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How to design your new custom home-Secrets from years of guiding customers

Categories: WhiteStone | Posted: January 9, 2019

Our Concierge Service: Let Us Help You Help Yourself

When clients come to see us, they often know “exactly” what they want but not quite how to get it. They may know they want a pool, but not what shape, how big or how deep. They may know they want a built-in island in the kitchen but do they want the sink there, or a mini-fridge underneath, or a marble baking top, etc.

To avoid confusion, we have a variety of forms that we ask clients to fill out that guides them through the process, digging for details and slowly drawing them down a “design funnel” until they have narrowed their choices down enough to make definitive, deliberate decisions.

One such form is our Concierge Form. As the name implies, this form acts as a do-it-yourself guide to your new dream home. (You can find the actual form below, PLUS on our website at http://WhiteStonehomes.com/.) It lists such categories as:

  • General must have items (i.e. view of hills, warm feeling, Tuscan elevation, lots of closet space)
  • Kitchen must have items (i.e. stainless steel appliances, gourmet serving island, two dishwashers)
  • Garage must have items (i.e. three car, built in cabinets, epoxy floor covering, freezer plug, air-conditioned, surround sound)

Through every room in the house, plus the front, side and back exterior, every bathroom, closet and cabinets, we walk you through it, step-by-step. We get you familiar with industry specific terms, like “judges paneling,” “Tuscany elevation” and “full arbor.”

For every room or category there are five lines to help list the major needs from the minor, drilling down deeper and deeper on every choice, until it’s clear to you what exactly you want, what you can live without, and what compromises may need to be made to reach a livable budget.

It may sound clinical, but as you go through the process, complete with visuals and even 3-D modeling, if needed, you can feel the excitement build for each new client. This is where dreams become a reality, where the sometimes hard choices are made, but where the picture becomes real and solid in their heads.

By the time we’re through filing this in, everyone knows what to expect; you, me, the builder, the designer, the sub-contractors, we’re all on the same page together.

 

Figure 1.1: The WhiteStone Custom Homes Concierge Form

Mortgage, Closing Decisions and Title Companies Chapter 7 of 90 minute guide to Homebuilding

Categories: WhiteStone | Posted: December 17, 2018

Mortgage, Closing Decisions and Title Companies

I know more about mortgages than I ever thought I would, mainly because we do very little cash over the barrel head homes. Instead, 99 percent of our clients use mortgages, and over the years, you begin to pick up a thing or two.

This chapter is designed to help you understand your mortgage, closing decisions and title companies based on  at the time of this edition, thirty years of dealing with them.

Experience Comes With Practice

The one thing you don’t want to trust your new custom home mortgage to is inexperience. As I stated in the last chapter, a custom home is often one of the client’s biggest purchases in life, and you don’t want inexperience to throw a monkey wrench in the process.

Instead, you want to deal with people who are doing mortgages, and only mortgages, every day, for a living. Oftentimes, a client will come to us and want to use their own mortgage provider, but we prefer to work with one preferred lender because we know he knows what it takes to get the job done, on time, with all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed.

Not only do we work with them on a regular basis, but they also specialize in new home loans, and only new home loans. They’re not sitting at a bank desk handling car loans in the morning and boat loans in the afternoon and condo loans the next morning and motorcycle loans in the evening, and look, finally a home loan comes across their desk.

Why is this so important to us? The fact is, new home loans are different than other types of loans, even used home loans and especially car, motor home, trailer home, commercial building or motorcycle loans. Rather than someone who does all kinds of loans but is expert at none, we prefer to deal with someone who is an expert at new home loans.

This helps us eliminate surprises, makes us confident that you’ll get the best rate and broadens your options for different kinds of programs. What’s nice about our preferred lender is that he’s part of that overall team feeling you get at WhiteStone Custom Homes. This makes him not only part of the process, but part of a seamless process that you might not get with an outside lender who doesn’t have that same “team” mentality, or even personal connection.

Obviously, we can’t choose lenders for you. It will always be your option as to which lender you choose, but we highly suggest our preferred lender for the reasons listed above.

If you are not building with WhiteStone Custom Homes, I would suggest asking your realtor and checking some of the reference web sites such as Yelp to find a lender familiar with the nuances of custom home building. Generally, some of the larger high production lenders do not have the personnel to manage a more hands on loan that you would need with this type of building.

Fast, Good or Cheap, But Not All of the Above

The “designer’s triangle” states that you can get something fast, good or cheap, but not all three. The same holds true for mortgages. So, for instance, if you’re getting a really cheap rate, something is suffering on either the quality or expediency end. The rate may be being offered by a fly-by-night company or a company offering a “special deal.” We call these mortgage companies a “Bubba Mortgage Company.” Remember, we are based in Texas.

