New Year, New HGTV Dream Home

HGTV’s 2018 Dream Home

It wouldn’t be the start of a new year without a review of the highs and lows of the HGTV Dream Home.  The unveiling of the 2018 HGTV Dream Home was just one small thing to look forward to the night before everyone trudged back to work and school today.  As with the last several years of Dream Homes this one was also a renovation rather than a complete new build, because ya know, who can resist a stunning before and after?  I was particularly excited by this year’s contemporary style since it’s a similar style to my home that we’ve been slowly remodeling over the last few months.

Before, Exterior

The HGTV 2018 Dream Home is located in the Pacific Northwest, right along the Puget Sound.  The setting is gorgeous.  The previous exterior, not so much.  Let me rephrase, it wasn’t awful, just a bit outdated and weird.  What’s up with that asymmetrical ship’s watch?  My guess would be that similar to our home, this one was originally built in the mid-80’s.

dream home exterior

The back of the home looks slightly better, but all you see if building block looking windows, stark white railing, and too-big arborvitae bushes hiding the wall.

exterior before

After, Exterior

The after is much improved, sleek and truly contemporary.  None of that “I am a contemporary but would rather be coastal” that it previously possessed.  The metal roof over the entire home probably cost a pretty penny (I’ve been researching them as a possibility for my own home) but makes such a difference.  Removing that ship’s watch was also a great choice and the updated driveway, garage doors and landscaping don’t hurt either.

after exterior dream home

This home is just reaffirming many of the contemporary design choices we’re making for our own home, and the black modern windows and dark painted exterior help immensely.  I wish HGTV would name all of their products somewhere and the cost for the product and the installation and construction. I’ve found that black (interior and exterior) windows are not as readily available as one might think, and when you can find slick black contemporary windows, they are $$$$!

black windows

Dream Home Interior

I won’t bore you with all of the choppy wrong-ness of the before interiors, you can check them out for yourself on HGTV’s website but I did want to take you through some of my favorite parts of the completed interior.

Ok, here the view says it all, and perhaps that’s why they chose not to go with black interiors on the windows here but rather white with white trim? The millwork is simple and contemporary and honestly fades away unless you’re really looking for it, making the Puget Sound views the main event.

great room

I’m torn about the fireplace placement.  On one hand it’s ideal to have your great room furniture be focused on both the fireplace and the views all at once, but a fireplace of this size does take up a good portion of that view.  And while the look of this one is very coastal, I’d have gone with something a bit more contemporary that didn’t take up so much real estate, like this one here by Malm.

suspended fireplace

I am still a sucker for a white kitchen, and I really love that they are using a shaker cabinet in a contemporary home.  (More positive design affirmations for my home – yay)! The metal and wood railing are perfect and add the modern edge while the white wicker pendants over the island give it just enough coastal kitsch.  I may need to pick up these counter stools for my own home.

kitchen modern coastal

This entry door is perfection.  You can see in the second pic below it’s a very modern black interior/exterior French door.  I am hoping that this is what our new Marvin Contemporary door will look like in our in-progress kitchen. It’s harder to find modern looking French doors without mullions than you think.  They are not a standard off the shelf Home Depot purchase, trust me.  I’m a bit disappointed by the random hooks just hung on the wall with no framing or bench.  The hooks themselves are adorable whale tails but I wish this wall had been framed out (maybe with some board and batten) so that the coats weren’t the focus. The art is gorgeous though hung at a weird spot, probably to detract your eye from random coats.  And the idea of a burled wood boot tray in the Pacific Northwest is a smart and good-looking idea.

contemporary doors

In my opinion this is the best bedroom of the bunch.  The blues are calming, but not boring, and this is a great example of how things don’t need to be perfectly matchy-matchy but can still “go.”  See how those mirrors are similar but not the same, and the desk and dresser, too?  I also like how larger furnishings are used as nightstands.  Lots of folks don’t have room for a bed, nightstands and a desk and dresser in their room.  So it makes perfect sense to replace some of the less utilitarian pieces with those that can do double duty.

blue grey bedroom

There are so many things I like about this vignette even though I don’t love pink.  I adore large scale art.  I love this fish sign and it fits this house outside Seattle perfectly.  My other faves here are mixing dining chars with a bench, the mismatched table and bench and  the pendant trifecta.  There is so much interest and mixing of styles here that you don’t even really miss an area rug under the table… ok maybe I miss one just a little…

large art

Finally, the outdoors.  The view from this property is just amazing.  And while it may rain a ton in the Pacific Northwest, for those times when it is nice enough to be outside, it helps when it looks like this space.  Who wouldn’t want to snuggle up next to that fire pit or have a meal with family and friends at that outdoor table?

