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Nailing Down the Nickles and Dimes


When you’re building a home, there’s what you want and then there’s what you can afford. We fell in love with the architect’s plans, but could we afford to build the house?

Hello Mike

So I’ve told you that we really like our developer, Rob Whittle of Whittle Development Company.  Well, one of the things we like about him is that his business is a family affair.  (Not in the sense that he finds desks for all his unemployed relatives – we’ve all known concerns like that.)  Rob runs a top notch business  and his ethics and vision seem to run in the family.  I won’t introduce you to everyone, but I do want you to meet Mike, Rob’s brother and the guy in charge of construction for Whittle and Johnson Custom Homes, the construction arm of the development company.

Here’s the Bad News

Poor Mike.  Our first encounter with him was a list of up-charges.  We’d sent the interior plans to Rob and Rob gave them to Mike to see if what we’d planned fit the budget.  One look at the plans and Mike knew we weren’t very well acquainted with the word “standard”.  I had to scrape Bill off the wall when he first looked at the list.

If our taste isn’t standard, well then I’d venture to guess that our modus operendi is a little out of the ordinary.  When most folks discover they’ve planned more than they can afford, they just start cutting things out of their plans.  Not Bill.  He hit the internet and started hammering the phones.  By the time we met with Mike, Bill felt like he’d whittled (pun intended) the upcharges down to something we could swallow.

Here’s the Good News

I’ll confess I was more than a little anxious about meeting Mike.  When we built the home in California, our relationship with the builder wasn’t the most pleasant part of the experience.  It didn’t help that his wife walked out on him about the time we broke ground, but the guy also saw everything that Bill did as interference, not as input from the customer.  I hoped Rob’s construction manager was made out of a different piece of cloth.

WOW – we got a lot more than I’d been hoping for.  Mike’s a soft spoken sort, but he warmed up to Bill right away.  With a list of the up charges in hand, Bill and Mike went after it.

In the Beginning, The List Was Ahead

We started with the first thing – humongous dollars for roof pitch.  Roof pitch?  Who pays extra for roof pitch?  Well, come to find out we were going to.  Seems Mershawn was costing us a little with the way they’d drawn the roof, but a call to them revealed that less pitch would mean higher walls, more bricks, more weight, more foundation etc. etc. etc.  In the long run we were saving money with our high pitched roof.  So we decided we could live with the first upcharge.  It was actually a money-saving feature.

Next was the courtyard.  We’d thought we were saving money with a brick-walled courtyard.  Come to find out,  Bill did some research and found out brick cost as much as balustrades.  We like balustrades better than brick walls, and the courtyard was a non-negotiable, so the upcharge stayed, but we were trading up to what we wanted instead of what we thought we could afford.

But it was beginning to look like that upcharge list was going to get the best of our budget.  Could we build the house of our dreams and still be able to eat?

And Suddenly Bill Took the Lead

As Bill and Mike discussed the roof pitch and the courtyard, the atmosphere in the room changed.  Mike realized he was talking to someone who actually understood the costs associated with building a home.  Here was a homeowner who wasn’t going to gut all the best features of the home so they could afford it.  A partnership was in the making.

The rest of the  discussion became a share-fest of vendors and practices.  They found go-arounds, shortcuts and changes that would give us the effect we wanted while still lowering the upcharges.  Bill was able to turn Mike on to some vendors that will very likely earn a permanent place on Mike’s vendor list.

When we were through we knew the price was creeping up, but we’d also managed to economize on some things which kept us if not within budget, at least on the same planet.

So while all this was going on, we were trying to sell our house.  I’ll tell you about that next week.

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