Real Families Tell their Home Building Experiences

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Four real Twin Cities families who recently built or bought a new home shared their stories with us.

From Suburbs to City, And Back Again

This home is open for touring on the Spring 2013 Parade of Homes, #138, at 2551 15th Street NW in New Brighton, built by CRJ Construction.

After growing up in the suburbs, both Josh and Heidi decided to venture out as newlyweds and purchased their first fixer-upper home together in Northeast Minneapolis. Several years of working and living in a starter home proved to be the perfect fit for the couple, who quickly discovered that they enjoyed home improvement and being close to the action and excitement of city living.

After the birth of their first son, however, the young family realized that they would soon be cramped for space. They desired to move to a more family-friendly area, but they still wanted to be near the city. Josh and Heidi put their home on the market and began searching for a new house that would accommodate their growing family. After looking at a string of fixer-upper opportunities, the couple was shown a promising vacant lot in New Brighton. The suburban lot had its perks — private backyard, wetlands across the street and behind the home, and even family history. Josh’s father grew up in the house directly south of the lot and the couple had heard stories of him playing in the wetlands and chasing turtles and frogs as a young boy. They pictured how much fun their own son might have someday playing in the same wetlands. Nearby were several parks, highly rated schools, family oriented neighbors, and the city was still just a short drive away.

After consulting with several advisors, Josh and Heidi decided to move forward and start their custom home building adventure. “We wanted to work with a well-respected builder that would create a functional, custom home that would sustain its value over time,” Josh explained. In a matter of weeks, they chose CRJ Construction to partner with them on this journey. “Owner Chad Johnson was knowledgeable and easy to work with, and he took the time to understand our needs. We were immediately confident that CRJ Construction was the best company for the job.”

Josh and Heidi had been dreaming about building their perfect home for years. Home improvement projects were fun for them, but designing a custom home was a dream. Heidi had been saving ideas from home trend magazines and had made a list of inspirations from various Parade of Homes tours.

All of their dream concepts were channeled into the two-story American Foursquare style floor plan that they decided on for its classic, simple and timeless look. From the outside, the home is quaint and inviting with corrugated metal, board and batten siding, high-quality horizontal vinyl exterior, beadboard entry ceilings, rain garden landscaping and a cedar gabled entryway.

“The uniqueness of this project started with the lot,” explained CRJ owner Chad Johnson. “We designed the home to maximize the layout of the lot and we also used selections that would fit with the modern taste of a younger family on a specific budget.”

Though it’s not in the city, their lot is the perfect location for a family home – one that is affordable for a young family, large enough for a growing family, and custom created for a family to enjoy for many years to come.

Making the Best of Today’s Rates

Jason, an account executive at U.S. Bank, and his wife, Emily, knew it was time to refinance their underwater house in Rosemount or buy another home to lock in historically low interest rates.

“We built the Rosemount house in 2005, and thought we got what was a really good interest rate,” says Emily. At 5.125%, most people would have agreed, but then the housing market, the economy, and interest rates all headed south. “We didn’t plan on being in the Rosemont home for much more than five years, but we were there for seven, and we were ready to take the next step.” With three growing boys, Caden, 7, Carter, 5, and Colton, 2, as well as two dogs, the family was in need of more space.

“Our oldest son was in the Rosemount–Apple Valley–Eagan school district, I worked a half hour away, and Jason commuted to Hopkins,” says Emily, an eighth-grade math teacher in the Prior Lake school district. “My school break schedule was sometimes different than my son’s. I decided I wanted to teach in the district where my sons went to school.”

Initially the family was planning to build in Apple Valley to be near family, but then realized it made more sense to travel to visit family than to travel to work five days a week, and Emily loved her job. So the couple started looking for lots in Prior Lake.

They soon found a Key Land Homes lot in Spring Lake Estates near Emily’s workplace. After touring one of Key Land’s model homes, the couple put a lot on hold. “We loved the layout. We wanted a formal dining room, as well as an open kitchen and family room. Key Land’s model was tastefully decorated in neutral colors,” says Emily. “When we went upstairs, we could visualize our three boys up there. We just knew this was the place.”

The building process was quick and easy. “Jason and I knew what we wanted, and Key Land is a phenomenal builder,” says Emily. The home is across the street from Spring Lake, and there’s plenty of open space and a ball field for the boys to play as well as a pond where they can ice skate.

“I’m a city girl, and Jason wanted a home with a bigger yard,” says Emily. “Living on a lake and owning a boat was one of Jason’s childhood dreams, so we purchased a boat slip and a 2010 Tahoe deck boat. I have my Target, and he has his boat. The lake is across the street, which is very convenient.”

The family also gained 2,000 additional square feet in their new 5,000-square-foot home. Emily’s commute was cut to seven minutes, while Jason’s hour-long drive was halved.

For now, Jason and Emily are renting their old home, hoping it appreciates enough so they don’t have to take a loss.

Opportunity, or 机会

Drew and Kelly loved living in South Minneapolis, and their century-old, foursquare set on a hill near Lake Harriet was perfect, except for one thing, their children would soon be starting school. The couple, while not opposed to sending the kids to a Minneapolis elementary school, couldn’t find one that offered the language immersion program they were looking for.

“Travel and different cultures helped shape who we are,” says Drew. Kelly once worked as a nurse in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and Drew studied in Holland as a Rotary Youth Exchange student. While Drew and Kelly were open to a Spanish immersion program, they were leaning toward Chinese to hopefully widen the range of future opportunities available to their children, Bella, who is now 6, and Brix, aged 4.

