I thought the time would never come, but we are closing on our house in a matter of days and I could not be more excited! In honor of closing being so close, I thought I would put together some thoughts on the whole home building process. A new home, whether purchased or built, is such a huge step for anyone, and our process was unique to us, our wants, and the life we are building.
The thing with a house, is whether you rent, buy, or build, it requires a lot of thought and consideration. What is best for some is not necessarily best for others. Going a step further, what works best for some will not work for others. Every family is unique and different, and coming to the conclusion to build a brand new home is no easy task. So, while we are nearing the end of our journey, I thought it would be good to provide a bit of insight as to our story, how we got to where we are, and my recommendations to anyone who is looking into a new construction!
1. How did you decide to build?
Really, we never wanted to build a house. We did know a few things with certainty, though. We knew which school district we wanted to be in, and we knew that we wanted to be out of town, on at least 2 or so acres. The district we are in and our land demands create for a challenging home search, plain and simple. With a great education system and beautiful community comes a price. We actually watched the housing market like hawks for a solid two years from around the time we got married. In that time period, two houses were listed that were enticing enough to look at, one we seriously considered, but ultimately, to get the land and privacy we were looking for, we were going to have to do some pretty significant sacrificing on the interior of our house. It was looking like a small kitchen, no master suite, tiny bedrooms, and other details were what we would be looking at to purchase a market home.
We had decided to list our home last summer, with the mindset that if we sold, we sold, and would figure it out from there. We didn’t want to miss out on any potential opportunities that might come up, because we knew from experience that quality listings sold ridiculously fast.
We did also watch the ‘land’ market during that time, but not much came up. Like I said, we live in a high demand area. One day last fall, one of the lots I had casually bookmarked had a drop in price, so I mentioned it to Mike. He drove by one afternoon, and despite being the one who would usually put together a laundry list of ‘problems’ with any given property I sent him, all he had to say was ‘I think we should call the realtor’. So I did. We walked the land that we had overlooked for the past year or so, and in standing out there, it just felt like home. I could picture us playing outside with the kids, looking out the windows as the snow falls, and planting a garden in the back. Pretty impulsively, we made an offer, and in a funny twist of fate after three months on the market with no bites, we received an offer on our house. We closed on both within a week of each other. It seriously was like the stars aligned. I hate to be that cheesy person who talks about fate and signs, but it truly felt like God was telling us this was the right move.
2. What were the first steps to getting started?
We did things pretty backwards of what a lot of other people do. In my experience, the majority of builders have lots they already own, and more often than not, they will meet with a new client, go over location options, standard floor plan options, and let the buyer choose from there. Our first step was buying the land, because that is what all of our decisions were to be centered around. After that, we discussed the ‘must have’ details for our new house, took those to a local lumber supplier, and sorted through their floor plan selection. We had to go through this process twice after a setback, but once we had a finalized floor plan, we purchased it and proceeded in selecting our builder.
3. How did you select a builder?
We took into consideration recommendations from family, friends, and our realtor, but I can tell you that our realtor hit it out of the park with his recommendation. We initially were planning to go with someone else, but consistently felt as though they weren’t listening to us, didn’t understand our needs, and just in general weren’t meshing well with us. After some frustrating events with them, we decided to look elsewhere, and on a whim reached out to the builder recommended by our realtor. After meeting with the sales and design staff, and we were sold. We walked away feeling as though he knew exactly what we wanted, and could visualize and put into place what we were dreaming of without us even having to say it. He has also been wonderful with providing us options that can cut costs, and input as to whether something is worth any extra cost or not. We really trusted his judgment and have been nothing but satisfied with his company thus far.
4. Were there any hidden surprises?
Um, yes. As I mentioned above, we had a floor plan selected, and at the time of selection were given an estimated cost to build. The first builder we met with agreed that the pricing was accurate, so we proceeded in making adjustments, modifications, and tweaks to the plan until we were ready to take it to bid. This builder was not good at listening to us, so we wasted a lot of time going over minor details they couldn’t seem to get right, only to have the plan eventually go to bid and come back WAY out of the estimated price point. We are talking a whole new class of house price point. So, we went back to look at plans, found another that still had everything we wanted, but that we were assured would actually come in closer to budget, and had to go from there. Our new builder was very up front about what certain things would cost, why a bid would come back higher, etc., but selecting a new plan did push us back about a month in our process. Never be afraid to ask for specifics, and be as up front as possible regarding what you are able and willing to do to ensure that this doesn’t happen to you!
5. Does it cost more, less, or the same amount as buying a pre-owned home?
More. without question. Think of it this way; usually when you are buying a home that has already been lived it, things are out of date, appliances are closer to needing updating, and there is likely work to be done. When building new, who wants to deal with poor quality, or not having exactly what they want. We certainly have had to discuss what we are willing to sacrifice, but at the end of the day, we just knew we wanted the french door refrigerator, and I knew that I wanted painted versus stained trim in the master suite. We went with the doors that are sturdier and require less upkeep, and other minor things that you wouldn’t even think of, like rounded edges on the walls. These little things add up, but we decided that if we are going to build, we are doing it right and aren’t taking shortcuts. I do like the fact that everything will be new and high quality, meaning in the long run things will hold up better and hopefully require less maintenance.