Outdoor Entertaining Spaces

hgtv dream home

hgtv dream home

And HGTV, if you’re reading, here’s what I really wanna know:

1) How much does everything cost? Like regular retail cost that your everyday person would pay?

2) How much time does it take Ryan Patrick Flynn to design all these spaces?  How large is his team?

3) Next year can you create a list where everything came from. I mean everything.  Shingles, doors, windows, counters, light fixtures, a duvet, everything.  Not just those that pay sponsorship.  It doesn’t have to be emblazoned anywhere, just a list, no logos, no ads.

4) How much did you pay for the fixer initially?  How much did you put into it (labor and materials)?  What’s it worth now?

What were your favorite parts of the 2018 HGTV Dream Home?  What do you want to know about the HGTV Dream Home?  Lemme know in the comments, maybe we could get a petition going 😉

Back in Business! And Demo Day!

Ok, I had a serious moment (truthfully, it was a long moment… like several days long) of panic last week.  I had heard that subscribers weren’t getting emails of my blog posts, so I set about trying to rectify this issue and found that all of the blog’s subscribers had vanished! Yikes!  I noticed a few other website issues too.  After lots of time on the phone and in chat with the help desk from my hosting company (who, um, weren’t so helpful), and then more time tinkering myself, I finally figured out how to fix it. Phew, HUGE sigh of relief!  So my fingers are crossed that all of my subscribers are reading this via the link sent to their email.  I “think” we’re back in business!

Anyway, I wanted to update you all on the progress here at my house renovation. I would technically not consider anything we’ve done so far as “renovation.”  Let’s be honest, it’s all still demo.  This will continue to be the case for a while.  It feels never-ending.   It’s definitely not as fast nor as fun as ‘ol Chip Gaines makes it look on Fixer Upper!  Every weekend we continue to tear out old paneling, mirrors, drywall, carpet and drop ceiling in the basement.  We are also trying desperately to track all the electrical and make sense of what had been done previously.  The entire drop ceiling is a mess of wires that we aim to nicely package in one existing soffit so we don’t have to do a drop ceiling again, cause let’s face it, drop ceilings in an already low basement are no bueno.

Ultimately, given the current state of the basement, we’d probably have been better off if the basement hadn’t been finished in the first place.  When the home was inspected we saw that the ceiling of the basement was insulated (which isn’t required) so we thought it was a real plus.  Well, now we have to rip it all out.  Why?  Because it’s made a nice cushion-y bed/ graveyard for mice.  As we pull out walls and ceiling and insulation we’ve come across 44 mice (all dead) so far and a TON of mouse poop.  We’ve also found some black mold on the western wall sheetrock so even though we weren’t planning on ripping that drywall out, now we must.  I’ve put out a few more traps in case there are any surviving mice and once demo is complete will probably have a pest control company come in to close up any possible points of entry. In the mean time we’ll keep the dead-mouse-tracker going and continue to be skeeved out.

This basement demo has been riddled with issues, but already it  looks so much better. It’s much more open and airy.  It feels like a larger and more usable space.  Here’s a few progress pics.  And if anyone has a surefire way to rid a house of mice once and for all I’m all ears.  And yes, I plan on dropping about a grand at the container store to finally get the Pinterest perfect pantry complete with pretty mouse-proof glass containers for all of my flour, cereal, pasta, et cetera.  For the peace of mind that I am certainly eating  mouse poop free Cheerios, I think it’s worth it.

demo day

open stairs

demo day

demo day

demo day

demo day






Land, glorious land!

These 5 sublime wooded acres outside Washington DC are the reason we bought this… ahem… less than ideal house. I may have mentioned that our last house, though it served us well, was crammed with hundreds of other houses in a community of tract homes. All of the homes looked similar and we were literally less than 6 feet from our neighbor’s home. While we enjoyed our old community amenities, like a pool and a small gym, but we longed to have our own private versions of these perks. Oh, and we also had one more not so exciting desire, a 3-car garage. We don’t have 3 cars but we have accumulated some fun toys like a jet ski, a kayak, and my husband has a grown-up Lego, a Jeep, which has parts that go on and come off routinely.  This land is lush and extensive and surrounds this contemporary home just perfectly.  Check it out.

1980's contemporary front

Our new house is on a quiet street.  I cannot hear traffic noise from my home, just the sound of bugs, birds and frogs.  Each home on our street has several acres so when the leaves are on the trees I cannot even see my neighbors.  Time will tell how much we will be able to see them as the leaves fall off the trees this autumn.  The house is at the end of a street with no outlet which means even more privacy.


