CHOOSING A CUSTOM HOME BUILDER … are they more than glorified babysitters?

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So imagine that you have worked for years, saving enough money to finally build your dream home.  You get a few builders to bid your home and you figure that they are all about the same, I mean, how hard can it be to babysit a bunch of construction workers?  Might as well save some money and go for the lowest price, right?  One truth I’ve found to be true over and over again  is this quote by Red Adai that the owner of our elevator company has as a byline on his email signature,  “If you think hiring a professional is expensive, wait until you hire an amateur”!  Nowhere is this as true as it is in choosing a custom home builder.  Many times over the years we have seen where the cheapest bid ended up being the most expensive.  This can be due to inexperience,  incompetence or intentional deceit, among other things.  There is no need to for this to happen to you, as there are quality, seasoned,  builders in every part of the country.  You just have to know what to look for.  The builder you choose will be the determining factor as to whether your project is a disaster or a success.

The client is good at their particular field, and that’s why they have hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to build a custom home in the first place.  However, they are not experts in the intricacies and complexities of custom building, so the situation is often one of Buyer Beware. They don’t necessarily know how to tell if corners are being cut or games are being played.  This is why it’s essential to find a builder with a long track record (do you want the surgeon who has only done a few surgeries or do you want one who has operated on hundreds of patients?) and who has the clients’ best interest at heart.    As builders, we feel that one of our key roles is that of the homeowners “Protector”, per se.   A builder is the homeowner’s advocate and one with integrity will not allow the customer to be taken advantage of, spend more than necessary and he keeps everyone in check, so to speak.  Another way a quality builder protects the homeowner is by surrounding himself with like-minded trades, suppliers and reps.   The team we surround ourselves with prides themselves on educating the client, when needed, so that that homeowner can make wise and informed decisions on their selections.  In addition, these reputable companies will be there to help should any issues arise down the road.

A few months ago, we got a call from homeowners who were upset about some issues that had cropped up in their custom home that was about 4 years old.  They said they choose their builder because he was about $50,000 cheaper than the other 2 builders.  He had a winning personality and a clean record with the registrar but had only been building for a few years.  They said they knew of our reputation and thats why they called us to give honest input on the issues (keep this point in mind when you get to the end of the paragraph) .  When Kevin got to their home, he found that the upstairs shower had not been waterproofed or sealed properly and water had been leaking down the wall into the bathroom below, which had created a substantial mold issue.  Also, the granite top in the kitchen was cracked and come to find out there had not been any support placed below a span of 7′ of granite!   In addition, there was a good chance that the backsplashes would be destroyed when the granite was removed.   Also, the sub-floor had been installed poorly, there were leaky skylights and the shower in the master had one of those rectangular drains that was placed along the top of the sloping shower floor, forcing the owners to swish the water towards it with their feet in order to drain the water (I don’t even have words for this one),  just to name a few of the issues.  They said they had no idea at the time that they were choosing a custom home builder how many things could go wrong.  Oh, and he is out of business now.   I’m sure that this guy was well-intentioned but he clearly had no clue how to tell if the work being done was done properly.  They may be able to recover some money from the Recovery fund but that is a real pain in the you-know-what and only goes up to $30K.  After Kevin pointed out the issues, told them what needed to be done and gave them a competitive price to fix everything, they thanked him profusely but said they needed to find someone cheaper because they were already out so much money.  I guess they wanted to learn the same lesson twice!

Just a point I would like to mention here that is a real point of pride to me, and has a lot to do with choosing a custom home builder.  After Kevin graduated with a business degree, he went to work as a roofer and then a framer.  He had already been doing restoration work in high school but said that he was not going to be one of those drive-by builders.  He wanted to know and understand everything in a hands-on way.  So, I had convinced this California, surfer boy to move to Arizona after he graduated, and he went to work for a roofer in what was one of the hottest summers on record!  When he didn’t run back to Cali, I knew then that he would be an outstanding builder!  My point is not that every quality builder needs to have worked in the trades, but that they possess a deep knowledge of the nuts and bolts of building.