6. What were your biggest road bumps?
Definitely having to start over with our floor plan! That was just the worst. We had a week or two there where we really felt like everything was falling apart, and I was convinced I would spend the rest of my days living in someone else’s basement. Of course, we trucked through, found our perfect alternative, and are at a good place today. We have also had to simply deal with things like figuring out how a construction loan works versus a standard home loan, how to roll our current land loan in with the new construction loan, and how to most efficiently do this.
We also learned that a lot of banks require a much larger down payment for a construction loan than they do for a home loan. Our builder recommended a bank that totally worked for us, but that was another scenario where I definitely got stressed. I assumed a home and construction loan were relatively the same, but that is most definitely not the case. It is a good idea to know your local banks and options, how their specific loans work, and what you will be capable of doing.
7. Where to splurge?
We wanted to be as cost efficient as possible when building our house, and decided that a lot of things can be upgraded. Countertops, flooring, and carpet can all get switched out, and likely would be due for an upgrade in ten years or so after lots of wear and tear from two busy boys 🙂
With that being said, we did not cut corners in our master suite. We knew we wanted both a shower and a jet tub, and that was pretty much non-negotiable. I also want white trim and painted cabinets, and so we are going that route in that room only. We also like the idea that our space will then be a little bit different and unique from the rest of the house. We will have a tiled shower, a tub that is way bigger than we need, custom cabinet designs based on what I fell in love with on Pinterest, and although really not a grand or large investment, I walked through a model home that had a TV in the bathroom and immediately Mike and I decided that was something we have to have. It is a total little luxury that we don’t need, but I am already daydreaming of soaking in the tub with an Angry Orchard in hand while watching Netflix. I anticipate the hubby and I may fight over who gets to spend more time in our new bathroom, which in and of itself tells me that the splurging is totally worth it.
While we didn’t splurge on the materials, we did definitely stick to our guns on our floor plan. I knew I would forever regret not having an island in my kitchen, and I also knew that, if possible, I really wanted two story ceilings over the living room. So again, while we could have had granite countertops, custom cabinets, and elaborate detailing throughout our house with a simpler floor plan, we knew that all of that could be changed down the road, but the pitch lines and our roof could not
8. How do you make sure everything works together?
It is SO important to stay organized when building. You will select HUNDREDS of items, and of course you want it all to match! Get samples of your trim with the stain color. Get swatches of paint. Take pictures of EVERYTHING so you remember the style of your lights, the shape of fixtures, etc. If you have a good idea of the color scheme and style you are going for, I will say it becomes easier because you tend to gravitate towards things that will likely go well together anyway. But by the end of the process, we had a binder and an e-mail folder filled with product details, swatches, samples, order receipts, the works. In the end, trust your gut, and know that you get to do a final walk through to assess if anything needs to be changed, fixed, or replaced 😉
9. Did you add any unique features?
Yes! There are so many options you don’t realize exist until you build a home. We did rounded edges on our walls, which may seem odd when you first think about it. But, coming from the person who as a child sliced her lip on a wall edge (true story), rounded corners with two rough and tumble boys was genius to me.
While not exactly a breakthrough feature, we did upgrade to having sliding shelving in the kitchen for our pots and pans, Tupperware, and garbage.
As I mentioned before, we made sure we had wiring for a TV in our master bathroom!
We built out our fireplace, and didn’t extend it up the wall, so our mantle is HUGE. It can literally function as a decorate table, of sorts. I made sure we had wiring for an outlet put in there as well, so this space will function as, what I picture, a fun seasonal décor area.
10. What was the hardest part?
Honestly, I didn’t mind the meetings, selecting items, and the beginning process of construction. However, the final month of building is ROUGH. Everything is nearly completed, and I swear the final 3-4 weeks felt longer than the 3-4 months prior. I think because you are not as busy making selections and consulting with sub-contractors, and everything is SO close. I drove by the house for two weeks straight and the darn stone on the porch wasn’t completed. And every day that I saw this, I became progressively more angry. Did I know it would eventually get done? Yes. But was the carpet already laid, the inside cleaned, and that darn stone was the finishing piece to me being allowed to move in? YES. I just think by the end of the process seeing your house being basically liveable but not being allowed to live in it gets tough. When the light at the end of the tunnel is practically blinding you because it is so close, you might get a little bit antsy 🙂 I compare it to the final week or two of pregnancy-time feels like it is at a standstill!
I have wanted to rip my hair out and cry a number of times throughout the process, but in the end I would absolutely build again. There is nothing like walking into a house and knowing you were the mind behind it all. If you have any questions that I didn’t touch on, feel free to send them my way, I am happy to answer!