Distinctive style: Business Today talks housing trends and tips with local builder Rick Sample

Monday, August 16, 2010
Rick Sample, owner of Distinctive Home Solutions, stands in front of the Sussex Drive home he built and has lived in for the past two years (Kristin Eberts)

From his one-room, one-man office in Cape Girardeau, Rick Sample has built at least 55 custom homes in seven years, plus handled 30 remodels and 40 to 60 commercial projects. Sample, owner of Distinctive Home Solutions, says his favorite part of homebuilding is the creative aspect.

"There's nothing there, and I'm creating something. I like designing as much as I like to swing a hammer and drive a nail," says Sample. Unlike many homebuilders, though, Sample didn't enter the housing business until middle age -- he was "downsized" after working 25 years in telecommunications with IBM. He'd always been interested in homebuilding and learned much of what he knows from his grandfather, a carpenter. While building his own home in Cape Girardeau, Sample recalls people asking if the home was for sale and if he was building any others.

"I thought, 'Hmm, this could be an interesting thing maybe to get into,'" says Sample. He took online classes, attended seminars, learned from vendors and personal experience, and started Distinctive Home Solutions seven years ago. His goal? To build the best quality, most energy-efficient homes he could. He started building custom homes at $400,000 and up, but when market demand for them decreased, Sample began focusing on homes priced at $200,000 and under -- but he didn't leave behind his original goal.

"Why couldn't we put the same quality and materials into the smaller homes?" says Sample. He prides himself on using high-quality insulation, concrete and two-by-fours -- materials that may be more expensive on the forefront but pay off in the long run via lower utility bills. Everyone will notice a nice-looking house, says Sample, but not everyone thinks to ask what kind of insulation was used in the walls and ceiling.

"You trust that the new home you're buying to be built well, and they're not all done the same," he says. And while Sample is still most interested in high-end homes, he has a special fondness building smaller homes.

"It's just as fun, and maybe a lot more enjoyable," says Sample. "I run into younger people who are first-time homebuyers. It's completely different from clients who are moving up, building their dream home or retiring." Buying a home is the biggest purchase most people make, and Sample says he feels honored to be a part of each young family's experience.

"It's completely a blast. They're more excited than the guy building a million-dollar home," says Sample. As owner, general contractor and sole employee of Distinctive Home Solutions, Sample is responsible for marketing the company, overseeing building from start to finish, working with up to 40 different vendors and subcontractors and communicating with customers and financial institutions, among other duties.

"I do every side, from cleaning toilets to financing and design," he says.

Despite the unsteady economy, Sample says business has remained steady -- though he did start building smaller homes -- and it's actually a good time to build because mortgages, materials and manpower costs are very low.

"Like anyone else in the country, we saw a pretty good drop two years ago, but I think Cape is recovering nicely. The under $200,000 market has been strong and is still strong. The $350,000, $450,000 and up market is starting to recover," he says. "It's a good time to have a house built. It most definitely is. Quite frankly, I think people will be shocked by what they can get into a house for."

Overall, Sample says today's homebuyers are looking for more square footage, granite, tile, hardwood floors and brick and stone, while linoleum and carpeting are losing popularity. Sample's best advice for those looking to build a home is to set a budget, call a builder and call a bank.

"It's not a scary thing, and it doesn't cost anything," he says. "You can't just say, 'I want that castle over there.'" First, discuss your budget, what kind of home you're looking for and where you want to live. Check your builder's references, look at other homes he's done and pay attention to how he treats you, says Sample. "Most people don't know anything about building a house, so you have to feel comfortable with the builder," he says.

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