Most of the 5 acres are woods.  One side of the property is bordered by a bridle trail – yes – some people in this area keep horses on their property!  There’s probably less than half-acre of our yard  property that is mow-able grass but the plants, gardens, ponds and waterfalls are plentiful, so we will have a significant amount of landscaping to keep up with.  There are 2 large ponds, 2 small ponds a wooden footbridge, a land bridge, and 3 man-made waterfalls.  The house also has various levels of decks and patios including the one that surrounds the free-form shaped pool.  In this county, installing a pool can be really expensive, especially on a sloped lot like this one.  It’s one of the major reasons we selected this house.

wooded acres



hidden paths

The trees and plants are plentiful and wide-ranging.  We have a variety of pines, oak, boxwoods, azaleas, yucca, ivy, juniper, ferns and even flowering waterlilies.  The learning curve for caring for all of these plants is huge, but a fun challenge.  I look forward to one day erecting a small greenhouse and growing veggies or maybe figuring out how to capitalize on the 4 ponds for hydroponics.


We’ve already started opening up some walls so we can see some of the supporting structures and ultimately adequately determine how to safely remove some walls.  Next week see more of our demo!



Dreary Basement Looking for a Refresh

In the last post I took you through the main level of our big renovation adventure, “before edition”.  Today I’d like to take you through the downstairs.  Well, actually, I don’t want to, because it’s a bit embarrassing.  It’s the basement level of our 5200 sq foot house and the basement is just as long and rambling as the upstairs. Right now it’s filled with moving boxes and furnishings scattered aimlessly.  Our justification for this helter-skelter appearance is, “Why bother to take a ton of effort in establishing this space as livable rooms since so much of it will get renovated?” Maybe this is lazy, but we’re saying it’s practical. So hold on to your hats for this messy tour.

The 2 really great things about this basement are that a) one side is completely at ground level, so we have full sized windows and doors, rather than those mini basement windows and b) the basement stretches the full length of the house.  You can enter this level right from the foyer, which is a little odd.  Hopefully we can make the basement feel more like the lower level of the home than a basement so this setup won’t seem so bizarre.

Basement Before Tour

entry to basement

The stairs lead to the main living space which also shares space with a built in bar.  There is an interesting 3-sided box window (like a bay window but with 90 degree angles) that has a small seat area with awesome vinyl tile on the top.  This room also has a 2 sided fireplace and like most of the basement, a drop ceiling.  The bar area looks straight out of the 70’s with wood paneling, linoleum flooring and lots of mirrors.  The bar’s saving grace are the pendant light fixtures which are actually kinda cute.  Mind you, they neither go with the wood paneling nor are they my taste nor will they coordinate with the future style of the home, but they are sweet little fixtures.

basement living room

basement 2 sided fireplace

retro bar

bar mirrors

Around the corner from the bar is a wide hallway  which houses the utility room hidden behind sliding mirrored doors.  There is a very small room on the right that was at one point a home office. I know I won’t be able to use it as my home office because there are no windows.  The current  laundry room is also off the hallway and doubles as a storage room.  The utility sink got a quick facelift this week with leftover Rustoleum Tub and Tile paint (more in a future post) and the washer and dryer will eventually be moved upstairs to the mudroom.


tiniest office ever

ultiity room

laundry room

There is a small bathroom at the end of the hall. Oh, how I wish it was closer to the exterior door to service the pool!  We can at least work on updating the finishes and fixtures.  We’ll also look for a way to rearrange the shower since there is a large HVAC soffit running right over the shower head.  This shower is for short people only!

soffit in shower

Two bedrooms at this end of the home have flowered wallpaper, mirrored closet doors and carpet.  However, to their credit, they each have a full-size window overlooking the pool and patio and a real drywall ceiling.  I can’t believe I am getting excited by drywall ceilings.

blue bedroom

guest room

An awkward large foyer-ish space with sliding doors that lead outside to the back yard is on the opposite side of the steps leading upstairs.  Even with the large doors this portion of the basement is still very dark because the adjacent exterior is covered by a deck.  Adding to the darkness is a deep grey slate floor, which doesn’t sound that bad, right?  Buuuuut, it’s bad.  It’s bad because the slate is coated in some sort of high gloss impervious sheen.  I don’t know why anyone would do this to an otherwise perfectly good slate, but it is what it is, and therefore it will change.  Note the chair underneath the askew ceiling tile is where we found another leak in the house.

basement foyer

The small gym is located just behind the foyer area.  It is covered from top to bottom in mirrors.  Big mirrors, little mirrors, rectangles, squares and cracked. I don’t know how anyone worked out in there without getting vertigo from all the mirrored surfaces and mirror seams that weren’t lined up perfectly.    It also has awesome fluorescent lighting so of course you’ll look great as you gaze into those mirrors.  We would like to have a home gym but we may borrow some space from the shiny slate area and we will certainly redo the mirrored walls.