Complex 2nd story addition on a custom home we built several years earlier. We were able to preserve the existing ceilings, which is extremely difficult to do, which saved the homeowner’s a great amount of expense.  Kevin and our amazing framer figured out a system to keep the ceilings below in tact and the only evidence of all the demo above were a few nail pops.

Most of our clients come to us on their second custom home,  as after the first one they understand and appreciate the value of a seasoned builder who has survived the ups and downs of the economy.  A true professional will not only save aggravation, headaches and time, but they are almost always less expensive in the long run.

Think of a home builder as the hub or conductor that is orchestrating a complex project where quality and timing must be coordinated like a fine machine to pull off a successful project.  We interact with, coordinate and/or manage hundreds of people on any given project; such as,  the architect or building designer, engineers, interior designers, the lender, title companies, government authorities, inspectors, suppliers, reps, subcontractors, owners, HOA associations, architectural review boards,  realtors and developers, just to name a few.   In addition, a builder has to be able to solve problems and issues creatively, efficiently,  and in a cost effective and timely manner because many challenges arise on every project- it’s just par for the course. Also consider that the standards for your project will rarely rise above the standards of your builder.   So you see, there really are very important things to consider when choosing a custom home builder and we really are more than babysitters.  

Thank you for joining the conversation, which has been more of a general overview; however,  in Part II,  I will give you the insider details on what to look for when choosing a custom home builder and the Red Flags to watch for.








Continuing our conversation about Aging in Place strategies….


Cabinets can be particularly frustrating when aging in place is a priority.  Replace lower cabinet doors with large, deep drawers.   This helps a person easily get what they need without reaching in and trying to pull things out from the back of the shelf.


Rev a shelf  makes some really innovative solutions; such as, pull down shelves that can be installed in the uppers.  This also keeps them off a step stool, which can be dangerous.  We built a custom home for an Italian couple where the woman was 4′ 10″ and she rolled out homemade pasta every day.  They wanted the kitchen island very low to make this easy for her.  She also had had hip replacements, so we did all the cabinets with roll out drawers and pull down shelves so she didn’t have to bend down.  The small appliances that she used everyday (espresso machine, pasta maker, Kitchenaid mixer)  had places on the counter with outlets in the right spots so she could leave them out.  When they went to sell, people didn’t like the low island but they lived in the house for over 20 years and the entire family benefited from that low island, so who cares, right?   A custom home is all about creating an environment that enhances and facilities your lifestyle, so it was worth it to them to make the kitchen function specifically for her needs. The cost to put in a new island was small compared to the use they got out of it. 


Make sure there is knee space in the cabinet area where a person can sit down to get ready.  Also, if a person is much shorter or taller than the average, their vanity can be made to a specific height to minimize stooping or counters that are too high.


Appliances can pose a danger to the elderly if they are not well thought out.  The controls need to be easy to read and the appliances should be located where one can see, open and put things in and out safely.

Induction cooking can be a great choice for aging in place:  So, gas cooking has been all the rage with the professional chefs and foodies who love to cook but there’s a new game in town (actually not new but recently embraced) and it is very safe for young and old!  Induction is the cooking method of choice for many high profile chefs these days.  What makes it so safe is that it heats the cooking vessel by magnetic induction but the cook top does not get hot.  So, when the pan or skillet is removed from the top, there is no heat and that makes it a safe option.  Also, gas can sometimes be left on when people start getting forgetful but with induction, once the pan is removed, there is no conduction of heat.  Frigidaire explains induction cooking.

Also, many appliances can now be connected to an app on ones phone, voice activated, controlled from a distance, etc., etc.   While it may not be easy for all people to learn a new way of operating appliances, it can be a great thing for family members to be able to check and make sure things are turned off, etc., from a distance.


Doorways and hallways are very important for those who aging in place is important.  If they can’t navigate with a wheelchair or walker, it is very difficult to stay at home.    Also, the areas around the toilets, sinks, laundry, etc. need to receive consideration.  Areas should allow for walkers and/or wheelchairs to have plenty of access.  5′ x 5′ turn around spaces are needed in areas such as kitchens, in front of bathroom sinks, toilets. etc. .  Use 36″ min. interior doors to allow for 32″ of clearance.


