A Born Builder: Alex Carroll of
Designer's Choice Custom Homes
By David Carl
Many only dream of what they would like to do in life while others simply don't have a clue. There are a fortunate few, however, who reach out, even from an early age to see those dreams become a living and beautiful reality. For Alex Carroll of Designer's Choice Custom Homes, Inc., that dream entered his heart at a young age and for him it was clear-he wanted to be a builder.
In the foothills of the very picturesque Estrella Mountains, with the beautiful Gila River flowing by, is where Alex's dream has taken root and flourished. Alex has been building homes in the Grandview Ranches II development for the past two years and is now looking for ward to the second phase of that project.
Alex is now in the first phase of their subdivision at Grandview Ranches II building on lots from three quarters of an acre to full one-acre lots. The homes, which have a gorgeous view of the Estrella Mountains, located in the West Valley south of I-10, range from $180,000 to $400,000. They started the project just two years ago with 38 lots in this first phase and should be sold out by April. In the next phase they will have 78 lots in which to build on and they too will be up to one-acre lots.
"We have a need for nice homes here on the west side," Alex pointed out. "When we came to Grandview Ranches, I told people that but they said you shouldn't build homes for more than $120,000 to $130,000. We started building homes for around $210,000 and now we average $240,000."
Alex is building between 14 and 16 homes each year and certainly if they were built in the Scottsdale area, they would cost considerably more. The obvious thing is you get "more bang for the buck," in the West Valley.
One of the reasons Alex is building in the West Valley instead of areas more known for their upscale architecture is the distance and also to closely watch over the home to ensure that it is getting built the way the client wants it.
"Scottsdale is so far away and I simply can't keep the projects under close control," Alex stated. "I don't care who I am building a house for because, when I build a house I build it as if it was my own home. Maybe that's something a lot of people say, but nothing makes me madder than when a subcontractor or somebody on the job site, if they see something wrong, says 'I can't see it from my house.'"
That statement may seem bold but his clients are quick to back him up.
Nicki Carter, who recently purchased a 2,600-square-foot home, mentioned she had looked at five or six other builders before settling on Designer's Choice. When she saw what was being built, she could only say "Wow!"
After moving in, Nicki was even more impressed: "I had trouble finding a problem. He represented himself honestly and stayed within budget. When I wanted to influence the design process other builders didn't seem to want my input but Alex welcomed it."
Nicki mentioned they couldn't afford an architect. However, when they met Alex, he did everything. "He was honest and listened closely to what we had to say. We picked the plan we wanted but also mentioned that we entertain a great deal. Alex suggested a change in the plans that would combine the living room and dining room. That gave us one large room that would always be used for both living and entertaining while if we stayed with our initial plan we would have had a beautifully decorated living room we seldom used."
Other clients are also enthusiastic about Alex and Designer's Choice.
David and Patricia Shontz said they were awed by Alex's knowledge of building and felt he could be trusted with the building of their new home. While he wasn't the lowest priced builder they visited, they had talked with four others; they chose Alex because he offered the best value and the highest quality.
David and Patricia pointed out that he was quick to fix a problem. For instance they had a small water leak-it was fixed the very next day. "Because of his attention to details, we highly recommend Alex to our friends."
Lori Day, who recently had Alex build her home, echoed those remarks. Alex came over and fixed it himself. The fact that he lives nearby and keeps himself so available and doesn't hide is another big plus, she commented.
"He kept us informed, had nothing to hide, and had no qualms about letting us inspect the house at every stage. We were impressed by his sincerity and he's very trustworthy," Lori pointed out.
"If I'm awake I take the calls when they come in. The only day I won't work is Sunday," Alex remarked. "Clients call every day to ask how their home is coming and I handle them personally. The homeowners are not out in the cold, and are involved. It's not like they come in once a month to check things out."
Alex doesn't wait for his clients to call him, however, but is quick to call them as well.
"I call people all the time while I am building their home. When I'm walking through a home and I see something that was not in the original plans, but would add something nice, I will call the homeowner and see if they would like the additions."
