Building a Home: What I Wish I Had Known

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Our Future Home

My husband and I really do feel blessed to have found our builder.  What we wanted was something unique: a pole barn exterior, but with the interior of a nice home.  While we were able to find contractors who would build us a pole barn, and contractors who would build us a home, it was difficult finding someone who was able to do both.  So the day I had to make an emergency trip to the vet, and happened to pass by our builder’s lot showing his sample wares was a blessed day indeed.  This isn’t a post intended to slam, these are just some things that I wish I had been told ahead of time so I could have been prepared; and things that I would pass on to anyone else getting ready to build a home or undertake a major remodel:

1. That two months in builder’s terms actually means something more along the lines of about 6.

We purchased our land in February and were ready to go with contract signed.  The actual ground breaking on the garage did not begin until April, our home was not started until May.  We moved in at the end of October. The delay was due to a number of things beyond our control such as weather and unavailable contractors.

2. That it would not be a steadily moving process.

I thought that things would move along at a fast and furious pace.  Instead it went something a little more like this:  Weeks of waiting for something to happen would be abruptly interrupted by an early morning phone call ~ usually one that would get me out of bed.  On the other end would be some contractor on his way to our property, typically lost, and needing me to drop everything in order to meet him at the site in order to make decisions and give direction.  Plans for the day would be changed last minute while I raced to meet him, battling early morning construction traffic in yoga pants, ponytail, and no make-up.  We’d  have a few days of frantic activity, and then weeks of waiting would start the process again.

3.That I would have to make some major decisions with only seconds to decide.

I had always thought this would not be a big deal for me because I am someone who knows what they want when it comes to design and aesthetic.  I had in mind exactly what I wanted the final product to look like.  What I didn’t know is that there are a lot of little things under the surface that are not as easy to think about.  Things like the placement of light switches, outlets, door swings, etc.  More often times than not, I’d have no time to think these things through, and have to decide  while workmen noisily drilled holes in what were to become my kitchen walls.  I slowly began to understand why people talked about building being one of the most stressful of life’s events.   Some of these decisions were upgrades that cost additional $$ we did not budget for.

4. That construction creates a magnificent mess inside and out. Contractors do not clean up their mess.

I had always thought clean up was a given.  I repeatedly told my husband not to worry about the growing pile of debris and beer cans in our front yard, not to mention the debris that was tossed in the bathtub and not removed when the plumber decided to try out the shower head to see if it was in working order.  Surely, that would all be hauled off in the end.  Right?  RIGHT???  Wrong.  We were completely responsible for the mess; either by cleaning it up ourselves, or hiring someone else to do it.  An unpleasant surprise to say the least.

5. That communicating with a contractor is very difficult.

This was for a variety of reasons:  poor phone connection, emails that were sent but never received, or simply because I am a housewife and do not know construction lingo.  More often times than not, the contractor would also be in a terrible hurry and not really willing to deal with someone who refers to post tension slab  as a foundation thingie.

6.  That move in ready doesn’t necessarily mean “liveable”.

It means there are four walls and the air conditioner works.  It does not mean clean enough to unpack (see #4) or that all of your appliances (although installed) have been converted to propane and are in working order.  At the time of this writing I have been a week without a stove waiting on the conversion kit and the technician to install it.

7.That certain things, for whatever the reason, and regardless of how carefully they had been thought through,  would not go according to plan.

Some things that I didn’t account for were the placement of the septic system, and the propane tank.  I thought I knew where I wanted them to go, but my ideal scenario didn’t work.  In the end, they were placed right where I didn’t want them which has forced me to be flexible.  This was just one of a few “certain things” that didn’t go as I had planned.  ::shrug::

 My advice to a newbie getting ready to build a home would be:

 

It will take twice as long and cost twice as much.  You’ve heard this before, everyone who has BTDT has said it. They’ve said it because it is, to a certain degree, true.  While our project didn’t cost twice as much, it did cost more than we originally anticipated.  Cushion your budget big time.

Skeleton home

Your budget needs to include clean up.  Your builder may or may not tell you this.  Ask for a quote up front, or rent your own dumpster to have on site.   If you are building way out in the sticks away from any facilities you may also consider providing a porta-potty.  Just sayin’ (and please don’t ask why).

The building process starts and stops over the course of several months.  Just be prepared for that, and just prepare to be in limbo during that time.  Use this time to pack and prepare for your move.

Try to make as many decisions as you can before you get up to your ears in detail.  Not just paint colors but door hardware, plumbing fixtures, and appliances.  You’ll save yourself a lot of stress if you have thought through much of this beforehand.

Try to communicate via email as much as possible so that everything is in writing.  Remember that it is your home that is being built, and your money being spent.  Don’t hesitate to politely ask “I’m not sure I understand what that is, could you explain it to me please in layman’s terms?”

