Now that we've been in our forever home for 3 months, I finally feel like I'm ready to reflect on the home building process. I heard so many horror stories about building a home before we started and was definitely a little intimidated by them. If you're thinking about building your home or about to start the process, don't let these stories scare you! It's time-consuming and can be challenging at times, but I wouldn't change our decision to build for anything in the world. I am so incredibly happy with our home…it was worth every second of stress.
Don't get me wrong, I am so pleased with the overall result; but like most people that have designed/built a custom home, I have a few minor things that I would probably have done differently if given another chance at it. That happens…many times, you don't realize what you did (or didn't) want until after the process is over. There were a few keys to making our home building journey as seamless as possible. If I had a friend that was building a home, I would probably tell him/her the following things…
1. Have an idea of what you want before you ever pick a builder.
I had a little bit more time to plan our home than most people do. My husband and I both have variable incomes, which means we had to wait a full 2 calendar years after he started a new job before we qualified for the mortgage we needed. I spent most of that time making notes of what I wanted, finding (and modifying) the right floor plan, and making design boards. Spend as much time as you can nailing down a general idea of your floor plan and design preferences. This makes it so much easier to pick a builder that will fit your style/plans when you start meeting with contractors.
You'll also need to get a good idea for your budget before you start your first meetings. Use some of the many mortgage calculators online to find out what you can afford (and don't forget to include things like PMI, HOA dues, and other smaller fees that can add up). Having your budget before you meet with the builder can really clue them into what you're wanting as far as size and finishes go.
2. When you're ready to get the process going, start by meeting with a few builders.
Alright, I'll admit that I didn't follow my own advice with this one, but there was a good reason behind it. Our builder already owned the lot we wanted in our neighborhood and was willing to carry the financing during the building process (something no other builder in the area would do and saved us a ton of money overall). Those two things were deal-breakers for us. It worked out though – we loved our builder and would have probably gone with them anyway!
If you don't have those needs and are in an area where you can be a little more picky, I'd definitely recommend sitting down with a few builders to go over budget, design ideas, floor plans, and timelines before deciding. Your contractor is a make-or-break for how smoothly the process will go for you. Meeting face-to-face with builders will also clue you into how they communicate and how responsive they are to needs/questions.
3. Location, location, location.
Once you have a builder, another big decision to make is your location. In my opinion, this is way more important than any other decision you make about your home; design elements (and even floor plans, for that matter) can be changed at a later date. This can't. Think about how that location fits your family now (work commute time, neighborhood make-up, view) and later (school zones, yard size). We chose a location that would give us lots of room to grow, had the school zone we wanted, was close to family, and had an amazing backyard view. Those were our priorities; of course they vary for everyone! Also consider the direction of your lot and what rooms you'd like filled with light at certain times of the day. Windows that face the south have the most light throughout the day; west-facing windows will have lots of afternoon light. The front of our home faces south, so we have a ton of light in those windows all day (I'm sitting in my office as I type this with sun in my eyes right now, as a matter of fact! 😎)
4. During the plan finalization process, know what are must-haves and optionals.
If you have a good idea of the floor plan and design elements you want in your home, you'll also need to prioritize the details on your wish list. I separated my list into two categories: “must-have” and “optional.” A few things that were on my must-have list were a playroom at the top of the stairs, a home office, coffered ceilings in our living room, and a screened porch. Those things might not seem important to most people, but they were what Noah and I decided were non-negotiable in our plans and that we were willing to sacrifice other options for. I had to fight for these during the design/budget finalization process, but I'm so glad I did; I can't imagine our home without them! There were lots of things that we ended up getting that were nice bonuses from our optional list, and I love those; but I would gladly have given them up for our must-haves. It helps your builder so much if you make known what your 5 most important elements are; remember, they can't read your mind, so it's important to communicate your biggest wishes if you really want them.
5. Design a house with good bones; pretty things can be added later.
If you have the choice between a little more square footage or pretty design elements, I would most definitely go with the square footage. One of my regrets was not making our playroom a little bit bigger when given the option in our final design meetings. It would have taken away a few of our higher-end finishes, so I chose to make it smaller. Those pretty things can always be added later; it's much harder to add square footage or change the layout of rooms.
You'll never regret giving your home the layout and size it needs. After all, there's no point in having all of those pretty finishes if the layout of your home doesn't allow the room to enjoy them!
