• Choosing a home builder in the Sierra Foothills

    by  • March 10, 2012 • Home Building, Our diary-the first five years • 15 Comments

    We had a dream to move out of Southern California to paradise on seven acres in the Sierra foothills. Here is more about the process, choosing a builder for our mountain home, around which, my Sierra Foothill garden grows.

    What I wanted was a log cabin.  Or any kind of cabin. A real mountain house.

    We had stayed in a rustic cabin in Colorado where the pipes and electricity were all visible and it was cute and quaint. It had log furniture and wooden windows and a log bench outside plank door next to a window box with flowers. I loved the feeling we got while staying there.

    I had this magazine picture framed for years while planning our house.

    I had this magazine picture framed for years while planning our house.

    My other idea was for a cabin, a biggish cabin, with a large A framed roof sheltering a deck window looking out onto the view.

    Lindal Homes was the ultimate dream. I could imagine this house here, can you?

    Lindal Homes was the ultimate dream. I could imagine this house here, can you?

    Now we are not builders in any capacity, so when we were shopping around for a house the actual process was awe inspiring and daunting.  The friends who live here said, “What you two need is a “Western Home”.  Western Homes was one of the builders in the area that advertising.  “We build a home on your ranch or land.”  I pooh-poohed this.  I didn’t want a city-type stucco house on our dream spot.  Heavens no,…it just didn’t seem mountain-y to me.

    Dreaming…and doing our homework

    There were three local builders in the area, all pretty much the same who were cheap, cheap, cheap, building average houses from premade plans. They were my last choice.  We had two custom builders draw plans for houses just what we had in mind, but oh, the prices!  250,000! This was 2000 and we still didn’t know what we’d get for the tiny house in Fullerton and we wondered if we could do some of the work ourselves.  The property was five hours away and we wondered how long would it take, and could we commit to dry-walling and putting in appliances and utilities?  That was a lot to take on.

    Real Log Homes, Sonora, CA

    Real Log Homes, Sonora, CA

    Next we interviewed a couple in Sonora who sold log cabins.  They talked about coming out themselves to help your own group of friends ‘raise the cabin,’ …they talked about the ‘shell’, the basic log structure which you would then finish or have a builder do so.

    Did we have this many friends?

    Did we have this many friends?

    What a luscious dream!  Hmmm, raising the cabin, …friends all around helping and a big dinner outdoors afterward.  Isn’t that a scene out of the and Harrison Ford silently making eyes over at Kelly McGillis?

    For one short period, we considered a manufactured home, intrigued by the instant appearance of a house all built ready to live in on the place.  I’m so glad we didn’t do that! Manufactured homes lose value over time and the price was about the same as the local building companies.

    Letting go

    We finally visited the three local house builders, Western Homes, Oak Hill Homes and Bricker Homes. The huge advantage, I had to admit, was that they would do everything. The prices seemed amazing,… $70-90,000, depending on square footage, for a complete house with all the appliances but a refrigerator, carpeted, tiled and painted. But, everything was plain, plain, plain. I can’t remember when I became resigned to choosing one of them.  Sigh…

    Western Homes plan 1455, with chnages

    Western Homes plan 1655, with changes

    I collected all the plans and tried each one on for size. Shuffling the sheets around and picking and choosing this feature and that. I had a huge notebook and files I carried back and forth each trip. Each time we traveled up, I wanted to stop and look at the models again. My husband just automatically stopped there after a while. The Bricker Homes didn’t seem quite right, we got a poor sales pitch at Oak Hill, so when we met Bob at Western and he seemed so amiable, we settled on them. What a relief to finally have a direction!  And the best news was that they would make any adjustments we wanted. Cement based ‘Smartlap’ could replace any stucco all around, and that’s what really sold us.

    Customizing the house

    Bigger windows, all looking out to the view side, bigger shower, doors moved and closets eliminated. Bob enlarged the windows in the house so much that it would barely stand up with the wall space left. Everything was adjusted in the computer and the changes printed out immediately on the printer.  We were impressed and astonished and decided then that we would make this house our dream house.

    A peek at what we got, now our real dream home.

