Kelly Kustom Homes
Constructing homes to suit every taste
Providing unique construction options, Kelly Kustom Homes builds the homeowner’s dream
For Kelly Wenstrom, building a home is never a one-size-fits-all approach. The owner and chief executive officer of Alberta-based Kelly Kustom Homes, Wenstrom believes in the individualized approach to building dream homes. Every home is built to customize the desires of the homeowner and forms the construct of their shared vision.
We recently spoke with Wenstrom, 61, and his daughter, Alex Carter, the business’s sales manager and designer. They told us more about how they are quite literally building up the Calgary area and beyond with this family-owned business that Wenstrom created in 2005.
Wenstrom has been in the homebuilding industry since 1985. He always knew he wanted to work for himself, and when the time came to build his first home, he wasn’t happy with the available floorplans, so he took it upon himself to design his own.
Sometimes doing it yourself is the only solution. This DIY spirit sparked his great passion for home design and building. He started his own construction company 27 years ago, and from there he began to learn the full process of homebuilding.
Carter has been happily following in her dad’s footsteps since she was 6 and saw her first new home coming up. A 2010 graduate of Mount Royal University in Calgary, Carter is known for her keen eye for helping clients.
“Officially, I took home a pay-cheque for the first time in 2021,” she reveals, quippingly adding, “I just worked for free for a while!”
Since Kelly Kustom Homes began 18 years ago, it has built 70 customized homes for some 130 happy clients.
“We will build anywhere in Calgary and near surrounding areas within Alberta,” says Wenstrom.
“As a family-run business, we only use quality materials and trades we trust. We feel that everybody deserves their dream home.”
“A lot of times, custom comes with a very hefty price tag, but for us, we’re a small company, and we’re in small communities,” she notes. “We give a lot of people the opportunity to build custom without having to go into that million-dollar range, and that’s pretty rare.”
It’s this smaller-is-beautiful, customizable approach that sets Kelly Kustom Homes apart from big-box competitors that might advertise as being “custom,” but have only limited options, Carter observes. She and her father go out of their way to ensure their clients are comfortable and happy with the finished results.
Wenstrom extols his daughter’s level of commitment and meticulous work. She works closely with clients, assisting them in selections, colors, interior decorating, space design, and more. Carter says the company’s average bungalow house features some 1,700 square feet. Two-story counterparts may have as much as 2,100 square feet.
A real family affair
Being a small, family-owned business has its advantages. For Wenstrom and Carter, it’s just the two of them. As with many homebuilders, subcontractors handle everything else.
Unlike many of their Stateside counterparts, Canadian home builders often have a necessarily abbreviated building schedule, re that wintry weather in the Great White North. Yet Kelly Kustom Homes is different.
“We go year-round,” Wenstrom informs, “but if it gets too cold, we have to stop. The one thing with the Calgary area is that the weather changes dramatically fast.”
This can delay exterior work, Wenstrom allows. Relatedly, Carter notes some aspects of the building process may cost more, vis-à-vis the time of year.
“A lot of times,” she adds, “we will hold off and wait for better weather because it’s going to save the client some money.”
Speaking of America, Wenstrom says the largest difference between homebuilding in the States versus Canada is labor costs. The costs of some materials are also factors. For every $100 American builders spend, their Canadian counterparts spend an additional $30, as Wenstrom reveals. It adds up.
“Our lot costs are a lot higher here,” he adds, “and development costs are a lot higher here than they are in parts of the U.S.”
Wenstrom cites New York City and Los Angeles as examples. Prices there may be as high as $1,000 a square foot. Yet Canada can be similar, as Carter notes, sharing her father’s summation.
“You want to build in Vancouver?” she rhetorically asks. “Well, I hope you’re a millionaire!”
Busy days, dream homes
Carter maintains a busy schedule. On this particular day, she’s meeting two clients to finalize flooring. Then the cabinet colors must be agreed upon.
“Mostly I’m there to offer an opinion when an opinion is needed,” she adds. “A lot of times, I become a marriage counselor. Part of my unlisted duties is when couples disagree or they have to talk things through. I’m there to keep them on track.”
When it comes to building a dream home, nothing is ever 100 percent smooth and to-plan, as Carter allows. Yet she perseveres, finding solutions and doing everything she can to keep clients happy through long months of close consultation and collaboration. It is, she observes, truly rather like a marriage.
Wenstrom’s schedule is no less busy. He often finds himself working out of his truck, chasing down calls on his cellular telephone, going from one job site to another, and walking through builds in progress.
“The first part of my day, I start in the office,” he shares, “and I catch up on all my scheduling and e-mails. I schedule or reschedule because something’s gone awry at one house. Or at another, a trade can’t make it. Then I have to reschedule for five different people that I go to. I try to get to each job site at least every other day.”
What is it that gives Wenstrom his greatest job satisfaction?
“The design process,” he observes, “and then once that house is framed, and you get to see your design, the room spaces and things like that, and at that point, you can see whether you did a good job or not, what works or what doesn’t work.”
Once a house is framed, and everything begins taking shape, it all comes together. Clients then get a better feel for the house about to be completed. Then Wenstrom meets the clients to go on a walkthrough with them, and everybody’s happy. This is a source of great joy for him.
Looking to the future, Carter says that she sees nothing but positive annual growth for Kelly Kustom Homes. She doesn’t foresee the company ever being a big-bucks builder. Yet offering that customized, individualized approach, something at which small family-owned businesses excel, will help Kelly Kustom Homes retain its special niche and a unique place in the world of homebuilding.
“I still want to be able to offer something to the clients that are new to the industry,” says Carter, explaining how first-time homeowners can often find the process overwhelming, but Kelly Kustom Homes wants to “still be able to give them a quality home: one that’s not only in their budget but also that they can be proud of.”
As Carter notes, each home is unique and different in its way, whether due to a different floor plan or a different exterior and so on.
Wenstrom decries the “Pleasant Valley Sunday” neighborhoods so popular Stateside these days: cookie-cutter homes, all of them quite the same, with only a few feet of space between each one to maximize land use. No, it’s not illegal. Yet many mayors and other public officials lament that it’s certainly unethical.
“It should be illegal,” Wenstrom declares, complaining of 10 homes crowded into a space where only two should be.
However, Kelly Kustom Homes avoids the bigger cities. By building in smaller, more rural areas, lot size and land use are not the great concerns they would be when trying to build a new home in a city, as Wenstrom points out.
The company’s secret is focusing on the quality of the home, not the quantity of cash to be derived from building it, as Carter shares.
“I think the main thing is that we strive for quality,” she declares, “quality over everything else. That’s what is most important to us when we’re building. We don’t want to put something down that is going to fall apart or that is going to deteriorate and not look nice and diminish the value of where we live.”
“Secondly, we value family, and we want to build homes for people who want to create families, whether they already have them or they’re working toward them or they’re empty-nesters now, and they want somewhere that their children can always come and have a home ready,” she concludes.
AT A GLANCE
Kelly Kustom Homes
What: a builder of custom homes around Calgary and beyond
Where: Langdon, Alta.