, he pays attention to every detail.
Even the view from the toilet.
“I will try to explain this one to you without being crude,” he says as he shows me the underside of a windowsill that’s only visible from where he’s sitting — on the toilet in a luxury home he built in South Tampa’s Sunset Park neighborhood.
“Every painter I have misses that strip,” he explains. “I tell my project managers I will come in here, I won’t use the toilet, but I come in here and sit down.”
Because, he says, this is the view the homeowners will have, and he doesn’t want them to be confronted every day with an unfinished paint job.
It’s the kind of care that clients can (or at least should) expect from a developer building them a multimillion-dollar custom home.
And for Rogai, it’s personal — because he treats each home he builds as if it were going to be his own.
“I get to build my dream home every time on someone else’s wonderful budget,” he says, “and then I get to get paid for it.”
Modern Capital Development Group, which Rogai founded three years ago, is all about building dreams — on spec.
“I start on speculation, find the lots on speculation, spec out a floor plan and begin to build,” he explains. “And if I’ve got a client by drywall or framing [stage], they can pretty much pick everything except the floor plan.”
That’s what happened in the Sunset home. The owners, Cheryl and Harvey Adams, bought it last year when it was in the block stage — a 4,918-square-foot single-story shell on an oversized lot. And they did so without even having attended the “block party” — an open house Rogai threw for 100 guests in the unfinished structure, complete with red carpet, refreshments and virtual reality goggles so that guests could walk around the concrete slab and envision the space with furniture and flooring.
The finished product turned out to be a shining success. Created in collaboration with architect Randall Smith and interior designers Allan Domagas and Effie Griffith, the home is a model of understated elegance.
“Everything flows so beautifully,” says Adams, who was in Canada during much of the six-month construction period and communicated with Rogai via Facetime. “He has impeccable taste, and I trust him. He doesn’t do ugly.”
Before founding ModCap, Rogai, 43, traveled down many career paths, but his skills in marketing and customer service were a constant. He started in retail, got into real estate and mortgage financing, dabbled in reality TV (a show about lottery winners), and forged a partnership with Kevin Harrington, launching products as seen on Shark Tank.
It was a glamorous gig for a while — the company had offices in NYC and Toronto and London, he rang the NASDAQ bell twice and met celebrity spokespeople like George Foreman, 50 Cent and Suze Orman. But the “As Seen On TV” biz was eventually outdone by Amazon because people were taking their viewing (and their buying) online.
When he returned to real estate, his experiences among the affluent drove him in a new direction.
“I became more laser-focused on high-end luxury,” he says.
Having dealt earlier in $250,000-$500,000 properties, he’s now building homes in the $2-$5-million range — with six under construction right now. On Beach Park’s Neptune Way, he’s on his third house; he’s there so much that he’s practically an honorary neighbor.
“They call me the mayor.”
Rogai has made a conscious decision to stick with a “modern, clean-lined flair” in his homes.
“No one’s doing Mediterranean Tuscan anymore,” he says of Florida’s familiar architectural style.
But, in the Sunset home and in a planned contemporary Tudor in South Tampa’s Golf View Park neighborhood, he is finding ways to merge modern with traditional.
Sunset, for instance, is in what he calls a “transitional” style. Arched doorways and windows evoke Spanish architecture of the past, but the striking black and white color scheme is very much of the moment.
The home he’s building in Golf View, he says, is “kind of an homage to what was there before”: a nearly 100-year-old brick Tudor he bought from the estate of its late owners. The house he’s planning to build in its place retains a hint of Tudor detailing — pitched rooflines, double-hung windows — but otherwise the vibe is pure 21st-century.
He’d hoped to salvage some of the original hardwood from the interior, but it proved impossible to remove safely. However, when the owners’ children reached out to him and asked for mementos of their parents’ home, he gave them each a chance to take one of the bricks that had graced its facade.
Family’s important to Rogai. He’s divorced, but he and his wife share custody of their two teenagers. To be closer to their schools, he moved out of his home in Carrollwood (a 4,000-sq.ft. Mid-Century Modern he renovated himself) to a much smaller place in South Tampa. Though he sometimes misses the extra space, he doesn’t want the headache (or the staff) that a larger home requires.
And besides, he gets to vicariously experience luxury living with every home he builds. Showing me around the Adams home, he’s as proud of its many distinctive features as if he owned it himself: the screen on the lanai (“there’s no horizontal or vertical bracing so it virtually disappears”); the line of fishtail palms that provide privacy for the pool (“it’s a complete sanctuary”); even the finishes in the garage, which he boasts are the same as those inside the house.
But he seems proudest of the little extras, like the welcome packages he leaves for new homeowners, packed with tape measures, pizza coupons and other handy move-in items.
And then there’s this small but ingenious detail: In each home he builds, he leaves containers of the paints used on the project, each one labeled by color and room. So if the owners decide to do a touch-up, they don’t have to make a trip to Home Depot — they’ve got the right colors already. It’s a touch that delighted Cheryl Adams.
“Who does that?” she asks. “Nobody does that!
“And did you see he made sure not to put it in paint cans?”
The above story is in the Fall 2020 issue of duPont Registry Tampa Bay. Hard copies are due to be showing up in fine mailboxes near you any day now, but meanwhile, enjoy the digital edition.