Ultimately, however, they’re not part of the team and, if something goes wrong with the loan they’ll inevitably blame it on the home builder, not themselves. It can lead to petty squabbles or even blown deals, and we never like to see that happen to anyone.

Let’s say you want to at least “price” or “term” shop and are looking for an outside lender, where would you start? I always suggest the internet. There are a lot of great apps for finding mortgage rates, terms, loan durations, and the like, that will work like a breeze when you type in the parameters of your search, such as how much you’re looking to borrow, for how long and your ideal interest rate.

Making a Commitment

When you find a mortgage company that fits your needs, what next? Well, when you’re working with WhiteStone Custom Homes, we ask that you go to your loan officer and get what is called a “commitment” loan.

A commitment letter is different than an opinion letter or credit approval. Those may be fine for used or existing homes, but building a custom home takes a larger commitment and we actually require the more formal commitment letter over a simple credit approval.

Why we insist on this is because we have to take that commitment letter from your loan officer to our bank in order to borrow the money necessary to build your home for you.

This letter gives the bank confidence in the fact that someone wants to buy that home when we’re done, i.e. we’re not just building it on spec and hoping to sell it after it’s finished.

Many people don’t want to go through the process of getting an actual commitment letter because to do so requires the lender to check their credit, which may “ding” or affect their credit rating if enough people check it before obtaining the letter.

We fully understand and want to honor that fact. On the other hand, making a commitment is a big part of the home building process, for you and for us. If you’re building a home with us or any builder, however, at some point you need to make a commitment regardless of your stellar credit rating.

Once you commit to getting the commitment letter, your lender will enter another, more critical phase of the lending process. Here, the company will need to get down to business, obtaining verification of employment, deposits of record, tax receipts, etc.

It’s vital that, as the loan approaches, you begin to gather this material together, and there are many forms on the internet, most likely on your lender’s website in particular, to help walk you through this.

Of course, getting a loan is never guaranteed. Regardless of your financial situation, now is the time to get good credit, make it better or keep it stable. I always tell prospective clients that now is not the time to go out and open up a bunch of credit cards, buy a new car or boat or otherwise “rock the boat” when it comes to your precious credit.

The loan is not entirely based on income, after all, but your ability to pay the mortgage loan in relation to various other factors, such as your income, outstanding debts, new debts, etc.

I know it can be tempting to rush out and buy a ton of new furniture, a new bed or master bedroom suite, massive grill, etc., in anticipation of moving into the house. But, wait until you get the financing set and in stone and then go out and splurge if you still want to. It may sound severe but I’ve seen many instances where people come in and see us, get excited about our model homes and design plans, get into initial talks with us, and in anticipation of working together, go out and charge massive amounts on new furniture for the home. But when a creditor sees that type of sudden and massive new activity on top of a $300,000 to $900,000 mortgage commitment, these folks have essentially disqualified themselves from the loan with their premature spending spree. Think about it before your home is built. You have put substantial deposits down and now you don’t qualify for the home. It is not worth it, trust me.

What’s more, it’s not just the initial borrowing phase, but further on in the process that counts. As you might imagine, in our current economic client lenders are extremely cautious. Many insist on another credit review, or update, before the closing date, so if you go out and splurge during that time you could still put your loan at risk.

The current home lending climate is such that upon closing of your home loan, the lender may send out an appraiser to ensure the home is up to completion and code.

Closing Counts

As construction nears its end, about 45 days in advance of completion, our office will send you a letter posting an official, expected date when your home will be finished. As the date nears we get firmer and firmer about an actual date, and will update you on that, as well. This allows you to settle up issues with your current home, arrange for movers to come, pack your things, etc. I would suggest you ask your builder for a firm date at this time as well.

As far as your mortgage goes, you will have your closing at a title company. Now, we use the same title company all the time and for the very same reasons we like to use a preferred lender. I would suggest that customers of other builders use the title company they suggest or use a good reference web site like Yelp.

As part of our “team,” this preferred title company can make sure all the documents are there, we know they’ll work with us on scheduling and deadlines, they’re proficient with the paperwork and, what’s more, we trust them.

That’s our job, actually, to find trusted vendors to help make your custom home a dream home, and that’s why we work with so many people over and over again. We like to work with people who know what they’re doing, do it for a living and can be trusted, again and again, to do it well. That way you can worry about moving into your home, and we can worry about the details, including the title company.

At the end of the closing at the title company, the mortgage lender will fund the loan, and once the paperwork is signed, you’ll get the keys to your new home. After that, the home is yours.

It’s time to move in, and that just so happens to be the topic of our next chapter!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Construction Phase & Your New Hobby?!?

Categories: Building a Custom Home, Custom Home Design Ideas, WhiteStone | Posted: November 17, 2018

Chapter 6 of my book 90 Minute Guide to Custom Home-Building

The Construction Phase

The construction phase is obviously quite critical to the completion of your dream custom home, but you don’t necessarily have to wear a hard hat to get in on the act.

