Photos by 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, learn about selling their current home, bids coming in, the virtual reality walk-through and the couple’s general design inspiration.
Phases I and II
In case you missed it…in Phase I and II of “Building with the Mullers,” we discussed who the homeowners are, getting financially pre-approved, lot selection, choosing Benjamin Custom Homes as the builder, putting their current home on the market, exterior renderings, the bidding process and product selection.
To briefly 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.
Their vision has taken shape more and more as the months go by, and this month they were even provided a virtual reality tour of their soon-to-be home! Come with us as we see what steps in the process they are currently working on and how the home is coming together.
Since our last check-in with the Mullers in February, they successfully listed their current home on the market and it sold within just three weeks. Their Realtor, Mari Santoyo Perry of SoliMar Real Estate, started this realty process back in June 2019. Then, they took photos of the home in the summer weather so that the couple would have snow-less photos when they were ready to put the home on the market officially.
Their existing home went on the market on February 12 and they had scheduled their first open house for the third weekend it was listed. However, they ended up getting (and accepting) an offer on it the Friday before the open house. Lucky for them, they had a lot of interest and people touring through, which was a big relief to the homeowners.
One thing that will make this selling process a little out of the norm for the Mullers is that the buyers wanted a quick closing. With this, the Mullers must find temporary housing until their custom home is move-in ready. While there’s some urgency in moving out and finding a new place to live, the couple acknowledges how nice it is to have the house sold and not have to worry about doubling up on mortgages. The process of moving into temporary housing, like a condo or apartment, is pretty standard in the custom home building industry, so this was a step the Mullers were prepared for.
The Bids are In
One huge part of the custom building process includes product selection and bidding. In this step, all the mood boards and wishlists came to life as the homeowners narrowed down which selections they wanted. While this daydreaming phase is exciting and fun, there also comes the practical side of it all: the cost.
When selecting products and finishes, the Mullers worked closely with the Benjamin Custom Homes team to determine the aesthetics and pricing as one. With spreadsheets of vendors and options, this was a detailed and important process. Once the decisions were made, they had to send out the selections to vendors for them to come back with pricing. This is a nerve-wracking process for many homeowners, as this is the time they really have to focus on their budget as see what visions can come to life and which ones have to be altered.
With the Benjamin Custom Homes team by their side, the Mullers were able to assess the bids and strategically pivot as needed. “The bids came in and there were some that were pretty high. [Benjamin Custom Homes] made some really great recommendations on how to lower those. Not just by cutting elements, but even just going with a different vendor,” said Becky.
The uniqueness of the home design made some of the bidding guesswork tricky. So when the estimate from the bidding came in high, the Mullers weighed what was important to them and what could wait. “It was hard to guess with our house—since the roof has all these different angles—how it was going to price out. So when it did come in over budget, we made the decision to cut out the loft,” said Becky.
In the original design, the homeowners imagined a loft overlooking the main living area. But to keep to their budget, removing this feature put them back into a comfortable spot financially. “Instead of cutting a bunch of little things out, it was like, okay we can just take the loft out and then we can keep everything else the same,” said Becky. However, this loft might not be gone from the vision forever. Benjamin Custom Homes also offers remodeling services, so if the Mullers ever decide they want to add the loft back in, the builders already have all the plans ready to go.
“I would say that’s one big thing in building, is prioritizing the things that you can’t change and discussing the items that could be done later, whether its basement finishes or a loft. They are maybe really big wants, but they can be added later at some point,” said Santoyo Perry. The height of ceilings or location of stairs are not things that can be easily changed down the road, but details like flooring or other finishes certainly can be switched when budget allows. Working with such an established team as the one at Benjamin Custom Homes, they were able to make these educated decisions with clarity.
“Now we are sitting really good and if we do end up coming in under budget, then we can finish our basement faster,” said Becky. With custom building, it’s all about educated guessing and strategic planning, so being able to make these decisions is instrumental in the success of the design.
The Mullers also were smart to remember that on top of the building costs, they need to account for costs of furniture and landscaping, too. With this in mind, Becky and Evan felt confident in the measures they took to stay in the building budget.
Virtual Reality Walk-Through
It’s one thing to envision your dream home, add inspiration to Pinterest and view renderings on paper. But the experience comes to life with being able to preview the home in virtual reality.
Before breaking ground, the Mullers were able to “tour” their new home through Oculus Virtual Reality headsets and Benjamin Custom Homes’ state of the art software. This type of technology offers visceral and lifelike experiences for homeowners, from custom build projects all the way to realty home tours. The process involves the homeowners putting on the virtual reality headset and using a remote to guide them through the home. As they look around in their headsets, they get to see an accurate visualization of the layout, proportions and overall design of their future home.
“I think for both of us it was really helpful to see the types of things we were getting in a real-life scale, rather than just a picture or rendering,” said Becky.
“[Benjamin Custom Homes] is so good with attention to detail. There are a lot of builders who just don’t do nearly this much work on the front-end for people to see exactly what it’s going to look like,” said Santoyo Perry, who, as a Realtor, is accustomed to working with many builders and homeowners. “It’s more than just looking at a paper and imagining and trusting that it’s going to turn out that way that you want it. I think that’s huge and it’s impressive the amount of work that goes upfront.”
It’s much easier to make tweaks in these stages than after the construction begins. By doing a virtual walk-through, the Mullers got a realistic idea of what their floorplan will look like and they can go into the construction process confident in their choices.
Now that cost and overall structure are decided upon, the Mullers have begun to be able to really narrow down the design inspiration of the place. As finishes like flooring and paint are getting finalized, the homeowners have begun diving into what the overall mood of the place will be, in terms of design trends, decor and furnishings.
Throughout all steps of the process, the Benjamin Custom Homes designers and Becky have been dedicated to Pinterest. As Becky updated her Pinterest idea board, the team could pull in elements and create the aesthetic vision the homeowners desired. This not only helped Becky put all her ideas in one spot, but also gave visual notes to the designers to better understand ideas in a way that words sometimes cannot express.
The couple describes their style as modern, with colors and tones borrowed from mid-century styles, but more modern shapes. The result comes to a contemporary design, leaning heavily on the contrast between crisp blacks and earthy wood tones. They initially were worried that their home would not “fit in” to their Kindred neighborhood, but the house plans were approved with enthusiasm from the neighborhood developer.
This month we discussed selling their current home, bids coming in, the virtual reality walk-through and the couple’s general design inspiration. Up next, the Mullers get to deed over their Kindred property to Benjamin Custom Homes and break ground on the construction. With that will come discussions of plumbing, finalizing the exterior, finalizing the cabinetry and an electrical walk-through.
The plan for the home has been approved by the city of Kindred and with the ground having less frost than anticipated, they are ready to break ground. Stay tuned for the next update, where the physical home will really start to take shape!