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ARCHIVED  January 1, 1998

Custom homes fulfill dreams, but at a price

Custom homes fulfill dreams, but at a price

Builders customize homes to varying degrees

Susan de Castro McCann

Business Report Correspondent
Owning a dream home is right at the top of the list for most Americans.
From coast to coast, people want to watch the ocean waves roll up on the beach or live in a cosmic log home on a horse ranch in the foothills or a Victorian house in the city.
Although few of us can afford our dream house, many people buy what they can afford and try to convert it to their dream over time. More and more people are trying to customize and personalize even the new commercially built tract homes. And for some — those lucky enough to afford it — the custom built-home is a dream come true.
"People want custom homes because they want to be able to make more choices and to put their personal mark on their home,˜˜ said Steve Spanjer, owner of Spanjer Construction Corp. in Fort Collins. "We build homes that are one of a kind, usually at the owner˜s site. The trend is that people are customizing their homes more than perhaps 10 years ago. We build six to 10 custom homes a year. We don˜t want to build hundreds of homes.˜˜
Spanjer has been building homes for 28 years in Colorado and is on the National Association of Home Builders Single Family Custom Committee.
"We look at trends,˜˜ he said. "It used to be easy to build custom homes, but now you have so many options to offer people, such as a choice of heating and computer controls for running the house, that is more difficult to build.˜˜
With custom homes, the builder works with the homeowner every step of the way to decide color choices, flooring, cabinets, windows light fixtures, patios, decks — the choices are virtually endless. But even when people are building a dream house, they are still working within a budget.
"No one has ever come to me with an unlimited budget,˜˜ Spanjer said. "Everyone works within a budget, and so we need to participate in that budget process. I pride myself on working with customers early on to save money.˜˜
Whatever the budget might be, Spanjer sets out to find crafts people who can build cabinets with inlaid woods, marble countertops, computer rooms to fit all types of electronics, radiant heating, light fixtures from Brazil and any other accessories or items a customer might want.
"I spend a lot of time trying to find custom wood doors, architectural art glass, unique tiles or fixtures,˜˜ he said. "It takes a lot of lead-time to build a custom home. The pool of craftsmen is very limited. It takes seven to eight months for us to build a home, and some that are 7,000 square feet, it can take 14 months.˜˜
Custom homes are as unique as their owners and reflect the owner˜s lifestyle.
"Some people want a huge garage space for boats and RVs, some people want $20,000 worth of appliances in their kitchen because they are gourmet chefs, some engineers want eight phone lines, some people want horse stables and hay barns,˜˜ he said. "So I can˜t say there is one area of a home more important than another."
Typically, custom homes are built on larger acreage, but sometimes city lots are used. Custom homes average about 3,500 square feet, Spanjer said, but they are also larger and smaller.
"We build in the $100 to $150 per square foot range,˜˜ he said. "There is so much process involved. A custom home can cost the same or even less than a production home loaded with changes.˜˜
A custom home does not appeal to everyone. For some people, there are too many choices, and they don˜t want to be bothered.
"Some people buy tract homes because of the cost,˜˜ Spanjer said. "And some people are not willing to spend the time making all the choices — they want to pick something off the shelf. I love building custom homes — everyone is different, and I get to meet new people and new challenges all the time.˜˜
At KEM Homes in Fort Collins, manager Bill Gurski says, "People choose custom homes because they want a house they can call their own. We do some custom building.˜˜
He said the cost of custom would be at least one-third more that a standard tract home. KEM homes are in the $85 per square foot range, and custom homes would cost from $100 to $130 per square foot.
Gurski, president of the Home Builders Association of Northern Colorado, said that KEM Homes customizes many of their homes for clients. The company builds about 70 homes a year in Fort Collins, Windsor, Loveland and in Larimer County.
"For the last 15 years, we have seen more customizing of homes,˜˜ he said.
"A third-car garage is very popular now, and we see more and more people wanting hardwood floors. We upgrade bathrooms, change cabinets, add hot-water heat. They want dens, tile floors and other changes. We have a number of floor plans that we use, and we allow people to make modifications for any of our plans. We allow them to do just about anything.˜˜
By allowing home owners to make changes in the preset plans, the new buyers are able to have many features that totally custom-built homes would have without paying the whole price of a custom home.
Huge companies that build tract homes are not always willing or even able to make modifications on homes because it is cost prohibitive and the builders cannot afford the extra time to work closely with home buyers.
"It is mostly the smaller builders who will make changes to tract-home designs,˜˜ said Scott Bray, owner of Glen Properties in Loveland.
Bray said that the home builders in Northern Colorado have always been much more open to working with home buyers than many of the large tract home builders.
"We don˜t have that Denver influence, and we are used to customizing homes," he said. "It is more the mentality of the builders themselves.˜˜
Making changes to existing plans is a matter of course for some builders.
"People are requesting more and more modifications on new homes,˜˜ he said. "We hardly ever see a tract home that we don˜t make any modifications on the design. We build about 25 homes a year, and of those, we build about three or four that are totally custom-built homes. The changes we see are mostly for bigger rooms. Some people want a ranch rather than a two- story home. Even with spec homes, we can make some changes, but money is always an object, and everyone has a budget.˜˜
Glen Properties builds homes in the $180,000 to $250,000 range with custom homes ranging from about $400,000 to $700,000.
"Everyone wants that next level, granite countertops, big bathrooms. Egyptian limestone is real popular,˜˜ he said.
Home builders usually have a few architects that they work with, and most of the small to medium-sized home builders do some custom homes. The custom-home market has remained stable without changing much in the last few years.
"We only do a few custom homes each year,˜˜ said Brian Boos, president of Executive Homes Inc. in Greeley. "The higher-priced homes are a more-volatile market. People want custom homes because they want things that are uniquely their own for their life style — if they have money they can have anything they desire. There is a lot of money in the custom-home market.˜˜
Boos said that his company builds homes in the Greeley, Windsor and Johnstown areas. The company typically builds 68 homes a year.
"This year, we will build 58 homes when we are done,˜˜ he said. "We˜ve seen a drop in the Windsor market recently because the price of water is very high.˜˜
Executive Homes also customizes its home models to accommodate buyers.
Boos said the company builds semicustom homes in the $125,000 to $160,000 range, and custom homes can run 50 percent higher or more.
"You have to work closely with your customers,˜˜ Boos said.

Custom homes fulfill dreams, but at a price

Builders customize homes to varying degrees

Susan de Castro McCann

Business Report Correspondent
Owning a dream home is right at the top of the list for most Americans.
From coast to coast, people want to watch the ocean waves roll up on the beach or live in a cosmic log home on a horse ranch in the foothills or a Victorian house in the city.
Although few of us can afford our dream house, many people buy what they can afford and try to convert it to their dream over time. More and more people…

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