The good news is, that for you, by the time we enter the construction phase, your hard work is mostly over. You’ve participated in the planning phases, through conception and design, making hard choices about how to accessorize and even color each room inside and outside your house.

Now it’s time to see those plans become a reality. Don’t get me wrong, we still want—and need—your partnership through every phase of the process. The only difference is that now we kind of take the “handoff” and run with the ball to the end zone.

Believe it or not, my feeling on the construction phase is that it should be relatively easy and positively fun. This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, where all your clippings and webpage links and home design magazine cutouts come to life, where all those forms you filled out, boxes you checked and decisions you’ve made, come to life.

We want to take as much of the work off your hands as possible while still letting you enjoying seeing each phase of the construction process develop.

The Process of Discovery: Your New Hobby?!?

I never forget that, for most people, building their dream home is the largest single purchase in their life. I know how daunting it can be, from visualizing that dream home, to conceptualizing it, to planning it and framing it out to, naturally, paying for it.

I call that whole process the “process of discovery,” and it truly is awe-inspiring to watch the faces of satisfied clients as they experience it for themselves.

What I find with most clients as that they begin this process of discovery is that they get hooked on it. Much like they got addicted to taking model home tours and scrapbooking living room designs or wall colors during the planning phase, during the construction phase they likewise get hooked on seeing each day’s progress.

Imagine driving up to the work site, seeing a wall that wasn’t there yesterday, a hill that used to be a flat patch of land, a window or a door that wasn’t there before.

Our hobbies are those things we do in our spare time, at night when we get home from work, or on the weekends or over the holidays; gardening, stamp collecting, reading or going to the movies. For many new home builders/ home buyers, watching the construction phase becomes their new hobby, and with good reason. Few things can rival the feeling of watching a home—especially your new custom home—being built from the ground up.

And, unlike a hobby such as watching TV, going to the library or sitting in a movie theater, there is some action to the construction phase. You’re there, in the fresh air, seeing the day’s developments live and in person. There’s an active element to it, like gardening, where you’re participating in the birth, and growth, of a living thing. We love it, but please be very careful around a job site.

The equation I shared with you last chapter–Fear + Excitement = Transformation–applies here, as well. There is naturally some fear, or at least concern, as the construction phase begins. The permits are all in order, the lot is buzzing with activity, and contractors are coming and going in their work trucks. But, the fear slowly turns into excitement as the foundation is laid, walls go up and activity increases. And finally, transformation–from blueprints, permits, hard hats and an empty lot to a home. Not just any home, your home; your dream home.

If watching that happen isn’t a worthy hobby, then I don’t know what is!

Advanced Home Design

Categories: Building a Custom Home, Custom Home Design Ideas, WhiteStone | Posted: October 27, 2018

Chapter 4

Advanced Home Design

Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “All good architectural design is a compromise.” Only in the movies, with fancy special effects or in particular animation, can a truly compromise-free home exist. The rest of us have to deal with the physical limits of technology, space, opportunity, materials, and location, location, location.

Even if it’s a multi-million dollar home belonging to Bill Gates or Tiger Woods, there is always compromise. For instance, you can’t build on a mountain and expect oceanfront property, or vice versa. You can’t build your dream home in the tropics and expect a white Christmas view outside your floor to ceiling picture window. You can’t build on the Las Vegas strip and expect privacy, or even quiet.

For the rest of us mere mortals, compromise is even more expected. Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Well, Tim, the whole reason I’m building a custom home to begin with is because I don’t want to compromise.”

And you’re right. But so am I. For instance, you may end up planning and building a single story home of your dreams, but it’s not a two-story home, is it? If you ultimately decide to put your master bedroom on the ground floor of a two-story, then it can’t be up. So, at some point in the planning process, you did compromise.

Most often you compromised in favor of a more attractive layout, or features, or less upkeep or simply a lower price. But there was a compromise. The key was making you happy about the compromise and hoping it turns out as a win-win.

Part of making compromises in your favor is finding a reputable, professional, experienced and expert Design/Build firm, like WhiteStone Custom Homes. Ltd®. If you can find such a firm, trust them, believe in them, work with them and rely on them and you will be already halfway there.

In this chapter, we’re going to discuss Advance Home Design, but don’t worry, you won’t need a drafting table of HVAC degree to understand it! What I mean by “advanced” is simply moving beyond the mere aesthetics of the home—although those are still important—to something we call “designing for cost.”

Designing for Cost

After the concierge forms have all been filled out, the dreams turned into something more and more resembling reality, our design firm can begin creating what we call “working drawings.” These begin to flesh out the actual design of your house, in language that contractors and building professionals can understand.

