Like most home builders in most markets, you might be wondering where the buyers are. Meet Joe and Kristin. Joe works for a firm that brokers large machines to various industries, and Kristin is an adolescent psychologist. Married a little over a year ago, they live in Central Florida. They're a well-to-do couple–young, educated, investment savvy. A little one–their first–is on the way, and housing crash or no housing crash, they're buying a new home.
In the current Orlando area home building climate, it may or may not be a bad time to buy new–but they're doing it nevertheless. They want a dream home to raise a family in ? now.
And they think Engle Homes is the builder who can make it happen.
Although this is their first go around on a new-home purchase, they're no strangers to homeownership. Collectively, they own three properties in the area: two townhomes that they rent out and an existing single-family home in Longwood, a suburb of Orlando. They've navigated the highs and lows of a home purchase before, but never a brand new one that started from a plot of land. What's more, they've never had to sell a home in what is arguably the worst housing recession Florida has since the Great Depression.
The Engle Homes team will continue to shepherd them through the buy-to-build process during this turbulent market; if they succeed will go far toward foretelling the company's future. With Engle's parent company TOUSA under extreme financial duress, the goal of a sale such as this is to both convert it and turn it into a referral or two, or three. Or else.
For other builders, this tale provides direct insight into the kind of buyers who are still out there trolling the market for homes. You'll hear their dreams, feel their excitement, know their frustrations, and empathize with their fears. When traffic is thin and contracts are harder to come by, feedback and insight are golden. The more ways in which buyers are impressed and delighted today, the more likely they are to make it to the closing table tomorrow, and the more buyers who will be at your door next week.
KRISTIN: We started looking for homes for fun. Our friends are buying a spec home from Engle at Eroll Estates, in Apopka, Fla. They invited us to look at their home site, and, while looking, we went into the sales office with them. They introduced us to a sales associate, Julie, who showed us the different model homes that Engle has to offer. We fell in love with the Mandalay model, which we have named the "Mac Daddy." Julie was very knowledgeable. At this point, we were not completely serious about buying or building. We had no idea which direction to take, [but] Julie put us on her mailing and e-mail list to keep us in the loop about promotions.
KRISTIN: We started working with a real estate agent, Sean, talking informally about what we could afford and what interested us. We wanted to spend below $500,000, but we weren't sure what area we wanted to live in. Our neighbors recently had a break-in; that gave us some additional motivation to move to a different neighborhood.
KRISTIN: We ended up looking in Rock Springs Ridge in Apopka. Joe often plays golf there, and a coworker lives in the development. We went to the Engle sales office and met with Maria. She showed us some models. We were looking for a lot on the golf course. We weren't pleased with any of the home sites that would fit the Mandalay. We also weren't pleased with her sales style; she was not very knowledgeable. But we did find one lot that was appealing. However, someone had a deposit on it. They ended up buying it, so we lost out.
We also started comparing the differences between building and buying pre-owned homes. We looked at a variety of different builders as well. We spent lots of weekends looking for homes. We quickly realized how picky we are.
We want something newer, built in the year 2000 at least. We seem to be attracted to the typical Florida split plan. We want over 2,800 square feet with at least four bedrooms, as Joe really wants an office. A golf course view and a pool are musts, and we are most attracted to stainless steel appliances and dark cabinets. The kitchen and pool areas are super important to us.
We ended up loving a spec house in Rock Springs Ridge. We put in a lowball offer; it was denied. We didn't put another offer in after that. Then, we started comparing the types of homes we liked in different areas with those in Apopka. We learned that the homes in Apopka were equivalent to other areas in size, but they were cheaper and had bigger lots.
KRISTIN: We needed to put our house on the market to be able to put offers in on other homes. The market is terrible right now, so it was a good idea to get the ball rolling. Our agent listed our existing home on March 21, 2007. The search continues ?
KRISTIN: My friend who moved to Eroll Estates told me that the sales associate Julie had moved to Rock Springs Ridge to sell homes. We were having little luck finding preexisting homes that we loved, so I gave Julie a call to inquire about future phases.
KRISTIN: Julie was great in providing information for us, and she went out of her way to find a lot that would match what we wanted. The future phases didn't have any lots on the golf course, but she thought of an existing site that might fit the Mandalay. We met with her to view the site. It was a corner lot on the golf course with a great view down the fairway. There was a small wooded area in the back. We liked the lot, so Julie ordered a survey to make sure the Mandalay would fit and that there was room for a pool, since we also had to plan for a retaining wall.
The survey came back about a week later; it was a good fit! Julie contacted the pool company and got all the information we needed about what size pool would fit and how big the retaining wall needed to be. Then, she put us in contact with the pool person directly.
Next, we went out to see Julie and discuss the home price. At the time, the builder offered $30,000 in free upgrades, 75 percent off the lot, and $10,000 toward closing costs if we used Preferred Home Mortgage, Engle's mortgage affiliate. We went through every possible upgrade that we would want, aiming high so that we wouldn't be too surprised when we went to the design center. When we went home, we again reviewed the upgrades and pricing.