Following an exhaustive search, the couple found the perfect Chinese immersion program in Minnetonka. With that decision made, Drew and Kelly were faced with whether to buy an existing home or build. “We looked at a few homes, but we have particular tastes in design and layout,” says Drew. “By the time we remodeled an existing home, we figured we would be at the same price point had we found a lot to build on.”

With a limited number of available lots in Minnetonka to choose from, Drew and Kelly were fortunate to find one owned by Excelsior-based Knoblauch Builders. “We liked the lot, but we still had to interview John Knoblauch and go through the process to see if our styles and tastes were in sync,” says Drew. “We were also looking at a few other lots.”

After visiting several homes built by Knoblauch, Drew and Kelly were pretty much sold on the builder’s style and his flexibility. Before even beginning the design process, though, Drew and Kelly brought the builder to their South Minneapolis home, which they basically hoped to replicate in Minnetonka. Knoblauch then worked on merging some of the couple’s favorite old-house features into a new-house plan. Kelly, a very talented designer, had a terrific vision for the couple’s new home, and Knoblauch did his best to make Kelly’s ideas work.

“Kelly poured her heart and soul into this house. Kelly and John were basically ‘married’ to each other for nine months,” says Drew. “A relationship with a builder is like a relationship with a spouse. It requires trust and compromise. We got both from John.”

The traditional design of their new custom-built home—with its dark baluster, white enameled woodwork, claw-foot soaking tub, and wooden fireplace mantle flanked by built-in cabinetry—successfully mimics the charm and craftsmanship of the early 1900s.

But there are differences, too. “When you hang a picture on drywall, the wall is smooth as opposed to a lath-and-plaster wall,” says Drew. Other advantages include modern conveniences, a more open floor plan, a large, attached garage, a spacious yard for the kids to play in, and a flat lot that allows Drew to cut the grass without wearing soccer cleats. Best of all, however, is that Bella and Brix could soon be teaching mom and dad Chinese.

Home within a Home: How Lennar’s Next Gen model became a game changer for this family of four

“A Game Changer.” That’s what Lennar’s Minnesota division president, Bill Burgess, is calling their Next Gen home model, which debuted in Minnesota last September during the Parade of Homes Fall 2012 tour. The immediately popular floor plan grabbed major attention for its unique design concept, which boasts a home within a home suitable for multi-generation living.

The game changer for Pat and Wanda came in the form of an acceptance letter to Lionsgate Academy. The Minnesota charter school is a premier facility that serves students with high-functioning autism grades seven through twelve, a perfect fit for the couple’s thirteen year-old son, Alex.

Once Pat and Wanda found out that their son had secured a place in the prestigious school, everything changed for them in a matter of weeks. The Missouri-based couple made a major move to Minnesota, selling their home and transitioning into a rental house in the Twin Cities just weeks before their kids starting attending their new schools. Pat, an IT consultant, was able to work from home while Wanda, a Missouri-based doctor, had to split her time between states. When she wasn’t caring for her two children, she was commuting to Missouri for her job.

With such a drastic transition in such a short amount of time, the family was in need of some stable roots. Then came game changer number three, an opportunity to establish a home that would meet the family’s needs in a big way.

Lennar’s Next Gen home plan offered the family of four a new solution. “The Next Gen plan fit our needs perfectly,” explained Wanda. In addition to their son’s autism, both Alex and daughter Brianna have special allergen needs. “Both of our children have different food allergies. We needed a home with two kitchens – one that is gluten free and a secondary, smaller kitchen that is egg free. And our whole house is peanut free,” she explained.

Though Lennar’s Next Gen plan has typically been popular for extended families such as an in-law suite, as well as for new grads or aging parents, the Next Gen floor plan offered Pat and Wanda a home that they could utilize for a lifetime.

“There is a long term possibility that our son may never leave home. This suite will be an option for him to live semi-independently in the future. And, when our daughter goes off to college, she will have a suite to stay in when she comes home,” reasoned Wanda. “We wanted a traditional home with options that would grow with our family and our needs, so the Next Generation plan was the perfect fit.”

A separate living quarters that connects directly to the main house has the unique layout that makes this plan so appealing. The home within a home concept boasts a separate entrance and one-car garage for independence, and includes a living room, kitchenette and laundry unit. The option of staying connected to the larger house is made possible through a direct access door to the main home, which includes a five bedroom, 4 ½ bathroom house with an open-concept great room, gourmet kitchen, two-car garage and formal dining room.

“Everything seemed to fit together with Lennar,” Pat said about the building process. “Our needs were already met in their Next Gen model, but Lennar also worked with us create a modified plan to work with our allergen needs.” The family slightly changed the original floor plan by taking away the separate entrance to the Next Gen suite for safety reasons and to make room for a full second kitchen that included all of the main appliances and amenities as the main kitchen. A sensory room was created for Alex by converting the Next Gen garage into a spacious, heated playroom that houses an indoor swing and trampoline.

With all of the transitions that this family went through in their move, Lennar was quick to make the process easy. Game changer number four was the reliability that the Lennar team brought to the project. “ We had always heard that if you can survive a build, you can survive anything,” Wanda said. “The process has been comfortable and largely stress-free. Lennar has worked around our needs and has made the experience easy. The Next Generation floor plan made it possible for our family to imagine our dream home, and then build it. ”

Over 2,700 people toured Lennar’s Next Gen model when it debuted on the Parade of Homes tour last fall.

The 2013 Spring Parade of Homes is sponsored by Wells Fargo