Our experience with Custom Dreams and Mark Blackman exceeded our expectations in every way. It truly felt like a team effort to construct the house we wanted. We are thrilled with the result and we continue to receive great “after-move-in” support a year after completion. We regularly recommend Custom Dreams to other people interested in building a home or undergoing a major remodel.
We had previously built a house in the Sierras, which we love, but which took three years to complete and ran 100% over budget. Working with Custom Dreams, we moved in 10 months after obtaining approval to start construction, and achieved a result very close to our original budget.
Building a house has several phases, and Custom Dreams’ role was different in each phase.ï¿½ Hereï¿½s a summary of our experience during each phase:
Mark helped us scope an appropriately-sized house for our lot’s location, size and neighboring homes. His tools for the financial aspect of building enabled us to avoid going down a path where we would end up with a house that cost far more to build than the market would bear if we wanted/needed to resell.
Custom Dreams and Scott Stotler, the designer of our home, gave us realistic time lines for obtaining approvals and construction, which are important if you’ve got to commit to a lease on another house while building your own.
Mark and Scott provided very clear guidance on how to comply with Los Altos planning department guidelines, and how to shorten city review schedules.
We enjoyed having Custom Dreams as an active participant in the creative process by which we developed, modified, discarded and revived design ideas. We consistently received helpful input from Mark and Carla as to whether what we envisioned could be built on time and on budget. Mark also contributed interesting design concepts based on other homes he had built.
We had the opportunity to walk around or through Custom Dreamsï¿½ projects either completed or in-process, and learned a lot from Custom Dreams’ other clients.
After we had achieved a house design we liked, Mark, Scott and our interior designer, Maureen Degnon, created a rough outline of what the inside would look like – and then, before we started down the approvals path, Mark used his sophisticated financial tools and his experience to give us a realistic budget for that house.
Custom Dreams provided invaluable guidance in getting through the Los Altos approval process. We received both insights as to what was important to Architectural Review and city staff, and also how to work with our neighbors to avoid a contentious and extended review. We had to make only one material change in response to comments, but we also maintained precious rear yard space through methodical planning and negotiating with the City.
Mark found subcontractors and service providers who could appraise and deconstruct the house which we were removing. We not only recycled almost every element of the old structure, but also made a big contribution indirectly to Habitat for Humanity, and received a significant tax benefit as a result.
Custom Dreams did a great job of managing the subcontractor bidding process, so we had confidence that we were receiving good value from each sub who helped build the house. While Custom Dreams does have a bias towards subs with which it has had good experiences in delivering quality on time, we didn’t feel that we were being pushed towards someone’s favorite independent of cost, as Mark and Dave brought other qualified bidders into the process. We had input into whether we wanted a known and reliable provider, sometimes for slightly more than the lowest bid, or whether price was our key consideration for that aspect of construction.
In several instances involving complex systems (HVAC, radiant heating, and solar systems for example) Custom Dreams was able to get the subcontractor to complete significant planning efforts, without charge to us or commitment by us.
Many builders will coordinate their subcontractors. We believe Custom Dreams adds unique value through their ability to coordinate not only the people building the house, but also the architect, interior designer, landscape designer and landscape contractor.
We consistently had clear input on what was being done and what was to be done next. That turned out to be critical to keeping the project on schedule; Mark would give us very specific dates by which decisions (for example, windows, HVAC or electrical plans, flooring, plumbing fixtures) had to be made, incorporating delivery schedules and subcontractor availability.
Dave and Mark were on-site every day and constantly monitoring subcontractors. When we had questions or wanted to make changes, we promptly received answers that we could understand – and often suggestions for other solutions we hadn’t considered.
We were amazed that every time a city inspection occurred, our project passed without a single comment or demanded change.
Our dead-end street is very narrow and had another home under construction across the street at the same time. Custom Dreams managed the noise, dirt and traffic of our project so our neighbors are still our friends.
Every month we received a comprehensible summary of costs incurred, with full backup. We audited every billing, and received satisfactory explanations to every question. Before we started each next big phase of construction (for example, moving from framing to interior work), Mark updated our expenditures relative to budget and gave us a new forecast. That allowed us to modulate subsequent decisions so we intentionally ran over our budget in selected areas, knowing that we had “savings” to use in other cost categories.
We have high standards for everything in our lives, but Custom Dreams has remarkably higher standards for finish detail. Without being asked by us, Custom Dreams would test every aspect of the finishes and demand work be redone by the subcontractor if it didn’t meet the Custom Dreams standard. Anything we flagged was remedied promptly.
After move-in support
Custom Dreams said many times during construction “don’t worry about that, it’s a standard thing that requires tweaking after completion, we’ll take care of it after you move in” and they fulfilled each of those promises. Each time we called with a question or a problem, we received prompt and helpful attention. It’s been almost exactly a year since we moved in, and even though all the bills have long since been paid, we still receive the same support from Custom Dreams as we did during the week before the house was ready.
Ann and Neil Wolff