    A peek at what we got, now our real dream home.

    The building code doesn't allow a LEGO chimney on a Lincoln log cabin.

    The building code doesn’t allow a LEGO chimney on a Lincoln log cabin.

    Previously: How we made our escape for the city

    Next: Preparing the house pad.


    Sue Langley, a passionate gardener and photographer lives and gardens with her husband and Corgi, Maggie on 7 acres just south of Yosemite, Zone 7 at 3000 feet. She also manages the Flea Market Gardening Facebook page and website.

    15 Responses to Choosing a home builder in the Sierra Foothills

    1. Desiree
      March 10, 2012 at 9:39 am

      Once again, I’m left in awe of you, Sue. You certainly know exactly what you want in life and you go all out to research and plan every detail. I am not like that. I have an idea of what I’d like and I always know exactly what I don’t like. Only once things are started, am I able to visualize the direction I want them to take. This is not cast in stone either, since I have been known to say, “Halt right there! I don’t like that. Knock it down and do this instead.” I never start with a clearly defined vision up front. I guess you could say I evolve organically 😉

      I love how thorough you are with your planning and that you make notes and keep files. I never do that. Maybe it’s because I’m intrinsically lazy. It seems like too much work to plan ahead, but I know it’s the most sensible approach and probably involves a lot less stress.

      I am so enjoying this trip back in time with you, Sue. And I love how your home eventually became your dream home after all, even though it is quite different from that log cabin that won your heart all those years ago. Wood is beautiful, but I just think of all the maintenance it requires!

      • March 10, 2012 at 10:03 am

        Thank you, Desiree. You have to remember that we had five years to dream and plan. I always wondered if the planning would be more enjoyable than actually living here, it was that fun. Something we n*ever *thought we’d do. The garden though was made by the ‘method’ just like you describe,…as it naturally grew year by year,…like most gardeners do!

    2. March 11, 2012 at 9:33 am

      Haha! We chose the plain Bricker stucco house. It’s the same as the model there in Madera, only with one more bedroom and lots more windows. We spent a lot of time at Western and Oak Hill too. I bet we walked right past each other many times!

      • March 11, 2012 at 10:28 am

        Katie, what year did you have your house built? We liked Bricker better than Oak Hill….they seemed to have better floorplans. We’ll have to compare notes…

    3. March 13, 2012 at 4:29 pm

      I love the look of the Lindal Homes one. They are gorgeous. I think you went the right direction though, and honestly, I’m a huge fan of Hardie Plank. We hope to use that when we reside this house, and turn into more of our own dream home, working with what we have. I like Hardie both because it’s rot resistant, but also fire resistant, and with the new fire codes, it seems like a logical, and durable choice. Besides, as much as I’d love a timber frame, I’m going to need to muster a lot more FB friends to make something like that happen! 😛

      • March 17, 2012 at 7:14 am

        Aren’t the Lindals awesome? We would have spent every penny we had, though and this house is so practical. Our former house was 65 years old and altough at first I wanted an old rustic house here, it was a relief to have everything brand new,… all the systems *working* and just cosmetically make it look rustic with paint colors and, of course, our old family furniture and junk!

    4. Reggie Williams
      April 29, 2014 at 7:43 pm

      Western homes….do your homework, read every review you can find, talk to current owners. BEFORE you sign the contract. We just had our’s built.

      • Sue Langley
        April 30, 2014 at 6:27 am

        I’m glad to hear that you were happy with Western Homes.

        We had few if any problems with our home building experience and a lot of pleasure. Once we actually arrived permanently, we were eager to watch the workman finish. We were surprised that they didn’t appear for three weeks! However the job was finished and any small hitches are forgotten as you go about life.

        All our Western Home systems are working fine after 8 years, heating, roof windows, plumbing.

    5. Jerry Martin
      February 15, 2016 at 3:51 pm

      Yours is the only good review of Western Homes that I’ve been able to find. Has anyone else had a good experience with them? Most of the reviews are bad. I’ve been talking with them about building house for me and I’m very nervous about it because of all the bad reviews. Please let me know.

