After 11 years of complaining that our current house is too small, we decided to pull the trigger before interest rates went up again and buy a house. Except before we started looking at existing homes for sale, we just “went to see” some new builds in a golf community waaay north of where we live. You know, just to look. And because my husband loves golf. And apparently driving long distances to work.
Well…. we got drunk on the idea of building a house. It’s always been on my bucket list, I just didn’t think we scratch that one off this soon.
One thing that we did learn is that when it comes to building a house for the first time, you don’t know what you don’t know.
So after 30 hours on site over 5 days, we signed a contract on a home that already had the slab and was framed. So essentially it is a “build to suit” with a much shorter completion schedule and a greater opportunity to lock in a good interest rate before they go up too much again. We quickly found out that “to suit” meant we had to make a lot of design and décor decisions lightning fast. That’s been all consuming over the past two weeks with builder meetings, design center meetings, sales meetings, electrician meetings, rinse and repeat. Oh, and throw in a couple visits to the lighting store (far from torture for me, given my chandelier fetish).
With the bulk of our major decisions over, it’s been great fun and truly educational process. One thing that we did learn is that when it comes to building a house for the first time, you don’t know what you don’t know. Here then, from hard earned experience are ten things we learned in the process.
1) View the spec homes in the neighborhood for ideas. Go check out the homes that the builder has already put up and are for sale, including ones that are out of your price range. This will give you ideas on how you’d like your home to look and upgrades you may be willing to splurge on. (I never would have known that I could have a wine grotto in our new house if we hadn’t done this.) Do this more than once. Even look online at what they are building in other communities too. Your perception will change after you’ve been immersed in the process and you’ll pick up on details you didn’t see the first time around.
2) Ask to see change orders from other homes being built. Your salesman and design center should have no problem providing you with these, just let them know you don’t need addresses or names, you are simply trying to find out what you haven’t thought of. This was hugely helpful for us being 1st time home builders. We had no idea what we didn’t know, and came up with some “must do’s” that never would have occurred to us otherwise – like add outlets specifically for outside Christmas lights.
3) Ask friends who have built recently what upgrades they felt were worthwhile and what they regret doing or not doing. I posed the question on Facebook and got some great ideas which I have shared in this post titled, New Build Checklist.
4) Consider how you’ll use your new home. We did a switcheroo on a few of the rooms to accommodate our living style. For example, the formal study has been converted to a formal living area, and my office was moved upstairs to be closer to the Princess Cupcake’s room and playroom, rather than taking the Mother-In-Law suite as we originally considered. We have aging family members who will visit, and we didn’t think they would appreciate having to climb stairs. This works for us.
5) Building a home can get expensive quickly. Set a budget for structural changes (if you’re building from the dirt, these may not be as costly as ours as we’re modifying walls, etc.), interior design, electrical, lighting and landscaping. Keep in mind you can always change out light fixtures or add that back patio later if the expense skyrockets. But also know that by including them in the building process, you can roll those expenses into your mortgage, and also eliminating the temptation to procrastinate.
6) Mistakes are going to happen. You can either live with builder mistakes or negotiate for compensation elsewhere. For example, we noticed that the stone on our house was not the color we chose. The builder offered to remove it and install our original selection, but we ultimately chose to keep it and negotiated the fee that the builder would have incurred to replace it, be allocated to something else.
7) Get your own inspectors. Even though the builder has inspectors come to your property site, it’s not a bad idea to keep your builder on their toes by having your own inspector check their work. An extra set of eyes could save you in the long run.
8) Don’t assume anything. Ask, ask, ask. If you don’t ask for it, you’re not going to get it. Ask lots of questions, in every phase. I can’t emphasize this enough.
9) Be nice to the workers. Take them some Monster energy drinks, some cookies… They are building your dream home, not a bad idea to get on their good side early and persuade them to give extra care on your home.
10) The last piece of advice came from my dear friend Geralyn. She said, “Don’t second guess your design choices. Go with your first instinct.” Sage advice as I agonized over kitchen cabinets, changing them, then changing them back. Then almost changing them again. She was right, go with your first instinct. I’m glad I did.
When it comes down to building a new home details, there are many things to consider. You can view my working list here and I’ll continue to update it as we learn more along the way. Be sure to bookmark it and pin it in case you ever think you might want to build a home, and send it to friends who are building a home for the first time!
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