The Houses that Debbie Built

“Build my house and I’ll build
yours” seemed like a strange mandate for Debbie White, a single mom and
waitress with less than perfect credit.

“Being a waitress was getting me
nowhere. I wanted to get out of the cycle of working nights. My daughter was
nine at the time, and I would rush home from the lunch shift, cook supper, and
go back to work at six, leaving her with a babysitter,” said White. “I felt
like I was letting her down, so I took an entry-level office job just to gain

Debbie WhiteAfter starting working full-time
at a local construction company, White discovered that she had a natural
aptitude for money and business—and soon worked her way up to accounting
manager. She started saving and moved into a house in Edmond on an assumable
loan. Then she obtained a second mortgage and had cash in her hand for the
first time. “I had big plans. Life was going to be grand for my daughter and
me. I was even planning a vacation,” said White.

And then something happened. One
night, she was driving in her car, and she heard a voice. “I know this sounds
crazy, but God spoke to me. He said, ‘Build My house and I’ll build yours.’ I
drove straight to my church and donated all I had saved to their building
fund,” said White. “Never in a million years would I have given up that much
money on my own. That’s how I knew it was God.”

Faithfully, White started over.
She began scrimping and saving again. After some time, she found an acreage
like she’d always dreamed of, and was able to buy it. Since she was working for
a construction company, her co-workers kept saying, “You could build your own
house, and if you get stuck, we’ll help you.”

White told them, “I don’t know
diddly about building a house,” but she followed their advice, took out a loan
and hired a subcontractor to lay the concrete pad. While he was working, she
asked, “What do I need to do next?” He told her, “Get a stem wall guy.” So, she
found a stem wall guy, who then told her the next step.

 “I didn’t even pretend to know what I was
doing, but each subcontractor who I hired was fabulous, like they were
perfectly picked for me,” expressed White. “Step-by-step, I created a
spreadsheet of each stage of the process, and after nine months, I had a

Admittedly, the process was not
without challenges. It usually started when the subcontractor asked, “Who’s
your builder?” The answer, “I am,” was always met with surprise. White laughed.
“I do remember one contractor who said, ‘Really? A lady builder?  I’ve never met a lady builder before.’”

House ExteriorHowever, White learned a few
tough lessons along the way. The biggest? “Never pay until you physically see
the work done. On my first house, a drywall guy dropped by my workplace and
said he was done, so I wrote him a check. He cashed it before I got home, but
he hadn’t finished, and I never found him.”

White also gained insight from a
TV show that mentioned the triangle philosophy. “The premise,” White explained,
“is that the triangle’s sides are labeled good,
fast and cheap. You can expect two sides of the triangle, but not all
three,” she said. “You can have good and fast, or fast and cheap, but you can’t
have good and fast and cheap. At every step, I had to
decide which side I could sacrifice.”

Within two years of moving into
her first house, White realized that she disliked mowing five acres, so she
bought a smaller-sized lot and built a second house—using the same spreadsheet.
Since she knew what steps to take, the house was completed in five months.

“Two years later, I sold that
house and rolled the cash into building my third house, and then my fourth
house. Now, I’ve just finished my eighth house—mortgage free!” White calls her
latest house “the ultimate mother-in-law plan.” She has her own section, and
the rest of the 4,000 square-foot house is inhabited by her daughter,
son-in-law and granddaughter.

House Sketch Interior“Believe it or not, I designed
it on one of those furniture store websites where you draw rooms and add
furniture. I took it to an architect who drew it up,” explained White. “I told
my daughter that I wanted to do some things differently on the next house, and
she said, ‘Bite your tongue, Mom. No more moving!’ She has helped me move many,
many times—so I promised.” 

White’s life is significantly different from
when she first moved to Edmond as a struggling waitress. Becoming a building
contractor on eight houses was certainly not her plan, but she believes that
God fulfilled His promise to her. “He turned my life around when He said,
‘Build My house and I’ll build yours.’”

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