By age 75, a person needs lighting that is twice as bright as younger people. Lighting is a very important issue.   Here are just a few tips on lighting that we implement in our homes.

  • Lighting systems where single buttons turn on specific “scenes” can be very helpful.  Such as; a “hello” button by the door so that when one arrives home that turns on specific lights with one touch.
  • Automatic lighting where a light comes on automatically when a door is opened, such as closets and pantries.  Kevin puts these in as a standard thing in our clients’ pantries so that if their arms are full of groceries, etc., they won’t have to fumble for the light switch.
  • Night lighting can be installed to shine dimly at night near the floor or come on when motion is detected.
  • High tech security systems for video  monitoring of home and the front door are extremely important. Also, family members can check in on them remotely.
  • Replacing incandescent bulbs with LED so that bulbs are not constantly needing replacement.


Instead of handles that twist, which are difficult for people with arthritis to navigate, choose levers.


Flooring material is very important, as as one ages, ones skeletal structure becomes more sensitive and often there are issues with ones feet.  For optimal aging in place, the flooring should be non-slip and softer materials; such as wood floors, should be used.  Also, it’s important to have some contrast where there are steps or stairs.  We sometimes do this on the rise- even a subtle change alerts one to a change in the terrain.  A friend of mine just told me that she fell at a home where there were  curved steps that were the same color as the surrounding flooring.  She didn’t notice them and walked right into them.  I am a rug lover but they should be minimized and any carpeting should be a low pile.

I hope that you found this article about aging in place helpful!  These are just a few strategies but feel free to ask me about specific needs that you might have.   Also, I would love to know your thoughts and ideas on this subject.





Alexander Enterprises Construction & Development, Inc.  has  been building homes and remodeling with the aging in place concept in mind before it was “a thing”.  If, when building a new home, we can anticipate what the needs might be years down the road, then we can help our clients stay in their homes longer and minimize the expense of retrofitting things.  The cost of long-term care is just one component to the popularity of the concept.  The bigger picture is that when people are in their own homes, they are happier.  When a person starts to lose control of their lives in areas such as driving, health issues and/or mobility,  it is important for the things that can stay the same, to stay the same.  If we can design homes where one can bathe safely, cook safely and to do the things they love safely in the comfort of their own homes, they will thrive.

BATHROOMS & Aging in Place

Bathrooms are  the scariest places in a house and they are a key component in determining whether a person can remain independent in their home. Grab bars are essential- by the toilet, in the shower and anywhere else where one might need help or stability when they navigate a wet surface or go from a sitting to standing position.  The old hospital looking grab bars are a thing of the past.  Almost every plumbing manufacture makes beautiful decorative bars in all kinds of finishes.

We built a guest house that was primarily for the owners parents to stay in when they visited. They really did a great job making the bathroom a safe place- a perfect example that the design can be both gorgeous and safe.

Tubs and Showers:    Tubs are great but when safety is a concern, it’s best to avoid them.  A nice walk in/roll in curb-less shower with non-slip flooring and grab bars is the safest way to bathe.  Make sure the opening is a min. 36″ wide.  My Mama moved into our guest house when Dad passed away and we were very concerned with the shower situation.   We remodeled it (shown below) and  Mom said that she would not be able to be independent without the changes we made.  She can even take her walker into the shower, if necessary, but the grab bars have made that unnecessary.  In addition, something we do regardless of the age of our clients, is to make the faucet controls accessible by reaching in by the entry point, not where one has to walk into the shower to turn on the controls.

BEFORE: There were a number of things that made this shower dangerous: the curb, no grab bars, no handheld faucet and the floor wasn’t  non-slip.
Added grab bars everywhere but we were still concerned with safety.  The bench was already there but a shower chair closer to the faucet is safer.
Grohe handheld on slider for easy reach.
We were able to keep the existing wall tile due to the careful demo by one of our awesome tile craftsman.
AFTER:  We took out the curb, put in non-slip tile, grab bars on every wall and a hand held faucet so that a person could sit in a shower chair or on the built in seat.  Also, by using a light tile in the shower,  one can see their feet and watch their steps.