At this stage, we can begin to put the cost of the home into clearer focus for you, going room by room to determine what each team will be responsible for, providing estimates and blending it all together on a cost-by-cost basis.

Our goal in the working drawings is to create a balanced design that blends what you want and need with what is realistic in terms of your budget, lot-size, materials, projected costs, etc. In this, we strive to meet what we call “a majority” of your needs. We’d love to get you everything you want and even everything you need, within reason.

It is the “within reason” where compromise is typically necessary. Then again, if compromise is good enough for Bill Gates, Tiger Woods and Frank Lloyd Wright, well, we all should feel a little better about that by now, shouldn’t we?

Price as You Go: Designing by Cost

As we go through the design process, we price the buyer’s ideas out before we draw them. This way you have a much better idea of what each room, bell, whistle, square foot, tile or window treatment is going to cost you before we start talking to subcontractors, vendors and the like.

This is a far superior process than that used by most home builders, who design the home of your dreams with no calculator in sight, only to come back with a shocking price tag once all those pie in the sky designs are bid and tabulated. If you are building with another home builder, we would stress this process for new home design.

This way you know throughout the process why compromise is so important and, critically, where compromises need to be made. When you know, for instance, how much that walk-in closet you’ve seen on Beverly Hills Housewives is going to cost and how it might be putting your husband’s “man cave” in jeopardy, well, it’s better to know that up front and make some compromises in the design of both, rather than get blindsided when the price comes in AFTER the working drawings are presented to subcontractors and vendors.

This way you can perhaps build a smaller closet and a smaller man cave and get what you both want; a compromise, I think, we can all be happy with.

Picture It As You Go: Crude by Design

One thing that’s important to remember as we move through the advance home design process is that these initial working drawings won’t include elevation.

In fact, sometimes they may look downright crude, hence the term “working” drawings instead of “final” drawings. The industry term for this is a “cartoon” or a “blocked out” plan.

These working drawings are not necessarily for you to show off to your friends, but rather, to move the process along to the advanced stage and provide subcontractors and vendors with a design so they can begin looking at square footage and what that might cost.

How Your House Gets So Expensive: Foot by Foot

If you’re wondering how a few thousand square feet turns into a few hundred thousand dollars, well, you’re in luck! In this section of advanced home design, I’ll walk you through a few of the ways in which your crude “working drawing” can reveal how expensive each room might be:

Square feet

In as much as a butcher charges by the pound and a boutique salon sells perfume by the ounce, the construction industry runs on square footage. In short, every foot costs something, and many/most of the vendors and trade craftsmen bid by the square foot.

Most people only consider the square footage that is “under air.” That is, with a roof over it and living space treated by air conditioning. The construction industry has a variety of ways of measuring a square foot that includes under air and then some.

For instance, a “framer” charges by what is called “covered” square footage. That includes all living areas, the garage, the overhangs and the porches. As one might imagine, when charging by the foot, this can add up quickly. Additionally, you must consider the square footage of big porches and other outdoor living area. In fact, many homebuilders calculate the square footage of those areas when they tell you how big the home is. The same is true for garages. That is part of the calculation that must be included. Some Builders even calculate the interior cubic air footage. All that open space comes at some cost.

Plumbing

Another expense that can add up quickly is plumbing, which may seem like it only exists in the bathroom and under sinks, but in fact can snake through the entire house when you consider how water gets to your upstairs bathroom.

Cabinets!

You wouldn’t imagine that cabinet space could drive up the cost of a home, but you’d be surprised. Depending on the type of cabinets you select, how many of them, upper and lower and what kind of finish, you’d be amazed by how much that affects the cost of your kitchen.

Every foot of cabinet goes up in cost depending on the finish, the model, the make or the quality of material involved. It seems like such a minor thing when you’re talking about floor tiles and an outdoor living room, but look to how many square feet of cabinets you’re planning on having and how that affects the bottom line kitchen cost.

This is why both the concierge form and the working drawing are so important when it comes to making compromises. Room by room, we can point to the hidden costs that drive up the final estimate and, in this way, they can be addressed instance by instance.

Obviously, this isn’t my first time at the rodeo, nor is it my sales team’s. So, as we discuss the concierge form with clients, we might point out that a certain finish of cabinet can get exorbitant, hard to find, etc. This can help avoid surprises later, but even then, it often takes the working drawing estimates to make those prices clear for home builders.

Complexity

The more complex your home design, the more bells and whistles you include on your concierge form—Tuscan elevation, a lot of closet space, gourmet serving island, two dishwashers, built in cabinets, double stair cases, epoxy floor covering in the garage, etc.—the more expensive it is.

When we’re talking about walk in closets, man caves, arboretums and speakers in the garage, this probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it often does, and so I want to address that here momentarily.