mirrors gym


To the left of the basement foyer are 2 final rooms, one with a window that looks out to the defunct hot tub.  We’re not sure what this room will be used for just yet, but are considering adding a bigger window or more doors to let additional light in. Just adjacent to this room is a nicely tiled room with some strange wood paneled pillars and half walls.  This room is home to the pool table and the coordinating Coors beer pool table light.  This area will remain a pool and game room but will see some upgrades in wall-covering, ceilings, and lighting.

rec room

rec room

pool room

Phew!  I think that about covers it for the basement area.  Check back next week or a picture tour of the home’s property which is the REAL reason we bought this house.


Major Project Alert!

Well, we did it.  This is either the stupidest thing we’ve ever done or the most brilliant.  I’m talking about our decision to buy a new house.  A house that, for us, was pretty expensive, and yet still required work.  After 5 days post move in I was convinced that it was a dumb idea.  We had already found 3 leaks and evidence of a mouse infestation.  I was probably just tired and overwhelmed from all the hassle and chaos of moving and I wasn’t seeing the big picture.  The bigger picture is that this house is huge, about 5200 square feet.  It has all the things we wanted, a pool, a 3-car garage, was in our kids current school boundary, and most importantly, it had space.  Wonderful, glorious space.  I could stretch my arms out wide at our last house and touch both my and my neighbor’s home, so this new house on 5 acres, just outside of Washington DC, is a rarity and a real treat.  Sure, everything has its cost, and in this case getting what we wanted was going to cost us both monetarily and with the promise of investing time and sweat equity.  So now, after being in the house for just over a week, and already starting a few small projects, and in the midst of unpacking I’m feeling better about our decision.  Welcome to my major project, my new home!

My hope is to be able to document the renovation on the blog from start to finish.  So first, I guess it’d be smart to show you some “before” pics and describe the place.  Warning, these pics (namely the interior) show unadulterated moving mess and chaos.

Real estate is all about location, location, location, right?  This house is in Fairfax County, VA.  Close enough to commute to downtown DC for work every day, some of the best schools in the country, and quintessential suburbia.  Except this house is nestled in the woods on one of the few remaining 5+ acre lots in the county.  The location is about as close to perfection as we could get.

end of cul de sac

The lot is at the end of a cul de sac on a private drive.  It’s so nestled in the woods that you can’t even see the house from the street.


The house style is a 1980’s contemporary.  It’s got a long and rambling floorplan that contains one main living level and a walkout basement level.  The current style, both inside and out could most politely be described as “retro”.  I’m pretty excited to venture into designing a contemporary home since almost every project in this area is traditional, colonial, or coastal.  This will be a great change of pace and a bit of a challenge for me design wise, but I’m up for it!

1980's contemporary front

80's contemporary

The exterior of the home is brown, lots. of.  brown. Brown wood siding, brown brick, brown painted wood decks, brown asphalt shingles.  The solid wood front door blends right in because, yep, you guessed it, it’s brown,

brown exterior

The foyer is large, has lots of good light from the front windows, some crystal and gold chandeliers that aren’t my bag and frankly don’t go with the home.  The flooring is a glossy Carrera marble tile, which isn’t bad, but several tiles are cracked.  The foyer is the central hub with stairs leading to the basement (and a very traditional style railing), forward to the living room, left to the kitchen and right to the two main floor bedrooms. Yep, new flooring samples are scattered on the floor presently.

The living room is huge.  Everything in it looks huge.  Big wood picture windows with casement bottoms, vaulted ceiling to probably about 20 feet high, massive stone fireplace and the first appearance of the omnipresent mirrors.  I haven’t counted, but this house is like a funhouse.  There are mirrors everywhere you turn.   Full wall mirrors, cutout mirrors, tiled mirrors, mirrors on top of mirrors.  The living room also boasts the spongiest carpet I have ever felt.  My daughter has taken to practicing cartwheels here because it’s just like a gymnastic floor.

living room

The dining room is connected to the living room and shares the fireplace wall.  There is a smaller window overlooking the back yard, flanked by, yes, more mirrors, and a fun little drive through opening to the kitchen.  And by fun, I mean for my 10 year old self when I used to dream of working the drive through at McDonald’s (talk about #goals).   The dining room also has a chandelier very typical for the 1980’s, bright brass and faceted glass panels.