Fixtures & Aging in Place:

Toilets should be comfort height with soft close lids.  And as a side note that I can’t resist; I am a clean freak and the best thing ever are the toilets with the all smooth sides…no yucky stuff in those nooks and crannies! Before those were being made in the states, we used Caroma because they were the only ones we could find.  Now there are many to choose from.   

Single lever faucet by Moen

Fixtures are very important.  Toilet paper holders should be the kind where the paper can slide off and on.  Faucets should minimize twisting motions, which are difficult when one gets older.  Lever faucets work well and using a single lever faucet makes things easier.


Toilet paper holders where the t.p. easily slides off and on are great.

To follow:  Part 2 will focus on cabinets, electrical and flooring.  Feel free to share your comments and ideas with me!

ENERGY EFFICIENCY: When is it worth the cost to upgrade?

Clients often ask how they should go about deciding if the cost of more energy efficiency is worth it.  This is NOT meant to be the end all be all on energy efficiency.   I’m just offering a few simple things that you can do to get a feel for whether the extra investment might be worth it-or not.

For example, a common thing that our clients have to make a decision on is what SEER value to go with on their HVAC units.  Should they go with a 16 or a 19?  How can they decide whether it’s worth it to pay more for that 19 SEER vs. the 16 SEER?   It’s not always a black and white thing, well it can be but that might take too much time, so you can solve for the basics and if it looks like it might be worthwhile, then ask a few more questions and get more information to make the decision more clear.

STEP 1:  FORMULA to calculate how long it will take to recoup your savings:

Divide the initial cost of the energy-saving investment by the projected annual energy cost savings.

Investment/savings per year= how many years to recoup

For example, if going up in Seer value on an A/C unit costs $3000 more per unit and the projected savings is $300 per year, then $3000/$300=  10.  It will take 10 years to recoup your investment and start paying off.

  • Will you still be in your home 10 years from now?   If so, then….
  • Will the material or item still be working at that point?
    • Many technologies are evolving so fast that it could very well be obsolete in 5, 10 or 15 years.
  • Will maintenance costs  increase or decrease?  If so, then factor in the increase or decrease in cost  for this.
  • How will the upgraded product influence resale or desirability of your home?
  • Is there any enjoyment factor or aesthetic, other than cost savings, that would make it worth it to you even if you didn’t recoup your money?

After answering these questions, it starts to become clear as to whether you should spend that extra money on more energy efficiency.

Here’s a quick example:

If going from a 14 SEER to a 16 SEER saves you approx. $81 per year and you paid $1000 more for the 16 SEER, then it would take approx. 12 years to recoup your money.  Then I always take into account having to pay up front for future savings, which causes me to discount it a bit.  I say a bit- there are formulas for this- but I just discount it a bit depending on how long I will have to wait to recoup the savings. The further the spread of efficiency between 2 things, the greater the savings; but that doesn’t mean that the savings is necessarily worth it,  although it often is.

Quick Side notes:

HVAC systems:  Your heating and cooling costs account for approximately 40-45% of your total energy bill so they are one of the first areas to investigate, as far as energy efficiency goes.  Units last between 10-15 years, so if you plan to stay in your home for less than that, and it will take 10 years or longer to recoup the investment, then it might not be worth it unless there is evidence that a buyer would value that enough to pay enough to offset the cost.

Appliances:  As far as appliances are concerned, they account for approximately 15% of your energy bill.  My suppliers have told me if an appliance was made in the 1990’s- it’s almost a no brainer that an energy efficient upgrade will pay off.    If appliances are newer, you have to be aware of the likely life of the product and make sure that the product won’t have to be replaced or that you won’t move before you recoup your money.  If you are deciding between 2 things with one having just a little better energy efficiency, then paying the higher price probably won’t pay off in a significant way.  One thing that can reduce your bill significantly are programmable water heaters.  Program them to not heat up during on-peak hours or times when nobody is home.  Otherwise, they are constantly heating up when there is no need to do so.

