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Home & Garden

How to Work With Local Builders

Three Dallas homeowners share their experiences—what they learned and how it can help you.

Client: Meredith Needleman
Builder: MORE Design + Build
The Project: A midcentury update in University Park

For us, it was love at first tour for our house. The Glen Allen Galaway creation was always something we had admired while driving by, and when it went on the market for a second time, we decided to go check it out. 

All the details in the house were amazing, even though it was only 1,900 square feet—much smaller than what we needed. While the house couldn’t be torn down, it could be remodeled. We always knew we wanted an older house with some history behind it, and this house appealed to us because of its modern design. It’s a unique look and definitely not a house that everybody would want or could appreciate. I think we were the first people who had a vision for it. 

The details we loved about the original design of the house were the floor-to-ceiling windows and the international look of the front. It’s a very private home from the outside, but once you step inside, the floor plan unfolds. The house is built in the shape of a U, and we have a very private backyard that nobody can see into, which is unlike most homes in the Park Cities. The location is also fantastic—we can walk to restaurants, shopping, SMU, and more. 

This was the first home we had remodeled, and the project took 11-and-a-half months. I feel like most people are noncommittal when asked if they would use their builder again, but we absolutely would. We chose MORE Design + Build because of their dedication to detail. Every space in the house is thought out to be both functional and beautiful. They wanted to restore and enhance the home. We chose them because we knew they were going to work with our vision and what we wanted, rather than presenting a plan to us that was already formulated. 

We originally planned to add an addition and clean up a bit of the existing home. But that evolved into us taking it down to the studs. What you see now is a brand-new house, except for the front façade and the original bones. We increased the square footage from 1,900 to 3,400. The house is now five bedrooms and 4.1 bathrooms. I never felt like I had to compromise my vision—everything turned out exactly as I wanted it. 

My biggest piece of advice for anybody considering remodeling or building is to know what you want before you start the project. It’s also important to build smart—don’t create a lot of wasted space that you never use. Our house is very smart, and we built rooms we need and use every day, without all this square footage that is going to just sit there and be idle. 

There is nothing I would do differently when it came to remodeling my house, and I would do it again. But I think we will be staying put for a while. My kids love our home and are tired of moving!

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Tom McKelvey
Builder: Jauregui Architecture, Interior Design & Construction
The Project: A new home in Southlake

We previously built a home in Southlake, and we enjoyed the experience. I know a lot of people don’t, but we did. We got exactly what we wanted, and we still loved our home, but we wanted a larger lot. That was the main reason for us moving. We lived in a gated community on a small lot that didn’t back up to the common area. So we found a 3-acre, wooded lot with a creek running through it that was a whopping one mile away. We didn’t even change schools. 

We had a great experience with our previous builder, but he had retired. We’re still friends, and I actually used him as an advisor on this project. I knew I wanted to have quality materials throughout. I needed perspective on what’s going on behind the walls. But I still needed a builder.

“The process should not dictate the home — the home should dictate the process.”

I play golf at Vaquero, and there are some really nice homes there. I noticed a few that were a little different. I reached out to the people at Vaquero for a list of builders who work out there, and I saw Jauregui’s name for the first time. Their homes seemed to have character and just seemed authentic. I looked at their website, and I liked what I saw. 

But listen, anyone can set up a nice website. So I toured homes, and I was very pleased with the quality. I also checked references. I recommend checking references, but again, anyone can produce five or six names. Try to network your way into another five or 10 names. We were able to talk to people who weren’t on that initial reference list. That was comforting as well. No one was telling me what they thought I wanted to hear. 

When we built previously, we used a builder and a separate design firm. The Jaureguis do the design, construction, and interior design—it’s all under one roof. Luis is an architect, and he saw the challenges that sometimes happen between an architect and a builder, so he got into construction. Then he noticed that his clients were struggling with décor, so he brought that in-house as well. I was intrigued by that. 

I think the word “custom” is one of the most overused words in building. A lot of times, builders have a plan and you’re making selections: tiles, countertops, that kind of thing. But we wanted a lot of truly unique things. So we needed a builder who was in line with that. 

[inline_image id=”2″ align=”r” crop=”wide”]Misaligned expectations can hurt everyone. My wife and I both tend to be pretty thorough. We had collected a ton of pictures and done a lot of planning beforehand, but you never have it all just right. As you get into the process, you start to come up with additional ideas. Our building team was fantastic at shifting things. When you’re making significant changes, you need to have a partnership. You definitely pay for changes, but I appreciated the willingness to work with us. The process should not dictate the home—the home should dictate the process. 

