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How Your House Gets So Expensive: Foot by Foot

Categories: Building a Custom Home, Custom Home Design Ideas, WhiteStone | Posted: September 10, 2019

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.


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.


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.


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.


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 experience those moments of “would have done, should have done, could have done” with less regret.

The reason we at WhiteStone Custom Homes spend so much time in the planning, development and design/advance design phase is because we want you to be fully prepared for the entire process; before, during and after construction. The more you know going in, we like to say, the less regret you’ll have moving in!



Don’t Compromise your New Custom Home!

Categories: Building a Custom Home, Custom Home Design Ideas, Uncategorized, WhiteStone | Posted: June 21, 2019

So, you are going to build your first or maybe last custom home, right? Great! Fantastic. This may be the last home you ever. There is absolutely no reason to compromise right? Cousin Emily said you shouldn’t and well meaning brother Bob said you shouldn’t either. Are they correct? No! They are only correct if you DO NOT want to build a home. We have seen so many well meaning serious custom home buyers lose their vision and energy designing their own custom home because they suffered under the false narrative that you shouldn’t have to compromise when you are building a custom home. The fact is, you have to compromise less, but you still have to compromise.

How do I know this? Number one, I have been building customers homes for the last 34 years. Day in and day out. Those that are not able to compromise never build a home. Ever. You know what they do? Either they stay in the home they don’t like now, or they go buy a used home that doesn’t even begin to satisfy their desires. Trust me, I have seen it way too many times.   Number two, I learned it from the #1 home architect of all time, Frank Lloyd Wright.( ) It was his now famous quote ” All great design is a compromise”.  Why did he say that? Because it is true. It is always true. It is like a natural law that can not be changed. Think about it. If you want a home by the lake, it cannot be by the ocean. If you want a home in the mountains, it cannot be on flat farm land. If you want a two story home, it can not be a single story home.

You might argue, that if you have an endless budget, you shouldn’t have to compromise, right? Yes you do. Bill Gates built his $127 million home on a lake near his office on a lot that had limited space. It is a two story, so he has to climb stairs. How many buyers want to climb stairs? Most say they don’t, and almost all buyers today want a single story home,  but to accommodate all he wanted in the home, he had to go vertical. See what I mean? Frank Lloyd right was correct. All great design is a compromise.

The problem usually stems from the fact that custom home buyers get lost in the design phase and forget the main reason the wanted a new custom home anyway. They start thinking they can’t live with out the ________ and just will not build if they cannot have that when that was not the main reason they started this process in the first place. We can help. Come visit with us. Let us help you with our trademarked Concierge Form. It is a perfect guide to keeping on track and getting you into your perfect compromise of a new custom home! Build a WhiteStone Homes. Every new custom home should be a WhiteStone Home!

Value Engineering: The Science of Dreams

Categories: Building a Custom Home, Custom Home Design Ideas, WhiteStone | Posted: May 21, 2019

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.

Conversational Facts versus Real Facts

Categories: Building a Custom Home, Custom Home Design Ideas, WhiteStone | Posted: May 7, 2019

One thing I’ve learned when it comes to homeowners, neighbors, families, friends, and people in general is that not only is everyone a critic, but everyone’s an expert. The minute you take ownership of your home you will be privy to all this expertise, whether you want it or not!

A neighbor will tell you the twelve reasons why your foundation is cracked. An aunt will clue you in to the best way to run your dishwasher (run hot water first!) and your Dad will assure you of the best way to mow your lawn—or tune up your lawnmower. A coworker will insist you have a 12-digit code for your garage doors.

These are what are known as “conversational facts.” In other words, people hear, say and share these “truisms” in conversation and so, after time, they sound like facts, but they aren’t facts. Your aunt may truly believe that running hot water before starting the dishwasher will make it more effective, and perhaps it was in 1959. But today’s dishwashers are carefully calibrated and finely tuned and running the water—hot or not—before starting a cycle won’t have the least effect on how clean your dishes will be when they’re dry.

My point here is that you’ve hired an expert to build your home, now listen to one as he explains how to move into your home with the least amount of hassle and the most effective solutions for a smooth transition.

I started in this business in customer service, taking complaints from all kinds of home owners about all types of home ownership issues. And now, owning my own business and walking proud new owners through their spiffy new homes, I know what to look for, what to warn them about and how to solve any minor—even major—issues that may arise.

