Planning a custom home or remodel? Here are some things to consider.
1. Put together a reputable team at the beginning.
You might be asking, “Well, which comes first – the builder or the designer?” The answer is Yes.
You need both, from the beginning. And here’s why: One of the saddest things we’ve encountered is homeowners who have spent months, years even, designing every little aspect of their dream home. They’ve fallen in love with their plans and can’t imagine wanting anything else. Then they bring the plans to a builder and are shocked – dismayed -- to discover the cost to build their home is way beyond their expectation.
How can this happen? Well, the homeowners asked the designer how much it should cost to build their home, and he gave them his estimate. Or, the homeowners failed to heed the designer when she warned them about adding cost each time they increased the size of the house and added more features. Don’t get us wrong – we love working with house designers, but they might not be the best source of information about the cost of construction.
An experienced, reputable builder is a curious sort, in a good way. He’s curious about your lot and the ease or difficulty of building on it. He’s curious about the soil conditions, the trees and brush that will need to be cleared, where the road cut will go for the driveway, how to navigate city and county permitting authorities, the best way to get utilities to your house, where the septic field will go, the materials and finishes to be used, your energy-efficiency goals for the home, and more. These factors and more affect the cost of construction, and they’re important elements of planning your home.
Your best bet: Hire a design/build firm. They typically have years of experience working together as a team. Or, put together your own team: Find your building designer, find your builder, and put them together. Put together an amenable, collaborative team who will work with you from the get-go to plan the best home possible for your budget. Or,
2. Know how much you can spend.
You’d be surprised how many times we talk to people who are ready to build a new, custom home but have no idea what they want or how much they can spend. Hold your horses!
Before you begin the design/build process, stop and figure out what you can afford. If you need financing assistance, talk to an experienced professional mortgage lender who can help determine what you can comfortably afford. This process will take into account your income, expenses, credit, assets, interest rate, taxes, insurance, maintenance, and utilities. Lenders are often eager to lend you more than you need; make sure you identify a spending level you can comfortably afford.
Set a budget. Then you can design and plan a home to fit.
3. Be clear about the difference between what you need and what you want.
Sounds easy, but what might seem like a need to you could be a want to another family member.
Here’s an exercise to help: You and your spouse or partner – independently – each write down your dreams, wants, and needs, in no particular order. Then rank them in order of importance. Now compare your lists and create one combined, master list ranking your needs and wants in order. It will save time, energy, and money when you meet with your design/build team to plan your project. The list helps determine which items you can afford for your budget.
4. Seek advice from local experts.
Designing and building a home or major renovation is a local affair. Climate, code requirements, construction material and labor costs, utility providers, traffic – you name it, these are local conditions. You’ll need the help of folks with feet on the ground who know the territory and how to get things done.
Your wise Uncle Fred in Nova Scotia might be a good source of sage advice, but don’t be asking him how to build a house in central Texas or how much it should cost.
Make sure you get good advice from a competent builder.
5. Don’t sign a contract with a builder you don’t like, trust, or respect.
When you choose a builder, you’re signing up for a long-term relationship. Think about it: The planning stage can take months or years. Actual construction can take six months or more, depending on the size and scope of your home. After that, you’re still involved with the builder during a two-year limited warranty time period. And after that, you’ll be dependent on the builder for years to come regarding warranty information, vendor and subcontractor contacts, and the like.
It’s a long-term relationship, so make darn sure you find a builder you like, trust, and respect.
When you interview the builder, ask yourself: Are you a good personality fit? Is the builder easy to talk to? Does the builder listen well? Does the builder explain the construction process in a way that makes sense to you?
Always check references. In any construction project, challenges arise. So when you talk to homeowners of projects the builder has built, find out: How does the builder handle problems? When you ask a question, will you get an honest, straightforward answer? Can you expect the builder to make good judgment calls on your behalf? Is the builder organized, and does the company follow good business practices? How do they manage the on-site process? Who's the on-site project supervisor? Is the builder up-to-date on the latest high-tech tools for communicating with you about your project?
Here’s hoping all your future construction projects go smoothly!