dining room

dining room


The adjoining kitchen is small by today’s standards.  The dated white cabinets, oak flooring, leaky skylight, unintentionally retro ceiling fan, fluorescent lighting and a wall of black mirrored glass are all the things that need to change.  To its benefit it does have nice granite counters and an updated fridge and wall ovens.  The ancient ceramic cook top and mismatched dishwasher are also less than ideal.


leaky windows

stainless apppliances

The hall next to the kitchen leads to another room with a raised platform that forms a bar to the kitchen cutout, but this platform makes the rest of the space in the room awkward and unusable.  This room, which probably served as a family room, breakfast room has 3 different floors, black bamboo, red bamboo and glossy black granite.  The vaulted ceiling is nice as are the skylights and the large front windows.  We hope the woodburning stove will help with energy efficiency this winter.  This room actually used to be a garage so when it was converted to living space room was “taken” for the electrical panels by building a awkward closet.  The home has a number of electrical issues so as we fix them we’ll probably also relocate these panels since their current set-up is neither to code nor aesthetically pleasing.

family room

family room

Across the hall from the family room is a powder room, with floor to ceiling travertine tile, dated sink cabinet and lighting and a toilet complete with a wooden toilet seat.

powder room

Next to the powder room is one of my favorite rooms in the house… well not in its current state… but I’ve been wanting a mudroom forever.  Eventually this will be a mudroom/ laundry room with extra pantry style storage.


The final room on this side of the house is yet another living room type space, which we’ll call a den since we’ve already got a living room and a family room.  Our hope is to not call it a den for long, we’d love to convert this room to the kitchen to maximize easy access to the back decks and the overall larger space.  We’ll know this Friday when we meet with a structural engineer to tell us if these dreams can come true since some adjoining walls would need to come down and we’d want to vault this ceiling as well.


Across the other side of this level is the bedroom wing.  The hallway has a coat closet (with mirrored doors of course) and leads to a bathroom and our daughter’s room. The bathroom isn’t too bad.  Sure it’s got a grey toilet and tub, 4 different kinds of tile (to the ceiling no less), a worn vanity, dated lighting, a mirrored medicine cabinet on top of a wall mirror, old brass fixtures and a brass and glass shower enclosure.  While we await for approval to knock down walls, I’ve taken on this bathroom and the nearby linen closet as my first pet projects.  I’ll detail more in a future blog post so you can see my low-budget reno on this bathroom.

hall bath

The 1st bedroom off the hall is my daughter’s and it’s a pretty standard bedroom.  Smaller than her last but it overlooks the pool.  We’ll eventually update it by replacing the traditional trim with something more contemporary, replace carpet with hardwood, new closet doors and paint.  Pretty simple, right?

bedroom 1

Finally, the master suite.  It’s huge, thanks in part to an addition in which the previous owners added a room on top of an existing deck.  However, this room currently seems to slope downward and features a gas fireplace that doesn’t seem to work, and burgundy and grey tile that is popping up unprovoked.  It’s a good thing that this space is so large because we will need to borrow some space to make the master bathroom larger.  The bath currently has gold framed shower doors, mirrors everywhere, some glass block and a plum purple sink and coordinating 80’s era tile on the walls.

master suite

That’s all for today, over the coming days I’ll take you on a tour of the basement and our favorite part of this property and the real reason we bought it, the outdoors.  Of course if you have great design recommendations, put them in the comments and share with your friends and family!



Marvelous Architecture of Martha’s Vineyard

Ugggh.  I am so guilty and feel terrible that I haven’t created a blog post in such a long time!  Sorry!  It all started back in early June.  First my husband was surprised to find out that the Army was promoting him.  So planning for a ceremony and party occupied a bit of our free time, then on top of that excitement we decided to make an offer on a house we liked, which ultimately resulted in us having to get our house ready to put on the market, an offer from the military to move to Italy (which we ultimately turned down), and celebrating my son’s graduation from 8th grade, and both my husband and my birthdays within 2 days of each other…. June was a whirlwind and July hasn’t been much better.

Thankfully there was 4 days of respite amongst all of it.  My husband surprised me with a trip to Martha’s Vineyard for my 40th birthday!  I had never been there but had read several books that are set in the relaxed, upscale, posh island.  Besides spending some time lying on a beach I was most looking forward to perusing the streets taking in all the great shingle clad architecture.  Martha did not disappoint!  Architecture ogling started as soon as our little plane touched down.  The airport with its whitewalls natural wood shiplap ceiling, detailed beams complete with turnbuckles offered a worthy welcome to this picturesque little island.  Check out those beams!