In this chapter, I’ll scroll through just a few high-level maintenance tips that will show you the quickest, easiest and simplest ways to avoid 99.9% of home maintenance issues. “Do it yourself” ads will try to scare you into thinking you need a dozen add-in warranties or workmen in your house every day to stave off mold, ammonia, radon leaks, sagging roofs, cracking foundations, peeling paint and 1,001 other potential problems. Like anything else, preventive maintenance is the key to disaster relief.

Follow me on a virtual tour of your new home—of any new home—and you’ll see that, with a minimal amount of effort just a couple times a year, you and your home can get along just fine! Stand by. I will pass this information along to you in my next blog post! Have a great day!

The Four Elements of Home Design

Categories: Building a Custom Home, Custom Home Design Ideas, WhiteStone | Posted: April 13, 2019

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:


After thirty years in the construction industry, there is one thing I know for certain: people LOVE their kitchens. Our job is to create a kitchen that clients not only love, but will love for all the right reasons. And that leads us to some specific questions you might not think to ask, such as:

  • Where do you want the kitchen?
  • In the middle of the house, in the front, in the back?
  • Or, let’s get more specific: Do you want it on the left leisure side of the home?
  • The right leisure side of the home?
  • And what do you want in it?
  • How big will it have to be to accommodate, say, a central island or double door refrigerator or breakfast nook?


All of these answers are critical as we move onto the next major element of home design, the family room.

Family Room

Homes are like puzzles; they must fit together, so depending on what your wants, needs and plans are for the kitchen—which is why we start with that area of the house—we can then move on to designing the family room.

If you want your kitchen on the right leisure side of the house, perhaps you’ll want the family room on the left. Or vice versa! Or, maybe your kitchen is the centerpiece of your house and you really want it to blend into the family room in a way that is unique and different.

As the floor plan begins to evolve and take shape, you can see the importance of these four elements of design and how they not only fit together, but begin to inform and color the feel, tone and tempo of the home itself.

The kitchen and family room elements are also integral to the style of home you’re looking for. We see a lot of Tuscan and Texas Hill Country Traditional here, as well as a kind of loft-like, farmhouse style, the castle look and the Mediterranean look, etc.

You can apply almost any style you want to almost any house, but the best styles match inside and out. So knowing the feel, tone and tempo you want for your house can help you pick both the style and have that style influence the size of rooms, the brightness and layout, etc.

The typical square footage for a family room is generally 18 x 18-square feet, or 18 x 20. That would be the size we would suggest you shoot for.

Master Bedroom

The master bedroom is the third major element of home design, and provides a wide opportunity of style, size and fixture choices. Here we have a variety of choices to make, such as size and style, of course, but also widow treatment, closet size, flooring, etc.

Do you want a walk-out balcony? A parlor or sitting area? Built in fixtures or flat walls? High arches or ceilings, slanted, low or cathedral? People spend a lot of time in their bedrooms and, like the family kitchen, tend to take a lot of time planning this room out to be both comfortable and personal.

When it comes to size, most of our master bedrooms come in at 13 x 14-square feet. That is our default measurement and the standard by which we go, with the understanding that making the master bedroom bigger or smaller will generally affect the size of adjoining or connecting rooms.

Master Bath

The fourth and final major element of home design is the master bathroom. Again, like the relationship between the family room and the kitchen, the choices you make with your master bedroom will affect your master bathroom.

The larger your sitting area or walk-in closet, for instance, the smaller your master bathroom might have to be. Or do you want the master bath in the front of the suite, to the side or in the back?

Our designers and sales people will help you see all of the facets, options and opportunities involved in your choices, and perhaps help you reach compromises that allow you to have the best of both worlds when it comes to your master bedroom and master bath.

When it comes to designing the master bathroom, there are other considerations to make as well. Do you want the master bath to be just for the master bedroom, so that the flow is quite organic from one room to the next? Do you want the master bath next to the master bedroom? Do you want the master bath to join two rooms, equally accessible to both, in what is known as a “Hollywood” or “Jack and Jill” style? Again, it’s like a puzzle; the choices you make for this room will affect other rooms, and so require careful consideration and lots of visualization!


I always say, if you’re going to scrimp on certain elements of the house, never scrimp on these main four elements; kitchen, family room, master bedroom and master bathroom. There are four main elements for a reason; because this is where, traditionally, home owners spend the most of their time.

