Which builder would I pick?

Before I spill on which builder, let’s establish the criteria:  Priced between $200k and $400k and brand new.

Ok, you ready for it?

To keep me out of a lawsuit, lets just say it is the big one in town.  Four letters.  You know the one.

I can already feel the tension in the air.  It is because I get it all the time when people ask me who to use and I suggest this builder.

Sure, everybody in town knows somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody who has had a bad experience with this builder……but nobody ever knows “That” person first hand.  I own 3 of their houses myself and have sold 60 of them of all ages.

It has been my personal and professional experience that they build as good of a home as anybody.  Am I saying they are perfect?  No.  I am just saying that after selling new homes built by other builders and selling hundreds of “Used” homes built by other builders,  their homes seem to have fewer issues caused by the construction of the home.

Any house is something with thousands of pieces assembled by lots of different trades that has to withstand both time and mother nature.   Things go wrong with them.

I think one reason this builder has so many detractors is just because of their scale.  If you have build maybe 25,000 homes in the Bluegrass and 5% of those people had a bad experience, that is a lot of people.  If you are a smaller builder who has maybe built 100 homes in the Bluegrass, that same 5% complaint rate is only 5 people.

All I know is that if I were wanting a new home in the $200-400k range, I would rather go with a builder whose 50 year old houses are still standing verses somebody without much of a history.

MORE similar neighborhoods at different price points

Let’s say you want to be in that sweet spot of the Tates Creek area where you’re equidistant to Hamburg, Fayette Mall and downtown.  You want a traditional house.  Southern Living.  Nice yard with big trees.  I’ve got three more neighborhoods for you at three different price points…..Here we go:


I remember when Hartland was brand new.  It was way the heck out there.  (It hasn’t moved closer-I mean that it seemed way out at the time.)  Man O War was a two lane road.  There was no Tates Creek Shopping Center.  Who knew back then that this neighborhood would age so wonderfully.  The design is like nothing Lexington has seen since Chevy Chase.  The main roads have a tree lined median.  All the cul-de-sacs have landscaped islands.  It just feels wonderful out there. The price range for Hartland and all the derivative sub-neighborhoods is about $250k through close to $2,000,000.  Most are in the $300-500k range.  For that, you get a nice big house from the time when J.R. Ewing was shot on Dallas.  Big yards are the norm.  Most I’ve seen are 1/4-1/3 acre.  There is a neighborhood pool/clubhouse.

Here is what you can expect:


Cumberland Hill

Built about the same time as Hartland, just on the other side of Tates Creek Road.  Cumberland has a more casual, less pretentious vibe to it than Hartland.  Its the neighborhood for somebody who can afford a Mercedes but drives a Volvo instead.  Being on the other side of Tates Creek turned out to be a good thing, because it gets the very desirable Veteran’s Park Elementary school.  Most of the houses range from the low $200s to the low $300s.  For around or just over $300k, you should expect a nice basement.  One of the coolest things about this neighborhood is that it backs up to Veteran’s Park (The park-not the school.)  At the end of Rockbridge, there is a small parking lot with an entrance to the park.  There is a walking trail and a creek through the wooded areas.  There are a couple of bridges across the creek.  It is very cool.  A pool/clubhouse are at the corner of Tates Creek and Rockbridge.

Here is what to expect:

Contemporary homes were still a little popular in the 80s, so you see a few like this.



This neighborhood is just south of Cumberland and is also across Tates Creek Road from Hartland.  You get the same close proximity to Veteran’s Park and it is in Veteran’s Park Elementary district.  Ashmoor has always seemed like a lite version of Hartland to me.  The houses are similar, just smaller.  My favorite thing about this neighborhood are the huge Pin Oak trees than line most of the streets.   You’ll be around $200k to maybe $250k out here.

Here is what you will see:

It was the late 80s and early 90s, so you do get some houses that are like a mash up of Traditional and Contemporary.