The term most related to complexity in the construction industry is Aspect Ratio. Simply put, a low aspect ratio home is a less expensive home, while a high aspect ratio home costs more. For instance, your typical suburban square or rectangular home, which from the air might look like a gift box or shoebox shaped home, has a low aspect ratio. Why? Because it’s simply less complex than other styles of home.

Now, compare that box-shaped, low-aspect ratio home with one that is wrapped around a swimming pool in a central courtyard, with cupolas coming out of the roof and multiple exits and levels, and the aspect ratio goes higher and higher with each design flourish.

So, while the more complex home is beautiful, it should come as no surprise that, with such complexity, comes a higher price tag.

Porches

It’s great to sit on your covered, screened-in porch at the end of a long day and kick back with a refreshing drink and the joy of custom home ownership. And while covered porches aren’t as expensive as, say, an air-conditioned and interior room, they’re more expensive than most home buyers realize.

Fancy Interior finishing

The fancy flourishes that clients love to decorate their interiors with, such as trim, crown molding, tiled ceilings or inlaid tile walls and faux panting, those interior finishes add up. Room by room, square foot by square foot, we provide a variety of options if this is where home builders want to eventually compromise.

Parting Words: Nothing Is Ever Perfect

It’s a fact of life that no matter how fully you participated in this advanced home design, no matter how long it took or active you were or how fully you envisioned the final product, one day you’ll look up at your finished home and think how you might have changed something.

It could be your first week in the home, a year or two later or ten years down the road, but at some point you’ll reconsider a design flourish, an angle, a room or a feature and experience, if not buyer’s remorse, then the slight sting of “could have been.”

This is the reason I don’t recommend that perfectionists build custom homes; they experience this tenfold and twice as rapidly! But, if you know going in that, as Frank Lloyd Wright so tactfully put it, “All good architectural design is a compromise,” then you can

Our Concierge Service: Let Us Help You Help Yourself

Categories: Building a Custom Home, Custom Home Design Ideas, WhiteStone | Posted: September 16, 2018

When clients come to see us, they often know “exactly” what they want but not quite how to get it. They may know they want a pool, but not what shape, how big or how deep. They may know they want a built-in island in the kitchen but do they want the sink there, or a mini-fridge underneath, or a marble baking top, etc.

To avoid confusion, we have a variety of forms that we ask clients to fill out that guides them through the process, digging for details and slowly drawing them down a “design funnel” until they have narrowed their choices down enough to make definitive, deliberate decisions.

One such form is our Concierge Form. As the name implies, this form acts as a do-it-yourself guide to your new dream home. (You can find the actual form below, PLUS on our website at http://WhiteStonehomes.com/.) It lists such categories as:

  • General must have items (i.e. view of hills, warm feeling, Tuscan elevation, lots of closet space)
  • Kitchen must have items (i.e. stainless steel appliances, gourmet serving island, two dishwashers)
  • Garage must have items (i.e. three car, built in cabinets, epoxy floor covering, freezer plug, air-conditioned, surround sound)

Through every room in the house, plus the front, side and back exterior, every bathroom, closet and cabinets, we walk you through it, step-by-step. We get you familiar with industry specific terms, like “judges paneling,” “Tuscany elevation” and “full arbor.”

For every room or category there are five lines to help list the major needs from the minor, drilling down deeper and deeper on every choice, until it’s clear to you what exactly you want, what you can live without, and what compromises may need to be made to reach a livable budget.

It may sound clinical, but as you go through the process, complete with visuals and even 3-D modeling, if needed, you can feel the excitement build for each new client. This is where dreams become a reality, where the sometimes hard choices are made, but where the picture becomes real and solid in their heads.

By the time we’re through filing this in, everyone knows what to expect; you, me, the builder, the designer, the sub-contractors, we’re all on the same page together.

 

Figure 1.1: The WhiteStone Custom Homes Concierge Form

Criteria for Success: You May Not Want to Build a Home If…

Categories: Building a Custom Home, Custom Home Design Ideas, WhiteStone | Posted: July 27, 2018

This may be one of my stranger blogs : ). I have to admit, some people should not build a new home. This is an excerpt from my book about custom home building: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Building a home is NOT for everybody. What seems like an adventure to some can turn into a nightmare for others, especially if you don’t particularly enjoy getting your hands dirty or being a decision-maker.

