Building a house can be daunting, overwhelming and stressful! Here are some things I learned in the process of building our dream home that could be helpful to you.
- Pick your builder carefully. Interview several of your top picks. We chose a builder with a great reputation for quality construction. He took pride in his building and wasn’t about to damage that reputation with our build. Our banker told us that the majority of homeowners aren’t even speaking to their builders by the end of the build! That’s horrible! I can’t imagine the stress that would add to the experience if you were at odds with them.
- Plan EVERYTHING! Mentally walk through your building plans as if you are living there already. Let’s pretend you are getting home from the grocery store. Think about how your plan works for carrying groceries to the kitchen. Are there steps? Is the entrance near the kitchen or do you have to carry them up a flight of stairs? Where do you put them? How about your grill area? Is there easy access from the kitchen? Kids getting home from school? Where do all the backpacks and coats go? See what I mean? How does it all work with your family? We ended up moving the laundry out of the kitchen area back near the master bedroom where it made much more sense. We changed the former laundry area to a large pantry and baking area so we would have a place to put the groceries. We added a door and a patio off the kitchen for the grill. We moved the bath on the first floor and made it a half bath instead of a full and we changed a bedroom to an office. These are all things that made it work better for our family.
- Know the details. By this I mean, pick out the kitchen cabinets you want and know what they will cost. At least show the builder photos of the kind you want. Do the same with your appliances, light fixtures, tile, doors, window style, flooring, crown molding, trim, paint colors, countertops, faucets-they are extremely expensive. I had no idea.. Be as specific as you can be. Why should you know all of this in advance? Because builders usually give you an “allowance” for all these things. That’s a price range you have to stay in for purchasing. They always price in minimums unless you specify exactly what you want. What that means is you wanted beautiful marble countertops and they only allowed formica in the pricing so if you want the countertops you have always dreamed of, you will have to come up with more money. That will be the case for all the design choices you make. It’s fine if you have a lot of extra cash sitting around but if you don’t, be prepared to be disappointed and that’s where you can see where problems can arise with the builder. Neither of you will be happy. This happens frequently. Be forewarned, know the details!
- Be a control freak. I didn’t even think about being involved in ordering windows. Sure, I specified that I wanted three vertical panes on the upper windows but I didn’t know that the manufacturer only puts in two panes in smaller windows. If I had been there and seen photos of the choices, I would have changed my window sizes to get the three panes in each. It’s a small detail to most people but I am very specific in my ideas. Control freak? Maybe. But I know what I like and I wasn’t going to get what I wanted if I didn’t speak up.
- Have a sounding board. If you are lucky enough to have a friend who cares about design and gets your style you are extremely fortunate! It would have been so nice to discuss ideas with someone who gets it. I didn’t have that and it is so hard when you are the only one with the vision and the vision is not the norm.
- Choosing a rock sample from a small board for the retaining wall was hard. I chose a river rock with the colors of our brick in it. Our builder didn’t get it. He would have done the same brick as the house on the wall. I wanted a more rustic feel to the house instead of a prissy formal look so I wanted a metal roof on the porch and cedar timbers along with the rock. The day I was showing him the sample from the end of the driveway and holding it up to squint at the colors against the brick, he finally got my vision. I wanted to hug him! He finally got it! Having someone who understands your vision is priceless.
- It is harder to get financing done these days too. We had a hard time with this. The bank who gave us the construction loan approved our loan for a certain amount. After construction was complete, the actual mortgage people didn’t want to value our house at that amount. They insisted on another appraisal. Appraisals work quite a bit tighter now. There is another home in our neighborhood that is more expensive. There are nearby neighborhoods with more expensive homes within two miles. Enough to support the value of ours. They would only compare things in our neighborhood though. They base it on what has sold recently in our neighborhood and with the recession, that was not much. And nothing like ours. So we had them telling us that our house was worth a huge amount less then what we just paid to build it! We had to take out a mortgage and a second home equity line to cover the difference. If we didn’t have the resources to do that, I think we would have lost our home! That would have been devastating!
- Be strong. By the end of our building, I was exhausted. There were tons of decisions dealing with design, budgets, builders, and deadlines. There was tremendous pressure for them to finish up our house because we had to be out of our old house at a certain date. Things had to be done and that impacted some decisions. If it wasn’t for the deadline, I would have thrown the countertop guy out of my house! He was a total jerk. The stain on our stairs was not so hot either. I put up with it just because of the deadline. You will have pressure, you will be sick of workers being in your home and you will just want them all to go away. It’s stressful but it’s for a limited amount of time. You will one day move in and wake up in your new home and you will be happy!