What To Expect When Building A Custom Home

What To Expect When Building A Custom Home


Greg:    Jason, good to see you.

Jason:    Welcome back Greg, always good to see you, man.

Greg:    Thank you. We’re back at another episode of your podcast. I’d like to approach this one from a buyer’s perspective if we might. The more I talk to you, the more interested I am in moving out to Norton Commons. I have a house currently. What would be the process for someone in my situation, a buyer in general, who approaches you and says, “You’re the man. I want to build a custom house. Get me started.” What is Step 1 through however many steps there are to the end result?”

Jason:     Sure, sure. A lot of times people get so caught up in the details. They think they need to have everything planned and they need to have this perfect floor plan and perfect elevation before they come to meet with me. That’s absolutely not correct. We are a design build firm. What I encourage people to do is come to me with general ideas of what they’re looking for in a home, and maybe potentially a lot. Typically we’ll have a couple meetings, we’ll identify what their budget is, what they want in a house, what’s their ideal lot. We’ll find the lot for them or give them some options, and then usually I like to have the lot first before we start any design work, just because if you’re building in Norton Commons, there’s a design code book, you have to follow certain rules if you’re building in this subdivision, there’s usually a set of deed restrictions that you just have to go by before you can design the house.

One is, to find the budget, identify the lot, and then start working on the design. One of the things I like to tell people, again, is don’t get caught up in the details. I’ve built several hundred homes over the years, all custom homes for clients, and I’ve got a pretty good idea of how to put a good house together.

Greg:    Okay, so I don’t have to have everything done. If I’m ready to take this trip, you will guide me through the process.

Jason:    Oh, absolutely. You want to know general things like how many bedrooms you want, how many bathrooms you want. Do you want a first floor master, second floor master.

Greg:    You’ve talked about this in some of the earlier podcasts. It’s sort of an interview process to find out how your clients are going to use the house.

Jason:    As part of our design process, we sit down, have a list of questions we go through, and want to understand how the customer’s going to live in their house. What’s important to them? What design aesthetics are they looking for? When I first started, everybody would bring me newspaper clippings from Southern Living or House Beautiful, Traditional Home, all the popular magazines. Still, to this day, I still get some people that bring me those, or they may have Homearama books or plan books that they’ve looked at. With the increasing awareness of social media and sites like house.com, Pinterest, most people have their idea books online. Some people have hundreds of pictures together in idea books. It’s awesome. It gives me an idea of what their style is going to be.

What I encourage them is, before they start sending me 100 pictures of what they like, is to really go back through all the pictures they’ve saved over the years and really hone in on what specific items they like in those pictures. There’s some great photos on house and Pinterest, but usually there’s 10, 15 different ideas or concepts going around in those pictures. When I’m trying to hone in on the design, I want to know specifically, what in that photo drew your interest. It may be a couple things, but it helps me pinpoint when I get into the design.

Greg:    Okay. Let’s say I have a big Pinterest account. My daughter does, let’s be honest.

Jason:    Sure, sure.

Greg:    I have an existing house already, I’m not ready to put it on the market, because I’m scared that I won’t have a house to move in to. How do you work that kind of process? Is that something I need to figure out first?

Jason:    There’s 2 ways to go about it. Some people will immediately want to put their house up for sale, get it sold before they start the build process. They don’t want to have 2 house payments.

Greg:    Right. That’s the easiest financially. You sell your house, the buyer has their cash in the bank, and it makes everything financially smoother working forward.

Jason:    Yeah. Most of our clients are that way. A good majority of people just like to have the uncertainty gone and get the house sold. They’re okay with renting. We have a couple rental properties sometimes we can put folks in when we build for them. The other option is some people are like, “I’m not moving twice.” I’m going to wait until you’re done with my house, and then I’m going to put my house up for sale. It just depends on what your risk tolerance is and financial situation is, frankly.

