Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Where we started

Our thoughts and ideas regarding the decision to build and how we got things moving ahead.
(Originally posted on livemodern.com 12/21/2004)

It had been established from the very beginning that we wanted to do something out of the ordinary. I was full of ideas and holding fast to my belief that we could accomplish anything we set out to even though the solid examples of “different” are few and far between around here. Out of curiosity and in the name of research, we spent some time at the beginning of this process looking at parade homes and perusing the existing homes for sale on the MLS. Nothing we saw in our price range or well above was even remotely close to what we were thinking of. We also considered somewhat seriously, the idea of renovating an existing commercial or industrial space so my real estate searches included these types of properties as well (yay for the internet). It became clear pretty early on that new construction was going to be the best way for us to achieve our goal.

In the Twin Cities metro area, probably like most areas, almost all new construction consists of large tracts of land purchased by a developer and then sold off in chunks to corporate builders who proceed to fill them with oceans of beige and gray vinyl siding, pitched roofs, and divided light windows. Although finding a development where the builder will do something “custom” (you can practically see the dollar signs in their eyes when you mention this) is not difficult, the architectural restrictions and covenants present in these situations are inevitably aimed at making every house conform to a certain bland “development” asthetic that we are all too familiar with. I think it would have been possible to make this work as others here are proving, but the design compromises we would have had to make, paired with the fact that the we'd still be living in a sea of beige cracker boxes ruled this out pretty quickly.
Another major deterrent to building in a development was our desire to have complete control over who was going to be doing our construction. Two members of my extended family are general contractors, one has a lifetime of building experience and several of my other relatives work in the construction trades. It was obvious from a cost and trust perspective that we wanted to utilize these resources as much as possible rather than contracting with a stranger for a complete, finished product.
So the hunt was officially on for land that would be unencumbered by neighborhood covenants and architectural guidelines and association-free. Around this time, I also cold-called a few Architects in the area whose work I admired. The response I got after stating our goal was less than encouraging. Aside from the expressed doubts about the reality of our needs and wants vs. budget, the depressing news was ”call me back when you find land” and land-finding tales of woe of clients with similar ideas. Pretty much an instant validation of the concerns I was trying to mitigate in my mind, with the problem of land being first and foremost.
Not easily discouraged and being the stubborn, willful people that we are (and undoubtedly somewhat naïve), we made up our minds that we would dedicate a year to the search for land. If we still hadn't found anything at that point, we'd reevaluate our options. That was December of 2003.


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