6. Don't go trendy because it's trendy; pick what you want because it's what you like.
I most definitely have a love/hate relationship with Pinterest and Instagram. It's a love because because they give me a ton of decor ideas for my home. I hate both because they often open up a conflict between my personal style and what is trendy.
I'm going to make a confession: I hate (HATE) the current white/gray trend. I can see where it's pretty for some people (and hey, if you love it, go for it!) – but the thought of marble countertops that can stain and white walls (when I have a toddler who rubs his dirty hands over every surface he can) makes me absolutely cringe. Plus, I just love the look of warmer, more inviting colors. So I didn't hesitate to go with colors that were a little warmer in our home, in spite of everything you see on Pinterest these days being gray/white. And I couldn't be happier with that decision.
Remember: trends are constantly changing. What is stylish today will probably look dated in 5 years. I'm not planning on completely changing the inside of my home a couple of times a decade, so I went with what I love and will last much longer. If you happen to love what's trendy today, you do you! But don't be a slave to trends; it's a never-ending chase that will cost you so much time and money.
7. Stick to your guns.
No matter what builder you go with, you're eventually going to have disagreements or conflicts over certain decisions. That's just part of it. If it's a decision you feel strongly about, it's ok to stand up for yourself (just know that you might have to sacrifice in another department to make up for it). And, if something is done incorrectly, there's nothing wrong with making your concerns/questions known. There are definitely a couple of things I wish I had spoken up about now that we are done with building. Nothing huge, but if I had raised concerns when certain design elements were going in I could have made sure they were done the way I wanted them to be.
8. Check your work site often.
Once the building process starts, I recommend checking it often (at least a few times a week). I didn't have a problem with this at all; I looked forward to seeing the progress each day! This lets you really supervise the progress and have things that are incorrect changed before it's too late.
As we were framing our home, we tried to stop by at least 2-3 times a week. Then, you'll have a huge period where “behind the scenes” things are going in (wiring, HVAC, plumbing) that you really won't need to supervise; we probably cut down to once a week during this part (because it honestly wasn't all that interesting 😂). Then, once finishes start going in (flooring, paint, tile) we starting going by the work site daily. I'd highly recommend this; things start moving fast and there are a lot of little things happening at once. We caught a few problems before they were a big deal by doing this.
9. Ask questions and make your wishes known.
If something doesn't look right, ask about it! I asked dozens of questions throughout the building process that my builder/designer addressed quickly…most of the time their decision made total sense to me once I asked about it. For example, when our doors were installed, I noticed that all of the exterior doors had brass doorknobs (something I definitely didn't want). I asked about it, and my designer let me know that those were temporary contractor doorknobs so the house could be locked and give access to the subs when needed. It made total sense once I addressed it.
But, if your question is answered and you're still not sure it's what you want, there's nothing wrong with challenging a decision. You're the one that has to live with that decision for the next “x” number of years. Of course it sometimes costs money to change something (and that needs to be taken into consideration when making a change), but don't let that stop you from getting what you want if it's something you think your budget can handle.
10. Don't feel rushed (or do the rushing).
Building a home takes time. From the day I called our contractor the first time to the day we moved in was a little over 13 months. We ran about a month over schedule because of lots of rain this past fall…and, besides only the last months of my pregnancies, it was the one of the longest months of my life. I was soooo ready to be in this house; so much that I allowed our builder to skip a lot of things I probably should have been more of a stickler about, like our final punch list (we did it after moving in) and our landscaping (it was literally all done within the last week before we moved in). If we had waited a little bit longer I think a lot of the smaller details would have been closed out and finished…now, we're still dealing with a few of them months later.
If you're going to take on this huge project, you've got to understand that the final stages are just as important (if not more important) than the rest of it! It's worth waiting a few extra weeks if it ensures that everything is done correctly; I know it's hard to wait, but you'll thank yourself later.
And, most importantly, enjoy the journey! Don't let the little details bog you down too much. Believe it or not, this process can be a lot of fun; it's all about perspective. I don't think this is something I ever want to do again, but I most definitely enjoyed it and would recommend it if you're willing to put in the time and effort it takes to get it right.
If you want to see our home-building journey, I've got the whole process chronicled on the blog – click here and scroll down to the bottom to go through the posts in order!
Anybody else out there that has been through the home-building process? Leave your home building tips below in the comments!