Now that we’re so close to moving into our new house, I have a few thoughts about what made the process work for us.
Going into it, we heard a lot of comments about how many decisions we’d have to make (and how many arguments they could spark) and it sounded like a lot of people felt drained by the experience of building their house. It was a little intimidating.
Still, we were pretty intent on building and it was something we both wanted to do before we met each other. So we did lots of research and went for it!
This was our timeline:
- For several years we toured the Parade of Homes and made notes about what we liked about certain layouts and architecture.
- We looked through lots of real estate listings online and made more notes about layouts and architecture, as well as lot and neighborhood characteristics.
- While we lived in our first house we did projects like remodeling the front entry and master bedroom. We daydreamed a lot about how to finish our basement and make the most of the space.
- When it was time to sell our house we first looked at what was available already and tried to find a house that would be good for the next 15-20 years – we figured we would build our house when the kids were a little older and we had more cash.
- There wasn’t anything in our budget and in a location we liked that wouldn’t need remodeling and lots of tweaking. So we started to interview home builders that we had liked during the Parade of Homes.
- We also met with a construction loan officer to find out what the process would be like.
This was when we started to make some compromises. We found out that we could afford to build a new house if we could sell our first house, rent for a year and save up a bit more cash. We didn’t really want to rent, especially with a newborn and a two-year-old. But we compromised.
Right when we were getting ready to put our house on the market we found a buildable lot that was in a neighborhood we loved. It was a lot more wooded than I preferred and I was worried about mosquitoes (when I was a teen our house in the woods was basically a fortress against swarms of mosquitoes, and you couldn’t enjoy the outdoors except for winter). But Good Cop loved it and he convinced me it would be okay. And, it’s true that the mosquitoes were really bad this spring at dusk and we had to pack up a picnic in a hurry. But we spent hours there during the day all summer and fall, and hardly noticed them. So I think it’ll be great.
We settled on a builder and were able to buy the lot in the same transaction as selling our house, so that was really great timing. I started to really research the house of our dreams. Two things helped me so much:
This book and podcast really solidified all the scattered ideas and dreams I had about our future home. They helped me learn about how to use our site to its potential and how to create living spaces we would be comfortable in. They were invaluable and I think they saved us a lot of headaches.
After we settled on the builder we met with them to talk about our budget and how much it would cost for each of our add-ons. We covered everything from solid-core bedroom doors to a third stall on the garage. There were about thirty add-ons, I think. That gave us a concrete budget to work with so we could see what was affordable and what would have to wait.
Then, we met with the builder again and looked at floor plans together. There was one that seemed like a great fit, so we made arrangements to walk through a home that had been built on those plans. Being able to see the space in real life was amazing and super helpful. We knew we had the right plan when we got done walking through it and couldn’t think of anything significant that we would change.
Then it was time for more compromise. About halfway through our year of saving up more cash, we noticed that interest rates were going up and we might need to sign a contract earlier than planned. That meant that we wouldn’t be able to afford some of the add-ons we had kept in the budget. It also meant that we’d be painting the interior ourselves in order to save some money. Some of the compromises stung quite a bit, like losing the 9-foot ceilings and the fireplace. And some we don’t seem to miss now that the house is almost finished. Painting was definitely a bigger job than we planned, mostly because we didn’t know that it involved a lot more than just painting. Thankfully, that part is done and we survived somehow. It does feel good to walk through the house and see how the long hours and bloody fingers paid off. I don’t think we’ll do it again though.
There have only been a few unpleasant surprises so far: a gravel driveway that we thought would be concrete, an overage on the septic system, a much larger time investment for painting than we planned on, and a shower installed that we didn’t pick out.
Overall, the decisions were fun and pretty easy! Our interior designer was helpful and divided our decisions into about three meetings. At the first we picked out the exterior materials. During the second meeting we chose flooring, counters, cabinets, tile and plumbing fixtures – that one was pretty intense! I think the third was lighting fixtures. We had to bring the kids to one of the meetings and she was really accommodating of them, which was great. We also met with our project manager at the lumber supplier to pick out doors and windows. More than once we heard that we were exceptionally easy to work with, and I think it’s because we did our research before we started. And, we stuck to our budget, so our choices were pretty limited. It was cool to make decisions together and then watch the finished product come together in our house!
Now that we’re getting ready to move in we’re still dreaming about projects – I’m dreaming about unpacking our storage unit and discovering how our furniture and art will fit in this house. And we’re dreaming of lots of yard projects for this spring! I’m looking forward to spending the second half of the winter there getting cozy and exploring everything before the snow melts and uncovers a yard of mud. :)