In fact, when we begin to design a custom home for our clients we not only start with these four elements but really try to “wow” future homeowners with our designs for these four areas. If you can’t get clients excited about their kitchen, family room, master bedroom or bath, how in the world can you hope to get them excited about the guest room or garage?

It’s Not Just You: Designing for Resale

National averages reveal that most Americans live in their home for an average of seven years before moving out and moving on. While that’s not something you want to dwell on as you invest precious time, energy and financial resources to the design of your new home, it is something to consider in the design of that home.

You will want to create a design that’s not just attractive or comfortable to you, but that will appeal to potential buyers as well. We love to encourage our clients to be as personal, unique and inventive as possible when it comes to designing their homes, but not so unique that they’ll be the only ones to ever be able to live in it!

That’s why we try to blend the best of what we know, and families’ love, with what each specific client brings to the home design process, as well. Once again, this gives them the best of both worlds; ideal living conditions while they own the house and optimal resale value, if and when, they ever decide to sell.




Questions Lead to Answers: Prioritizing the Process

Categories: Building a Custom Home, Custom Home Design Ideas, WhiteStone | Posted: March 9, 2019

At WhiteStone Custom Homes, we run a showroom, not a sales floor. And, I think that’s a pretty important distinction. By that, I mean we don’t expect you to walk in, buy something, and leave on your very first trip.  Yes, we have salespeople and we want your business, but not at the cost of your peace of mind, or ours, for that matter.

I’ve spent so much time talking about the mentality of building a custom home because I believe it’s critically important to have the right mindset before you start; even before you decide to start.

Here are five questions to ask yourself before deciding to build a new home:

  • Do you have to be in control in all situations?

It takes a village to build a new custom home, and while you are most certainly the customer and eventual homeowner, you’re not necessarily the “boss,” if you know what I mean. The team we assemble at WhiteStone Custom Homes includes knowledgeable experts, not just in the actual construction but the planning, organizing, implementation, design and facilitating aspects of such a significant project.

You will have people making suggestions on everything from flooring and landscaping to roofing and kitchen cabinets to faucets and all the way down to the nuts, the bolts and the pitch of the roof.

All of these people will be working for you, but they will all be working under their own steam and in conjunction with one other, meaning you won’t necessarily be in control of all situations at all times. Not everybody is okay with that, particularly when they’re spending new custom home dollars.


  • Are you excited by change or something new?

I always say that building a home is first an emotional decision, then a physical operation. That’s because the desire to build a new home doesn’t necessarily come from the smell of fresh lumber or the desire to put on a hard hat, but the stirrings of change within a particular individual, couple or family.

Building a new custom home is exciting and it should be exciting. You should be excited about it. It’s also about change- a lot of change. You may be going from 1,500-square feet to 4,000-square feet, from single story to two-story, from apartment or townhouse to a freestanding dwelling. These changes are adjustments and require a particular level of energy to commit to.


  • Do you need a new home?

Let’s shift from the emotional to the physical and ask, “Do you straight up need a new home?” This may seem like a simple question but the fact is many people who think they “need” a new home just want one. They want what their neighbors have, what their friends or other family members have, they want to keep up with the Joneses, or simply be the Joneses. That’s more want than need, and can lead to trouble when the design team start drilling down to details.

However, if the emotional want is matched with a physical need, then the motivation for building a new home becomes clearer and the process simpler. If you need a bigger house, a newer house, a smaller house, a different style of house, one with features you’ve always wanted and now can afford, such as a view of the setting sun, a better neighborhood for your family, a pool or garden or backyard barbecue outdoor living area, or lush landscaping, then the decision to build a custom new home simply makes more sense.


  • Are you a perfectionist? Do people actually *call* you a perfectionist?

No home is perfect; there is always compromise. If you are a perfectionist who can’t understand, abide or compromise, then the build is going to be long, arduous, unpleasant and, ultimately, unsatisfactory. Not because everyone didn’t try to please you, but because perfectionists simply can’t be pleased.


  • Do you and your spouse agree/argue most of the time? (FYI, most of the time is 80 percent.)


In the next section, I talk about your “building family,” but here I want to talk about your actual family, particularly your spouse. Do you argue most of the time? (And for the record, most of the time is 80 percent or more). If so, building a new home is probably not for you.

