Diary of a Dream House – Part 1: Purchasing the Land

As an interior designer, I have always wanted to plan a house from start to finish; certainly for the experience, but also as a test of my accumulated knowledge and skills. Can I build a house that functions perfectly for my family, projects the essence of who we are, and stay within budget? I sort of doubt it, but I’m going to give it a try and I’d love for you to join me along the way.

One thing I will say about me is that I am always willing to get help from others.  I have never felt that I am smarter than anyone else or that I don’t need help from anyone.  Quite the contrary, I prefer to get other opinions, mull them over and combine those thoughts with mine to determine the best way to go.

So, you are coming into the process at a point where I have purchased a piece of land, I have selected my builder, and am very close to having a plan I like ready for the architect. I will now give you a few more details about the process so far.

Purchasing the Land

First, I live in Florida. I moved here about 10 years ago because I love the outdoors and wanted to spend more time in it! My husband and I have been looking to purchase a piece of property just a little bigger than the postage stamp we currently live on in our gated community. Our back yard is about 10 feet deep from the shrubbery around our house to the jungle behind it.  And, in those 10 feet I’ve seen alligators, bobcats, deer, snakes, spiders and scorpions….sooo, I’m not setting foot on it!! Our side yards are a bit narrower than that and we have about 20 feet out front.

After growing up in Ohio where we spent every decent day outdoors, it’s weird not to be able to go outside, thus the interest in a larger piece of land. Well, we looked within a radius of about 10 miles of our current home because my daughter lives across the street from me right now and my son goes to school here so we didn’t want to stray too far.

About 3 years ago, we found a horse community about 10 miles from our home, east of  I-75, the large freeway through our area.  The entrance is across the street from a National Cemetery which is gorgeous and some of our friends are there and that holds comfort for me.

The community if filled with 5-6 acre parcels with either farmhouses or ranch style homes, some with barns, stables, or guest houses on the property. Most places have three rail fences surrounding and motorized gates for entry. There are long crushed shell driveways, lots of ponds, and horse paths throughout.

Dream House 1 HawkWell, we visited this community every week or two in the evenings to watch all the wandering deer or catch the flight of a hawk or an eagle. We brought friends and family there to talk about this quieter style of living and how it might be to live 5 miles from Publix instead of 1!  Hahahaha, not really roughing it too much!

Dream House 1 For SaleDuring that year and a half we called our realtor and had him take us through every house that went up for sale in the neighborhood so we could get a feel for what type of houses were there and what price range they were in. This was one of my favorites, with 3 bedrooms in the main house and a 1 bedroom apartment over a semi-attached 2 car garage.

Dream House 1 Kitchen

Inside, the kitchen was compact but very nicely appointed. What I like best was a painted mural on the walls of fenced pastures, trees and farmhouses. I loved the wood floors and red painted country counter stools. This was kind of setting that made me feel at home!

Then, we noticed a small for sale sign pointing back off the road and we got up the courage to drive down the long shell driveway. At the end, it split in two.  To the right was a ranch home with fences and a gated entrance and to the left was an opening to a lot with a circular driveway and two buildings. One looked large like an extra garage and the other was a pump house or something probably for a well pump and all that entails.

We made a phone call to the number on the sign to ask if we could drive onto the property to look around and to ask a few questions. The details were that there had been a house there and the current owners had torn it down to build a new one. However, their builder got ill and they decided to halt the process until he was well.  In the meantime, the housing market crashed, this was about 2007- 2008 and the owner’s decide to purchase another home they found at a great price and just sell this property. Apparently it had been for sale for quite some time as we started our search in 2011.

Dream House 1 The PropertySo, we saw the property for the first time in the spring of 2013 and had very strong feeling towards it. The pond on the property was lovely, there were large areas of gently undulating grasses, some of the big trees were live oaks and eucalyptus, along with laurel oaks and a few palms that sprinkle the shade around the space, giving you options for warmth and cool.

My son was enamored with the tree house that was already built there and every time we visited, we would go up inside it to stare at the lovely surroundings. The east side of the property was lined with horse fence and then the community horse path. Beyond that is the back of a home from the next neighborhood with stables of a half dozen horses. I’ve been there when the horses are running and snorting and it’s a beautiful sound and sight!

Dream House 1 GarageAbout 6 months later we got more serious and met the land owner’s at the site to see inside the 30’ x 40’ garage on the property. Although the roof was dirty and the building needed to be painted, inside was a section of shop cabinets, places to hang tools and plenty of room for a tractor, a utility vehicle, and apparently a “man cave” as the boys kept telling me!  It has two garage doors, one at each end so you can drive right through and a man door on the back that can’t be seen in this photo.

Well, I’ll bet we drove out to that piece of land – 6.25 acres by the way – a dozen times over the next couple of months trying to decide if we were up to the task of taking care of the land and building a house.

Dream House 1 EagleOne of the afternoons that we were visiting, an eagle swooped down by us and landed in one of the eucalyptus trees where we were standing. Honestly, I think he sealed the deal.  We just HAD to live out here with nature and enjoy all that this neighborhood had to offer. We made an offer (after paying to have the property appraised since we didn’t have any true idea of it’s value) and over a couple of days settled on a price and on December 16, 2013 the property became ours.

So the process of actually finding the property, making sure it fit our needs and gave us that feeling of home took about 3 years. We looked everywhere within our 10 mile radius and visited all sorts of communities and home styles, and we now know this is where we are meant to be. Don’t rush this stage of building your dream house. When you find a place you keep dreaming about and want to spend every moment at, you’ll know you’ve found it!

