Here we go, part V or VI, I’ve had too much Pinot Noir to count. More on the new house saga over there on Azaela with Justin Kettler and Tim Loecker, who are still delightfully together even after and tell us why building is very much like plastic surgery:

Windows:  We are convinced windows can make the difference between a nice exterior and a fabulous exterior. And for modest upgrades in cost, you can have exponential aesthetic, and possibly efficiency, impacts.  We gravitated to casement-style windows (versus single or double-hung sash) for an upgraded look without the big cost impacts.  Also, we lean towards fewer grids/dividers on the windows to keep windows from being too busy.  And as far as grids/dividers go, we recommend exterior grids instead of ones sandwiched between two panes of glass.  We discovered wood casement windows with exterior clad aluminum provide a great combination of efficiency, durability, style, and value.  For an even better value, vinyl casement-style windows with exterior grids are the best value, but limited in color options.  Solid wood windows, while gorgeous, are often the most expensive choice, and require periodic upkeep specifically with paint fade and rotting.

Exterior impact:  Choosing the style of your house will set the tone for many decisions to come.  However, this point is not a bias towards traditional, modern, or transitional styling.  Often, good intent turns into a mix-match of styles, themes, materials, and designs.  Step on up folks, this beauty has:  Brick! Stucco! Stone! Iron! Slate! Turrets! France!  Italy! Tudor! Cedar! Copper! Scrolly pointy things galore!  Oh my!  It reminds me of turning the corner at Whole Foods, and coming face to face with the poster child for plastic surgery intervention.  Gasp!  Stop!  You were beautiful after your first two procedures.  If the goal is to make the Guinness Book of World records for most design elements, go for it!  Otherwise, less really is more.  Give your home an identity, not an identity crisis.

What’s that “one thing:” Well, it is hard to put your finger on it, but you know it is there.  It makes a difference, but can’t be immediately explained.  That “one thing” is a statement you make with a key design feature, whether inside or out.  It may be easier to define what that “one thing” isn’t.  One thing is NOT having 20 different really cool latest and greatest design trends in your house.  Look for ways to understate one design choice so another can shine and stand out.   For example, we wanted the fireplace to be the focal point in the living room.  Therefore, we chose muted and understated floor tiles, laid without pattern in a simple straight line.  Then, we chose a very unique marble with a walnut vein effect for the fireplace from floor to ceiling.  It pops!  The eye is drawn to it, and is not competing with a more opulent floor tile.  In the kitchen, some designers will do an elaborate backsplash, fancy countertops, and extravagant cabinetry.  In this case, materials are fighting each other to be the prettiest beauty queen.  Instead, a simple backsplash with minimal pattern yields to the other design elements.  Forgo the metallic basket weave glass and travertine backsplash with intermittent hand-painted vegetable tiles for a simple marble pattern.  In the end, your house will have several “one things” interspersed throughout, but they aren’t all competing for the blue ribbon.

 

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

 

The boys are back, this time I think they are just stalking me.

You may recall Tim Loecker and Justin Kettler when I wrote for D Home Mag, when I lauded them for saving North Dallas ranches one house at a time. It seems these two can never be satisfied with their home, which is why I love them.

It all began with a 2,400-square-foot cottage on Cromwell Drive, just a couple of blocks from our 3550 Ainsworth, which was our very first Dallas dirt. They flipped Cromwell and followed it up with three more projects, including a 2,500-square foot rancher near Forest and Midway, and a 4,000-square-foot fairy tale on Princess Lane that had, when they bought it, ADA-approved wide doorways and handlebars in all showers. Seriously: the place was a halfway home for people recovering from who knows what. After selling Princess, the two bought and renovated an original owner mid-century modern on Bobbitt Drive. This is where it got a little freaky for me: we also had lived about half a block away, at 4307 Melissa Lane. They lived on Bobbitt a couple of years, sold it, and now — you’ve got it — the boys are moving CTC: Closer to Candy! But this time, they have ditched the remodel and are building from scratch. As in, they scraped a post-WWII mini rancher on Azalea built in 1949 and are in the process of building a new home. And they are going to share the entire experience with you right here on CandysDirt.com.

It must have been hard for the guys to scrape that ranch, because I know how much they love them. Ranches have good bones, they once told me. They were built with an infrastructure of slow-grown, sturdy wood and easy-to-open floor plans. Well, so was I but someday we all gotta go, right?  Both guys always participated in their too-many-now-to count renovations, digging in with sledgehammers, getting knee-deep in sawdust, changing the floor plan, and staying hands-on with every last detail from designing cabinetry to choosing outlet covers.  Despite the bruises, gashes, black toenails, and occasional (or frequent) difference of opinion, the guys consider this a side hobby.  Loecker is a senior vice president for a global public relations firm. Kettler is a regional manager for a financial services company.  Building new has a whole new spin as they are no longer going to be managing the project, though no doubt they will be hands on.

“Now we are letting our builder do the contracting while we can focus on researching design and materials, giving input, and documenting the process in pictures.” says Justin.  “This approach is a much better fit with our day job demands, and better for our sanity.”

“All of our friends seem to be getting married and having babies,” says Tim. “We’d rather just do another house together.  It’s our version of renewing our vows and giving birth…every couple of years!”

Stay tuned for Building with the Boys. First episode: The big decision: Choosing a builder to create your next home.