Photos by Josiah Kopp
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.
PHASES I – VI
In case you missed it … in the first six phases of “Building with the Mullers,” we discussed who the homeowners are, as well as everything from getting financially preapproved, choosing Benjamin Custom Homes as the builder, the bidding process and breaking ground. We’ve been with the couple every step of the way, watching as they make their choices and seeing how Benjamin Custom Homes has made it all happen.
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 on what to expect and what they wanted out of this process.
This month is the phase we’ve all been waiting for: the completion. After over a year of planning, drafting, brainstorming and dreaming, the Mullers’ Kindred house in the Newport Ridge Development is now “home.” Come with us as we see how it all shaped up.
The Big Day
As planned, October 15 was the closing day for Becky and Evan. After all this anticipation, the papers were signed and the keys were in their hands. But before all that, some hiccups in the last two months of the process added some stress and extra spice.
The evening before closing, the Mullers and their realtor, Mari Santoyo Perry, did the final walkthrough at the Kindred house. While the Mullers expected a sparkling and ready-to-go home, they were initially surprised and a bit nervous at what they found. Appliances weren’t fully installed yet, the railing wasn’t in and a final cleaning hadn’t begun. With a 10 a.m. closing time the next morning, the homeowners felt uneasy.
But a timeline is a timeline, and the builders had a plan to ensure all was complete by the next day. After the walkthrough on October 14, their realtor encouraged them to come back the next morning and check on progress to make sure they were 100 percent comfortable and ready to close.
The morning’s unfinished status led to a slight delay, pushing the closing time back a few hours. Additionally, the unfinished back deck had to be put into escrow. In hindsight, the couple reflected that the closing date ideally would have been moved two to three weeks back, but with COVID, the moving truck lined-up and family in-town and ready to help move, that much of a delay wasn’t attainable.
While this wasn’t ideal, the homeowners came into the big project knowing things like this would happen. “In the grand scheme of things, we have a house that we love and we look around and we are happy,” said Becky. Evan echoed that walking into a process like this and knowing it’ll never be perfect is half the battle. Delay and all, the couple got their keys, and with the help of friends and family, were able to exhale and start settling in.
Comparing the initial renderings and the final result, it’s exciting to see how it all came to life! While there were changes along the way, the end result stayed true to the overall vision and the couple is oh so happy.
One of the big changes that happened along the way came with downsizing the overall square footage. A lot of this square footage was taken away from the bedrooms and the Mullers were admittedly nervous about them feeling small. But now living in the space, they can see that the square footage is perfect for their needs. “All the rooms feel really good space-wise. And the furniture that we ordered back in June also fit really well. Which was good, because that was a nerve-wracking thing!” said Becky.
Anytime you build, there are going to be things that you wish you’d done differently. But to the Mullers, the only thing that comes to mind is perhaps some different outlet placements. All things considered, that’s not too bad at all.
The end result is a space that is modern-meets contemporary. A chic and sophisticated color palette feels timeless but on-trend. And the sleek lines throughout really tie it all together. Crisp blacks and whites are anchored by warm and cozy natural tones of wood and leather. The photos speak for themselves, but all in all, it’s apparent that a career interior designer lives there.
Tips For Future Custom Home Builders
The new homeowners couldn’t be happier with their end result. However, it was important to them that this process be portrayed as realistic. A project of this size means complications will come up and there will be stressful times. To help future custom home builders, the Mullers shared some pieces of advice:
“I really, truly believe in every step in this process, when any milestone is hit, there should be a walkthrough. It doesn’t need to be a two-hour walkthrough, but simply a half-hour walkthrough is great. [That way,] the builders are set up for success, the bank is set up for success. And obviously, the buyers set up for success,” Evan said.
Most importantly, this includes making sure you have a walkthrough two weeks before closing. This way, there will be enough time to address any areas of improvement and both the homeowner and the builder are on the same page.
The couple agreed that setting clear and upfront expectations about the end of the process wasn’t something they’d discussed much. Identifying expectations along the way can ensure success on all ends. With this also comes identifying and defining what the consequences might be if expectations are not met. The specifics of this are important. How much of a fee will incur from delays? Is it a substantial number? Do the penalties match the gravity of the error? These are all things to take into account.
Know your contract
Really read through your contract and have multiple meetings about it before signing. Because of COVID and their time frame, the Mullers admitted they wished they had followed this advice more. There were some gray areas where they assumed something that was not the reality. Take your time and ask any and all questions you have!
Shop around for banks
Within the last month before closing, the Mullers decided to switch banks. For a while, they anticipated going with whom they had their pre-approval from, but after shopping around and doing their research, they found a better offer. The new bank offered lower interest rates, a waived origination fee and had generally lower closing costs.
“[The banking] part is always going to be dynamic. Obviously, the variables in the market will always be changing. […] If you don’t ever look around or try, well, you’re certainly not going to have any options or identify any opportunities of potential savings on your end,” said Evan.
Do your own research – save money!
Rather than spending money on a state-of-theart complete smart home, Evan and Becky opted to do a lot themselves. By researching online and doing some extra reading, Evan was able to convert many of the home’s outlets and switches to be automated or controllable with Wi-Fi … and for an extremely affordable amount.
“If you’re just a bit of a do-it-yourselfer, you can save exponentially. Some people don’t want to do anything, they want the be handed the keys and be done. But for those people who are maybe a bit of a DIYer, go for it. The amount of money that can be saved is huge,” he said.
Future-proof your home
Similar to doing your own research, be sure to future-proof your home. Life happens and things will change over time. Aspects all the way from lifestyle to technology will shift. To ensure your custom home will be perfect for you for years to come, think about the future. This can mean setting up plumbing for an addition of a water softener or running speaker wiring to additional areas, just in case. Really think ahead and try to save yourself from tearing into the walls later down the road.
Evan’s top tip for this? Don’t run anything less than a CAT6e for Ethernet. This ensures that you won’t be limited by your wiring. As technology advances, you don’t want something as important as wiring to make you settle for less.
Interview builders as if it’s a job interview
You want to make sure you have a builder who has the same vision as you and who is willing to defend you every step of the way. For instance, when their doors arrived damaged, Benjamin Custom Homes had them taken back and replaced, knowing they wouldn’t be up to the homeowners’ standards. Small things like this mean a lot. “When you’re looking for a builder, do interviews and propose scenarios. Like, ‘if X happens, what are you going to do about it?’” suggested Becky.
A good, lasting relationship with subcontractors means everything
Are your subcontractors constant, or are they constantly changing? A trusted set of contractors means good rapport, trust and reliability. When choosing your builder or contractor, this detail means more than you’d think!
So what’s next for the Mullers now that they are moved in and decorated? A sprinkler system and grass are set to be added in the spring and Evan awaits completing his home gym in the basement. But most importantly, the Mullers look forward to growing their family here. With their dream home as the backdrop, the couple moves into the future, ready for their next chapter.
Evan shared, “We will be able to focus on family and it will be really cool to have this house to do that in. And to have it set up the way we want. We have everything we could ever want right now, so I think it’ll be so nice to focus in a different direction now.” With this chapter ending, Becky and Evan can confidently and happily prepare for whatever lies next … all in a gorgeous, perfectly custom home.
If you have any questions about the custom home building process, the couple has offered up their experience to anyone who has questions. Feel free to reach out to Becky (@ beckylmuller) or Evan (@evan.a.muller) on social media and have them share their stories. Thanks for coming along with us throughout this process!