The Joy of Homebuilding

By Beacon Staff

Life hasn’t always been easy on Merry Elerick. Thanks to the joy of homebuilding, however, she and her family are happy and hopeful in a way they haven’t been in years.

That’s right – the joy of homebuilding. It’s a process often perceived as exhausting, stressful and expensive. The struggle to keep builders and subcontractors on schedule, to make endless finish choices, and to keep a lid on cost overruns can frazzle even the strongest nerves.

In Elerick’s case, however, homebuilding has been anything but a nightmare. In fact, it’s been a “dream.”

“I’ve been above and beyond happy,” says Elerick. “Rita and Merna (of Ron Terry Construction) have treated me like I’m the only person they’re building a house for right now.”

Elerick’s husband died in 2009, disrupting her life and those of her children, Emily and Adam (now 9 and 12). She decided to move from Southern California to the Flathead Valley, where the children could grow up in a healthy, wholesome, outdoor-oriented environment.

She initially struggled to get her life back on track, but by early this year things had stabilized enough that she could start planning for the future. She knew that renting was not a good long-term solution.

“I knew it was time for me to make another tough decision and stop renting,” says Elerick. “Rent isn’t securing my children’s future. To secure your position, you have to be investing.”

A self-described “minimalist,” Elerick did not want a huge home. Just something comfortable, affordable and close to schools. She’s financially conservative, so prior to beginning her house hunt, she updated her balance sheet, and researched her credit score and debt-to-income ratio.

“I would not waste any real estate agent’s time unless I knew my buying power,” says Elerick.

By the time she sat down with her banker, she simply handed him a folder with her financials. His reaction: Great — time to go house hunting.

After a few unsuccessful attempts to purchase property, Elerick hired Debbie Street of Aspen Realty as her buyer’s representative. She was delighted with Street’s work ethic and competence, and the fact that she found Elerick the perfect home.

“Merry was delightful to work with because she was very clear about what she wanted,” says Street. “She was looking for a place to raise her children while she leads a very busy life.

“Along with showing her the existing home inventory, I showed her new construction townhomes being completed by Ron Terry Construction. They produce a quality home, stand behind their products with a home warranty, and really listen to what my clients want and need.

“Now Merry can focus on leading her life without dealing with the fixing up and other problems older homes can have.”

According to Merna Terry, Elerick did exactly what anyone should do when starting the house-hunting process. She got her finances in order and talked to a lender to determine exactly how much she could spend – and was comfortable spending.

“A lot of times people come in and they didn’t even know they could buy a new home,” says Terry. “They don’t know how to get over the financing hurdles for a new home.”

Ron Terry Construction can finance the entire land/home package during construction through an arrangement with Glacier Bank. And like other Flathead Valley homebuilders, the company also works with other lenders to finance new homes.

Many clients are not aware they qualify for new home loans with little to no down payment through Veterans Administration or Rural Development loans. The Montana Board of Housing recently lowered mortgage interest rates to 2.75 percent — a rate unheard of even a few years ago.

Once a client has been pre-qualified for a loan, it’s important for them to consider what they are comfortable paying. Once that comfort level is established, the client can begin selecting a floorplan with finishes that meet that target price.

“I had a woman in here crying because she was so happy that she could buy a new home,” says Terry. “I think she thought it was out of range (but) her house payment was going to be $100 a month less than her rent.”

Many homebuilders provide predictable pricing by itemizing add-ons and upgrades. These items could include everything from underground sprinkler systems to garage-door keypads to upgraded kitchen faucets to extra insulation.

One strategy buyers can use to narrowing down the list of add-ons is to choose all the options they would hope for in their dream home. Items can then be eliminated until the target price is reached. By the time a builder breaks ground, the client should know exactly what they will get for their money.

If changes are made during construction, they are processed as change orders, signed off by the buyer and the builder and forwarded to the lender.

There are many high-quality homebuilders in the Flathead Valley, and that number is increasing. Ron Terry Construction recently decided to close down their homebuilding business in eastern Montana, as local demand has picked up significantly.

“I think we’re going to have more people coming back to our valley to live and work because housing is back on track,” says Terry. “I’m excited, especially that families are going to be able to be together again.”

David Stone is a realtor with West Venture Real Estate

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