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Windsor Trio Launches Custom Home Business

  • Rebekka Dimick, left, Riley White, right, visit the building site of Neil Hare's home in Brownsville, Vt., one of their first projects for their home design and building firm Vesta. A high school course on home building was the spark that interested them in working together building homes. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Neil Hare started a landscaping business in high school and slowly built it into an excavation business and is now expanding into home building with former Windsor High School classmates Riley White, Rebekka Dimick. Hare was photographed on an excavation client's building site in Enfield, N.H., Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Former Windsor High School classmates Riley White, left, and Rebekka Dimick, right, have joined with another classmate, Neil Hare, to start Vesta, a home design, and building firm. They are also opening a storefront featuring home decor and furnishings on Main Street in Windsor, Vt., where they were photographed Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. The store opens Feb. 16. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Business Writer
Saturday, February 03, 2018

Windsor — Vermont’s biggest export, it’s been suggested, are young workers who move to other states after college due to the state’s paucity of well-paying jobs, high cost of living and lack of affordable housing.

Rebekka Dimick, Riley White and Neil Hare are three young Vermonters who are working on the affordable housing part of the problem.

The three 26-year-olds, who all grew up together in Windsor and graduated from Windsor High in 2009, have stayed in their hometown and formed an architectural design firm to build affordable homes targeted at millennials, first-time home buyers or empty-nesters looking to downsize.

“A lot of us are struggling to find affordable homes, and we saw a problem with younger people finding homes in the area,” Dimick said. “We want to bridge that gap.”

Interest rates for mortgages and on loans for home building have been at historically low rates since the recession, and although they have begun to creep up, the math can make it no more costly to build a home than to rent an apartment, according to Hare.

“Ask anyone our age here what’s their living situation, and they’ll say it costs too much or they can’t afford to buy anything. But they often don’t take the time to find out how much it can really cost. Building can actually be cheaper than renting,” said Hare, who co-founded his own excavating company, H&K Excavation, soon after graduating from high school.

Hare, Dimick and White recently opened Vesta Homes on Main Street in downtown Windsor in the former office of a lawyer. The firm is focused on small, custom-designed homes — typically 1,000 to 1,500 square feet — that cost between $150,000 to $200,000 to build.

Vesta Homes has been conceived as a “start-to-finish” home design firm, according to Dimick, “to do everything involved with building a new house, from assisting with the financing process, designing the house, building it and then helping with interior decorating.”

Formed in April, Vesta Homes moved into its Windsor location in November.

The front portion of the firm’s Windsor offices is given over to a showroom floor to sell furniture and home decor.

The back office is where the partners have their desks and giant-size computer screens for drafting and a wide-format blueprint machine.

There’s an overstuffed cushion on the floor for Hare’s eight-week-old English Labrador Retriever puppy, Wesley, to sleep on.

After graduation, they went separate ways: Dimick to Vermont Technical College, where she earned an undergraduate degree in architectural engineering before heading to graduate school at Boston Architectural College; White to the University of Vermont, where she studied history, anthropology and archeology; and Hare to begin his own excavation, demolition and logging business.

Dimick, who is getting ready to take the grueling architect’s license examination, initially went to work for a firm in St. Johnsbury, Vt.

One day last year, she noticed that Hare had posted on Facebook that he was starting his own land development company, and she reached out to him with her idea to combine it with her plan for opening an architectural design firm.

“I always wanted to be on my (own) for an architectural design and to have a storefront that adds on the finishing touches on the home,” Dimick said. “We had always talked about our own firm, even when Riley and I were taking design class together in high school.”

White — whose father is Windsor Selectboard member Jeff White — subsequently joined her two former Windsor High classmates to take on marketing, the home decor storefront and interior design services.

White said that Vesta Homes offers decorating services so that home design clients “can come back to us as home decor store clients.”

The downtown showroom, which is filled with refinished country-style furniture and other home furnishings in the “shabby chic” style, also helps to “bring life back to downtown Windsor, which has been stagnant for so long,” White said.

Hare, who had his own leaf removal business in high school and bought his first home when he was 18, said he learned early that the financial advantages of home ownership outweigh renting.

“I understood all this rent I would be paying wasn’t going to get me anywhere,” he said.

As a kind of test run, the firm designed a house that Hare will occupy on Route 44 in Windsor.

The 1,000-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bathroom house with a full basement and three-season porch will have cost about $160,000 to build when it is completed this spring.

“It’s a model to show what you can do, a simple structure with high-end finishes, to show clients with a baseline budget of $150,000 this is something in your ballpark,” Hare said.

The first client project of Vesta Homes — the name is taken from Vesta, the virgin goddess of home, hearth and family in Roman mythology — is a 1,700-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Brownsville currently under construction.

The client, Richard Vacca, is the PGA professional golf instructor at Crown Point Country Club who knew the Vesta Homes partners when they were students — “all good kids,” he called them — at Windsor High School, where he was a substitute teacher and coached the golf team.

Vacca said he and his wife were looking to build a new house on his property but were “struggling between the banks and builders and having troubles matching the two.”

At White’s suggestion, Vacca met with the Vesta Homes partners and he said they sketched out for him possibilities of what could be designed and built on a budget of between $200,000 to $250,000.

The three of them came over to Vacca’s residence one night and showed him possible designs, costs and how to deal with a bank — which turned out to be Claremont Savings Bank — to secure a construction loan.

“We were stuck between do we sell, do we fix up and add on, or do we start new,” Vacca said. “But (they) explained what we can afford and this is how we do it and not end up in debt the rest of your life ... it’s hard to find that middle of the road. And that’s what we’re building: a nice, simple house for me and my wife that we can afford.”

Vesta Homes has picked up commissions to design homes in Cornish, Hartford and another in Windsor. Hare said the monthly loan payments on a home that costs $150,000 to $250,000 to build — at current interest rates — are equivalent to what it costs in rent for an apartment in the Upper Valley.

“When people are paying $1,500 a month to rent, why not own your own home for that,” he said.

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.