Built to suit

By Gary Wickert


From first-time home buyers to relocating buyers to empty-nesters building the house of their dreams, the concerns, wants, demands and expectations of a home buyer vary greatly depending on what sort of home buyer they are. Nobody knows these differences more acutely than the architects and builders who deal with a broad spectrum of buyers on a regular basis.
Amos and Anne Selzer have built their dream home in Mequon.

Bruce Jackson is a registered architect with over 40 years in the business, and together with his two sons works for Bruce Jackson Architects, Inc. in Shorewood. Jackson has had extensive experience designing homes for the proverbial “empty-nester” buyer, one whose children have grown and moved out of the house.

Jackson recently designed Amos and Ann Selzer’s dreamhouse in Mequon overlooking Lake Michigan. Recently retired, Amos is in his ’60s and Ann in her ’50s. Sized at around 4,000 square feet, the Selzer’s home boasts four bedrooms, plus a sitting room, library and computer room. “They drove me around Mequon and showed me some of the homes in order to get design ideas,” says Jackson. “But I didn’t like anything they showed me. I wanted to design their home to take advantage of the lake view and wanted to design it around a great room and open concept.” Jackson did just that, adding a dormer and observation room, and a guest bedroom with separate access through the back hall and mudroom. “I led them into a lot of these ideas. Eighty percent of the features they ended up with I had to talk them into,” Jackson says. “Lots of wardrobe space and a large master bathroom, together with bedrooms which they don’t immediately need, assure the resale value of the home should they decide to sell at a later date.”

Amos Selzer agrees that Jackson was very creative. “I gave Bruce five pages, single-spaced, full of detailed specs for each room. I detailed everything we wanted and looked to him to come up with the floor plan. But Bruce was convinced he was going to do something different, and I’m glad he did.” Although Selzer is a retired engineer and computer manager, Jackson influenced him greatly on many of the details of the house. “The first floor was designed for my wife and I,” says Selzer. “The second floor is for the children when they come to visit. We have the main master bedroom on the first floor, but there is an additional master bedroom on the second floor, complete with a balcony overlooking Lake Michigan. The children compete now to see who can get home first so they can stay in that room,” Selzer adds with a chuckle.

Leo and Chris Tiahnybik, at left, discuss their home building progress with Jane Wolf, right, of Hoffman Builders.

“We mostly eat in,” Selzer continues, “and Ann does most of the cooking.” There is also a sit down bar area facing into the kitchen, a popular item among empty nesters and buyers stepping up in size and price. “We do a lot of entertaining,” Selzer says.

“The kitchen is quite elaborate and spacious,” says Jackson. “But you’d be amazed at how many elaborate kitchens never get used. One client with such a kitchen invited me over for dinner and then ordered a pizza,” he laughs. But Amos and Ann do use their kitchen.

Their home also boasts granite counter-tops, a home office, and many of the newest home amenities.

Jane Wolf is director of sales and marketing for James H. Hoffman Builders, Inc. in Mequon. The company focuses on higher-end homes that appeal to upwardly mobile professionals relocating from one state to another.

“Relocating buyers have a much clearer idea of what they want in a new home,” says Jane. “They come to us with a well-defined ‘wish list’ and are generally more concerned with good school systems, a sense of community and neighborhood, and are aware of the costs associated with building a home.” The company is currently building a new home for Leo and Chris Tiahnybik, who recently relocated to Milwaukee from Chicago. He is an airline pilot for United Airlines and she is a homemaker. They moved to Wisconsin with their four children, ranging in ages from 41/2 months to six years, in order to find a quieter life, a sense of smaller-town values, and to escape the hectic life of Chicago. But the pressures of big-city life were nothing compared to the pressures and experiences they had in relocating.

“The first builder they selected went into bankruptcy and they lost their deposit,” recalls Wolf. “As a result, we had to work hard to earn their trust and confidence. There are different pressures and concerns experienced by relocating buyers, as opposed to first-time home buyers. They are making a cross-country move, leaving friends and sometimes family and basically starting over. You have to be sensitive to these things. I asked the wife of one relocating couple whether she had any friends she could lean on, and she replied “No, would you be my friend?’” Relocating buyers generally have less of a support network to rely on in dealing with the stresses of a big move.

On one occasion, Chris Tiahnybik recounts that she was nine months pregnant and was driving from Chicago to Milwaukee to check on the basement being dug. She feared that they had dug the hole too far back from the property line, virtually eliminating the back yard for the children. “I called Jane in tears,” Tiahnybik recalls, “and she calmed me down and patiently explained the setback requirements and such, and when I got there I realized that there still was plenty of back yard.” According to Tiahnybik, she and Leo called numerous references to check on Hoffman Builders before selecting them. “We called people they didn’t even know about,” she says. “We wanted to be sure we got a reputable and dependable builder.”

Jane and Randy Ladwig of Grafton, at left, are pleased with the “affordable quality” provided by their builder Bradley Kimmel, right.

The Tiahnybik home is approximately 3,500 square feet and features five bedrooms, something they considered a necessity with four children and the anticipated visits from relatives from out of town. “We utilized every inch of space in the house,” Chris Tiahnybik says. “We also located ourselves near to two major highways so that Leo could commute back and forth to O’Hare Airport in Chicago more easily. We lived for one year in a two bedroom apartment in Chicago, because our house sold within a week of being on the market. Then we struggled to find a rent house while our house here was being completed. Jane worked well with us considering these additional stresses, and she was very understanding.”

According to Wolf, being a woman is an asset when dealing with buyers who are relocating from out of state. She takes the time to talk and listen to her buyers about many problems that may not even be related to the home she is building. “I just think women are better at that than men are,” she adds with a laugh. Chris Tiahnybik agrees.

First-time new home buyers bring a whole new set of concerns and priorities into the home-building picture. Bradley Kimmel with Bradley Kimmel Properties, Inc. out of Mequon has been building homes for first-time buyers for 15 years. “Years ago first-time new home buyers were concerned with basic house structure: furnace specs, window quality and insulation, etc.,” says Bradley. “Today, they are more into the bells and whistles. They want cathedral ceilings, whirlpool hot tubs, upgraded plumbing, Pella windows, and all the niceties...until they see the bottom line. Then they get sticker shock.” Suddenly, according to Kimmel, amenities are sacrificed one by one, until the home returns to their price range. “It’s like walking into the car dealership with a Ford Excursion in mind, and coming out with an Explorer.” Bradley Kimmel Properties recently built a new home for first-time buyers Randy and Jane Ladwig in Grafton.

“Our main concern was ‘affordable quality,’” says Jane Ladwig. “We could have gotten a slightly cheaper home with another builder, but Kimmel gave us affordable quality.”

First-time buyers also have different stress points to be dealt with. “We didn’t expect or anticipate weather delays,” says Jane Ladwig. “At one point last winter it snowed before we got our roof on, and we were shoveling snow out of our house. The neighbors were laughing.”