Our Experience With Designer Builders
It’s hard to sum up our experience with Todd Gaul and Designer Builders, much less our somewhat unusual post-build adventures, in a just a few paragraphs, but knowing that the choice of a builder can be a complex decision we wanted to share our experience with others who may be at the beginning of that process.
For starters, we knew that our new retirement home at Woodside Plantation in Aiken would have to be built while we were still living and working in New Jersey. Having lived in the same house there for 38 years, the prospect of doing new construction for the very first time from 800 miles away was fairly daunting. After interviewing multiple builders, we were impressed with the responsiveness and imagination of Todd and his architectural team (both long distance and in person). They showed us several interesting plans based on our wish list, and would revise them quickly when we’d request a different scenario.
When we finally sat down with Todd to talk in detail, prior to making our final decision, he was a great listener - patiently working through multiple tweaks with us, and giving us the benefit of his extensive experience in shaping a final home design that we really became excited about. Meanwhile, we’d had a chance to speak to many of our future neighbors during our early visits, and those that had built with Designer Builders were uniformly enthusiastic about the experience. Not a discouraging word was heard. They praised the commitment to quality, reinforced by a great team of on-staff specialists and top subcontractors who delivered what Todd promised. Long story short, we can now add our endorsement to theirs, and are pleased to say that our relationship and the final product definitely exceeded our expectations. To share our experience in more detail, please read on.
As we got further into the process we would come to understand the benefits of DB’s well integrated “full service” support that previous clients had described to us. Before we actually broke ground, it was time to start making decisions on a mind-boggling array of interior and exterior details. We were introduced to Genevieve Balogh, DB’s design consultant, who proved to be an incredibly enthusiastic, talented and fun advisor as we tackled selecting everything from exterior and interior color schemes to tile, stone surfaces, bath fixtures, lighting, kitchen design, custom cabinets, closet configuration, flooring, decking and more. Needless to say, all these decisions in a short period of time can be challenging for a remote buyer who can only visit Aiken every couple of months during the building process. Not to worry - Genevieve beautifully orchestrated meetings with DB’s high quality local vendors, taking us through their showrooms, quickly understanding our tastes and consulting with us as we made every choice. It helped that she is not only an interior designer with great (and flexible) taste, but also has an excellent understanding of the functional aspects of home construction and design. She was terrific at showing us both the beautiful and the practical. We could not have put together the home that we love today without her.
We were also assigned a Project Manager - Robert Girardeau – who would oversee the entire job. Robert has extensive experience as a builder and effectively coordinated all aspects of the construction, staying in close touch with Todd, who frequently inspected the site himself assuring that everything was up to Designer Builder’s standards. Robert would walk us through the home every time we visited, updating us and asking for our input whenever options presented themselves. We should also mention the helpful guidance that Diane Darr, DB’s Financial Manager, provided at the start to help guide us through the financing and insurance aspects of new construction.
Our primary “liaison” coordinating overall communication and scheduling between the DB team and ourselves was Office Manager Melody Binion. She was great to work with, and before we broke ground introduced us to our dedicated online web page that would allow us to follow every phase of the job from home, including specs, our product selections, weekly and monthly construction calendar, progress photos, change order requests, running budget details and the ability to email any and all members of the team with questions at any time. That system and Melody’s oversight greatly facilitated communication throughout the project, which we felt was key. Speaking of budgets, DB did a good job of providing realistic initial cost estimates and letting us know whenever our change requests affected the numbers. There was no “low-balling”, which we appreciated. We also noted that the build site was always maintained very well, which our neighbors appreciated and said so. Detailed pictures were provided from Robert at every stage of construction via the website.
Closing went very smoothly. Robert conducted a thorough walk-through, explaining sytems, warranties and the “punch list” process for correcting anything that needed attention. Our punch list was short. Melody was marvelous at scheduling any fixes needed. It was really during the move-in phase that Designer Builder’s commitment to customer satisfaction was most evident. No detail was too small when it came to making us happy with the final product. An impressive part of that “make it perfect” effort was the tireless work put in by Shawn Bowden, DB’s dedicated “service technician” and jack-of-all-trades par excellence. If it needed fixing – he fixed it, professionally and with a smile. And he didn’t disappear after our preliminary list was done. Shawn is a resource we are very happy to have available to us going forward. He exemplifies DB’s customer service philosophy.
We wish we could end there, but the story had an unexpected chapter. Two weeks after we happily settled in, Aiken was visited by a very rare wind storm one Sunday evening. It was highly localized, but we found ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. When the wind and rain subsided we were left with several shattered windows, some tall pines on (and through) the roof, others covering the yard and a badly damaged chimney. Rapid mood swing! Not knowing what to do next, we called our builder. Todd was out of town for the weekend, but picked up his cell. He had heard about the storm and shared our disbelief that it had hit our neighborhood. Within 30 minutes he called back as darkness fell to assure us that his roofer would be there that night to button up the leaks. Working under lights, they had us water-tight by 9 pm. At 8 am the next morning, as we contemplated a massive clean-up effort, we were elated to see DB’s landscaper arrive in force. By mid afternoon Rankin Jolly’s crew had the trees off the roof, uprooted plants replanted and the lot totally cleaned up. We began to see the light at the end of the tunnel! Todd then gave Melody the go-ahead to schedule their subs to repair the roof, soffits, gutters, stucco, windows, and a variety of other bruises, and in a couple of weeks we were just about back to normal. This was all long after we had made the final payment. We can’t think of a better “outside the box” example of Designer Builder’s commitment to go the extra mile for their clients than that one. We will never forget it. And now life in Aiken is good once again.
Carolyn and Dave Wilson