I really expected to see more grand homes with lots of weathered gray cedar shake siding, and while those did exist I think some of the large compounds were tucked away in the meandering woods of the island so their residents can enjoy privacy.  I was so surprised to find lane upon lane of adorable little Victorians dripping in gingerbread details.  The first sample of vintage Victorian architecture was our little B&B, the Oak Bluffs Inn.  Painted in pretty pastel shades of blue, lavender and pink it was a quintessential Victorian with seashore inspired antiques decorating the inside.  Our little cottage was a separate building in the back yard and was simply appointed and perfect for relaxing.  Very private and no TV.

oak bluffs inn


oak bluff inn carriage house

A few blocks over the Victorian delight continued with tons of shaded streets lined with adorable doll house like seasonal residences.  The area known as the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association (MVCMA) is a community ripe with adorable Victorian homes in every color of the rainbow.



























And yes, the parks, beaches, and lighthouses were gorgeous and every meal we had was excellent – so many great restaurants to choose from.  I’d go back to Martha’s Vineyard in a heartbeat.  Alas a return trip will have to wait because, fingers crossed, if everything goes well in the next month or so we’ll be moving! Stay tuned!  In the meantime, amidst purging and packing I promise to be better about blogging regularly and will share some highlights and ideas from some of my recent clients and moving tips too!


Building a Dream: Our Vacation Rental Property Series #4

Selecting a Builder

So hopefully you’ve been keeping up with the series and have heard about my family’s adventure in finding and building a vacation rental property.  We’ve discussed  looking for real estate, buying the land, and searching for a builder for our dream home in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  In case you’ve missed any you can find those episodes by clicking the links here, here and here.  Ok, now that we’re all caught up, I want to pick up where I left off. We had just sent the looooooong questionnaire to 3 builders and were eagerly awaiting their replies.  Each of their responses couldn’t have been more different.  Builder A, who could better be termed as a developer (which is a rarity in OBX since the community is relatively small), answered all of our questions and also took me on a tour of one of their homes and created a several-page-long packet showing us what we could get for our budget including selections of floorplan, finishes, etc.  Builder B, who is known for being OBX’s “green” builder also responded by answering each of our questions thoroughly and followed up with a phone call as well.  Finally, Builder C opted to not respond to our questions in full but rather called us and attempted to sell us on his services.

After reviewing these 3 very different responses, our selection was evident.  We decided were not at all interested in working with a developer (Builder A) who would only allow us to select certain cabinets from a certain company in a prescribed finish.  Also, when I was taken on a tour, the rep from Builder A picked me up in a dirty minivan and it was just a real turnoff.  If your business is trying to win a client who’s about to plop down about a half mil to build a custom home, at least have the tour guide vacuum out their car – I would have even preferred if the rep had hopped in my car.  Builder C who didn’t even “have the time” to respond to all of our questions as we had asked (even though he probably was the least expensive option) was obviously out.

The builder we did select, Builder B, not only answered all of our questions but we were also happy to have green, eco-friendly expertise available at our fingertips.  He was also willing to consider any “oddball” thing we brought up, like building a pre-fab home, which he had never done (ultimately, we decided against this because of all of the strict building codes for coastal, hurricane resistant homes would have negated the cost effectiveness).  He was open to us being as involved as we wanted to be or could be given our long distance during the building process.  He was not at all pushy, and just seemed to be a regular, down to earth, experienced and nice guy.  Above all, what we valued most was that he was responsive.  If we asked a question, he answered either via email or text within hours.  If we called him he called us back.  You may be thinking, “duh”, since it’s sort of important thing for a business-owner to return their client’s inquiries, right?  You’d be surprised.  Maybe it’s a regional thing.  We had high expectations.  At the time, both my husband and I worked in Washington DC’s fast paced Federal Government Contracting industry in which we competed fiercely for our client’s business.  Certainly, the mindset in OBX is not as competitive, it’s MUCH more laid back (as we’d learn in our dealing with other vendors).  We knew we’d be most happy working with a builder who was client oriented.

We made our builder selection while we were searching for land which I highly recommend.  Our builder came with me to plots of land to help us select the right one for building and met with us separately to discuss budget, pools, architects, and floorplans before we ever even signed a contract. Selecting the right builder is SO important.  I think we definitely made an excellent choice.  Our builder managed the project from start to finish, was responsive, provided impeccable workmanship and quality control, and gave us our dream beach house and meanwhile made the whole experience positive and enjoyable.

Next installment in the series we’ll talk about floorplans, architects and custom versus cookie cutter.