Greg:    Okay. That’s on the buyer. They have to figure out what they’re comfortable with and whether or not their bank or their bank account will let them keep their house while you build their house.

Jason:    That’s absolutely correct.

Greg:    Okay. Different scenarios for different people.

Jason:    But it works out well. Sometimes before the client moves out of the house, I always offer up, I want to come, see their current house. There’s usually certain things that’s causing them to want to build. They want a different lifestyle. They want a different neighborhood. When we bought this house 10 years ago or 12 years ago, we were only going to be here for 2 or 3 years.

Greg:    I’ve heard that a few times, yes.

Jason:    12 years later, and we’ve just outgrown it. We’ve got 3, 4 kids now. We need a little bit more space. I like to go and see how they live. See what kind of furniture they have. Are they going to keep that? One of the things that I like to do when I build a custom home is, and you’ve heard me talk about this before, I like to assemble a great team. A great architect, a great interior designer, great clients, and obviously a good builder. Once we get the team assembled, I’ll bring the interior designer, we’ll go, we’ll meet at the client’s house, identify what furniture they want to keep, what are the key items we need to work around? We can actually design the plan to incorporate either if it’s grandmother’s dining room table, or grandma’s hutch that they want to include in the new family room. I think that’s pretty neat that we offer that, want to take that extra step. We do not mind coming to somebody’s house to do that.

Greg:    That’s interesting you were talking about that, because I hadn’t really thought about it in that manner. You make it sound like it’s almost as important to show up at the house to figure out not only what someone wants to keep and what their goal is moving forward, but maybe what they don’t want to keep and what they’re trying to change. You mentioned some people might be moving down or trying to simplify. It sounds like it’s almost as important to know what to rule in as rule out so you can design the perfect house for that client.

Jason:    That’s exactly right. We do a lot of work for people moving up to larger homes, but we also do a fair amount of work for people that want to maybe move to Norton Commons. They’ve maybe got a 6 or 7,000 square foot in Lake Forest or Hillcrest or Glennview. Somewhere else. They’re going to move to Norton Commons and have 2,500 to 3,000 square feet. Usually I’ll take them through some houses I’ve built to show them what that square footage looks like, and they’re like, “I can live with this.”

Greg:    I was going to ask you, is that more of a challenge? I would think that would be a challenge.

Jason:    I think it’s mentally more of a challenge than it actually … Once they get into a house and realize, gosh, I don’t need all that square footage. We’ll eliminate a few rooms that just weren’t used in their existing house, and really I can take a house that’s 2,500 square feet, with the right floor plan, I can move a family in there that’s coming from a much larger home and really they’re not going to fee like their sacrificing. Rooms are still adequate size. It’s just the way I’ve arrange them, it just works well for the way they live.

Greg:    Norton Commons offers that ability for you as a builder, that if someone wants to move up, there are grand houses here. If someone wants to move down, there are more modest houses here. There’s something across the board. If a buyer approaches you and they’re not quite sure or if they change their mind after talking to you, like, “I want a 4,000 square foot house. No, wait a minute, maybe I want a 2,000 square foot.” Or, the other way around.

Jason:    Yeah. Currently now I’ve got a house in here that’s 1,800 square feet. Smaller house. Great plan, still has an open living space. I’ve also got one that’s 6,500 square feet. We can do whatever the demand is and whatever the client is looking for and price ranges start at about $400,000 range and go up to $1 million plus in Norton Commons. Similar to neighborhoods outside of Norton Commons.

Greg:    You build outside of Norton Commons, too, right? If a buyer approaches you, you’re happy to build where they want you to build, correct?

Jason:    That’s right. Most of my work outside of Norton Commons is custom, a little bit larger homes, very detailed work, very specific.

Greg:    You said earlier that people have Pinterest boards or just lots of photos from magazines. I know some people are just more organized than others. Does that end up getting … Do we end up getting mixed up with the designers if a client has their binder of what my living room should look like, or, in some ways it’s good because they know what they want, we just have to get from A to B.

