Ode on a Classic Home


I may or may not have had a slight tantrum about receiving an unexpected invoice from my builder in late July.  I may have blamed them entirely.  It’s hard to say–since I don’t want to say.  Okay, fine!

I was wrong.

I was wrong because Kent didn’t pay an invoice in February which threw my math off and made me think I had more money for things than I did.  It was our fault.  We didn’t pay an invoice.  And that also means I went over my budget.  I know most home builders go over their budget by about 10%, sometimes much more, but I don’t have that luxury at our new income level.  I went over by almost exactly half of one percent.  Oops.

Anyway, Classic handled it really well and even went out of their way to figure out how they could have handled it better.  You get that a lot from them that they are really invested in continually improving their homes and the building experience for their customers, and not in that annoying “Will you take a survey at the end of this transaction” way.

I’ve said a fair number of glowing things about my builder, and the most common response is, “Just wait till the honeymoon is over.  I loved my builder, too, until [they wouldn’t fix the leaky roof/they walked off the job because we disagreed about an invoice/it turned out that they weren’t a builder at all and this was the first house they had built and they had no idea what they were doing].”  All of those are real stories, by the way.  So maybe I’m naive that I still think we made a great choice.  Maybe the other shoe is about to drop straight down from the sky and brain me, but honestly, we’ve had a terrific experience.

Why did you choose your builder?

People ask me that all the time.  Yes, I had a visceral reaction to the first model I toured, but I’m one for making evidence-based decisions when they matter this much.  I had specific reasons for choosing Classic Homes.  Here are some of them.

1.  The Right Amount of Customization

One of the main reasons I chose Classic Homes is that they offered the right amount of flexibility and customization. If you go fully custom, it’s crazy money because the builder doesn’t have nearly as much control of his expenses and has to cover his exposure with your cash.  If you go the other extreme, not only do you have fewer choices for finishes, but usually you have less control over where the money is spent.  For example, you might have to pay for the “included” coffered ceiling even though you would rather have that money for better floors, or you can’t get 10 ft ceilings on the first floor because you’re in the minority of the market that wants them.  Classic let me put the money where I wanted it for the most part, and I think I put it where it had the most impact, like my beloved countertops.  I had a very specific kind of countertop in mind, and they worked with me to make sure I got what I wanted.


 2.  Transparency

I appreciated that Classic lets you go through their design center and price the home before signing the initial contract instead of letting you guess how much your upgrades are going to cost for everything.  The final sticker on the home we built was 48% over the base price.  I don’t know whether that’s average or what, but like I said, I wasn’t off my budget by much because I had an opportunity to really do the math beforehand.

There were many, many, many bad surprises of how much this house build was going to cost, but the majority of them were not from Classic.  I might have liked to have seen an exhaustive list of options which would have better clued me in to what comes standard from the beginning (Oh, it’s extra for 9ft ceilings on the second level?  Oh, you can only choose from 3 stones or the countertops you used in the master or kitchen for all the other baths in the house?).  But I’m already talking about total, crystalline transparency.  Classic’s pricing is already incontrovertibly far more transparent than the average builder’s.

The other thing I really liked is that even Classic’s standard options are generally not some horrible crap which no sane person would use in a home.  When a builder gives you a sticker price based on their bottom of the barrel options and says, “Hey!  We can build you a house for $2.46 a square foot!” without telling you it will be entirely composed of linoleum and toothpicks, it’s just very car salesman-y and feels dishonest.  I used many of Classic’s base level finishes in my house where I could get away with it, and it’s still a nice house.

3.  Floorplans and Structural Options

When I was endlessly reviewing floorplans in the builder search, I was surprised at how some builders said, “Buy any lot and we’ll make the house fit.”  Um.  Not possible if you’ve prioritized a particular floorplan.  I knew I wanted a home with a formal front of house and a family back of house.  Maybe it’s the performer in me, but I like that onstage/backstage division.  I don’t want everyone walking in the front door to see my kitchen and my TV.  But I still want an open floor plan!  Just open in the front and open in the back and not really open to each other.  Too much to ask?  Not if you buy the right lot.

Classic was also good about not charging exorbitant architect’s fees for changes to the floorplan.  In some smaller outfits without an in-house architect or with builders who really want to crush the soul out of your unique vision or persuade you to theirs, the steep architect’s fees for changes steer you to a cookie cutter floorplan.  Classic was not only good about listening to what I wanted (big Princess Suite, 2nd level laundry, mudroom), but their actual drawings improved upon my suggestions.

It is clear Classic is also improving their floorplans and options with changes in taste and trend.  They’re not building the exact same house from the 1990’s like a certain mega-builder I could name.  And some of their ideas are really innovative like using the space above the kitchen cabinets for transom windows.  That’s genius.  The only irritating thing about their dedication to innovation is that my house is already built, and I’m going to miss the next cool idea.


4.  Responsiveness

One of the first questions I asked my construction Supernintendo was “How many houses are you working on right now?”  Which is really, “How many other people do I have to compete with for your attention,” and “How many homeowners’ cabinetry issues do you have to keep straight in your head when talking to me?”  It’s a simple fact that the more overloaded your superintendent is, the less time and energy he will have both to optimize your scheduling and to respond to your concerns.  I asked at various times, and it seemed to fluctuate between 5 and 8.  Though I think there was little crossover before going down to 7.

Regardless, I felt like I almost always got quick and thorough responses, and more importantly action on things I brought up.  I could mention one or two things that bugged me (not having the water turned on for the installation of sod despite giving them a heads up two weeks out, 1 week out, 2 days out and the day before), but I could also tick off a long and substantive list of times Classic flew in fast and fixed/changed things I noticed (open rail to dining room, correcting tile listello, correcting faucets, putting up keystones, honestly, I could go on and on).  I was very pleasantly surprised that I never felt like this builder was trying to get me to sign, bleed me dry, then push me out the door.  I have friends who did have that experience.  Classic, however, clearly takes pride in what they build.  Their own internal quality control picked up five times as many things as I did.


5.  Price

That’s what it all comes down to, right?  A bargain is only a bargain if you get something worth more than what you paid for it.  My house was not remotely cheap, but the product I got was worth more than what I paid.  The per square foot price of this house at this level of finishes is very good.  I could have built a cheaper house, but I researched many builders, and I don’t think I could have gotten a better bargain.

There are a lot of excellent builders in Northern Virginia, and I love to go tour their homes, but Classic was the right fit for us.  And this house is the house that I wanted.

If anybody wants to ask specific questions about our experience, send me an email, and I will be happy to respond.


Note:  Classic did not ask me to write this review nor compensate me for it.

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3 thoughts on “Ode on a Classic Home

  1. Would you recommend starting a popular blog and letting your builders know early on that any unhappiness they cause you will be noted on said blog?

    • Haha!! Yes. Everyone should blog for a few years before building a house.

      Honestly, after hearing so many horror stories, I fully expected the house building process to be somewhere on the scale between mildly adversarial and all out hostile like my friend Nancy’s experience.

      To be fair, classic treated us so well in the beginning that I assumed they must have known about my blog even though they didn’t at the time.

      If I had to pay this much and spend energy actively despising those who did the work, I would be a lot less happy about it.

      Kent says he never expected hostility, but expected it to be more adversarial.

      I like nice people who let me be Nice Heather. I’m not saying if you get a crappy version of me, it’s your own darn fault, except I’m totally saying that.

  2. And also, I’m really glad that you found a builder that treated you well. I think we would use more services/outsource more things/fix up our house more if we were more confident that we could find service providers and contractors that would do good work and treat us fairly.

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