It was enlightening to learn how early in the process the design elements and furnishings needed to be selected when you’re getting custom-made items from the Design District. To be sitting down and discussing what the furnishings were going to be like as the foundation was poured felt very strange to me. I wish we would have engaged even more in the decorating earlier, though. A lot of things arrived “just in time”—three to four weeks before we moved in. Some things came in a month after. It was our fault, not theirs. It scares me to think what could have happened if I hadn’t woken up for another two months.

I would say, if you’re considering building, know yourself. If you are a planner—a detailed person—you will come in with volumes of pictures and plans. You have to go with a builder who is willing to roll up his sleeves and collaborate. But if you’re not like that, let the professionals do their jobs. You can’t have it both ways. And not everyone is cut out to build. 

Our new home is very comfortable and relaxed. There’s not much that we would change. We put so much time into the project in advance, and that paid off. 

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Mary Beth Wagner
Builder: Mark Danuser, Tatum Brown Custom Homes
The Project: New construction in the Park Cities

We sold our previous home unexpectedly. We had a party at our house and a real estate agent friend of ours called us afterward and said, “Would you consider selling your house?” and that she had somebody in mind. 

When it came time to look, I knew we’d stay in the Park Cities, where our previous home was. I grew up here, and I had a really good experience, and I wanted that for my kids. 

We decided to build because we wanted to be able to create the spaces we felt we needed for our family, and we had trouble finding them in existing homes. We wanted an upstairs playroom and laundry, an outdoor living space that felt more like an extension of the house rather than just a covered porch, and a big front yard where the kids could play. Plus, being a designer myself, I knew I wanted to put my own personal stamp on it. 

We had done small kitchen and bath remodels in the past, but we’d never built a home from scratch. At one point, we thought we were going to build and didn’t, and at the time, somebody had told us about Tatum Brown. This time around, I saw a house of Mark Danuser’s that I liked, so I called him up and met with him at one of his properties. I really liked the quality of the finish-out of his homes. It wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill stuff. 

We met with several builders, but with Mark, we had an instant connection. You want to make sure your personalities mesh, because you’ll be working with that person for 12 months, if not longer. When you meet, ask who’s going to be in charge on your job. Is it going to be the builder himself? A project manager? Another contractor? Is that person going to be there the whole time, or are they going to leave and go on to other jobs? 

Referrals are important, too. It’s good to have known somebody—whether it’s personally or a reference from the builder—who’s had experience with that builder and has nice things to say. Do your research and find out things like: Do they stay on budget? If they go over budget, how much? People get reputations for that. Ask clients if the builder stuck to what they quoted in terms of a timeline. Things can run over, and most people expect that when building, but you want it to stay for the most part on track. 

Mark really stuck with the timeline, and I think a lot of that has to do with how organized his team was. Mark has someone in place for everything. They also provide a client-personalized website you can log onto and see the progress. They had everything cataloged, and every time there was a change order, I signed off on it. I work on a lot of projects with builders, and it isn’t always so smooth. 

In our case, we worked most frequently with our project manager, Rick. I talked to or saw him just about daily, but Mark met with us almost every Friday. During the construction process, I think it’s good to go by the house almost every day, just to be aware of what progress they’re making, so there aren’t any surprises.

I would tell anyone considering building to take their time when working with their architect so they’re not having to change things once the framing goes up. Still, our team was able to help us reconfigure some things, like our courtyard, that weren’t going to work with how the architect had designed it. We weren’t really sure how it was going to come together, but now it’s most people’s favorite part of the house. 

Also, when your builder gives you timelines for making selections, stay within them! People put it off, but the client needs to stay on track so they’re not screwing up the builder’s ordering dates. It can be really overwhelming making all those decisions—every decision you makes affects another one. I changed my mind a couple of times, and our builder was always great about it. They would say, “Come in, let’s have a meeting and lay everything out.” They have a brand-new, gorgeous office where they have different countertop selections or different materials and edge details you can look at if you’re trying to make a decision. Morgan, the designer at Tatum Brown, definitely helped on decisions I was feeling overwhelmed with. It was nice that I could trust them with things like that.

We were anticipating construction taking a year, but we finished in around nine months. I think that’s partly because I stuck with most of my decisions and I kind of knew what I wanted, but we just didn’t have any hiccups. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. 

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