If you’re fighting under ideal conditions, before you start to design and construct a new home, then imagine what it might be like when the imported Italian Tile shipment is delayed by a few days, which sets back the schedule a week, which impacts the roofing team,  and the tile crew, creating a ripple effect that ultimately creates stress, challenge and delays for all involved.

Building a new home can be challenging for all couples, even the healthiest, friendliest and easiest going. But for those who already argue a significant portion of the time pre-construction, the challenges can turn the construction itself into a nightmare, which bleeds into your enjoyment of living in the home once it’s actually built. Are you prepared for that? Is your spouse?

Or, think of it this way; if there is a screaming match every time you and your spouse and your family go out to eat, how much more intense are those battles going to be every time a decision needs to be made on a new home?


I ask these questions of every client, whether formally or informally. Look, we’re a small family business with an A rating with the Better Business Bureau. That’s because we really do treat your family like our family, to the point where we, a). Want to see your dream of constructing a new home become a reality but, also, b). Don’t want to sell you on something you don’t really want, need or are ready for.

Building for Success: It’s a Family Affair

Think of building a home like taking a long trip with your extended family. Not just your wife and grown kids, but their spouses, in-laws, stepchildren, etc. Now add your travel agent!

Building a home takes time; from planning to conception to construction to completion, it’s a months-long effort full of ups, downs and compromises. What you want is a team, a “building family,” as we like to call it, that you’d actually like to go on vacation with for an extended time.

All parties need to go along to get along, to understand each other, to enjoy spending time with each other and, ultimately, to make important compromises based on price, technology, tools, skill, resources, etc.

I’m not saying we have to be best friends, but there should be a certain level of respect, understanding, and yes, companionship if we’re going to build a house together.

Parting Words

Listen, not every home builder is going to run you through a questionnaire to see if you’re up for the challenge of building a custom home with them. Most likely they assume you’re grown, sane adults who can handle the stress of building a custom home.

But, we build showcase custom homes and that requires a higher level of commitment from you and equally from us. We also consider you a part of the WhiteStone family, and like all good family, we want to make sure you know what you’re getting into before you start the process, not midway through!

This is a book I want to be able to hand to my family; my brother or sister, parents or uncles, nieces or nephews. So, I’m speaking to you as I would speak to them. If I could tell them what I’ve learned after doing this for over thirty years, this is what I would say. I wouldn’t let my family rush into building a custom-designed home, so I’m not about to let you—my building family—rush into it, either.




Building Your Dream Home Starts with a Firm Grasp of Reality

Categories: Building a Custom Home, Custom Home Design Ideas, WhiteStone | Posted: February 26, 2019

Chances are you know exactly what you want in your dream home, from how many bedrooms to what the bathroom fixtures look like, to the fireplace mantel to where you’ll put your Christmas tree; it’s a vivid picture in your mind.

But it’s just as likely that you’ve spent far less time envisioning what the actual process of building your home will look like. For instance, who is responsible for picking out those bathroom fixtures? You, the home builder, or the contractor?

How long will building the home take? Where will you live during construction? How much will that add to the final “price” of the home? Each one of these questions adds to the stress of building a home.

While you may be detail-oriented in your personal life, and the vision of your dream home may be extremely detail-oriented, the reality is that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of choices to make when building a home. Not just what type of French doors you want, but are the window panes up to code, which hinges both look best with that set of doors and are also the most durable and cost effective?

I leave as much of the creative process as possible to my clients, and try to take the stress off the rest by making choices that I know will match their dreams of visions. How many of you first think of “door stops” when the words “dream home” come to mind? (You know, those little rubber tips behind your door that stops it from slamming into the wall each time you open up?) Very little, I would imagine, and yet the typical two-story, four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath home can have several dozen door stops.

Whether you’re a door stop aficionado or not, my point is that we make it simple for you, not more complex. The choices are always up to you, but we help as much as we can–or as little as you need. In this case, we pick the latest fashions and trends on a regular basis and put them in packages so buyers can pick items in clear groups from the latest, most popular and fashionable trends.

Do you want to stop everything and pick those out? Or would you prefer someone who knows you, is working for you–and with you–to achieve your vision go pick those out for you?

This is another part of the process that, knowing beforehand, can relieve some of the stress–even some of the fear–from the equation. The last thing we want is for building your dream home to turn into your home-building nightmare!

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 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!










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!