If his father hadn't been caught with some unsold and eventually foreclosed row houses in Philadelphia in the early 1930s, 54-year-old Ray Hickman might not now be one of the most successful builders and realtors in Bethany Beach, Del.

"My father (the late Hugh H. Hickman, for whom the family-owned building firm is named) went downhill physically and financially. He was forced to move our family back to Ocean View (just west of Bethany Beach) and we lived with aunts and uncles when I was a little boy. Eventually, we rented our own house for $7 a month and the obligation to do the upkeep," said Ray.

He also recalled that he and his older brother, Harbison, who handles on-site construction of new houses and other buildings were taught early to "tear it and do it over if it's not right" and "never to overextend financially." Hickman has remembered that advice and his customers generally attest to the firm's reputation for good construction.

But Ray Hickman and wife Sally (his partner in the real estate business of selling houses and property management) do remember the real estate recession of 1974. That's when Seaside Village Inc., with which they are associated, began development and construction of Hidden Harbor, a contemporary town house community that will include 32 units when completed next year.

"1974 was rough and we had to sell the first completed dwellings for about $50,000 after holding them for some months. Now our prices are up into the middle $60,000s and we have buyers already for the last eight that will not be started until later this year. We like to think the product warranted the response but we also know that the market has changed in the interim," said Hickman.

Both Ray Hickman and his brother Harb served in the military in World War II and returned to Bethany Beach and Ocean View to continue their work in construction.