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Having worked closely with clients throughout the process of designing and building custom homes, Richard Cook, president of family owned and operated Cook Builders, takes pride in both the beautiful, new, one-of-a-kind homes and lasting friendships that develop during the year or so he works on a project.

"The building phase is just one part of the whole process when it comes to custom homes. Typically, we want to get to know the people we will be building for and work closely with them to design a home that is right for them," he said.

"It's all about the people, and there is a great sense of satisfaction in what we do. When you enjoy working with people to build them their dream home, you go to work looking forward to getting someone one step closer to moving into their home. We go beyond needing to do a great job to maintain our reputation; we want to do a great job for them."

From developing a 1-of-a-kind plan to selecting finishes, customer service is the key to success at Cook Builders. Because a custom home is an extension of a homeowner's personality and taste, it's important to determine from the beginning what a client wants in a home, according to Cook. From palatial showplaces to strategically designed spaces for family entertaining, Cook Builders can tailor-make adjustments to existing plans or start from scratch with an original plan. Either way, the result is not accomplished until the clients' dream home becomes reality.

"Custom home building can be an educational process," Cook said. "Everyone learns a little differently, and it's our challenge to guide them through it. Most of our buyers are moving up and building a custom home for the first time. This can be intimidating for some people, and we believe that we have the necessary people and organization to make the process as painless as possible."

In addition to Cook, who often is available to answer phone calls in the office, his son-in-law Brad Ericks, director of operations, has the full-time responsibility of responding to client questions and concerns. Cook's wife, Nancy is the company design coordinator. She provides guidance when it comes to narrowing down the seemingly limitless options for interior and exterior color selections. Another son-in-law, David DeBoer, works in the field and supervises the carpentry group.

While Cook Builders maintains a selection of home plans that can be customized based on individual wants and needs, it has the expertise and technological capability to create blue prints and have even done so using a series of handmade drawings brought in by a client, according to Cook. They also have what he considers a pseudo-design center in the Crown Point office.

"Because we are a custom builder, and there are so many options to choose from, we prefer to send people to several different locations depending on which aspect of the home they are working on," he said. "We do have a cross-section of products such as cabinets, siding and roofing that are available to help educate people, but we prefer that they see certain products in showrooms or on real homes before making any final selections, if possible. For example, it can be very surprising how different a small sample of brick will look on an actual home."

As a result of dedication to meeting the individual needs of clients every step of the way, referrals have been the main source of new business for Cook Builders through more than 30 years of custom home building in Northwest Indiana.

"Customer satisfaction is very important to us," Ericks said. "We work very much on word of mouth. Even now, when we don't have a finished model home available to view, potential clients are happy to visit our homes under construction where they can see firsthand the kind of quality work that is going on behind the drywall. They also have the opportunity to meet some of the subcontractors we work with, many of whom have been with us for years."

"We are also proud of the fact that we have people approaching us to build on the lots that they own, especially when it seems that it is becoming more uncommon for an individual to own land and select their builder," Cook said. "We have heard from past customers who have neighbors or friends who have also recently built and cannot understand that we remain friends well after the home is finished. We have even had situations where we have been invited to social events at the very homes we have built."

With 5 homes under construction, Cook Builders has lots available in St. John's Lake Hills and Crown Point's Feather Rock subdivisions. The previous model home, which was in St. John's Weston Ridge, was put up for sale when the buyer for a house in the Feather Rock Parade of Homes fell through last summer, according to Cook. Ironically, both homes sold at about the same time, leaving Cook Builders temporarily without a model.

"Unfortunately, we don't have the time to dedicate to building a spec home right now. We've been very fortunate with the lots we purchased most recently in Lake Hills, Feather Rock, Weston Ridge and also Crown Point's Pine Hill," Cook said.

"Both Weston Ridge and Pine Hill are nearly finished. While Lake Hills and Feather Rock are newer, they are already proving to be as popular. When we're selecting lots, we look for the premium lots in the best possible locations of Northwest Indiana. Most people are looking for forests, lakes and ponds in their backyards, not neighbors. We have some great locations where the homes are starting around $300,000 and have even topped $1 million."

For more information on Cook Builders and their available lots, log on to www.cookbuilders.com, e-mail them at Brad@CookBuilders.com, or call the office at (219) 322-3303.

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