So, who shouldn’t build their own home? Well, I strongly recommend that you don’t build a house if:

  • You’re happy with the status quo. If you like things the way they are, if you’re resistant to change or don’t feel the need for change, don’t build your own home. Contentedness is a powerful feeling. If you’re happy where you are, why go on the home building adventure in the first place? Too often, couples get carried away by the momentum of building a home when they’re actually unprepared for, and not even that fond of, the process involved. If you’re happy where you are, I suggest you stay there until you’re not! Building a new home is definitely an improvement in your life. For many, it is the next step to greater happiness for themselves and their family. But some people are simply too happy—or too scared—to venture out.
  • It’s not a unanimous decision. Everyone living in the house, or at least the ones paying for it, should definitely agree that you both want to build a new home before making the plunge. I’ve seen many cases where one spouse is merely “going along to get along” with the other, who desperately wants to build a new home. We realize they will be the most convinced spouse. That is only natural, but to be truly happy, both spouses must be convinced.
  • You like old technology. The modern world of custom home building is not only high-tech but cutting edge and fast paced. It can get overwhelming if you’re not prepared for the changes that have happened in the construction industry over the last five to ten years, or are unwilling to adopt them.
  • You are a perfectionist. If you seek perfection in every area of your life, particularly your living space, you should probably avoid building a custom home at all costs. Custom homes are not extruded out of a machine in some factory, but manufactured homes are. Those are homes that, like cars off an assembly line, come pre-assembled and popped out in cookie cutter fashion, with no muss, no fuss and, above all, no surprises—or frustration.
  • You can’t expect, or appreciate, the unexpected. Part of the reason why home building is such an adventure, just like child rearing, is that the only constant you can expect is the unexpected. Plans are just that- plans. They’re written in ink, not stone, and the biggest part of the home building adventure is seeing how your dream translates into reality. The best custom home builders are realists who not only know when to compromise, but how to pick their battles. Part of the joy of the home building process is being there every step of the way, for every brick or stone that goes up, watching the house evolve. While custom homes are never perfect, they are personal; it’s hard not to get attached to something you watch grow from the ground up. This new home will be your design. Your ideas brought to life! However, if you can’t appreciate or expect the unexpected, then building a custom home probably isn’t for you.

Chapter 3 The Basics of Successful Home Design

Categories: WhiteStone | Posted: June 23, 2018

Chapter 3

The Basics of Successful Home Design

Designing your new home is a little like predicting the future. Often, couples come in, or families, and as we start the design process and mapping out a floor plan, I start to see cracks in the armor. The husband wants this, the wife wants that, one kid wants this and another wants that.

What it boils down to is that a lot of people don’t know what they want, period. It’s a little like being a kid in a candy store; there are so many options nowadays, not just in bedrooms and kitchens, but in accents, accessories, bells, whistles, landscaping and layout, that folks just start grabbing what looks good without a feel for how it all might fit together. That’s a great recipe for designing a home today that you may hate a year from now!

Our job then, is to help them understand not just the aesthetics of their various single design choices, but how they all fit together. And that’s the basics of successful home design.

Getting it Down on Paper: Starting with a Vision

The process of your home design begins quite simply, but realistically; in black and white. Using the Concierge Form we discussed in earlier chapters, we begin to make your dreams real by asking you to explain them. This is a breakthrough process for many clients who may know what they think they want, but only really drill down to specifics when they’re forced to.

Remember, building a home is a family affair. We encourage you to include the whole family, including everyone who will be living in the home, to help design it. This can take the form of you and your spouse filling out the concierge form before discussing it with your kids, asking your kids to help you fill it out or, in certain cases, handing every family member a concierge form, or at least a blank sheet of paper, and letting them know exactly what’s involved in the process.

This is a real opportunity for each family member to get down in writing what they want. This way, everybody should be happy, and more importantly, they’ll know upfront what the home will look like. This way nobody can complain—spouse, child or mother-in-law—nor will they be able to complain once the house is complete!

This will help everyone in the family make their voice heard when it comes to what they want…

 

  • In the living room;
  • In their bedroom;
  • In the garage;
  • In the front yard;
  • In the back yard;
  • In the loft/Game room;
  • In the outdoor cooking/living area;
  • In the pool area;

 

What’s interesting about this process is that it often makes the planned home real for my clients. I can see them getting excited about fixtures and faucets and features and as they begin to envision what their new home might look like, it’s almost like they get a new spring in their step.

My clients are motivated to build anyway, but this really brings it all together in a way that is both purposeful and visual. They can see the dream becoming a reality, and few feelings compare.

This process makes way for a clear and well-defined path for them to follow. Now, rather than just seeing a head full of unrelated pictures or picturing a meandering, curving mass of confusion, the line is straight and clear.

It’s time consuming to consider every room, all the variables and whittle down your choices. Brick or slate? Tuscan design or southwestern ranch style? Loft or Full Bonus Room? Hilly or flat? Game room or three car garage? These choices do take thought, time and even discussion, but as I like to say, clients evolve into “partners” in the home design and the process does require this kind of investment to pay off.

An Eye for Design: The Best of Both Worlds

Our sales staff is architecturally trained to be able to help our clients’ dreams become a reality. I like to call them “translators,” in addition to their other technical skills, because I often hear them listening to a client’s rambling explanation of some floor plan or feature or accessory they’ve seen in a neighbor’s house, or from the road, or in a magazine and magically our designers will not only be able to show it to them, but either draw it up on the computer or show them a sample of what it might look like in their home.