Serene view of Currituck Sound in Duck, NC

Building a Dream: Our Vacation Rental Property Series #3

Picking up where we left off last, Dave and I had selected the perfect piece of land that met all of our requirements for a perfect beach house and was well suited for building. Next, we had to put in an offer and cross our fingers that we’d land this little slice of heaven. This particular property had been on the market for a while, was owned by the same person since the 1970’s and was a bit overpriced. We did our research. By looking at other comps and measuring distance to beach and size of other lots we felt pretty well informed about the right price for this piece of land. Our realtor had also informed us that the selling agent was “old school” and probably not as inclined to know or do all the same research we were doing and might not accept our initial offer price right off the bat. We were undeterred. We wrote up an offer that was a bit lower than the asking price and submitted the offer WITH a detailed spreadsheet that essentially reflected all of our research so that the seller (and his “old school” agent) could see that the price we were offering was fair and reasonable for the area. As expected, they gave us a counter offer and we countered back eventually settling on a sale price that was about 11% below asking. Doing an hour or so of research payed off and saved us over 20 grand! In our minds, that was more money that we could put into the building of our beach dream home.
As we searched for land we had also been simultaneously looking for builders. We were able to see who had previously been successful in the annual Outer Banks Parade of Homes (an event sponsored by the Outer Banks Home Builders Association). We selected several builders from this list of previous winners and reviewed their websites, googled the crap out of them, and stalked them on Linked-in and Facebook. I heart internet research! After we narrowed down our top 3 contenders we sent them a detailed list of questions. We sent all of them the same 47+ (yikes – we probably seemed like nightmare clients from the get go) questions. Tip – don’t be afraid to ask questions – even if it makes you feel like a pain for asking! This may be the single largest investment you ever make so you should understand it all so you can make good decisions. So, here’s our list of 47+ questions we posed to 3 builders. If you’re embarking on a custom building project feel free to use them and truth be told as an internet research nerd I probably copped a few of these from elsewhere at the time! We also talked with a friend that was building a custom home and he had a few good ideas that we questioned builders on as well. Note, we also prefaced our list of questions to the builders with some context about who we were, what we wanted to build, size, location, purpose (i.e. vacation rental) etc.

Builder Questionnaire

1. Can you show me a copy of your business license?
2. Please describe the structure of your company.
3. Do you design/build or will you work with our plans or our architect? Are there extra fees if we select one over the other?
4. How many members of your team can I expect to work with through the process?
5. How many homes have you built in the Outer Banks?
6. Can you provide home owner referrals for recent builds we can contact?
7. How many homes have you built dealing with the Southern Shores or Chicahauk Property Owners Associations?
8. Are there any HOA covenants that will affect building in these areas?
9. How many homes are you currently involved in building?
10. How many homes are you currently bidding to build?
11. Of the last 10 homes you have built, how many have been awarded based on a competitive bid?
12. If we decide to use a stock plan we find on the internet, what format would your company require the plans be in for use (reproducible master, CAD, etc.)?
13. Could you specifically explain what quality control measures you will implement to ensure the highest standards of excellence throughout the building process?
14. Who will be assigned to my job?
15. Will my job have a job site manager? Would you provide the name of that person and describe their educational background and experience?
16. Will I be given one single point of contact throughout the construction of our home or will have I have to deal with subcontractors and separate installers individually?
17. What role will you play once my house is under construction?
18. How often will you be at the job site?
19. Will you have sub-contractors working on my job that you have never previously hired?
20. How long have each of your sub-contractors been working for you?
21. Do you have preferred pool installers you have worked with in the past?
22. Have you ever worked in conjunction with a prefab company? Would that be something you’d be willing to do?
23. How do you protect damages to building materials, appliances, plumbing fixtures, stone, tile, glass, etc. during construction?
24. How do you maintain temperature/humidity control inside the home during construction?
25. How will you keep me informed during the building process considering we will be in Virginia?
26. When will I be required to be present at the job site? Historically how accurate are you at coming in on budget?
27. Once a budget is established, how will you keep me within my established budget?
28. Do you offer any form of plan modification, design, or construction credits or discounts for Military Personnel?
29. Would you be able to provide a working timetable of this project prior to an agreed start date?
30. Do you include a timetable as part of your contract?
31. Would you expect to be penalized for not completing the job on time?
32. How do you want to be compensated? In a Cost Plus – Fixed Fee Contract, what is your fixed fee?
33. Do you have a bank you are familiar with and have worked with in the past that is located in the Outer Banks?
34. What is your billing schedule?
35. How will I be billed?
36. How will change orders be managed?
37. How is home plan modifications and landscaping designer paid?
38. How much liability insurance do you carry?
39. Can you show me a copy of your Builder’s Certificate of Insurance?
40. Do you provide workman’s compensation?
41. Do you carry fire insurance? What other insurance do you carry?
42. What protection do I have if your business fails?
43. We are focusing on lots found in “X” flood zones – what are unique building ideas you use to still try and give the homeowners a water view?
44. What are your pet peeves when it comes to dealing with homeowners?
45. How open are you to allowing the homeowners complete certain home finishings (such as painting), as long it does not interfere with the build schedule, as a way to reduce costs?
46. How can we be your best client?
47. What have I forgotten to ask you?