Windows:  Energy Star estimates that energy efficient windows can save up to 15% on your energy bill so they’re pretty important.  Energy efficient windows contain something called Low E, which is microscopically thin layer of metallic oxides that both reflect the sun’s ultraviolet rays and control infrared light .  New windows can cost anywhere from $8,000- 50,000+ and could take decades to pay off so if your existing windows  are pretty good already, then going up to a little bit better windows probably won’t pay off.  However, if windows are outdated with very little protection, it could be a wise investment.

Insulation:  Insulation is an area that can return more money than was invested, as far as resale on an existing home.  This is a big deal in energy efficiency but I will leave it for a future post.

I hope this helps a bit but it can definitely get complicated.  Our trades and suppliers are always willing to educate people on the ins and outs of the various products and help them make these decisions.  In addition, Energy.Gov’s site has a comprehensive collection of information on everything from windows to heating and cooling.

If any of my readers can shed any more light on this subject,  please do.

Here are a few other links that might be of interest:

Net Zero Homes

Energy Efficient Windows  

INTERIOR DESIGN TRENDS – a Builder’s Perspective (Part III)

Now that we’ve talked about all these cool Interior Design Trends, let’s talk interior design mistakes and why you should use common sense when incorporating trends.

Right now, there is a huge issue in neighborhoods across the country (and even in my own neighborhood) with homes that were done in the trend of the day.  For example, the homes that went with the heavy Tuscan vibe back in the day are not getting much love.  To remodel some of these can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.   Tayler Alexander-Perez , of Launch Real Estate in Scottsdale, AZ, says,  “Years ago, people didn’t mind buying something and fixing it up but now days buyers want a home that is move-in ready.  At some point these hot trends cycle out of favor so if a trend has been used with a heavy hand, at some point the owner will either have to invest  a significant amount of money to remodel, reduce the price accordingly, or find a buyer gutsy enough to take on a major project”.     I find this to be true, we get calls after a home has sat on the market and the owner wants to know what they can do to make it sellable.  In a million dollar plus home, this can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is good for our business but it really hurts to see fabulous homes that have become irrelevant due to trends.   To avoid this happening to your home, try to incorporate the trends in things that are not that big a deal to switch out and keep the big ticket items more timeless.  If you do your entire floor in a trendy pattern or every counter top in the trend of the day, then ripping it out and re-doing it is a major expense.  For some, money is not an issue and they can go for it, enjoy it and call us down the road, but for most people this is an issue.

Although they were all the rage years ago, overdone Tuscans aren’t getting any love these days.

I like to think of Interior Design Trends like my wardrobe.  If everything is trendy in my closet, then I’ll have to spend a lot of money every time the trends change. But if I have a few cool, trendy pieces that I can put with a mostly classic wardrobe, then I am able to transition with minimal cost throughout the seasons.  If you are unsure about how trendy you should go, it can be worth every penny to consult with a designer who is able to strike the perfect balance between Trend and Timeless Design (and yes, I know of some great ones).

Hey, thanks for spending some time with me discussing Interior DesignTrends and let me know your thoughts! I’m interested!

INTERIOR DESIGN TRENDS – a Builder’s perspective (Part I)

Me at Kohler’s Design Center, Clintonville, WI.

I would like to chat about some exciting Interior Design Trends.   I’ll discuss the “Builder’s Perspective”  in Part III.

I have gathered information on the Interior Design Trends that I’m discussing through my interior designer friends, our reps in the industry, and industry news.  In addition, as a guest of The Kohler Co. and Ferguson Showrooms for the First Look Tour that took place in Kohler, WI., I was part of a select group of builders and designers that were immersed in upcoming design TRENDS and products.   (A complete side note here-  if you’re ever in Wisconsin, do yourself a favor and stay at Kohler Co.’s, The American Club, the only 5 Star hotel in the Midwest.   And… their spa is incredible!  The Waters   is the best spa- hands down- that I’ve ever experienced!  Now, back to the subject.)

In  the 2018 Ashton Woods National Home Buyer Survey   ,which sets out to identify trends and owner preferences, there is some very interesting information.  Owners say:

  • They prefer rustic elements over industrial. I personally LOVE the Industrial vibe so a little Rustic /Industrial marriage could still work!
  • They prefer natural wood over white.
  • Their least favorite cabinet/countertop combo is dark cabinets/dark tops.
  • Their favorite cabinet/countertop combo is light cabinets/dark tops.
  • They prefer rustic & transitional interiors over contemporary and farmhouse interiors but they prefer  Ranch and Modern for the architectural style.
  • They are shying away from  the Bohemian, Coastal and Scandanavian looks.