That’s why the concierge form and several of the other requirements we ask for—magazine clippings, sample floor designs, web links and other visual cues—are so important. The more information you bring to us to express your vision, the closer our designers can get to making that vision a reality.

Having designed dozens of homes in a variety of styles, we have a vast catalog of existing floor plans, designs and features that we can adapt to the client’s specific needs. So, building on the concierge form, our designers can blend the existing with new. This gives clients an even clearer vision when they can begin to see the house take shape, not just on paper but in living color, on screen, in print or in 3-D models—or even existing homes.

There is nothing like seeing a really great home, floor plan or design and enlisting a team of professionals to help you customize and personalize it for your individual needs.

A little bit of this house, a smidge of that floor plan, a garage here, a loft there, the landscaping this way, the lighting that way, and accent by accent, room by room, your house becomes a custom home.

Needs Vs. Wants: Where the Rubber Hits the Road

The next part of the process delves into separating what you want from what you need. We’re Americans; we all want everything. More toppings, more cheese, double-size it and add sprinkles, if you please.

But when you keep in mind that each element of your home design not only affects how the house fits together but also costs more, we get down to the nitty-gritty: What do you want and what can you really afford?

Here is where the design process gets real for a lot of people, because we still want to create a dream home for them, but we want to do it within the limits of their personal, professional and financial reality.

Yes, a built-in outdoor kitchen with stainless steel fixtures, mini-bar and dorm fridge. Resort style pool and camouflaged rock speakers is what every red-blooded American homeowner wants, but do they need it? Will it fit with the rest of the house design? Will the added cost of that luxury affect the size of, say, the garage or the den or the guest room or even the pool? Will it mean the difference between an outdoor kitchen and a pool?

Here is where involving your family, and the design team, as well as compromise and lively discussion can help. We don’t rush this process, but we do keep it moving for your benefit. We recognize that both the wants and needs are real to the client, so we generally take a week or two to really fill out these forms, gather these pictures, troubleshoot these issues, present the pros and cons of each feature until the client can see the forest for the trees and make clear, rational, realistic decisions.

Now we’re really cooking!

The Four Elements of Home Design

Regardless of how big or small the house may be or how many rooms or square feet, Traditional style or Tuscan, there are really only four main elements of home design:

  • Kitchen
  • Family Room
  • Master Bedroom
  • Master Bath

Here is where I’d like to walk you through each element:

Our Concierge Service: Let Us Help You Help Yourself

Categories: WhiteStone | Posted: May 26, 2018

When clients come to see us, they often know “exactly” what they want but not quite how to get it. They may know they want a pool, but not what shape, how big or how deep. They may know they want a built-in island in the kitchen but do they want the sink there, or a mini-fridge underneath, or a marble baking top, etc.

To avoid confusion, we have a variety of forms that we ask clients to fill out that guides them through the process, digging for details and slowly drawing them down a “design funnel” until they have narrowed their choices down enough to make definitive, deliberate decisions.

One such form is our Concierge Form. As the name implies, this form acts as a do-it-yourself guide to your new dream home. (You can find the actual form below, PLUS on our website at http://WhiteStonehomes.com/.) It lists such categories as:

  • General must have items (i.e. view of hills, warm feeling, Tuscan elevation, lots of closet space)
  • Kitchen must have items (i.e. stainless steel appliances, gourmet serving island, two dishwashers)
  • Garage must have items (i.e. three car, built in cabinets, epoxy floor covering, freezer plug, air-conditioned, surround sound)

Through every room in the house, plus the front, side and back exterior, every bathroom, closet and cabinets, we walk you through it, step-by-step. We get you familiar with industry specific terms, like “judges paneling,” “Tuscany elevation” and “full arbor.”

For every room or category there are five lines to help list the major needs from the minor, drilling down deeper and deeper on every choice, until it’s clear to you what exactly you want, what you can live without, and what compromises may need to be made to reach a livable budget.

It may sound clinical, but as you go through the process, complete with visuals and even 3-D modeling, if needed, you can feel the excitement build for each new client. This is where dreams become a reality, where the sometimes hard choices are made, but where the picture becomes real and solid in their heads.

By the time we’re through filing this in, everyone knows what to expect; you, me, the builder, the designer, the sub-contractors, we’re all on the same page together.

 

Figure 1.1: The WhiteStone Custom Homes Concierge Form

Value Engineering: The Science of Dreams

Categories: Building a Custom Home, WhiteStone | Posted: May 5, 2018

How do we help customers turn their dream home into a reality? At WhiteStone Custom Homes, we start with something we call Value Engineering.

