Real Families Tell their Home Building Experiences

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Two Twin Cities families shared their new home building stories with us:

Family First

With two young boys facing medical issues, the right home choice made a lot of difference.

Matt and Michelle Christenson and their two boys, Owen (five) and Ethan (three) look like a typical young family enjoying life. These two teachers fell in love, got married, bought an older bungalow in the Mac Groveland neighborhood in St. Paul, and started a family.

Their 1920s era home had needed work so they tackled a few remodeling projects over the years, but like most older homes, there was always something else that needed to be updated.

That’s when things got interesting. Their first son, Owen was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor at three months. Additional medical problems have meant doctor visits, medication and therapies ever since. Through it all, Owen has thrived and grown into an active, inquisitive and charming five year old who, even through a long photo shoot, only got a little bit cranky.

When Owen was two, little brother Ethan joined the family. Ethan was diagnosed with Downs Syndrome and has since had a number of other medical issues that have required surgery, medication, and a careful diet. But like his older brother, Ethan is an amazing little man with an adorable personality and ready smile.

As the boys grew, Matt and_Michelle continued to teach, although each has moved out of a traditional classroom. Matt is teaching basic skills to children who struggle with reading and math, and Michelle coordinates an alternative school.

One thing they knew about was schools, so when they were ready to send Owen to pre-school, they open enrolled him where they knew he would get the attention he needed. It so happened they were able to find the right school that was near Owen’s grandparents who shared in day care duties.

With that decision made, the couple were ready to reexamine their housing situation. “we knew that even if we put $100,000 into our house, we still wouldn’t have been happy with it,” Michelle said. “We knew we wanted one-level living so we started looking at older ramblers.”

They were quickly disappointed at what they found, everything needed additional work before it would suit them. “We had to focus on our boys and their medical needs and not focus on home improvement projects,” Michelle stressed.

Happenstance put them in a Pulte model home in Minnetonka which led them to visit Pulte’s rambler model in Bloomington. “We walked over and said ‘this is it.’ We loved it,” Michelle explained. And that led them to Pulte’s neighborhood near Owen’s school and the decision to build.

“This is a great neighborhood. The existing neighbors and the new ones are just fantastic,” exclaimed Matt. “There are 39 homes with about 80 kids in the development, and I’d say 65 or 70 of them are under the age of six.”

Michelle agrees, adding with a smile, “Every Monday night the ladies get together and watch the Bachelor with a glass of wine. And, there’s something social going on all the time. Fall parties, Winter parties, block parties.”

“We also like all the nature around here. You can see a seven-point buck come through, and turtles are laying their eggs over there,” Matt said pointing out the spot in their backyard pond. They’ve had turkeys, ducks and goslings in their backyard that the kids love to watch.

But it isn’t just the neighborhood that suited the family. They got the home they wanted, with everything on one floor and the style, colors and finishes that they got to pick out.

“I didn’t want to build a house just because I thought it would be such a hassle,” Matt said. “But with Pulte you just go in the model, go down to the basement and can say ‘I want this countertop, these cabinets and this carpet.’”

Michelle nodded, “We had enough to choose from but not so much that it was overwhelming. The whole process was super easy.”

They also liked the people they got to work with, mentioning sales agent Shannon and project super Jeremy by name. And that was a good thing since they came to watch the progress almost every day.

“We were living with my parents for four months during the build, so we all came over daily, it was fun to walk through,” Michelle said.

Today, the entire family looks right at home in their new digs. They moved in at the tail end of November, and have since made this house into a real home – one where a family of ducklings paddling across the backyard pond can enchant a couple of boys after a doctors visit. What could be better?

Quick and Decisive with Long-Term Plans

Justin and Noelle are many things-smart, frugal, young, successful, and compatible. One thing they are not, however, is indecisive. A pediatric resident at the University of Minnesota hospitals, Noelle barely has time to sleep. Justin, an attorney working for Medtronic, is nearly as busy.

Despite their harried schedules, the young couple decided to buy their first home in December. A few weeks later, they decided their best option was to forgo the existing home route and build new. By early February, they had chosen a builder and a development. Four and a half months later they moved into their new home.

The couple was long overdue for a move. Having met while completing their undergraduate degrees at Saint Olaf’s in Northfield, Justin and Noelle eventually relocated to Minneapolis to complete their professional degrees at the University of Minnesota. Along the way they married. Their first apartment together was a 500-square-foot unit in Dinkytown.

“Two people couldn’t even stand in that kitchen,” recalls Noelle. After living in that tiny apartment for two years, the couple moved to an apartment twice as big shortly after Justin graduated from law school. A year later, with Noelle having completed her internship, buying a house moved up on the priority list.

“We saved up our money while we were in school with the intention of buying a house,” says Justin. With down payment in hand, the couple called realtor Lori Bergeron to start the process of looking at both existing and new homes. When Bergeron showed Justin and Noelle a home built by Plymouth-based Bergeron Homes and Development, the couple’s decision was made. They would hire their realtor’s husband to build them a new house in Plymouth’s Seven Greens neighborhood.

In addition to a family friendly open floor plan, granite counters, hardwood floors, a mudroom, and ample space, Justin and Noelle’s number one “must have” was a gourmet kitchen with enough space for the two of them to prepare food and drinks together, particularly while entertaining family and friends.

Their new fully landscaped, 3,000-square-foot, two-story home’s four bedrooms plus office and loft provides enough room for the two professionals to each have their own working space and possibly a couple of children within the next two to five years. Their unfinished basement also offers plenty of room for expansion.

The home’s spacious mudroom with lockers and storage space, a generous walk-in pantry, and the loft fit neatly into Justin and Noelle’s plans. “All of our shoes, coats, the mail, and all of the stuff you don’t want cluttering up the kitchen can be placed in the mudroom,” says Justin. “If you have mud on your shoes, you can take them off in the mudroom so you don’t track it into the house.” The mudroom will also prove handy when bundling up little ones as they head out to school or to play in the snow. And the loft, which remains unfurnished for now, will eventually provide a nice play area for children.

Thinking long term, Justin and Noelle also chose the home’s location because it is in a neighborhood with young families and in the Wayzata school district, and it has plenty of green space and parks within walking distance.

While both Justin and Noelle couldn’t be happier with the finished product, the process, at times, made their already busy lives hectic, particularly for Justin. “My work schedule is so inflexible that Justin had do some of the work on his own,” says Noelle. Justin not only made many of the selections by himself while getting rubber-stamp approval from his wife after a quick text photo, he also was on site more frequently than Noelle.

“We were forced to be very decisive in our decisions,” says Justin. “One way we were successful was that we were fortunate enough to find our realtor, who is also a designer. So we didn’t have to choose from hundreds of options.” Bergeron did the legwork after determining Justin’s and Noelle’s tastes and presented them with two to three options for each selection.

“We agree in our tastes,” says Noelle. “I would just trust Justin to make a lot of the decisions.”

With all of the construction, finishing selections, and new home furnishing decisions behind them, Justin and Noelle still had one more decision they were anxious to make.

“We are both dog lovers,” says Noelle. “And being able to have a dog made the idea of owning a house very attractive.” They put a down payment on a puppy soon after moving in to their new home and were excitedly awaiting the arrival of their new Shih Tzu to make their home complete.

The Fall 2013 Parade of Homes is sponsored by Wells Fargo Home Mortgage.