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Getting Started

Finally a new post!

It’s been a long time since our initial post.  Lots going on and lots to come. The house we began in February 2014 was finally completed in July 2015.  Much was learned in the process – even by an architect who has been in this business for 30+ years. We are also working on a video (cinema quality) to showcase the house – it is now in post-production. There will be many new designs added to the website soon as well. And in the mean time I hope to begin this series, which I started nearly 2 years ago, of sharing our journey constructing our dream home so that those who are building theirs can learn from our experience. I have decided that rather than making this a ‘how to’ of ‘do’s and don’ts’, I am just going to chronicle our experience as best as I can remember it and let you glean the lessons from that.

So.. here goes.

We purchased our 2-acre lot in High Meadow Ranch near Magnolia, TX in April of 2012, knowing it would take us a while to get plans together and a builder selected. It is a beautiful lot, covered with pine trees and has a creek that runs thru it, in a golf course AND equestrian community, with strong but reasonable deed restrictions.  At the time we lived 3 hours away in Leander, TX and that was a bit of a challenge for sure.  I consequently did not begin to design for a whole year (waiting for inspiration I guess..) when my wife finally ask if we were ever going to build?.. But by Summer of 2013, now with the proper motivation 😉 I had plans, specs and a computer model(inside and out) of our home ready to go and began to interview builders in the Magnolia/Conroe area.

I had no previous contacts with builders in the area professionally so we were pretty much like every other homeowner with no experience in the business and had to start from scratch. We used internet searches, advertising in local publications to start our search. I quickly discovered that builders in the Houston area operated a bit different than I was used to in Central Texas.  The builders we found weren’t quite as interested in bidding a true custom design and wanted money (between 5-10%) upfront to begin. That’s a ‘no-no’ as I will explain in subsequent blogs. We narrowed our list and requested a bid from ‘Partners in Building, Inc.’ who were also conveniently building in Austin/Leander with selection resources there that seemed very appealing.  We were initially shocked at their bid though and had to go back to the drawing board and reduce some of the scope of the project as we had blown our budget. Partner’s also left a contingency amount up in the air that they would not quantify until we put up a deposit.

The initial plan we started with was the Villa del Cielo which is not on our site yet (soon though) but is presently found on other broker sites.  It included a guest house with the 3rd car garage detached.  There were other features we decided could be scaled back and economized without sacrificing the soul of the house. What we ended up with, and ultimately built, was the Pleasant Forest which is presently on our site.

We passed on rebidding with Partners in Building as their method of providing us with a bid was too up in the air.  So we moved on to finding more builders, this time narrowing our scope to just smaller volume builders in the high end. We were getting near the end of the year by this time -2013 – and were getting anxious to get the process started. I ruled out a couple of these builders just by discussing the project with them and knew they were asking more than we wanted to spend.

I met with two more builders and was able to walk thru a home from one of the builders and his client seemed to be very happy with the finished product. The second builder provided a CD of photos from completed homes but did not have any to walk.  He was a retired very successful businessman, and was just building homes as a hobby.  I was concerned with his experience level but liked his business sense. I asked for bids from both builders and this time we got into our ball park with a number we could handle. I selected the lower bidder of the two which I would regret later even though I felt the lower bidder had more experience and seemed to have more creativity. I was wrong on both accounts..

The builder we ultimately contracted with was ‘Angel Builders, Inc.’ – now known as ‘Adventure Design and Development, Inc.’ and boy was it!  We ultimately ended up with a home that we are very happy with, but the work to get there was expensive in terms of my time and a bit more money than we had counted on based on the initial bidding. I learned many lessons in dealing with them though, and was fortunate to have the training and experience to protect our investment which might otherwise have been sabotaged.  I wouldn’t recommend anyone go the route I went in selecting a builder – or this particular builder for that matter), but I knew that I had steps in place to protect the project and the knowledge to assure it was built correctly if all else failed – and it did many times..

Even after receiving an acceptable bid, we were yet still 2 months from obtaining our construction loan so we could start.  The initial appraisals came in too low. The neighborhood comps were too few and far between in our size range of 3200 SF.  So we decided to add the upstairs bonus areas (game and media) to our initial construction.  This put us over 4000 SF and opened up a whole new higher set of comps to help our appraisal and by the end of February we had a construction loan signed and ready to start.

That’s all for now. Next blog will touch on what we had in our contract that helped us and what I wish, in retrospect, would have been included.

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