"Even if I won the lottery tomorrow, I wouldn't change a thing about this house," says Habeeb, in his black wingtips, carefully negotiating the gravel and mud of the construction site. "We got everything we wanted."
Construction on the $1.5 million home began in May, so when Habeeb visited the site in late July with Smart Business, only the foundation and about half of the exterior walls were built. The rest of the home was still a dream.
Gary and his wife started planning for a new home five years ago when they began to outgrow the 3,100-square-foot Colonial in Strongsville where they live with their four children. Originally, the Habeebs thought they would move into an existing home.
"We looked and looked," Habeeb says. "We wanted to buy something, certainly it was a good market, but we couldn't find anything that met our needs."
When the house hunt came up dry, the Habeebs decided to buy a lot and build their dream home. Two years ago, Habeeb found and bought the lot in a new development in Hinckley on the site of a former Christmas tree farm. Finding the lot, however, was no easy task.
"We both wanted country," Habeeb says. "I wanted land, and my wife wanted development. I would find a nice property on Ridge Road, but she didn't want to be on a main road. She would find something in a development, but I didn't want to be that close to the neighbors. This lot really complemented what we wanted. We're in the country, yet so close to the city."
Once they found the site, the Habeebs drew a rough outline of what their dream home would look like.
"I had her draw her floor plan, and I drew mine," Habeeb says. "It's amazing how similar they were. We had been in so many houses, and we watched a lot of HGTV, and we got a lot of ideas that way. Believe it or not, we have not argued over anything -- not one thing because we have very similar styles."
Part of United Mortgage Group's business is construction loans, so Habeeb knows the major home builders in the area. He first met with Tony DiBenedetto of DiBenedetto Fine Homes to discuss the project.
"I wanted a builder with a proven track record, and DiBenedetto Fine Homes has 50 years experience in custom homes," Habeeb says. "There's a difference, too, when you're building a home that's already been (designed). It's basically the same plan for every house and people do some tweaks. This is a truly custom home. There won't be another one like it unless I sell my plans."
DiBenedetto recommended residential designer Daniel Margulies of Daniel Margulies Co. Inc. in Rocky River to design the home.
"He's incredible," Habeeb says. "He was with us the whole way. He knew exactly what we liked. He knew the changes. The builder would say one thing and he recognized it wasn't what we wanted. He remembered who the client was. He knew what we were looking for and he gave it to us."
Before the blueprints were drawn, Margulies gave the Habeebs a virtual walk-through of their home using an architecture software program. This was critical for the Habeebs during the planning stages.
"As important as it is to have the outside appealing, the inside is what's really important," Habeeb says. "You determine the inside first, and that determines what the outside looks like. We got the best of both worlds because we got the inside, and we really love the way the outside looks."
The Habeebs' six-bedroom, seven-bathroom home is scheduled to be completed in June 2004. Habeeb has memorized all its dizzying features and can rattle them off at a moment's notice. Here is a brief summary.
The exterior will be stone with stucco accents done in a French country style, with a Mediterranean decor on the inside. Inside the main double doors, handcrafted out of eight feet of solid mahogany, there will be a two-story foyer and an adjacent two-story parlor. The main suspended curving staircase is one of three that will extend from the basement to the second-floor bedrooms.
The great room will be 53-by-26 and will feature a 10-foot-wide, 24-foot-high limestone fireplace, and a 73-inch TV built into a cabinet. Next to the larger TV will be two smaller cabinets with 27-inch TVs inside.
In the basement, a mud room will feature metal lockers and one of two laundry rooms. Next to that will be a home theater with a 110-inch TV with state-of-the art theater surround sound. For the true theater feel, there will be a candy counter, fountain drinks and popcorn machine.
The master bedroom will have a 14-by-17 walk-in closet with a center island, three angled mirrors, and a personal dry cleaning machine called a Mini-Valet. The master bath will be equipped with a 5-by-7 walk-in shower, a pedestal whirlpool with nine Jacuzzi jets, and a fireplace -- one of seven in the home.
For landscaping, Habeeb will plant hybrid poplar trees every 30 feet on the southwest side of his home, which faces the neighbors, creating a natural wall. A long stone wall will surround the 83-foot long patio.
Habeeb is eager to move into his dream home, but he's seen many construction projects ruined by a lack of patience and poor planning.
"You have to do your homework," he says. "We had everything picked out. There's not one thing we don't have picked out besides the furniture. We did it all in advance, which is kind of backwards, but it makes the process easier.
"Being in the mortgage business, you always hear about the nightmares of building. So far, we've had no nightmares because there have been no surprises, and if there's a tweak here or a change there, it's nothing drastic." How to reach: United Mortgage Group, (440) 260-2390 or www.umgloans.com; Daniel Margulies Co. Inc., (440) 356-0888 and DiBenedetto Fine Homes, (440) 734-3434