There you have it.  From $200k to $2,000,000, there is a house for you in this area!



Mold and $5000: Why I feel like Superman

“Do something a person can’t do for themselves or something they don’t want to do and you will always have a job.”

I think my dad said this when I was about 11 years old or so.  It is one of the many things he said to me that has always stuck with me.

I had a lawn care business when I was younger and stronger.  That was clearly something anybody could do for themselves, so what I was doing was something my customers didn’t want to do.

Now I’m a realtor.  To some people, it can look like I am doing something anybody can do.  Sure, people do sell their own houses, buyers do buy without the assistance of a realtor.  The funny thing about it is that those people never really know how well they did…..what did they have to compare it to?  Often, a bad buying decision isn’t discovered until you go to sell.

That is where experience comes in.  I kind of feel like all my life has been preparing me to be a realtor.  I was into architecture as a kid, always drew floor plans, went to open houses and model homes as my hobby.  Took drafting and construction classes in high school and college, worked around building materials at Lowe’s, was an estimator for a construction company.  It’s all helped me to offer something beyond opening doors and filling in the blanks on a contract for my clients.

I recently had 2 experiences that I am pretty proud of:

  1.  I have a client who is building a new home.  We just did what is called a pre-drywall walk-thru.  The builder’s goal is to make sure they have the buyer sign off on where all the outlets and such go before the drywall gets hung.  My goal is to check out the house.  I like to just walk around and look, and look and look.  Besides a few little things, I noticed what looked like mold on the roof trusses.  I sold a newer house to some friends a few years ago.  The home inspector found mold on their trusses.  The trusses are delivered to the site in bundles and sit outside until the workers begin the roof.  If it is really wet, those trusses get mold growing on them and are installed before they dry out.  Ever since then, I am always looking at roof trusses when I have a client building a new house.  It was a real pain for the seller of the house my friends bought, and I don’t want my clients to go through that.  We got lucky this time.  The builder at first tried to say it was dirt, but then agreed to spray something on them that would kill any mold.  That’s a win for my client on several layers, the most important one is their health.  (By the way, the truss in the picture  is cracked, which is also being addressed!)img_1756
  2. One of the most common things I get asked from a seller is what needs done to get their house ready to list?  I had a client whose house had a 27 year old roof.  That is pretty old.  I rarely see a roof that old.  And it wasn’t really in that good of shape either.  He was ready to spend $5000 to replace it before we listed it.  I came out and looked at it.  I told him we should put the house on the market as it is.  If we get lucky, nobody will ask for it to be replaced.  There weren’t a lot of listings available at that time and buyer’s could not be that picky.   We got the home inspection repair list.  Nothing at all about the roof.

So, a little experience got one client a mold free house and saved $5000 for another.  It feels really good to be able to do for my clients what they can’t do for themselves….often simply because they don’t have the experience to know what to do.


The house that made me a better realtor

There is nothing wrong with this house that can’t be fixed.”

Being a young, inexperienced home buyer, these words were soothing to hear from the home inspector.

What I didn’t realize was that fixing everything would take all my time and all my money.

It was April 1st 2002.  Closing on April Fool’s Day should have been all the sign I needed.  I bought what was called a “Fixer Upper” back then.  Now we seem to have shortened it to just “Fixer.”  This was before HGTV, but I had the same aspirations as the home buyers always do at the beginning of the renovation shows.

My house had T-111 siding, which is like grooved plywood and lasts for about 30 years if maintained.  My house was 29 years old.  And it hadn’t been maintained.

It had the old crank out Pella replacement windows.  The kind that after about 20 years, you one day crank to open and the aluminum mechanism inside snaps.  That day had happened on all the windows long before I had ever seen the house.

The roof had two layers on it.  On a positive note, the HVAC was only 2 years old.