We put our house on the market and the wait began. We didn’t want to put any more of our cash into the building process until we had sold our current home. In the event we couldn’t sell the house, we could put a “For Sale” sign back up on the property and hopefully recoup our investment. During this time I worked on house plans.  You can read more about that in Diary of a Dream House – Part 3: Drawing up House Plans. And, make sure to check out Part 2 which describes how I selected a builder with tips for helping you to do the same.  Both new articles are coming soon.



  1. Terri Hess says

    I am a Realtor in Ohio, and I am so excited to share this adventure with you! It is a fascinating process, and you have such wonderful ideas. Thank you for sharing your experiences and wisdom gained along the way. Congratulations on taking the first steps on your journey!

    • Shari Hiller says

      Thank you all for your good wishes and support. I’ll post as I make progress. It has been fun and such a great experience for learning…which I promise to pass along!

  2. Patsy says

    Shari, congrat’s. I know this adventure is going to be wonderful and stressful all at the same time. Cannot wait to follow your progress as you build the home of your dreams.

  3. jeanne d. says

    We look forward to sharing this new phase of you and
    your family’s life! Thank you for allowing us to be part
    of “life in the out of doors’.

  4. Nancy says

    Can’t wait to read about this adventure! Over the years, many of us feel like we know you well. So excited to share the journey!

  5. Micki says

    Loved your show when we were able to get it ob HGTV.
    I am in Sarasota County, Florida, Venice to be exact, and cannot get you on WEDU from Tampa. HELP! Miss the two of you.

  6. Chris says

    I was wondering why there weren’t more updates to the “Whole House Decorating” section on your website! Now I know…you kind of put it on “pause” while you were looking for your dream location. Very excited to watch as you build this new home and allow us to share in your project! Love your work! :) Best wishes on your new home!

  7. Darlene says

    We are going through the same process right now. We purchased our land in Missouri about 3 years ago. Just last week we submitted our design to our builder and he is in the process of estimating the cost. We are in our ’60′s and made sure our house will be handicap accessible just in case as this will be our forever home. Our priorities include large and conveniently located laundry room, walk in tub and lots of storage. Waiting to hear from our builder and keeping our fingers crossed on the cost. Good luck with your build and it will be interesting to follow you with your experience as we go through ours.

    • Shari Hiller says

      Darlene, we too are now awaiting cost…very scary because I don’t really want to eliminate anything. Although, my husband and I already put a list together of the things we could live without if we had to! Just hope there’s enough on that list!!! Good luck and keep me updated, it’ll be fun to compare notes!

  8. sheila kercheville says

    I am excited and happy for you! While I am not interested in purchasing land and building a home of my own, I am fascinated by the whole process and seeing little by little how everything comes together. I personally love apartment living and we have found a community a few miles from where I am now working that, as you said, I continually dream about and visit and make plans about…
    I cannot wait to watch and see all the blood, sweat and tears… and abundance of love that you will be putting into your new home! God Bless!

  9. Deb says

    Hi Shari–I’m a fan since the beginning of your HGTV days, I was “hooked” from the first show :-) – and SO HAPPY to find you here! After doing some updates to our current home – I learned from some mistakes. When you build, think of doing these things (forgive me if any have already occurred to you, they are just great ideas passed along to me & probably lots of others, too!)
    1. Smart – hook up/recharging station in one designated cabinet in pantry or kitchen
    2. Designate a drawer in a bathroom vanity to make it a plug drawer. Open the drawer, and plug in hair dryer, curling iron, what ever you need, and then – when you are done, you HAVE to unplug the unit to shut the drawer. It TOTALLY ELIMINATES potential for starting a fire- or, wondering if you…turned off the flat iron!
    3. Build a ledge out from the wall in the kitchen – only 3- 4 inches wide, about 8-10 inches high off the regular counter top height. If you put a piano hinge along the top, the interior of this space can serve as a hiding spot for valuables, can serve as a recharging cubby, could be a place where you built a fire safe box to keep your important insurance documents in case of fire, the possibilities are endless. This false wall is where you could also run electrical outlets. Plus it gives you a nice ledge for decorating, putting a small lamp-pretty ambient lighting in a kitchen. I plan on doing this in our new kitchen, some day.
    4. Fold down ironing board in your pantry/laundry room. The builders who did a new part of our house forgot that I wanted this when they drew up plans, and I forgot too :-(
    5. In our big new bathroom upstairs, we had tons of room and I wanted a coffee making station, for those mornings when you just want to hop back into bed and drink coffee, read the paper (read my kindle), or, for sitting in your bedroom and reading. A nice cup of tea would be welcomed too, in the afternoon in winter, putting away clothing, etc. I let the builder talk me out of putting in a sort of mini-pantry to match the cabinetry, and I am angry at myself for caving in. The time to do this – if there’s room, is when you are drawing up plans. But 10 years later, we still have tons of room and no real beverage station, so I bought a beautiful iron bakers rack-heavy duty, and painted it metallic copper/oil rubbed brass–combination, and it is going in the bathroom soon as we paint! I’ll put in a coffee maker yet!
    4. LOVE the look of slate floors? So did we, but a new builder we had – suggested we go w/porcelain tile-in the look of slate, in our hallway and small bathroom makeover. Everyone else told us to go with “real” stone, but this builder told us about the flaking/chipping, and problems w/maintenance-that no one else bothered to mention. He got a gold star in my book for being so honest, and 2 1/2 years later, the gorgeous porcelain tile floor looks amazing and everyone thinks it’s slate. We are running it now-in every open room downstairs to have a cohesive look. It’s dark gray, with other tones. We are really loving it. Something to think about!
    I am sorry to take up so much space, but having lived in a new home that was never quite done – with my dad as the builder, and learning from our mistakes here-has opened up my eyes to the next phase of our building & I thought maybe some of these ideas could benefit you, too! Best of luck in what ever you decide, and GET PBS to put your show on regularly! Best Regards, from CT ! deb

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