Photos by Hillary Ehlen and Kayleigh Omang, Renderings provided by Benjamin Custom Homes
We’ve watched HGTV, we’ve created mood boards on Pinterest and we’ve, of course, carefully perused the pages of this very magazine to gather dream home inspiration. With such access to options and styles, many homeowners are attracted to the idea of going the custom home route, starting from scratch and having a hand in every step of the home-building process.
But where do you even start? Sure the idea of a custom home sounds great, but that certainly sounds like a big undertaking for a novice homeowner. If you’ve ever considered building a custom home, or are just curious about the process, this series is for you. Join Evan and Becky Muller as we follow them from beginning to end of all that goes into creating a custom-built home.
This month, get to know the couple, learn about the pre-approval process, see how they selected their lot and dive into how they chose what builder to go with.
In case you missed it…in Phase I of “Building with the Mullers,” we discussed who the homeowners are, getting financially pre-approved, lot selection and choosing Benjamin Custom Homes as the builder.
To recap, the homeowners Becky and Evan Muller are highschool sweethearts from rural South Dakota, now living in Fargo. Currently, Becky is a Commercial Interior Designer at ICON Architectural Group and Evan is a Financial Planning Analyst at Aldevron. They initially intended on Fargo being a brief interlude, but as they now both have jobs they love and are happy with the community here, they’ve decided that their “five-year-plan” of living here is now a forever plan. And with this plan to plant roots in the area, they’ve decided to embark on building a custom home. Since Becky is an interior designer and works in the industry daily, the couple had a head start in what to expect and what they wanted out of this process.
They chose their lot location in Kindred, N.D. out of a love for the rural environment they grew up in while also being an easy drive into Fargo. Their new home will marry their rural upbringing while also embracing their modern style. Evan joked, “The style is ‘I’m millennial, but I grew up on a farm!'”
As for selecting Benjamin Custom Homes as their builder, the couple needed a builder that would accommodate their unique circumstances. As a commercial interior designer, Becky has access to discounts and special offers with suppliers of flooring, countertops, tile and more. With such unique relationships, it would be foolish for the couple to not take advantage of these money-saving connections. While many other custom home builders have set contracts of whom they will work with, Benjamin Custom Homes was more than happy to work with Becky and her contacts to give the couple their vision.
Selling Their Current Home
Since our last check-in with the Mullers in December, they have begun preparing their current home for sale. Their Realtor, Mari Santoyo Perry of SoliMar Real Estate, recently walked them through their existing house and told them what things they should do to improve it for sale. She gave them tips on how to hide clutter and make it presentable for showings. So far, they’ve luckily found nothing major they need to fix.
They are currently adjusting to make the home ideal for showings. This includes finding the right balance between making the house look like a home, but not being too cluttered or too empty, where a person couldn’t envision their own belongings in it. Staging a home for showings is a fine line.
Having had an eye on the market, Santoyo Perri deemed February as an ideal time for the couple to list their home. With people wanting to move in by the spring or summer, this is the perfect time to start the listing and selling process for the Mullers.
“We don’t know what to expect yet,” said Evan. “You can put a price out there and nobody could want it or 30 might want it. And then you’re like, oh now we have to move into an apartment. Or then if nobody wants it and then you question if you listed it too high.” Anyone who has sold their home before knows the nervous uncertainty that comes with listing a home and trying to create an ideal timeline for the process.
“If it sells quickly, that is a good thing, it means that they are paying what we want,” said Becky. However, selling quickly would mean the couple would have to move twice—once into a temporary apartment and again when the new house is ready.
Next in this timeline of building a custom home comes the exterior renderings. To start off, Benjamin Custom Homes brought the Mullers a variety of samples to look at. These samples included siding colors, hardy board choices, garage door samples and anything else you can imagine that would complete the exterior of a home. The Benjamin Custom Homes team laid out all the choices and the Mullers picked and chose what they were drawn to. As they selected options, designers Kara Skarphol and Melanie Anderson put up examples of the samples on the large TV screen in the office. In real-time, the Mullers were able to see what their different selections would look like on their exterior. “We could see the changes instantaneously, so that really helped us make up our minds,” said Becky. “It was nice to be able to see everything change right away so that we didn’t have to email back and forth about options and having to wait for responses and examples.”
In addition to seeing virtual renderings of their selections, the Benjamin Custom Home team provided a list of previous Benjamin Custom Homes houses nearby that had some of the finishes the Mullers were leaning towards. This way, the couple could drive around and see how the photos of finishes they like looked like in reality.
