Remember that awesomely excited time when we decided building a house would be fun? Well, it’s definitely not all rainbows and sunshine, that’s for sure. If you do decide that building a house is for you, here are some tips to keep in mind on your journey…

1. It’s much more expensive than you think it will be

We could have definitely gone cheaper…we didn’t need to buy a 5 acre lot in the country but that’s what we wanted for our family. It does increase the costs a bit but the major expense was the house itself. That could have been cheaper by going with a builder that builds a certain set of plans, but we really wanted a custom home and those other ones were too cookie cutter. Plus then you have all of the custom finishes that even though you tell the builder you want, they might not build it into the estimate they give you. And those finishes are allowanc items…and always extra. More on that later.

2. Don’t build when everyone else is building

I don’t think we could have avoided this no matter which builder we chose. We found an awesome place to live that so many more are choosing to as well. There’s so much construction going on here right now that the trades are overbooked and there’s only so much labor to go around. Of course that leads to…

3. Find a builder that has a dedicated project manager

This was by far one of our biggest mistakes…we went with a smaller two-man team and believed them when they said they only do 4-5 builds per year. As of right now they have probably double that in various stages. I’m sure you can imagine with that many projects, things have fallen through the cracks…big time. And at the customer’s expense. Also make sure to get the project schedule in writing. A good builder should be working off of a schedule and should easily be able to share it with you. Every time we asked for one, they’ve come back with just a completion date. And every time that completion date is a month later than the last. Not so good when you have kids starting school and a rental lease ending.

4. Hire a lawyer

Yes, that sounds excessive but I really think we should have had someone else review the contract with the builder. In hindsight, it was definitely written to protect them…not us…I made sure they fixed quite a few things but I could do only so much while also trying to sell our house, find a rental, get a construction loan, and look for a job…and still be a mom. Then we would have written in some sort of consequence for the builder not completing the job in 210 days.

5. Review the specifications (aka specs) very carefully to make sure they’re exactly what you asked for

Whenever we met with the builders, we told them exactly what we wanted…again and again. We had the plans picked out and had a vision. We shared that. Unfortunately, they didn’t listen. The specs had carpet and laminate fooorimg…both I was very clear in not wanting. They assured us that it didn’t matter and those were allowance items that could change.

We didn’t review each item as carefully as we should have and took for granted that the materials listed on the spec were what we had asked for. As the project went on, it became apparent that the spec listed things that were different from the plans. Like my farmhouse window casings. Apparently they had simple 1×4 window surrounds and we had to fight them to do the windows according to the plans.

Now I’m a visual person so I looked at the plans more than the specs. Mistake!

6. Allowance budgets

This is where our first point comes back into play…everything costs more than you expect. When we reviewed the budget for the allowance items (flooring, cabinets, tile, counters, appliances, plumbing fixtures, lighting) it looked like plenty of money. But we’re used to being able to shop around and find the best pricing. With builders, you’re pretty much stuck with their vendors. And, I guess their vendors are pretty pricey. Because after we picked out all the things, it was evident that they didn’t budget nearly enough. According to the flooring vendor, this is common for them.

Of course things cost what they cost but when you rely on a builder to put together a budget based on your preferences so that you can go to a bank and get a construction loan for the proper amount…any overage is coming out of pocket…not from the bank.

Needless to say, we’ve had to make many compromises along the way. So before you do all of the work getting financing, make sure it’s for enough money.

7. Don’t do all of the above while you have anything else life changing going on

Yeah. There’s just not enough time in the day.

8. Stay informed

This was out first (and after this our last) time building a house so we didn’t know the process and had lots of questions. Apparently so many questions that now our builders just ignore us. If you find a good builder, this should not happen. They should keep you in the loop…after all, you’re paying them. If something is wrong, bring it up before they get too much further and it can’t be corrected. Like the crooked roof we just noticed on one of the bedroom dormers. It’s way off. I bet they refuse to fix it.

9. Change orders should be fair

Whenever something changes from the original spec, they need to submit a change order showing the additions and deductions. Here’s an example of something they tried to charge us for: when runnng the power line from the pole they had to dig through our tree line at the street that’s been there decades before we even started this process. So the bid included digging between those, they tried to charge us an extra $500 to bring n a smaller excavator to get in between. Um…no. Figure it out…not our problem, dude. So they did!

Another example: instead of two standard sized fans in our master bath, we went with one upgraded fan. So they charged is the difference for the bigger one (apparently more one is still more than two but didn’t bother credited the cost to install the second one.

All of these little things add up so make sure you’re not getting the raw end of the deal.

10. Buy bigger pants

I stress eat and this shit has been stressful as hell. Enough said.

2 thoughts on “Lessons Learned

  1. Good Morning Laura,

    All of your advice is much appreciated since my wife and I are in the very early stages of looking into building on family property. We really like the 4 Gables plan but started looking into the Wildmere after seeing some others that had built that plan. We happened to come across your page and have loved seeing all your pictures to help see what it would look like in real life as a finished house. Would you mind sharing a rough overall cost to build your house to see how it might compare to the 4g. What things are you happy you did and are there any changes you would make. Any information would be appreciated. Also have you posted your final floor plans?

    1. Hi Jonathon,

      I do have our final layout posted here: as we did make quite a few modifications. After living in the house for about 6 months now, we would have changed some little things like plug and light switches. I really wish we could have figured out a jack and Jill bathroom upstairs because 4 bathrooms is a bit much. Especially with boys lol. Also I’d add another dormer to the upstairs back bedroom which only has one window. But we live windows. And maybe I would have pushed the front of the living room out a tad more. It’s enough space as is but gets crowded around the holidays.

      As for price, it really depends on where you’re building and the finishes you’re choosing. We also built a detached garage with unfinished studio so that skews the cost a bit. I’d say it was about $160/sf and we had higher end finishes.

      Hope that helps! Good luck with your build!

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