Funny enough our son was the key to finding our builder. A friend of ours had a birthday party at which we met another couple who was pregnant at the same time we were. We kept in touch through out our pregnancies. Every year after Christmas we have a re-gift party which they came to. The husband runs Fitch Services. Somehow the conversation turned towards houses. Since they have experience dealing with builders we asked who they recommend and they recommended CraigBuilders. So we called them but they don’t do custom homes and they referred us to Tommy (Dobson Homes) who used to work for them.

Tommy wasn’t the only builder we looked at. We also have a friend who works at Luck Stone and gave us a list of people he recommends. We contacted everyone on that list to get bids and BOY was it frustrating. You’d think in this economy people would be begging for work but it was very difficult to get most of them to call us back, let alone give us bids. At the time we had a very little baby and it really was difficult to arrange for us to meet with the builders. Most of them came to our house, a few we met at a restaurant, their office or their show house. Of all that we met, only about 1/2 ever gave us actual bids. I was really angry because why waste my time meeting with you if you aren’t even going to give us a bid. I’m still a little steamed about that.

Anyway, our experience with Tommy was great right off the bat. I called him to schedule a time to meet and he was more than accommodating to our schedule. I was a new mom and very sleep deprived. I wrote down the time, but I forgot to write down that we were meeting him at his show house. So we were waiting at our house and he was waiting at his show house. After about 15 minutes he called us to confirm that we were coming. Oops! Tommy said he was more than willing to come to our house but we decided we wanted to see his work so we headed over to his show house. The first thing we noticed about it was the beautiful front door.

Many of the other builders we met were much older, Tommy is our age. He was very nice and friendly and not at all pushy. We told him (like we told all the other builders) a hard number that was our max budget. He said he’d get back to us with a bid in a week. Maybe 5 days later he called me and said he just can’t build the house for our budget no matter how much he massaged the numbers and did we still want his bid. We told him to please give us the bid. By that time some of the other builders bids had come back all WAY outside our price range. Tommy’s was outside our price range but not by nearly as much as some of the other builders. When he met with us to go over the bid we told him that we’ll re-design the house to make it smaller. He gave us a few pointers, namely not to have a 2 story great room. Looking back I’m so glad we got that advice because that space would have been overwhelming.

We went back to the drawing board and completely re-designed the house. We told all the builders that we were going to re-design, but Tommy was the only one who called us after about 2 months to see how it was going. Once we were happy with the re-designed house, we re-submitted the plans to all the builders that actually gave us bids the first time. Tommy was the first person to give us his new bid. We actually had to string him along for almost a month before everyone else’s bids were back. In the end it was a toss-up between Tommy and Redlands. We liked both Tommy and Charlie from Redlands but Tommy was less expensive by almost $40,000.

We almost ALMOST didn’t go with Tommy because he was so much under all the other bids. We were worried that he had bid low and would either use really cheap materials or nickle and dime us on everything. We called his references and that was the clincher. His references (every single one) were beyond glowing. One very nice lady referred to him as St. Tommy. We were sold.

We had nothing to worry about, working with Tommy has been fantastic. We told Tommy that we choose him and he immediately started drawing up the blueprints from our plans. This was before we signed the contract. None of the other builders would draw up plans without a contract being signed.I thought this was very unusual and I think we even mentioned to Tommy that we hadn’t paid him anything yet. We didn’t cut him the first check until the entire plan was drawn up. I think that process took about 1 month. I was really surprised that he’d put so much effort forth without a contract being signed. By the time we did sign the contract we were pretty sure we chose the right person.

Building this house has been much less stressful than I imagined. In fact I think coordinate the whole move is way more stressful than actually building the new house. We’ve been singing Tommy’s praises so much that we almost sound like an advertisement but I can assure you that everything I’ve said has been completely truthful. I told the good and the bad, Tommy really has done a spectacular job.

Who we’ve used:

Patrick from Luck Stone – Exterior Stone

Charles from Better Living – Cabinets and Hardware

Pax from Floors R Us (not sure they have a website but they are north on 29) – Hardwood and Tile

Nancy from Builders Lighting – Lights

Both Patrick, Charles and Pax were really easy to work with, and builder’s lighting has really great prices although we weren’t thrilled with their customer service. I wish I knew who Tommy used for their electrician because he was super nice and very helpful. I believe his name was Kevin but I can’t quite remember and I have no idea who he worked for. Everyone on the site was very nice but we tried to stay out of their way for the most part.

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Once we got our initial design completed I started researching builders. We haveĀ  couple friends in the business so I asked them for references. I ended up calling 5 builders. We only ended up meeting with 4 of them because one was so haughty and could tell by my voice that I wasn’t their type of client. I’m guessing their type of client is someone with more money than sense.

We interviewed 4 builders (I’ll call them D, K, R, and Dobson Homes) and the first one we talked to (K) was all excited about the project until we told him our budget. He told us we were way off base but that he’d give us a proposal anyway. That kind of put a damper on meeting with the other builders. Going into this we didn’t have a good understanding of how much it costs to build. Anyway, all 4 builders bids came in too high so we had to redesign.

After we redesigned I emailed the plans to the same 4 builders in addition to 3 new builders. We met with the first new builder (Reinhart Homes) at our house and we (especially me) were amazed at how patronizing he was. I’m sure they build an adequate house and I was very impressed by their organized binders BUT they were out of the running because of their condescension. He made it very clear that he builds houses for the guys but he builds homes for the women. I was also so nice to allow R to have a Men’s Club and he would make sure that I had a nice kitchen. I’m guessing his target demographic is older couples but still, I hope the older women don’t take that crap. I can’t remember the last time that I was talked down to because I am a women. I’m still pissed off about this.

The 2 other new builders that we talked to never got back to us. Why waste my time meeting with me if you aren’t going to at least send a proposal. We probably wouldn’t have gone with them anyway, one was a cookie-cutter builder and one built very modern (very expensive) homes.

When we sent out the first design we got back 2 outrageous bids (from D & K) and 2 bids (from R & Dobson) that were still out of our price range but not nearly so outrageous. We really liked both R and Dobson. We were leaning a little more towards R because their business has been around longer even though Dobson came in lower.

We sent out the second design and got back our bids. K changed his from an all-inclusive to a cost-plus proposal which we didn’t like at all so he was out. D was outrageously more than everyone else. R was much more than we were expecting it to be. So I did a little more research on Dobson and the more I talked to people about him the more I liked him. His references were over the moon about him. They couldn’t say enough good things about him and when I pressed for any complaints they had none. Every single one of them said that he closed on his projected date (which is very unusual), that he came in on or under budget, that he threw in a lot of extras for free, that he was incredibly organized and returned all communication promptly. We also toured a few houses he built and they were very solid. I even talked to some of his suppliers and they all loved him. One of the people I talked to called him Saint Tommy. So not only was his bid the most reasonable, but we both like him as a person and his references were excellent. We feel really good with our choice.

Here’s how the bids lined up:

  • Dobson Homes – Winner
  • Reinhart – +$300,000 — No that’s not a misprint. Ridiculous right? Our current house isn’t worth that much, who would possibly choose them when they could get two or three new houses for that price?
  • K – +$13,000 – But this was at our risk so I’m sure it would have been more than that
  • R – +$43,000 – This is a shame because if he would have been lower we might have gone with him. Nice guy though.
  • D – +$155,000 – Again, not a misprint. Are they putting gold toilets in these houses? We told each builder that we didn’t want anything super fancy. We want a simple but sturdy house.

We feel really good about Tommy Dobson and I’m really glad a friend recommended him or I might never have heard of him.