Since our article about Phase I, the Mullers have made some changes to the exterior. “Ben [Anderson, owner of Benjamin Custom Homes] has a really great talent of being able to look at a house and be super close to guessing its value,” said Becky. “And ours turned out being a good amount over what we wanted to spend. So from the last article, we downsized a little bit.” They kept the home a similar shape and design concept, but just omitted an office on the first floor and shrunk their loft size and laundry room size. They ended up taking out about 400 square feet and worked with the team to land on a spot that was within their budget.
Lastly in the exterior rendering process, they also had to take into account how much landscaping they wanted to do right away versus over some time. This included porch finishes and deciding how the lot would look as a whole. Would there be planters under the windows? Would there be a walkway lined with bushes? Did they want maintenance-free or concrete or wood steps? All of these decisions were taken into account at this point.
The Bidding Process
The bidding process of creating a custom home is where the rubber really meets the road. In this step, visions and wishlists become reality as homeowners narrow down on product selections and see what it will all cost.
The bidding process for the Mullers included a long meeting at the Benjamin Custom Homes office. In this meeting, the builders had multiple spreadsheets, detailing everything. While the homeowners didn’t need to pick out the exact colors of everything, this was the time to select things like what type of flooring would be installed where, what the door styles would be, the height of the ceilings, if the cabinets would reach all the way to the ceiling or not…basically if something was to be in the house, they talked about it.
“It boiled down to, literally, the nuts and bolts of the house, and putting a price on it all,” said Evan.
The Mullers tapped into the Benjamin Custom Homes team’s expertise to make the best, most economical choices. The team was able to make recommendations and use their experience to guide the homeowners into what decisions were the smartest. They pointed out the things that were not easily changeable versus the things the homeowners could change later down the road if they felt like it. For instance, ceiling heights cannot be altered, but door hardware could easily be switched out as their style evolves. This process involved lots of picking and choosing and determining which elements mattered the most to them versus which elements weren’t priorities.
“They were able to help with these choices. We knew we were going to have a lot of cabinetry, so we were like, ok where else can we save?” said Becky. One suggestion from designer Kara Skarphol was to omit interior window frames. Not including these got rid of a lot of extra materials. “Doing that saved us a ton of money and it actually looks more contemporary and more our style anyway. It was really helpful because it was not something we would have thought of ourselves,” said Becky.
While Becky plans on using her industry connections to select vendors, there are still some areas where the couple needed guidance. With all of their builds, Benjamin Custom Homes has suggestions on what vendors they have had good experiences with and ones that match the needs of the homeowners. Once the initial bidding process is in a good place, Benjamin Custom Homes takes the spreadsheets of choices and presents them to such vendors they know provide good quality and pricing. After that, the homeowners can decide which vendor suits them best in terms of budget and style.
While Benjamin Custom Homes has an internal list of vendors they’ve had good experiences with, those suggestions are not the final say. They ask the homeowners if they have any connections or previous experiences with any vendors and let them make those choices. “They really let you take the reigns on that and will work with anybody, which is good. They are very flexible,” said Becky.
So far, the Mullers have met with Wendt Custom Cabinets, Hebron Brick and Showcase Floors to further discuss these product selections and installation costs. They’ve been impressed with how helpful these vendors were with making suggestions and easing the stress of the decision-making.
Even for homeowners familiar with the industry, Becky and Evan noted that the selection process can be a bit overwhelming at times. “You definitely need to have some sort of idea of what you’re wanting. If you have no idea, I could see this process taking months,” said Evan. “If you are indecisive, then your timeline needs to reflect that. So if you’re in a hurry to buy and build a house immediately, you might be looking at a more stressful process than what you thought you’re getting into versus if you had that time built-in.”
Thankfully, the team at Benjamin Custom homes was there to help the Mullers alleviate some of the stress that came with making those decisions. Benjamin Custom Homes designer, Melanie Anderson, even would pull up Becky’s Pinterest board during meetings and would reference things Becky had saved, reminding the homeowners of styles and touches they were wanting. When provided a sea of choices, these reminders were incredibly helpful to focus in on and stay on track.
This month we discussed selling their current home, exterior renderings, product selections and the bidding process. Up next, the Mullers have to make the decision of what bank they will use for their home building loan, put their current home on the market officially, continue saving money and seeing what the bidding process comes in as.
Once the bids come in, they will have a better idea of how to proceed with the next steps. “We definitely plan on having to adjust something. What? We have no idea,” said Evan. “I would be shocked if anybody did this process and they didn’t have to adjust something at this stage.” Knowing they’ll have to adapt and make a few more edits is just another part of this process.
For our third phase, we will discuss finalizing the interior design and starting the construction process. Stay tuned and get excited to follow along with the process of what it takes to build a custom home, from ideation all the way to moving in.