Venturing from the family farm into a career of banking and sales might seem like a somewhat unlikely and possibly difficult transition to most. But for Evan Keller, the decision to get out of farming and into the financial world helped pave the way for what has become an entirely new development altogether: the business of custom home building.
For Keller, who now owns and operates Keller Developments, the switch into general contracting and home construction began in early 2010. What started off as a few flip properties and smaller multi-residential complexes has turned into a full-fledge custom home building corporation; a corporation Keller is quick to point out has been built upon the solid partnerships between numerous key players in the development of his organization. Keller credits Darren Giilck, of Royal Le Page Realty here in Brandon, as one of his earliest attributes.
“I’ve known Darren for over 10 years”, Keller explains one afternoon on site at one of his current custom builds. “He invested a lot of time with me, looking at flip houses and different property possibilities in the early years. In 2010 we invested in a duplex together, and from there we bought a 4-plex”, says Keller. Fast forward to 2013, and the days of smaller revenue and flip homes are gone, making way for large-scale custom home developments and property management. Still a part of Keller’s impressive organization, Giilck has partnered with him on 3 recently finished homes in the exclusive Brookwood area, including several other rural properties, and continues to be an ongoing presence as Keller seeks out and is contracted for new builds.
Recognizing the importance of networking within the industry from his banking days, Keller notes most of the group of trades people he originally partnered with have worked with him consecutively on each new build, and have stayed on with him throughout. With a team of 9 presently comprised of 2 journeymen, and several 3rd and 4th level finishers, “we really have an excellent pool of contractors and subs to pull from”, says Keller. From Kitchen Gallery on 9th, Budget Blinds, and Able Eavestroughing here in Brandon, “all of the companies we’ve paired with are instrumental in making the selection process with our home owners less stressful and more enjoyable”.
Onsite at a semi- completed new home, Keller walks through the impressive build and describes the process of how this particular project came to fruition. “We broke ground in early June, and initially we didn’t already have a buyer for the home”. Something he notes has been a 50/50 split thus far between beginning a new build with or without owners signed on to complete the project, he did however have a potential buyer in mind. “The plans had already been drawn up obviously, but once the new owners came into the picture, they were still able to make some personal changes and add a few details as well”.
At 1,640 square feet, the home stands tall and proud along Highway 1A in Kemnay – just a stone’s throw away from Brandon, making the location of the property perfect for those with a penchant for country living with city amenities.
What catches one’s eye immediately from the highway are the high roof lines, and equally high and linear windows along the front facade of the house. “Because we designed the roof line of the garage to match the rest of the house, you really get a sense of just how much extra space there is”, Keller explains as he tours the spacious garage. Perfect not only for several vehicles, but for a few recreational vehicles, boat, or even a small utility tractor to help manage the surrounding land, the garage has also been designed with the ability of adding an upper loft or mezzanine in the future, should the owners decide to put one in.
As the tour continues through the rest of the house, it’s apparent the design of the home is open-concept in nature, but affords the homeowners’ privacy and separation of the bedrooms and master suite, as well as a cozy family room downstairs, by way of a unique angled and centralized staircase. “What we wanted to do with the design was create something different, something you don’t typically see in most homes. So we angled the position of the stairs at the front entry, so as you come into the house you don’t see down directly into the family room as you do with most bi-levels, and you don’t see directly up into the living room as well”. This detail alone allows for a few interesting pockets of space within the wall studs, which will be creatively put to good use as built-in feature niches.
A built-in bookshelf within a wall of the home office is another example of the little details Keller likes to implement in his builds.”It’s a creative way to maximize floor space – most offices require shelving and display space, so we’ve been able to design that right into the wall, rather than have the owner add furniture or shelving after the fact”.
Within the 5 bedroom home, the main floor consists of 2 bedrooms plus the master suite, each boasting adequate and roomy square footage. “Our bedrooms aren’t usually less than 120 square feet”, says Keller, adding the size allows for maximum comfort and use. “There’s nothing worse than touring a custom home and getting a sense that they gave all the floor space to the main areas of the home, and skimped on the bedroom sizes”.
At the back of the house, and off of the main living area is the master suite; not overly large in size, but roomy enough to accommodate full sized bedroom furniture if needed, and perfect enough to still feel cozy and comfortable. The tall windows allow streams of beautiful south-facing sunlight to pour in, making the location for the master suite an obvious shoe-in. As Keller points out some of the other features of the room: a spacious walk-in closet, cleverly positioned light switches wired for beside where the bed is to go, and pre-wired connection points for the savvy automated blinds (planned for throughout the house by Budget Blinds), one can’t help but notice that some of the suite’s overall square footage has gone to the enviable master ensuite. Boasting a soaker tub, custom designed shower, double vanity, and room to spare, Keller has hit a home run with this ensuite. “Clients want a space they can retreat to at the end of the day. We found that a lot of our buyers wanted an ensuite that felt more like a spa than just another bathroom, so we’ve given this ensuite some additional square footage to help encompass that”.
Another unique feature of the detail put into the design of the home can be found in a smaller, sometimes often forgotten area off of the kitchen. The pantry to the kitchen has been connected to the mudroom off of the garage in a ‘pass-through’ concept, making bringing groceries and various items into the home easier and more efficient. “This is something our draftsperson has added”, Keller explains, “I really think it’s a feature we will use in the future, space permitting, that will easily become one of our custom standards”.
With the completion of the home slated for early in the new year, one can see that even in the framing and wiring stages, the build has the bones and detail of a future dream home. And at this level of quality and attention to detail invested, Keller explains it’s not only the finishes and materials that make his homes a cut above the rest. “It’s our commitment to a certain level of customer service and follow through that ultimately allows us to offer a fullscale service to our clients”. Referring back to his banking days, Keller touches on what he believes to be the key to Keller Developments’ success in only a few short years. “I feel money is attached to emotions, and building a custom home can be a very emotional process for some people. We really focus on the customer service end of the whole project, walking buyers through and assisting them right from the very start. Being a somewhat smaller and more personalized company, we are able to deal with issues and clients hands on and as they happen”.
Knowing all too well the importance of fostering a great client-builder relationship, Keller also explains one final parting piece of success: “What I am trying to do is build an experience, a personal and very hands on involvement with the owners. If you take care of not only the big details, but the smaller ones as well, you can foster the kind of trust and relationship people will come back to when they build their next home”. – Crispin Butterfield