JOE: We are getting ready to make them an offer. I am a little worried about the price because I hear that the market won't be turning around for as much as five years. I don't want to get into a house and have the value be less than what we paid for it.
However, I know that Engle just sold the same house that we want to build in this subdivision for over $600,000. We were at $570,000 at the time because they are giving us $30,000 in free options. That's like $172 per square foot. I just hope they negotiate more with us.
KRISTIN: We decided to put in an offer. Joe e-mailed Julie on a Sunday morning. We requested $85,000 in free upgrades on top of a sales price of $515,000. Later that day, we brought my mom and dad and Joe's dad and step-mom to see the lot. We snuck into a Mandalay model that was under construction. They all loved the home and the lot.
When we got home from showing our parents the area, we had an e-mail from Julie saying that we needed to bring in a deposit and sign the papers to make the official offer. She said that she would put in any offer we made. She said her bosses may laugh at it, but we would have to start somewhere. We didn't hear anything on Monday or Tuesday, so we started to think that it was a no-go. We checked the home e-mail account on Tuesday night, and the offer was accepted. YEAH! We are soooooo excited. We feel like we got a great deal on the house.
KRISTIN: We really like the community because it is big and seems like a great place to raise a family. It has about six phases in it, and there are three nine-hole golf courses and a clubhouse that hosts activities and dinners and also serves breakfast and lunch. It feels like a safe neighborhood, with lots of sidewalks. Kids are always out and about when we go visit. Apopka is currently not a very developed area, so there is little shopping, dining, and services. But we picked a neighborhood in an area like this because there are plans for it to grow in the future, increasing our investment potential.
The Mandalay model layout comes standard with a lot of details like tray ceilings and wall bump-outs. We love that it is all on one floor except the bonus room and full bathroom above the garage. I can envision having people over for dinner, and the kids will be off playing upstairs in the bonus room while the adults hang in the kitchen area. The kitchen is open to the family room, so we could cook and be around our guests while entertaining. There's a butler's pantry between the kitchen and formal living room. We plan to deck it out to accommodate our love for wine with a wine cellar and place to display wine glasses. It also has a standard-issue, huge covered patio. Overall, the house comes to almost 3,310 square feet.
We are for sure adding a pool and hot tub and extending the outside patio for sunning potential. We upgraded to brick pavers in the patio and pool area (the driveway comes standard with those) and are having it plumbed for a possible wet bar and outdoor kitchen area. Joe wants to install a TV outside in addition to pre-wiring for speakers. We upgraded the insulation to help keep it cool; the ceilings are 12 feet high, so we will need all the help we can get.
KRISTIN: Prior to our design center appointment, Joe did a lot of research. He negotiated prices and researched pool options. He wanted to know exactly how much we would be spending so that we would stay in our budget. We went to Sears to eliminate appliances from the budget as well. We picked all Kenmore Elite. It seemed that this product line was "middle of the road" with cost and shared the same features as, say, Kitchen Aid and Jenn Air appliances.
KRISTIN: On Saturday, we met with Pam at the design center. We actually got a lot done for the first visit. We made some good choices for granite countertops, carpet, tile, back splashes for the kitchen, floors, etc. Of course, we met our original budget very quickly. Pam was great. You could tell she'd been doing this for a long time. She kept us in the loop about overpriced upgrades; she was even honest about things such as deterring us from getting pavers by the pool, as they get so hot you have to wear shoes. That saved us about $8,000.
I have to be honest and say that it is very overwhelming to pick everything in a four-hour session. I think it's mind boggling and should be spread out because people are spending a lot of money and should have more time to think through their decisions. After three and a half hours, I asked if we could come back another day to finish.
I had a complete mental block with the cabinets. I stared at them for so long and still couldn't make a decision. We're going with cherry wood and have it narrowed down to two stains: Cappuccino and Bay. We still haven't made up our minds yet. We left a little overwhelmed and frustrated, yet happy with what we had originally chosen. I am glad that we called it quits and are going to have a fresh start next weekend.
JOE: In the meantime, I have been dealing with the finance guy. Everything is going well, although we had a hiccup in the beginning where I was having a hard time getting a hold of the guy. But since we had a talk about it, he is much better. At one point, he actually told me he couldn't work with me because I "went behind his back" and complained to our sales lady about not getting a call back from him. He told me that I would have to work with someone else. When I said put me through to them, he changed his pitch a little, and we decided to move forward.
We are using Engle's finance company because they will put $10,000 toward the closing costs. I had a good faith estimate from another bank, and the two were very similar. Engle's estimate was about one-eighth of a percent higher, but he said that is typical. We could use some of that $10,000 to buy the rate down, if we want, so I think it is still advantageous for us to use the builder's finance company.
KRISTIN: The house is supposed to be done in March some time (we think). They said two to three months for permitting and then six months to build.
KRISTIN: We went back to finish our design center selections. We are so excited and pleased with our decisions. Pam was great once again. She even had crackers, cheese, and pepper rings for us to munch on–important things to have when dealing with a pregnant lady for hours! We completed the interior and met with the electrician. It was easier for us this go around, because we had a week in between appointments to prepare. Pam sent us a sample tile and also gave us manufacturer information on some products, so we could look up options online ahead of time.