The bathroom of Dan Whelan's home is an example of this. While the house was in the framing stage, Dan was concerned that the bathtub was too large and would take too much water to fill. Dan's concern prompted Alex to go back to the plans and reduce the size of the bathtub and add steps and posts. Dan was enthusiastic and said, "go with it."
People call all the time to ask about building a home and Alex admits to not being the best salesperson. But if they go into a home it will sell itself. Unlike other builders, he takes the time to explain the construction process but in the end he knows it's the home itself people will remember and if they understand quality and value they will return to Designer's Choice.
"I know this much that when people walk away they feel comfortable," Alex said. "For instance, I have a one-page contract while other builders have pages and pages full of loopholes which makes the homeowner responsible for anything that goes wrong and the homeowner pays for it. Mine is essentially a handshake and when people walk away from here they feel comfortable that I am who I represent myself to be."
While Grandview Ranches II is the newest project, Alex has been building custom homes in the West Valley since 1983 and before that he built custom cabinetry. In fact he started building cabinetry right out of his mother's garage.
"After graduation I worked as a framing carpenter until 1982 when I started a cabinet shop. All the cabinets you see in this house came from that business that I started in 1982. Everybody said I was nuts because the economy was bad."
Economy not withstanding, within two years Alex went from his mother's garage to a 10,000-square-foot building. It also grew into a "nightmare," Alex mentioned, because it simply grew too fast and was more that he was ready for. Thankfully, he had family to help him out and the business began to prosper. However, his main drive was still to build homes and that drive was soon to come to pass thanks to the help of a good friend, Don Pocock.
Don knew of Alex's desire to guild homes and offered to provide the financing if Alex would handle the building. So with that, they started to build and did most of the work themselves thereby saving the costs of subcontractors.
"Truthfully, I don't know what we made from that house. I was happy just building the home," Alex remarked with a smile.
When he first began building in Grandview Ranches II Alex knew he was taking a chance because they were in an area people thought at the time was in the middle of nowhere. That thinking has changed.
"I knew there was a market out here. The first year we sold eight lots and the second year we sold 16 lots with a lot and home package starting at $185,000."
The distance to downtown Phoenix is about the same as from Scottsdale and because of the lighter traffic it only takes about 25 minutes to drive. A few pluses to the area is the quiet neighborhood. You can actually hear the birds singing, and if you like you can go fishing in the Gila River, not to mention the beautiful desert views with the mountains in the background. Another big plus is the low crime rate.
When he started building homes Alex said it was clear he wouldn't be able to run both businesses. So he turned the cabinetry business over to one of his brothers and officially started Designer's Choice Custom Homes, Inc.
However, as Cindy, Alex's wife, is quick to point out, the home with Don was not the very first home he built. With a laugh Alex admitted that there was another "first house" that he built.
"After we were married, I decided we needed something that was paid for. My family had some land and I came out here and built a 14 by 20 house. Every payday I would buy some more material and work on the house in my spare time," Alex quietly stated.
"That was 14 feet by 20 feet," Cindy interjected with a large smile on her face.
When Alex was paid at the end of the week he would go down and buy the materials necessary and with his free time built the little home.
"I built a sleeping loft over the kitchen and every night we would bring a ladder in from outside to go up to the loft," offered Alex with a broad smile.
"Yes, and when I was eight months pregnant I couldn't get my belly up the ladder and started sleeping on the couch," Cindy said laughing at the memory. "So I had the couch, the love seat, the TV, a dresser and our oldest son's crib downstairs. And you know somebody has lived in that little house to this day. It has never been unoccupied," she added.
Cindy and Alex along with their five children now share a 3,000-square-foot home and guesthouse, but it is obvious that fond memories still remain for their first home and humble beginnings. It's also obvious, as his many home buyers will attest to, that Alex loves his work and builds each home as if it were indeed his own.
You can contact Alex in the office at (623) 386-2884 or on his mobile telephone at (602) 291-4065.
This article appeared in the Phoenix and Central Arizona Edition of the Builder/Architect Magazine in February 1999.