Value Engineering is our way of living up to our tag line of “Practical Luxury®.” We want to provide you with the best house possible within your budget. Whatever the budget, we don’t want to waste your money. We’d rather put your money to good use in ways that add value to the home, but don’t add excessive costs. So we examine the plan for your home with a critical eye, playing devil’s advocate with every inch of the blueprint and floor plan to ensure that there are no hidden costs, surprises, wasted money or efforts.

Something as simple as the flooring in your living room can take on great meaning when you match the kind of tiles or hardwood flooring you are using with the actual size or dimensions of the room. Will you end up cutting a fourth of your tiles, or lopping off two feet of every eighth floorboard, because of the dimensions?

Building a home from scratch allows us to closely examine every foot of every room, match it to the variables in your fixtures, wall coverings, etc., and “Value Engineer” the home for maximum value and minimal cost from the front door to the attic insulation.

People come to us for very specific reasons, and oftentimes those reasons involve significant life changes that are occurring within the family unit. The reason our homes are not only custom built but custom designed is because there is no cookie cutter formula or template that works for every home buyer.

Maybe your children are leaving the home and you’re looking for a smaller, sleeker, and more streamlined and open floor plan to fit your new lifestyle. Maybe you have two children in college who still come home from time to time and need room, but not as much room; or just one room. Maybe you’re adding children and need more room.

Maybe you’ve just gotten divorced or remarried. Maybe you’re newly single and are looking for that ultimate “Sex & the City” bachelorette pad or man cave, or maybe you’ve just married into a blended family a la “The Brady Bunch!”

Whatever the personal issues in the home, you’re ready for a change and we want to take charge of the process for you; Value Engineering helps us do just that.

Our Concierge Service: Let Us Help You Help Yourself

When clients come to see us, they often know “exactly” what they want but not quite how to get it. They may know they want a pool, but not what shape, how big or how deep. They may know they want a built-in island in the kitchen but do they want the sink there, or a mini-fridge underneath, or a marble baking top, etc.

To avoid confusion, we have a variety of forms that we ask clients to fill out that guides them through the process, digging for details and slowly drawing them down a “design funnel” until they have narrowed their choices down enough to make definitive, deliberate decisions.

One such form is our Concierge Form. As the name implies, this form acts as a do-it-yourself guide to your new dream home. (You can find the actual form below, PLUS on our website at http://WhiteStonehomes.com/.) It lists such categories as:

  • General must have items (i.e. view of hills, warm feeling, Tuscan elevation, lots of closet space)
  • Kitchen must have items (i.e. stainless steel appliances, gourmet serving island, two dishwashers)
  • Garage must have items (i.e. three car, built in cabinets, epoxy floor covering, freezer plug, air-conditioned, surround sound)

Through every room in the house, plus the front, side and back exterior, every bathroom, closet and cabinets, we walk you through it, step-by-step. We get you familiar with industry specific terms, like “judges paneling,” “Tuscany elevation” and “full arbor.”

For every room or category there are five lines to help list the major needs from the minor, drilling down deeper and deeper on every choice, until it’s clear to you what exactly you want, what you can live without, and what compromises may need to be made to reach a livable budget.

It may sound clinical, but as you go through the process, complete with visuals and even 3-D modeling, if needed, you can feel the excitement build for each new client. This is where dreams become a reality, where the sometimes hard choices are made, but where the picture becomes real and solid in their heads.

By the time we’re through filing this in, everyone knows what to expect; you, me, the builder, the designer, the sub-contractors, we’re all on the same page together.

 

Figure 1.1: The WhiteStone Custom Homes Concierge Form

To Build or Buy: You’re Ready for a Change

Categories: WhiteStone | Posted: April 7, 2018

I love what I do because I help people make their dreams come true. Everyone who comes into one of my Model Homes at WhiteStone Custom Homes is ready for something new; ready for a change. Most of them have lived in “off the rack,” non-custom designed homes all their lives and are ready to build the house of their dreams from the ground up. Others loved their last home, but after the children grew up and moved out, they were ready for something new; ready for something “more their size.”

It might be a bigger house, or just a “better” house. It might be sleeker, or in a better neighborhood, or have the pool they always wanted, or the mother-in-law’s apartment or a three car garage.

Buying or building a home can be an emotional decision for some, and having a process–as well as knowing that process–helps take some of the emotions, including fear and misunderstanding, out of the equation. Knowing how to start, knowing what comes next, knowing what pitfalls to avoid and which paths to follow can all help you avoid mistakes, and do so with confidence.

This should be an exciting time for you and I hope this book only adds to that excitement. The fact that you have questions, and that you’re beginning to look for answers, is exciting in itself.

We all love the thrill of starting something new, and there is nothing more rewarding for me than to watch a couple come into our Model Homes with that extra “pep in their step” as they prepare for the adventure of building or buying a new home.