Joe also did a lot of research about cable/surround sound hookups so we knew, for the most part, what we were doing with electronics. The electrician was great and not pushy. He gave us different things to think about adding, but was also all about helping us do it for cheaper. Next we meet with the pool guy and then meet with our sales rep for exterior options.
JOE: We also drove out to the model home that afternoon to look at it again. Our new house is going to be awesome! I can't wait. Our biggest dilemma now is if we are going to be able to sell the house we live in now!
KRISTIN: We went to the American Pools showroom and met with Dave for final pool and deck choices. The showroom was amazing, and Dave stayed late to accommodate us. We ended up sticking with the acrylic pool deck instead of pavers. Although pavers look better, we heard that acrylic isn't as hot. And with Baby on the way, we couldn't have hot little feet!! The experience was great, and we are really satisfied with all our choices.
The only weird part was that the pool guy had our color book for the exterior of the house. It seemed kind of backwards, like we should have picked the exterior with Engle and then done the pool options. But it was no biggie, and we were thankful that our Engle salesperson gave the pool guy our options prior.
KRISTIN: We picked all other exterior options and did our final rewrite, reviewing all our original options and making some final changes. We just have to get a price check on blinds, figure out some pre-wire options for the alarm system, and make sure that the gas for the hot tub will be wired and ready to go at move in. Oh, and I can't forget the all-important ordering of the wine fridge. We need to buy one and give them measurements so they can build it into the butler's pantry–that is a nice feature that Engle allows people to do. Julie anticipates that the permits will be back at the end of this month or early next month.
We have a written timeline that outlines the next few months. Of course, no one is able to give an exact time of when the house will be done, as anything can happen, not to mention that we are going to be in the middle of hurricane season. Julie mentioned possibly February or March-ish.
Our current house in Longwood is off the market. Joe and the real estate agent decided to wait until we get closer to the new house closing. A house has a better chance of selling and getting more traffic if it is newly released to the market, so we want to have a chance to reintroduce it when we are ready to sell. Even if we did sell now, we wouldn't be able to leave. With a newborn on the way and lots of furniture, there is no way for us to leave this house prior to moving into the new one.
We are banking on the sale of this house to help with the down payment. However, we are realistic in knowing that the market is terrible right now as well. Nothing to do but wait and see what happens.
KRISTIN: The builder got the permit, and we had the preconstruction orientation with the builder and our sales rep. It went great. We reviewed the final plans and upgrades, and then we walked the property to make sure it would fit the house and that there were no problems.
We are really impressed with the builder, Jason. He appeared to really know his stuff. He was professional, and you could tell that he works well with people. If he didn't know an answer to a question, he was willing to find out and is even going so far as to be creative in finding ways to route electrical options so we can hang our TV on the wall. He said the property will be staked by today, and then posts, leveling, and foundation are next. He said that the next official meeting will be in two to three months, which is pre-drywall to review everything again. Then he expects another two to three months for completion. Of course, the disclaimer was thrown in that it depends on weather and supplies. But a good rule of thumb he goes by is about seven weeks after cabinets go in.
KRISTIN: They started clearing the land for the house. ... We have been snooping around by ourselves. They gave us a bunch of info regarding the building process as well as a couple of binders. It has been very helpful! Another nice thing is that the house next to ours is also being built right now and seems to be a week ahead of us. Whenever we go look at the site, we get a preview of what will be happening the next week to our place. We feel that we have been prepared well for what is to come. Now let's just hope the weather cooperates and things stay on track!! I think the next step for the house is some plumbing, and then they will pour the concrete slab. Forgive me, I am not familiar with all the builder terms.
KRISTIN: Our sales rep sent us a picture of the house today to show us the progress. We were impressed that she went out of her way to keep us in the loop!! She is really a great sales rep!
Engle has been asking us about our existing house. We are planning to put it back on the market sometime in November-ish. I guess Engle has been burned by people building and then backing out last minute because they haven't sold their existing homes. We have no agreements with Engle regarding the sale of our home. Joe has come up with a few different options if we are not able to sell our home prior to closing.
JOE: I've been in touch with the lender and have been pre-approved for a couple of scenarios. If we can sell the house for close to what I want, that's great. But if we get low offers or no offers, then we will have to rent it out. In that case, I could take out a 75/10 loan on the new house and pay off the 10 percent second mortgage once we sell our current home; there is no extra cost or penalty to pay that off early. And if we keep the house we are in now for another one to two years, I guarantee it will bring us a much better return. I would hate to leave a bunch of money on the table ...
KRISTIN: We got an e-mail from our sales rep. We got our slab this morning.
KRISTIN: We have walls! The house is really moving along nicely.
We are so excited!! :)
We are now in the middle of working out pricing regarding our retaining wall. The pool company called Joe and informed him that the retaining wall will need to be bigger, which equals more money. Our sales rep is in the process of getting quotes from an engineer and then we will work with Engle on pricing.
Joe has informed them that we will not be paying for the price increase. We will see how it all turns out ?
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Orlando, FL.