As if all this wasn’t enough, the house had a lot of settlement.  That is a nice way of saying STRUCTURAL ISSUES.  The seller gave me an $8k credit for putting piers under the foundation.  The structural engineer (A.K.A.-SALES PERSON) told me the house needed 20 of them.  They were $1k each.  I told him there was no way I could do that since I only had $8k to work with.  Suddenly, he decided that 8 piers would be just fine.

I got what I thought was a bargain. I paid $118,200 and other similar houses were going for $145-150k on the street.

The evening of April 1st, after moving in all day and getting the boy’s beds set up, I decided to take a shower.  As the steam from the shower filled the bathroom, the pea green tiles in the shower slowly started to fall off the wall.  Many had been glued on to what little drywall was left behind them.  It kind of looked like a pizza commercial where the cheese is stretching as somebody pulls out a slice.  The shower had some goofy accent tile that must have been trendy in 1973.  I keep the tile that is pictured below in my office.

Tanforan Tile

Then there was the time we had family over.  I slept on the couch in the basement.  I woke up, ready for my first cup of coffee.  I knew it wasn’t going to be a good day when I heard a splashing sound and my left foot felt wet.  Turns out the basement leaked too.  The seller said they had never had a water problem, although all the neighbors knew otherwise.

But I got a great deal, and there was nothing wrong with the house that couldn’t be fixed.

Oh yeah, now that I am a realtor, I realize that all the other bidders I was up against for this house were investors who were probably offering no more than $90k and wanting to flip it.

So, over the course of several years, I gutted all 3 bathrooms and remodeled them.  New roof.  Some new windows.  New siding. Added a fireplace. Completely gutted the basement since it was wet and moldy.  With some help from my dad and uncle, we turned 2 paneled rooms into one massive space with all new drywall, can lights, new electric and all new trim.

To solve the water issue, I had the leafguard gutters installed, the basement waterproofed with two sump pumps and brought in 3 dump trucks full of dirt and regraded the back and side yard.  Now the house next door gets water in their basement.  I didn’t feel too bad though.  If the builder had graded my yard properly, he would have been getting the water for 30 years.  It was his turn now.

I have always hated this house.  It is sort of funny that I still own it.  We moved out in 2007 and I’ve been renting it ever since.  Part of that is because houses were not selling back then.  Part of it is because after doing all this work to it, I wanted to be the one who benefited from it.

This house was sort of like real estate college for me.  I am a much better realtor having having had these heartbreaking, time consuming and costly experiences.  Having had a house that had just about every problem a house can have and fixing it all has benefited every client I have ever worked with.

And I will never recommend a home inspector who says “There isn’t anything wrong with this house that can’t be fixed.

Before and after (Circa 2008):


What makes a good location?

This week, I’ve been listening to several different buyers tell me what part of town they want to be in.  It has had me thinking about the whole “Location Location Location” thing.  I think most of the time, we as people like to reduce things down to a yes/no, for/against, good/bad scenario……Like this is a good location and this is a bad one.  I just don’t think it is that simple and here is why.

Just this week I’ve had two people tell me they really want to be in a location that many people avoid.  This is a high density area, so the buyers are looking for townhouses and condos.  See, the people that think this is an area to be avoided don’t want to be in that kind of density and are single family home types.  Both buyers mentioned that they had lived in that area before and liked how easy it was to get any where in town and that they enjoyed the 30+ acre park in the middle of the area.  When my wife and I were newlyweds, we lived in this area too…..we thought the same thing back then.

I guess my point in all this is that what makes a good location is really a subjective thing that varies greatly.  Age, income, property type, etc, all greatly have an impact on what makes a location appealing.  There is one common thing that all people tell me they want in a location:  Proximity to work, businesses they shop at, restaurants they eat at, and things like parks/sports/ or places they frequently go.  People with kids like to be in a good performing school district too.

Lexington is big enough to support all these different opinions about what makes a location good.  It is all in the eye of the buyer, and if enough of them think it is a good location, then it must be.