Jason:    Yeah. A lot of times they might have 50 pictures and they’re all of kitchens. You may determine at the end of the day it’s a white kitchen with marble counter tops and a subway back splash and a wolf range. We can narrow it down pretty quickly. For all the people that come to me with their hundreds of pictures on Pinterest and magazines, I have the same majority that come to me with no preparation. We just sit down and have a conversation and we just talk. First meeting, it’s usually the second or third meeting when we get into talking about the design, but I’ll prod. I’ll ask the right questions to know. From that, I’ll take everything they’ve given me, and then I’ll create a plan for them. Again, there’s no detailed plans that they’re bringing me that they’ve seen. They just are telling me and talking to me. Through those conversations, I’ll develop in my head what I think the plan is going to be, and then I’ll get with my architect and we’ll do a sketch up or renderings and we’ll give them some options.

Greg:    How many times on average, I understand every situation’s different and unique. How many times would you say you meet with a client before you say you actually start digging a hole in the ground and starting their house? What can a buyer expect?

Jason:    Every client is different. A lot of clients will come to me after seeing my work and know that I’m going to be the builder of their home. We may get into the design in our second or third meeting. I may have another client that is interviewing me, that has seen my work, but they’re also interviewing a couple other builders. That may take another extra meeting or to to go through the pre-qualification to make sure I fit the build to be their builder.

Greg:    Jump through the hoops.

Jason:    Yep, that’s right. Once they’ve determined that they want to build … Some clients, it’s funny. I’m working on a couple clients right now with the design. We’ve probably made 5 or 6 revisions to their plans. They’re like, “Gosh, I know we’re being a pain and we’re being picky.” I’m like, “No, you’re not. This is part of the process.” You’re building a custom home. It needs to be to your liking. You’re not hurting my feelings. I’m just here to try to put ideas on paper and give us something to talk about.

Greg:    It really depends on how decisive some of your clients are. There’s nothing worse than someone moving ahead when they’re really not ready, and having a custom home that isn’t what they thought it would be. It’s better to take the time up front, do the extra meetings, and get-

Jason:    Right. Once people decide they want to build a custom home, get very anxious and want to start building immediately. I try to set the precedence, it’s going to take 2, 3, 4 months for us to get … Again, it depends on the scale of the project, but I want you to live with the plans for a week or two. Walk through the plan in your mind, is this going to work for me? Then, we’ll start making a few revisions back and forth from that part. Again, it’s a little back and forth. They may show the plans to their parents or friends and get their opinions. At the end of the day, they know what they want. It seems to work pretty well that way.

Greg:    Once you start building it … We’re coming up on the end of time here, but once you start building, how often would they expect to see you and meet with you and get updates, I guess?

Jason:    Part of our process is we have weekly written communication that outlines all the progress that happened the previous week, and we outline the following week’s progress and activity and any deadlines. We have weekly communication via email. Depending on the stage of the house, we may meet once a week at the house. I’m very hands on, so I’m always on site. I’m always available to my clients to meet and walk through and answer any questions. Just make sure we’re delivering the product that the customer’s expecting.

Greg:    Okay. It wouldn’t be horrible if they showed up on a regular basis and oohed and ahh over their-

Jason:    Most of my clients are busy professionals, but they will come to the house, some come daily. Most come several times a week, which is good. If they’re just making sure everything’s in the right spot.

Greg:    It has to be very exciting.

Jason:    It is, it is. I had a client yesterday I met with, and she met the framer, and the plumbers were in there starting. She loved them, went home, and baked cookies and came back the next day, and she’s passing out cookies to the workers.

Greg:    It’s a very personal experience.

Jason:    No, it is, it is.

Greg:    Once again, I appreciate the time and the education, and I look froward to seeing you next week.

Jason:    Sounds good. Thanks, Greg. Have a good one.