When we first met Candy in 2009, our address was on undeniably emasculating Princess Lane. (She loved it!) The place had just sold, and we were excited about the endless opportunities for the upcoming mid-century modern project under contract on Bobbitt Drive. (We also suffered her endless jokes about Lorena. Bobbit. As in cut off — Remember?) At this point in our lives, we loved reinventing aging, yet special Dallas homes. (Candy could relate!) We also had the desire to incorporate the demands of construction into our already-busy schedules. And then there was the tenacity needed to pull it all off. But, times change. Candy has her own blog. Months before deciding whether to remodel another diamond in the rough or build from the ground up, we decided to hand over the reins to a builder/contractor for the next project.

Careers had become more intense over the years along with increasing work travels. The energy and sense of excitement we had in our 20s and early 30s to take on Goliath-sized re-do projects was also beginning to wane. And then there was that other minor detail about us being clueless on how to actually build a house from the ground up.

But just because we were finally tapping a professional to help us out, it would never change how we are confirmed control freaks when it comes to house projects. (Candy says: join the club!) We have specific opinions on design and finish out for the homes we’ve remodeled over the past 10 years. For us, there’s a shared passion for discovering design, materials, and trends (which we try to avoid… or at least the really trendy, short-sighted ones), and then translating it all into the final product. In our past home projects, the thought of someone else behind the curtain created a little, or a lot of, anxiety. Contractor grade? No thanks.

Would this decision to hire a builder/contractor mean selling our design souls to the McMansion devil? Given the need to let go of the inner control freak, we were on a quest to find the “perfect,” or more accurate, right contractor/builder. Is this even possible? I mean, builders are human, aren’t they? And so we began the challenge of finding the special someone who could create our vision with the quality we expect. After searching and interviewing several builders, including those on this blog, we found the right builder for our project: Mark Hayes, of Hayes Signature Homes.

How did we decide Mark was “the one?” Simple: too many Bachelor episodes. We put the builder candidates under the microscope – everything from interviewing clients to tours of past projects to reviewing copies of their financial statements. On one hand, the quality of construction and ease of the overall process was critical. But on the other hand, their personality was very important too – were we going to like working with them for the next eight months?

Here are some suggestions, based on our experience, on choosing the right partner for your dream home… or in our case, OUR DREAM HOME:

Start dating

Identify three to four builders who could be the one to build or remodel your home. Ask friends, colleagues, realtors (did we mention we think  Alice Simonton is one of the best in town?!) and the owners of homes you like from REPUTABLE names. Stick with folks who have been around for awhile, or have roots in the community, like the builders on Candys Builders. If a builder is new to town, that may be a red flag, and you may have to check references (and the BBB) back where he or she said they were building.

Play 20 questions

You should be able to establish a level of comfort and trust where no question is off the table, and you feel like you’re getting honest answers to your honest questions. What is your builder’s background and does she/he have good diverse experience, perhaps having spent time doing production homes as well? How long does it take to build the average home and what types of warranties are included? Are they open to change or are they too set in their ways of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality. There’s a reason they call it a custom home! What level of finish out is standard for them – does it feel like their level of trim package has a higher finish out or does the builder consider everything an “upgrade?” Will your builder be the actual builder and project manager or will they hand it off to someone else once you’ve signed the contract?

 Silence is not golden

Observe how responsive, detailed, and organized your prospective builder is during the initial process. Are they quick to return calls and emails? Do they thoroughly address your questions and concerns, or do they speak in vague and high-level terms? Like any relationship, if there are red flags in the “courting period,” communication and responsiveness probably won’t get any better once you sign on the dotted line.

Dig into the past

Meet with the owners of completed projects. Include the owners of both recently completed homes and homes completed a few years back. Ask other owners how responsive the builder was… particularly after the dust has settled and they have moved on to other projects. Candy, for example, tells us she still calls her builder 12 years later!

Quality control

Ask to tour a few completed homes to get a sense of quality, but be careful to not focus too much on style or finish-out choices, as this reflects more on the homeowner, not the builder. Instead, pay attention to details and craftsmanship. Does the trim match up and look sharp? Are there cracks inside or outside the house? Are the doors square? Can you see lines or waves in the drywall?

Take it to the bank

The last few years have weeded out a lot of bad eggs in the building business, and also a lot of honest, great builders, but also don’t be afraid to ask for financial statements so you feel confident they’ll be around to complete your project and for many years to come. Request bank statements, letters from financial institutions or other documents indicating the builder is in good standing.

Gut reaction

Believe in what your mother always said – rely on what your gut feeling tells you. There will be a lot of decisions to be made and while most of the time you should try to veer away from any emotional considerations, this is one time it’s okay to rely on those feelings and internal voices guiding you to the right decision.

The Rose

Have any advice of your own or lessons learned from you building experience, let us know!

Next time on Building with the Boys: we’ll talk whether to build, remodel or buy a home as is, and how to figure it all out — Justin Kettler and Tim Loecker

 

You know that Santa Fe is practically a bedroom community of Dallas. Well, here’s your chance to own a bedroom on the Pecos River minutes from downtown Santa Fe. Actor Val Kilmer — as in Batman Returns, etc. — wanted to use his 6,000 acre Pecos River Ranch in New Mexico as a sustainable, green community-type bed and breakfast. And New Mexico’s San Miguel County said yep, that’s OK. There have been some reports that Kilmer, who may not fit into the Batmobile so well these days, also wanted to run for governor of New Mexico. But then, he made some unfavorable comments about the area, including a quote in Rolling Stone magazine about how he lived in “the homicide capital of the Southwest.” Kilmer did, however, apologize. I think he’s right on: friends who live in Santa Fe have said the same thing, actually — SF’s a rough little town, as much as I love it.¬† When I stayed there, I almost died when I realized I’d left the back door un-locked. But I felt safe at this great in-town fractional called The Residence Club at El Corazon de Santa Fe, because I was right off the square. There are parts of Santa Fe that really are as dangerous as Mexico, maybe more so. Before you buy there, let’s talk.

Well, now Kilmer has the ranch on the market price super slashed with Santa Fe Realty Partners for $23 million.

The Pecos River Ranch is about 22 miles northeast of Santa Fe, with wildlife, 10 natural springs, world-class fishing and more than 50 miles of hiking and biking on a beautiful trail system. The 10-bedroom, 10-bathroom home has 11,573 square feet.

(Don’t you love it when celebs with 11,000 square foot homes talk about sustainability? Calling Al Gore…)

The property was first listed by Orvis/Cushman Wakefield in 2009 for $33 million but did not sell. In July 2010, it was listed with Darlene Streit of Santa Fe Realty Partners.¬† It is also the only ranch around that has actual water frontage: a seven-mile stretch of the Pecos River, fishing nirvana. Last year, Kilmer told a local TV station that he put the ranch on the market to try and attract a biz partner. (Ok…)

Curiously, the website for Val Kilmer’s Pecos River Ranch is still alive and kicking. Smart guy: not too many buyers kicking the tires of $23 million dollar homes these days.