Tropical Escape in the Florida Keys

I’ve been seeing a lot of advertisements recently for the Florida Keys.  The visions across my TV include gorgeous seascapes that look serene, tropical, relaxing, warm and inviting.  This is not the Florida Keys that I remember driving through in our red mini-van as a kid.  Honestly, back in the late 80’s, I remember the keys looking pretty dumpy.  No offense Keys, I may have been moody because it seemed like the longest drive of my life!  I’d love to go back and see if the Keys could prove my 11-year-old brain wrong.  I decided to take a more immediate approach for seeing what the real Keys may have in store by perusing some real estate.  Two things are certain, beautiful homes and land are available in the Keys, and they don’t come cheap!  Check out these beauties.

These first 2 homes, one a traditional colonial, the other a edgy modern number are in Islamorada.



This next lush tropical palace is in Key Largo and offers a bit of seclusion which is a rare luxury on the Keys which are so super skinny that there’s not a lot of room to be a land baron.


And when you’re secluded on Key Largo, this is how you get around… wonder if they are included in the purchase of the home? Is that one on the left a golf cart or the old Pope Mobile?


Key West, all the way at the bottom of the Keys, is the one part of the Keys that I recall being quaint, historic and having a lot of personality in a small package.  There are a ton of homes that are really cute Hemmingway-esque British Colonial cottages in Key West.



Now that I’m seeing images of present-day Florida Keys, I’m thinking they’d make a wonderful escape from winter, maybe for a long Valentine’s Day weekend.  Do you have a favorite not-to-far tropical getaway?



Building a Dream: Our Vacation Rental Property Series #2

Continuing our journey for finding a vacation rental property, we had a whirlwind weekend of seeing about 8 houses across the Outer Banks towns of Duck, Corolla, and Southern Shores.  We had seen a house that we liked very much but the current owners couldn’t tell us much about its history, things like the last time the HVAC was replaced, how old the roof was, if the pool pump had been replaced etc.  That was a red flag for us, but not totally surprising as a lot of homes change hands frequently in this beach community.  I think many people idealize the concept of owning a beach home but then the reality sets in that owning a rental home is a lot of work, homes near the beach require so much maintenance and the older the home is, the more work is required and accordingly the more money necessary for upkeep.  It’s not all relaxing in the hammock and pina coladas at sunset.  Therefore, some people give vacation rental home ownership a go for a few years and then throw in the towel.

We were having a heck of a time finding a home that met our requirements.  Most homes were disqualified due to location, either lack of proximity to beach or too close to major roads.  As we searched we did see a plot of land about a quarter mile closer to the beach than the aforementioned house.  This piece of land got us thinking that perhaps we should build our beach house.  Certainly, there would be benefits to building; we would be able to get exactly what we want and have a brand-new home requiring little maintenance and we could finish and furnish it to our liking rather than falling in on old dilapidated furnishings.  However, there would be disadvantages to this approach as well; total end cost would be higher, would require work to find a builder and architect to design the home from scratch resulting in a longer wait time.  No matter the disadvantages, we decided to look at several lots that met our requirements for flood zone, location, and neighborhood, while we still kept an eye on other homes coming on the market.  We also simultaneously embarked on the process of researching local builders.  There is a pretty large selection of builders of varying degrees of experience across the small Outer Banks community.  If we had known anyone who had built in OBX previously we would have asked for a recommendation, but since we did not, we initiated our own research.  Of course we started our search just like many other super important searches in our lives, with our best friend, Google.  Through Google we came upon the Outer Banks Home Builders Association and read about their annual OBX Parade of Homes Competition.   The past winners of this competition rose to the top of our potential builder picks.  I’ll discuss more in the next installment about how we went about choosing the best builder for our dream home, but we did make that selection WHILE we were still searching for a lot and that was probably one of the best decisions we made.  Our builder even came out to a few potential home sites with me to debate their positives and negatives, which was immensely helpful as he was able to comment on things I was not smart on.  For example, one site was completely wooded and significantly “gullied” in the center.  Our builder pointed out that we would need to bring in tons, yes tons, of fill dirt to make this lot buildable.  In the end, after significant searching, we settled on a wonderful partially wooded, mostly level, half acre which was only about 1400’ from the beach.








We’ll pick up the next installment talking a bit about how we successfully negotiated a great price for our land and how we selected the best builder.