Back in 2005, on a whim, my husband and I decided to look at home contractors – and thus began the 18-month process of building our own home. What began as a curious afternoon ended up dictating our lives until we finally moved into our house in the fall of 2006.
While we love our home and the experience was generally positive, the truth is I wouldn’t recommend doing it on a whim like we did. Unfortunately, we made some serious mistakes along the way and didn’t plan for a lot of contingencies, which made the process harder than it should have been.
If I could go back and restart the process, I would have done several things differently. First, I would have spent more time thinking about whether the decision to build our home was even right for us. After making sure our budget could handle what we needed in a home, then I would have given the go-ahead. Luckily we had just enough money to cover the expenses – but it could have turned out to be a disaster.
Not ensuring that we had enough money in our budget was only the start of what we did wrong. However, you can learn from my newbie home-building mistakes. Here are a number of essential questions you must ask yourself before signing the initial building contract.
Questions to Consider Prior to Building a Home
1. Can We Afford It?
On paper, building a home appears to be very affordable. However, while the numbers on paper might add up to an attractive price, you need to consider the construction costs of building a house that are not planned for. For instance, while lumber might have a certain cheap price today, if your build is delayed, that framing cost could go up. And while your land may appear to be ready to build on now, you might find out that it requires additional surveying. Make sure you can afford the number on the price breakdown, but also that you have some wiggle room to work with so that one mistake or setback doesn’t completely blow your budget.
Run the numbers and only sign on for what you can afford – sure, marble counter tops might be nice, but not when your budget only allows for laminate. Pad your budget by at least 10% of the total cost to allow for unforeseen expenses.
2. Do We Have the Time and Patience?
Having a house built rather than simply purchasing an existing home requires a much lengthier amount of time. Therefore, you need to be sure that you’ve got the time and the patience to deal with the variables involved in building a custom home. Even the most basic, stock-built homes take three to six months to finish, while custom homes can take up to 18 months or longer, if you run into problems. If you’re in a rush to get into a home, buying one might be the best option.
3. Can Our Marriage Handle It?
My husband and I had only been married two years when we built our home, and I can’t tell you how often contractors and builders would say that if we could get through building a home together, we’d be okay. It was kind of a baptism by fire for a couple of clueless newlyweds. Of course, I’ve done my part to warn friends of the stress that building a home can put on a marriage. We made it through, but not without roughly 600 arguments over fixture finishes and paint colors. Builders beware.
4. Is Our Lifestyle Stable?
Building a home means pouring blood, sweat, and tears into a place that you’ll hopefully keep for a long time. The emotional attachment to your home can keep you in place for a while after building, so that’s why it’s a better option for families that will be putting down roots. There’s a good chance that after you build, you’ll want to stick around out of sheer exhaustion. If there’s a chance that your job or education could take you away from your current location, building a home could mean a lot of work with little time to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
5. What Are Our Wants and Needs?
At some point, sit down and make a list of wants and needs. Under the “needs” category, list the features your home must have, such as a big toy room for the kids, or a spacious eat-in kitchen. Under the “wants” category, list the features that would be nice to have, but won’t make or break your home-building experience. By doing so, you can budget for your needs accordingly. If there’s money left over, you can pick and choose which of your wants you can afford.
6. Do We Have a Location?
Look around at land for sale in your area and see what you can expect to pay – price per acreage varies greatly by location. Furthermore, determine whether you can finance the purchase of land, or if you will you need to pay cash for it. You also need to consider some of the costs of the location, such as paying the city for permits, adding power and sewer hookups, and any excavation and landscaping that must be completed as part of the building process.
Investigate the land you want to purchase thoroughly to identify potential problems before they arise: How far are power and sewer lines from your land? Will you need to install a septic system or a well? Is there a good spot to build on? How difficult will excavation be so you can lay a foundation? These are all questions to take into account and investigate with your contractor.
7. Do We Have a Builder?
Choosing a builder might be the single most important decision you make in the building process. Do your homework and shop around – you’ll find plenty. When choosing a builder, look for one who is upfront and professional. A builder who makes wild promises about building the Taj Mahal for less than $200,000 might seem great at the start, but will probably max out your budgets in the process. If possible, tour the finished homes of a specific builder and choose one with tastes and philosophies similar to your own, and with whom you get along. After all, you’ll be spending a lot of time together.
8. Have We Weighed the Pros and Cons?
Take your time to make the decision to build a home, and be sure to consider all of your options. Check out some of the built homes in your area that are in your price range, and weigh the pros and cons of purchasing an existing home. While your dream might be to build a custom house, it may make more sense to purchase a home now and hang onto that dream until you’re ready to stick around for a while. If the benefits outweigh the issues of time, patience, and budget, then you are ready to build your own home.
Deciding to build a home means essentially devoting your life, free time, and patience toward the project for many months. I love my custom home – it’s practically a member of the family. But I definitely wouldn’t recommend the process to the faint of heart or to couples in an already-rocky of marriage. Take your time and check out your options before breaking ground on your own home.
Have you ever considered building your own home?