I will be  discussing just a handful of the new Trends in this Interior Design Trends series:


 When I first heard of this interior design trend, I was appalled.  I still remember the old antiqued gold fixtures that sat right alongside the avocado appliances and orange shag carpet.   However, I have to admit that I’ve changed my tune.  I especially love the copper and rose golds.  I did my powder bath with copper fixtures and the ceiling in a rusted, copper metal, which I love.  The matte copper fixtures have an industrial flare, which I happen to love.  Interestingly, although the gold/bronze fixtures are trending, many surveys find that people still prefer brushed nickel and stainless finishes.  Some of the products you see in the photo below: California Faucets Avalon single handle wall faucet in weathered copper, custom metal cabinets, Kohler’s new matte black toilet (a gift from my fabulous Kohler rep),  and Kohler’s Artist’s Edition Antilia Wading  Pool sink   (which I love and have in my personal home).  (The photos look very dark because they are impromptu from my iphone just to show the coppery/rose gold fixture colors.  The cabinet is metal).

Builder: Alexander Enterprises Constr. & Dev., Inc.  Design by Kimberley Cullumber-Alexander, in collaboration with other design professionals.


I like adding some natural elements to a black and white kitchen, such as the brick backsplash shown here or some wood. We haven’t done a black and white yet so I borrowed this from the internet and have no idea who to give credit to.

Although this color palette is timeless, it is trending even stronger now in Europe, New York and Los Angeles.  Designers are incorporating black into the all-white kitchens, baths and main interiors of the past…..a black island, black tub , black plumbing fixtures and geometric black and white patterns in flooring.  I especially love it when the look is softened with wood and other natural elements and speaking of….


Greyhawk on Black Mountain in Arizona, designed by the iconic, award-winning Gerry Jones.

When I think of organic interior design, I think “Frank Lloyd Wright”.  This trend incorporates clean lines, lots of light, natural materials (wood, stone, plants) and is fresh and modern.  My husband and I attended an event at this home and it is organic design at it’s finest! Gerry Jones, the designer, is self-taught and revered in the world of architecture and master planning.  He was also an instructor with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Talliesin West School of Architecture for over 17 years.

Builder: Alexander Enterprises Constr. & Dev., Inc.  Design by Kimberley Cullumber-Alexander


Designer: Kristen Forgione, The Lifestyled Company

In  2018,  the patterns have gone even bolder, more oversized and more dramatic.  No one does this better than my friend Kristen Forgione, owner of The Lifestyled Company in Gilbert, AZ (see photo).

Thanks for hanging out with me.   Feel free to comment and let me know what types of things you would like to know about in the building  and design arenas.  I’m interested in what you have to say!


A TREND called Hygge


Old School Home Gym
Brooklyn Pub style Home Gym

TRENDS come and go but I think that this trend called “Hygge” is here to stay.  “Hygge” is a Danish word that refers to “the constant pursuit of homespun pleasures”.   I read about this predicted trend years ago in a book by Faith Popcorn called The Popcorn Report.  She called it”cocooning”.  As custom home builders, we have definitely seen this trend taking hold in  the past few years.
Today’s home owners are looking to incorporate more of their desired activities into their home lifestyle. They want to exercise, cook gourmet meals (inside and outside), enjoy a resort style pool, watch movies on a big screen and work from the home office- all without ever leaving their homes.  This creates more time in their days by cutting down on time commuting.
Speaking of this trend, we are just finishing up this super cool home gym!  These clients both have high-powered careers and were having to get up at 4AM to go to the gym before work; so, they decided to add one to their home.   These clients are from Pittsburgh and wanted an old English pub feel to their workout room.  I love the gorgeous  copper ceiling and old brick, which was the homeowner’s vision.  They wanted to walk out of their home gym and cool off in their own resort-style pool, which we are almost finished with and will post when it’s complete.