Information Your Builder and Designer Must Have

Topo and tree surveyLet's see . . . First, we purchased property for our new home. It took us a few months but -- check -- done that. Second, we've got our team together -- the home builder, the designer, and us. Who knew that would take so long -- finding people we believe we can trust and get along with. But -- check and done. We've got pictures and ideas of what we want, collected over the last five years, neatly arranged in this three-ring binder. Check.We're ready to meet with our team and get this home construction going.

What else could we possibly need?

Excellent question! Long gone are the days when you can scratch your ideas on a napkin, buy some lumber and nails, and start construction the next day. When it comes to building a home in today's world, the process you must go through in the beginning can be dauntingly long and can come with many additional costs that you rarely plan for. So it's important that you get organized and gather certain pieces of information your builder and designer must have.

What information is required?

Let's walk through the pieces.

Survey of your property

When you're gathering information to bring to initial meetings with your builder and designer, there's one basic piece that's always necessary for a project to move forward: a survey of your property.

You might also hear it referred to as a site plan, a plot of your property, a plat of your property, a title survey, a topographic survey, a tree survey. Each is a different kind of survey with different information added. They all have one thing in common -- they all show the outline of property or, in big terms, gives the legal description of where your land is exactly located. Where your property is located and what it looks like will determine any additional surveys you might need.

Rules and more rules

Deed restrictions. Home owner's associations (HOA's). Architectural Control Committee (ACC's). City ordinances. What does this stuff have to do with anything?

In a typical neighborhood or city, deed restrictions, HOA rules, and city ordinances are designed to - for example - prevent people from parking their boats in the street or leaving a car up on jacks in the driveway for a year. These deed restrictions, rules, and ordinances also provide guidelines about the house you can build. For example, the rules might specify how tall the house can be. Its minimum (or maximum) square-foot size. How much stone or brick is required. Whether you can have a metal roof. Whether you must stow your garbage can out of sight in the garage. Sometimes, even things like which exterior colors you're allowed to use.

So, when preparing for your initial meetings with your home designer and builder, you should find out about:

  • Your subdivision or deed restrictions
  • Home Owners Associations restrictions or rules
  • A list of any special drawings or tests that might be required
  • Architectural Control Committee restrictions or rules or any special drawings or requirements for plan submittal and approvals

Wait -- are you saying they have to approve my plans?

Maybe. Often, you must submit plans and get them approved by HOA's and ACC's before you can even take your plans to the city to get actual building permits.

Sometimes these approval processes require you to pay an additional fee.

Plus, the process could be surprisingly lengthy. Some approval committees meet to review plans only once or twice a month.

What about city approvals?

City codes and ordinances provide additional information about how your house must be designed and built. You shouldn't need to provide this information to your design/build team, since most of it is readily available on the Internet. In addition, your builder and designer should already know the residential building code and be well experienced in building and designing by it.

So what happens if I don't have all of these documents yet?

Well, honestly it's not the end of the world if you don't have all this information for your initial team meeting. The worst that can happen is a delay of your project while you and your team gather the information you need.

Okay so how do I know what I need to get? And what do I get first?

I usually suggest people gather information in this order:

1 -- A survey of the property. A survey should have been part of the documents when you purchased the property. If you're looking at property to purchase, ask the seller for a copy of the survey.

2 -- Subdivision, HOA, or ACC rules. These mandatory rules will give you some ideas about the direction you may need to go for the design of your home. These rules are in addition to city or governmental codes and ordinances.

3 -- Topographic survey. Then look at your property. Do you have a steeply sloped lot? For a steeply sloped lot, contact a surveyor and schedule a topographic survey. The surveyor measures and documents how the slope works on your land. For example, they measure that awesome break in the property that looks like a little rock wall. They'll measure where that little creek bed actually runs.

4 -- Tree survey. Is your lot heavily treed? If so, you need a tree survey. The surveyor will locate all the trees based on the size of the trees, typically any tree 6" in diameter or larger. Most often, you will want them to measure trees where you think you want to set the house and driveway. Be aware: Cities, HOA's, and ACC's often control what you can do with trees - the size of trees to be measured, trees to be protected, tree removal, even tree replacement. So a tree survey is important. It can be pricey, and the time frame to get a tree survey scheduled and completed can get long.

5 -- Soil test. Central Texas has one of the most geologically diverse regions in the world. The layers, folds, and faults cause different types of soil to outcrop in great profusion in this region. It's not critical for your designer and builder to know about the soil in your initial meetings. But soil testing is mandatory for two purposes:

  • Foundation. The engineer who will design your foundation needs exact information about the kind of soil on your property so that he can design the appropriate foundation for your home.
  • Septic system. If your property requires a septic system, soil testing is a critical part of designing the septic system that will work best for your soil.

When you purchase a lot, surveys and soil tests are additional costs to you. And procuring them could potentially delay the start of construction. So it's a good idea to start early to avoid delay of the game.

Well, gosh!

You might be eager to get started and wondering, "Can't we just go ahead?"

Or, maybe your question is simply, "Wow! This is a lot of stuff. Can't I just pay you to take care of it?"

Answer to both: Yes, of course!

Within certain limits, you can move forward on the initial design of your home without all of this information in hand. Just be aware that you might need to be flexible. For example, suppose the ACC requirements say you can't remove trees 20" in diameter, but you have a big tree right in the middle of where you want the house. Well, your plans might have to change if this fact isn't known at the start of design! Simply be aware of and understand that there are certain things that have to be done that could delay your project start date, as well as cost you extra money.

We're here to help

So is it just too much information? And you're thinking none of that sounds like fun?

Don't be scared. The team is here to help! We just need to walk your property and talk about your home. We're here to help you, teach you, guide you and have some fun!