Building a custom home can be an exciting but stressful undertaking. It is a physical manifestation of your dreams and years of hard work, saving and planning. It is also an enormous investment, so it is critical you educate yourself on the process to ensure your time, energy and money are well spent.
Read on to learn a few things you need to know before breaking ground on a custom home.
- This Is YOUR Home
It is easy to get overwhelmed with decision making when you are building a custom home which can lead to unintentionally delegating important choices to the professionals. To ensure that doesn’t happen and the house you build truly is your home, be sure to:
- Take the time to think about what your needs are now, and long-term, before contacting any architect or general contractor. Planning more kids? Want a guest room, or two, for out-of-town family & friends?
- Also consider: Is this where you will retire? Do you need a large, open space for entertaining? Safety features for young kids?
- Be sure to have custom blueprints drawn up; don’t go the cheap route and get them from a book or online.
- Ask yourself as many questions as possible now to avoid major renovations later.
- The Contractor
It’s common knowledge that a person who acts as her own lawyer has a fool for a client. It’s the same when it comes to building; don’t be your own contractor! Aside from their knowledge, contractors have established relationships with other construction professionals, and they know about local permits and building codes. When choosing a contractor, be sure to:
- Check with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the Better Business Bureau of your state to see how long they have been in business and if any complaints have been filed against them.
- Ask for recommendations.
- When you select a few to interview, pay attention to how they talk about their craft. Is it with passion, or only dollar signs in their eyes?
- Ask for references for them and their subcontractors and follow up.
- Check their insurance.
- It’s rarely a good idea to choose the lowest-bidding contractor
- Review your contract with a lawyer.
- The Neighborhood
As with the design of the home, you need to ask yourself a lot of questions about the area in which you want to live. When choosing a lot, don’t be tempted to buy based on price alone; remember that a house is an investment so it’s worth the extra upfront costs to get what you really want. Some questions to consider:
- What are your priorities? Being close to work? Or family? Do you want city conveniences or a rural, quiet setting?
- How are the other properties in the neighborhood – are they kept up well? What are the average price ranges and recent valuations?
- Will your house plan fit the lot and area both stylistically and size-wise? If the entire neighborhood is all old Victorians, your overly-eclectic design could result in a lower property value.
- How far away is the grocery store? The gas station? The school (are there good schools in the district)? Near by is nice, but across the street, not so much.
- Design & Resale Value
This is perhaps the most important component of building a home. Even if you plan on never moving, you still need to consider resale value which means thinking about all the little details, seen and unseen, such as:
- Consider steel vs. wood frame. Though 5-15% more expensive, steel won’t rot or warp and is much stronger. It stands up better to natural disasters such as earthquakes which means your insurance is cheaper. If you or your contractor are not familiar with structural steel contact a metal fabrication
- Keep in mind that the more unique you make your home, the smaller the potential field of buyers. Distinct style is good, but try not to “design out” any demographic.
- A handy tip: place bedrooms away from noisy and high-traffic areas.
- Don’t forget storage and functionality; consider built-in furniture.
- Make extra rooms multi-functional (home office/guest room).
- Don’t cut corners on fixtures, counters, flooring, HVAC – they all have long-term payback in resale and efficiency.
- Strongly consider hiring a designer even if you have mentally decorated the interior. Designers understand building language and are great liaisons between you and the contractor. They can also save money by reducing costs while still creating the look you want.
- Plan the details in advance; don’t delay finish work because you can’t decide what tile you want in your bathroom.
- The Budget
The finances of building your own home can seem scary to think about, but it doesn’t have to be. Like most things, with reparation you can eliminate a lot of the stress. Some things to keep in mind:
- After completing your budget, add 10-20% for unexpected expenses.
- Prioritize your wish-list and eliminate. Maybe you need to cut out the sunroom to have a much-needed second bathroom.
- Know what you are willing to compromise on and what you are not.
- Expect to have to make a 20% down payment.
- Remember extras like cost of moving and landscaping.
- Two useful online tools: Cost to Build and Building Cost Calculators.
- Manage Expectations
When thinking about your new custom home, you may daydream about the finished product and how wonderful it will be for you and your family to live in it. But the completed house is a long way off, and you need to keep your expectations of the process in check.
- It can take up to half a year to design the space then months waiting for city approval and at least a year for building.
- Even with all the professionals who will be working for you, it is a massive time commitment.
- If you are already overwhelmed with work, kids and life commitments, you might want to delay a bit until things are a little less hectic
- Even the most solid marriages face setbacks, and building a custom home is hard physically, emotionally and financially. Talk to each other, a lot, in advance about how you will manage conflicts.
Knowledge Is Power
Though potentially stressful and expensive, building a custom home is certainly worth the troubles. And hopefully, with the information above, some solid planning and an openness to the process, you will end up with a home that far exceeds your imagination.
Alfonso Gonzalez is a freelance writer based in Malibu, California. He spent 25 years in the construction industry, working roofing, plumbing, electrical, and more before retiring. In his free time, he likes to work on home repair projects.