Marnie Custom Homes of Bethany wins national award
BETHANY BEACH — Years ago, Marnie Oursler moved down to Ocean View after college and started working as a realtor and other odd jobs to save up money and figure out her next step.
Instead, she built her own company, Marnie Custom Homes, which has built 140 houses to date and earned her the 2022 Custom Builder of the Year by the National Association of Home Builders. She was honored during the International Builders’ show in Las Vegas in January.
“It’s pretty unbelievable,” Oursler told the Delaware Business Times. “I didn’t think it was something that we’d be recognized for on a national level. I feel like we were kind of the underdog because when I started I did feel like I was fighting my way through. Well, I guess people do notice you.”
Oursler is Delaware’s first builder honored with the award as well as the first woman.
“I’m just grateful to be doing this for a living,” she added. “I never thought 20 years ago when I started this that I’d be on a stage in Las Vegas for this award, thanking people. I’m definitely grateful.”
A Southern Maryland native, Oursler and her family spent their summer vacations at Delaware’s beaches. Her father was also a custom homebuilder and developer, and would often drop her and her brother off at a new neighborhood where they would sweep out houses, build decks and form concrete.
When Oursler was 24, she decided to buy her first property – a tear-down house seven blocks from the beach – and flip and sell it. Then she repeated the process again and again.
“I couldn’t afford to hire a builder, and I was honestly surprised about how much I knew about the process,” she said. “I didn’t realize it growing up, but I was learning about new materials and maintaining a job site along the way. I was really surprised at how comfortable I was.”
After she flipped and sold her third house was when the neighbors started paying attention and wanting to hire her to build their dream homes. The timing to start her own company also wasn’t ideal. Marnie Custom Homes launched in September 2007, right ahead of the housing crisis. But through networking from her previous real estate career, she was able to land referral projects and shore up her brand.
Today, Marnie Custom Homes has 14 employees. She also hosted two television shows: DIY Network’s Big Beach Builds and HGTV’s 2018 Dream Home.
“It’s almost funny, because I didn’t really know the difference of the market at the time. But I did have a lot of questions at the time. How was I going to sustain this and do it for a living,” she said.
Oursler prefers to handle clients hands-on, starting first with their wish lists and then seeing what’s possible, especially in the living area ratios allowed by each municipality and flood zone requirements. Then it comes down to priorities and finances.
“A majority of our clients want the same things, like open showers. But in terms of how a family lives in a house, that’s where it becomes different,” she said. “We’ve had clients that we’ve dealt with for a number of years, so their family grows and we need to add more bedrooms. Or there was a wedding, so now you have to add more space.”
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, business boomed with people looking to escape the constant tedium of being indoors and renovating their houses. But Oursler said the pace is returning to normal: designing and building homes between Labor Day and Memorial Day, something she wants to keep doing for a long time.
“I don’t really want to do anything else. I love watching my team grow and get better, making sure our houses are creative. This is a lot of fun,” she said. “I always want to build new things, and for me, the current house I’m working on is my favorite.”
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