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Modern Techniques Speed Custom-Home Construction

Special to The Star-Ledger By Robert Wahlers

A select group of New Jersey developers have crafted a modern-day niche in the art of building a custom home.

In the past, the process of building a custom home meant finding a parcel of land and then hiring an architect to do the design. By the time the home was constructed, this involved process may have taken a coupe of years. Today, builders say people with busy lives don’t want to invest that much time building a home from scratch.

To save time and expense, most homes are built based on a set of design standards that have proven to be functional and popular. Most builders then will work from this template and incorporate customization requests from the buyer. The actual construction of a large estate home typically takes about six months, but the time spent on the planning stage varies widely, because this part of the process is client-driven. One buyer may decide all of the design nuances in just one weekend, while more meticulous clients may need six to eight months to complete making all of their decisions.

Mary Boorman, senior vice-president for Pinnacle Ltd., said her company is building several high-end, customized estate-home communities through its Custom Home Division.

“We just completed a 17,000-square-foot home, which we built on spec in Saddle River,” Boorman said. “We’re doing a similar home in Alpine, and we also have homesites available at Hop Brook Estates in Holmdel. We’ve also been building luxury estate homes at The Gables at Warren in Somerset County, where there is still one lot left.”

Amenities found in a Pinnacle Custom home can range from 9-foot ceilings on the first floor, a minimum of three-and-one-half bathrooms, a master bedroom suite with sitting areas, a library, a media room, a two-story foyer, a great room with fireplace, and a gourmet kitchen. Exterior amenities can include brick or stucco front facades, a three-car side-entry garage, a paved asphalt driveway, and concrete walkways.

“On the whole, we build in a style that would be considered traditional, but one that’s heavily detailed,” Boorman said. “This is what the majority of people want, and this can include elaborate foyers, ornate trim, roof turrets, natural stone, and exotic hardwoods.”

Other features can include home theaters, accent lighting to complement decorative mouldings, and multiple fireplaces.

Boorman said many of the homeowners Pinnacle works with have been enchanted by design techniques they have seen during their world travels.

“As a result, these people want to introduce these designs, as well as unusual materials, into their own homes. They come to us to bring it all together,” Boorman says. “All builders don’t have this capability.”

Boorman said every custom home Pinnacle builds has its own project director, who oversees the process from beginning to end. The project director guides Pinnacle customers through the design and construction of their homes, coordinating architectural and construction meetings, researching and locating special finishing materials, and ensuring customers’ visions for their finished homes become reality.

“There’s a lot of communication between builder, architect, homeowner, interior designer, landscaper, and others,” Boorman said. “It takes a lot of effort, teamwork, and effective communication to bring that all home.”

To achieve this goal, Pinnacle Custom creates a private website for each customer. This type of communication system serves as an open forum between homebuyer, builder, interior designer, architect, and other key people involved in the process.

“This gives homebuyers access to all documents, photos, blueprints, and contracts,” she said. “They also can read construction progress reports on a weekly basis. This is ideal, because most of our customers are very busy running business and industries. It’s especially convenient for people who currently live out-of-state.”

Also catering to ultra-luxury homebuyers is K. Hovnanian Homes, which introduced its Classics by K. Hovnanian division about a year ago. John Barba, an area vice-president with K. Hovnanian Homes, said the division builds and sells luxury single-family homes on individual homesites in northern New Jersey communities. The builder provides new homes with the latest styles, technological advantages, and every efficiency in areas where new construction is difficult to find.

With its successful entry into the marketplace, Classics has expanded its focus to include building its homes on customers’ lots, Barba said.

“We’re replacing older, obsolete homes with new, energy-efficient modern homes that still reflect the character of the neighborhood,” he said. “Within this first year, we already have sold six homes and closed on three. Now, we’re talking to potential clients who already have land and want us to build a new home for them.”

Barba said that the company does this type of “on-your-lot” building in other parts of the country as well. K. Hovnanian has taken the successful, efficient techniques used elsewhere and applied them to New Jersey homes.

Barba said there are many advantages to working with K. Hovnanian, including its reputation as one of the nation’s leading builders and its ability to ensure value and a simple process for its customers.

“Most people today don’t have the time to build a completely custom home, especially since they can now get the features they want without going through that long and tedious process,” he said. “They would much prefer to leave most of the design, specifications, and selections process to professionals, providing they can add their own personal touches. Although we’re not a custom builder, our experiences have allowed us to anticipate most of the wishes of our homeowners.”

Barba said the K. Hovnanian Classics team continues to build homes for sale, as well as homes for those homebuyers who already own the land. The division has focused its efforts in Essex, Morris, Somerset, and Union counties.

“There is tremendous demand for housing in New Jersey,” Barba said. “Nowhere is that demand more intense than in the region where Classics has been focusing its efforts. The only way to meet the demand is to replace older homes while being sensitive to the fabric of the neighborhood. We’re doing that while applying the same systems and expertise that we use in our planned communities.”