      • Sue Langley
        February 15, 2016 at 5:04 pm

        Our experience was 10 years ago, when there was a huge demand for homes to be built. I couldn’t know if things have changed for them. I do remember a very knowledgeable man named Bob who was very helpful to us. The contract process was very easy It did take a year for the home to be finished, but we had the time.

        If you’re on Facebook, you might go on the ‘Oakhurst Ads’ local page and ask if anyone has recent experience. There are a lot of Western Homes in this area. Best wishes!

      • Reggie Williams
        February 15, 2016 at 6:50 pm

        we have been waiting to help someone in regards to Western Homes. We have recently had them build for us, and have been wanting a way to warn others before they sign up ! Long story short, price per square ft is very good, and…you get what you pay for. We are not picky, I have build for myself in the past. tile work has mostly failed, having them work on it four times before we just gave up. stucco has failed, with more than 65 large cracks (1/16 or larger), gave up on that. front room ceiling joists sagged, caused all the seams to crack. fire sprinkler heads had to be relocated up 3/8 inch sheetrock tear out. Main water line into house failed, filling wall cell. again, front room sheetrock had to be torn out. water heater failed and had to be replaced. Inspections were not completed and I had to do them with Mariposa fire marshall. don’t plan on timely anything. to their credit, the people we dealt with, were some of the nicest folks I have had dealings with. Just could not come though with what they promised. oh yeah, forgot to mention the Gnomes in the attic. Our joke about the constant settling of roof structure, cracks and crunches that should have settled out after two years of living here.
        Feel free to contact us about western. we have plenty of photos you are welcome to. or visit if you like. One of my bosses considered western, saw our place, and would rather have a high end modular.
        there you go, for what it’s worth. Would we do it again? Nope. serious about the photos or visit or just a call.
        best of luck
        You get the idea.

        • Sue Langley
          February 16, 2016 at 2:20 pm

          Wow, Reggie, sounds like you had really bad luck throughout the process. I don’t think we had to settle on any unexpected problems like you had, and I’m wondering if you just got poor workmen all down the line. Some things it sounds you knew about before signing off….and were fixed?? Annoying but typical.

          There was a process for ending the job,…getting the permit to occupy and all. We had what’s called a Punch List of any items that needed doing, but made sure they were done to our satisfaction before we wrote the last check.

          We skipped any problems with stucco by going all lap siding and code did not call for sprinklers. They admitted that the paint would be like a primer coat so we repainted every room. We skipped the carpet and stained our own floors, among other things.

          Sounds like you had soil settling problems, too. That is serious, but I imagine they don’t take responsibility for that. You have to get a compaction test before they begin.

          Do you still live in the same home?

          • Reggie Williams
            February 16, 2016 at 3:11 pm

            yup, same place, we love the property! soils are fine, report came back like rock. We spent the extra $$ to have them put down an engineered slab, so at lease that is sound. Stucco, we got a hard freeze before last coat and that affected the whole thing Certificate of occupancy was going to be revoked, based on sprinkler flow test not done. I had a chat with the Marshall and he & I did the test. Speaks to the kind of super people around Mariposa !! Funny, we have to repaint also, all my wife has to do is wipe a little spot on the wall & the paint is gone. Nothing we can do about the stucco. western would not do anything, (wondering if they were waiting to see if we were taking them to court or not) Still love the place, we just wish the quality had been remotely what was promised.

            sounds like your place turned out just fine! enjoy!

            Reggie & Carla

        • Jerry Martin
          September 20, 2016 at 7:54 pm

          Hi Reggie,

          I’d like to chat with you about Western. I’m thinking of using them. Can you email me? jerry@jerrymartinmusic.com


    6. Pat Campbell
      September 20, 2016 at 2:51 pm

      Was wondering if there is anyone else out there that has had any experience, good or bad, with Western Homes.
      I have checked around with enough builders to know that their price per square foot is low, but from the last post on this site I am really concerned about their quality. I am getting ready to build and doing my homework. If there is another builder that is in a comparable price range but has had better customer feedback on quality lately, I would really consider them. The one I know of that is close on price is Bricker. Anyone dealt with them lately ? Thanks in advance for any information……

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