Be flexible.  Some things just won’t go the way you had hoped.  Learn to work around them and learn to make the best of them. Sometimes these unpleasant surprises can turn out to be a scenario better than you had hoped for.

After a Summer Storm

We found these resources to be helpful while preparing to build our home:


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Building a Home: What I Wish I Had Known — 18 Comments

  1. Learning that some of these things are true for remodeling as well, even without a contractor. Lots of waiting while we save up money for the next project, which has taken much longer than we thought! It will be worth it in the end though..

  2. Boy, can I relate to your post today! Having built three houses, I have seen all of what you have stated. The last house was the best experience of all three. I guess we had experienced so much with the first two, we made a LIST and told our last builder we did not want to deal with that situation if we hired him as our builder. The only thing we dealt with on that house was the extra cost of the house. The cost was double.
    Take care,
    Emily

    • I can’t imagine building three houses. I’ve said I don’t want to do this again but my husband is already saying “Next house we build…” That’s great that your last experience was a good one but wow. Twice as much. I’m sorry.

  3. Oh goodness. We are three weeks into a two week kitchen remodel, and the end is not in sight. How does a kitchen remodel turn into rewiring the whole house? Oh right, it is the almost 100 year old house that causes these problems. Which of course makes it take longer and cost more. At least our contractor keeps things very clean. He hauls stuff to the dump. Every time I’ve been to the house it is swept and picked up, not clean, but at least tidy.

    • Oh Heidi. That sounds rough. :( I hope it gets done soon. I remember our kitchen remodel well and it wasn’t fun.

  4. We’re not building our home but renovating (read gutting and completely redoing the interior) our recently purchased home. Our builder has been absolutely fantastic and upfront with things but as we’ve had the kitchen done separately and our tradies, despite repeated requests to communicate directly with each other, STILL chose to use me as the go between.
    I totally agree with the adage that the devil is in the details. Where did we want/need plugs, outlets, shelves, what colour grout for the tiled floor (never realised there was anything but white – we’re gonna try match as close as we can to the brown floor tiles), etc etc etc. We’re pretty laid back on many of the details and being able to say “just choose some that are like this (description given) has been fantastic.
    As for mess, oh I hear you. The huge pile of stripped out rubble from the house has depleted after 2 skip hires so I know that will be removed but the plaster wash out on the lawn, the cigarette butts that my 15 month old thinks are good to taste and the softdrink cans and empty water bottles that my 3 and 4 year olds play with (and have cut their fingers on too) are getting on my nerves. :(

    • We have done a kitchen remodel before and I tend to think that living in the house during the remodel is much more difficult than actually having one built. You have to live with the mess. I hope things finish up for you in a timely manner and that you all are pleased with the result.

  5. I shudder to think why you needed to insert the port-a-potty advice. Yipes! :-) So glad you’re in safe and sound. I knew building was stressful, but I had no idea how many nitty-gritty decisions would need to be made at the drop of a hat. Very good advice. :-)

    • Yyyyyyeah. This Friday though will be three weeks and we’re very happy with it. Now to get the old place ready to sell.

  6. Wow, I guess we got super-lucky when my mom had a house built. She picked out a blueprint, chose colors for appliances & carpets, made sure they would install the woodstove chimney where she wanted it (since it was not in the original blueprint), and 3 months later we moved in to a well-built place with no problems (except the yard was kind of torn up and we had to wait until the following spring for a decent lawn). I guess I was under the impression that it always went that way.

  7. Great post. We are building right now and making all those decisions is exciting. Although we ponder if we made the right brick and rock choices because we have never seen them next to each other. My husband and I have similar taste and our builder had a spec house we toured that helped with our vision of what we wanted ours to be like. Our builder if fairly young but has experience. He pushes his team to work quickly and to do it right. All of his contractors are loyal to him and from the time the land was level till our closing date it will be 4 months. Being in Oklahoma during tornado season it has hampered some work days but the contractors have a schedule and if its messed up they have all agreed to work on weekends and long days during nice weather. Prior to building I asked what they did to minimize waste and discovered that many things are used in multiple ways to get the house together with little waste as possible. We continue to visit everyday because miscommunications do happen, but we verify everything. The contractors also love when we bring them refreshing drinks / food. I would build again with our builder FOR SURE!

    • That’s great that they are willing to work weekends to get the job done. I hope it all goes well and with our recent weather, I hope you have a safe room in your new home! We’re going to look into an outdoor shelter soon.

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  9. Thank you for sharing this. We just decided to build this Summer on a lot we bought in 2010. I’m excited but nervous! We won’t be in-state for most of it but my father-in-law is the general contractor. We’re building out-of-pocket, not financed. It’s all overwhelming. At least we’re not rushed since we have a year and won’t be moving in for a couple years still.

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