Building a house

Hey all! It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood – hope your weather is finally coming around too!

Lately I’ve been talking a bit about a big anniversary that’s coming up next week – ten years this house! I’m pretty nostalgic about it. It means so much to me that we’ve been here for so long. I swear I’m getting the house a cupcake next Monday for the “birthday.”

Kidding. I’ll get myself a cupcake.

Now that we’ve lived here ten years I have new appreciation for the building process, so I wanted to pass my thoughts along. I’ve been wanting to write a post like this for years and I figured the ten year mark would be pretty appropriate. It’s a bit like labor – you forget all the bad stuff and only remember the good. Mostly.

Obviously you have to decide if building a house is for you. The idea of new and shiny everything is certainly a bonus – that is if you like new and shiny. :) If you prefer more character in a more established area then building a new home is probably not for you. (Unless you are going more custom.)

We loved the idea of starting from scratch and getting exactly what wanted. Honestly, we didn’t even look at any existing houses – we knew right away we wanted to build. There are good and bad aspects to the process of course.

The good:

You pick out all your finishes – every. little. thing.
You can schedule the build for when it works for you (we delayed ours for three months so we could get out of our apartment lease on time).
You pick your neighborhood and lot.
Everything is brand new (if you like that sort of thing).

The bad:

You pick out your finishes – every. little. thing. ;)
Your house won’t be ready for three to six months (more for custom). Ours took about five and a half months start to finish. (Eight and a half with the delay.) 
Building can be more expensive than buying if you don’t reign in all the extras.

Deciding on a builder is a biggie. For us it was more about the location and the house we fell in love with than the builder, honestly. We signed our contracts with Trinity Homes and then it was bought out by Beazer almost immediately:

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 10.14.21 AM

We lucked out. We had nothing but excellent experiences with them the entire time. In the ten years since about half of the builders in our area have folded – Beazer seems to still be going strong.

If you’re like us you find your location before your builder – I think that happens a lot. But either way, as they say, location is everything. My advice to you is to not put too many boundaries on where you build. Of course you’ll have a certain area you’d like to put down roots and if you have kids you’ll be thinking about schools. But I had a very specific area in mind when we were looking and didn’t want to go outside of it. I actually drove out to our neighborhood once to go through the model – and turned around because it felt like it was SO FAR AWAY. (Drama.)

It was about one mile past the “boundary” I had in mind. Later we found our model in another city and realized it was built in this neighborhood. We drove it again and all the sudden it wasn’t so bad. :) Now we honestly couldn’t be more pleased with the location. It’s minutes from great shopping and restaurants but we drive by farmland to get to all of it. I love that.

The easiest part for us was finding our lot:

tips for building a house

You’ll pay extra for more land, for a corner lot or for a tree lined backyard. We drove up one street and knew immediately this lot was the one we wanted. The backyard wasn’t big and it was sloped, but not as much as the others. All that mattered to us were the trees and the land behind the house. That land is why we won’t be moving any time soon – it’s just too hard to find anymore. That privacy is HUGE to us. A big backyard may be what is most important to you, it all depends on what you want for your family.

Right off the bat you’ll have to make BIG decisions. The structural stuff needs to be figured out immediately. That includes the elevation of the house (not the height like I always thought, but the design of the front of the home), how you want the kitchen set up (for us we had to decide on things like double wall ovens or a slide in), if you want fireplaces, a basement, all that big stuff: tips for building a houseAlthough sometimes the structural stuff isn’t big and you would never even think of it. So my advice is, before you sign one document -- pour over magazines, pinterest, walk through model homes and do your research! We had no clue what we wanted when it came to most of it. I wish we would have done the double ovens in the kitchen. :)

The stress of this process came when we had to pick out all of the finishes for the house. Again – I don’t think you can plan too much for this part. And again, we did very little of that. You have a very short amount of time to pick out all the finishes for the inside of the house and if you aren’t ready it is extremely stressful. Stressful in a first world problems kind of a way but still stressful.

We had a couple scheduled times to walk through the showroom and decide on our options. This is for EVERYTHING – the great thing was that we had endless options for lighting, flooring, faucets, brick, all of it. That was the bad part too. It is incredibly overwhelming if you don’t have an idea of what you want going into it.

And even then you will sit down to make your final decisions and find out about all kinds of stuff you never thought of. At least we did. A sound system (we added), an irrigation system (we didn’t), a security system (we did). Lots of systems. I hadn’t even considered all of that until we had to make the 100 percent final decisions. Hence the reason I think building can be more expensive than buying outright. If you’re not careful you tend to think you must do ALL THE THINGS to your house right then, instead of spreading them out.

I’ll do a separate post about what we would have done differently, but overall I have a few more thoughts about the process to pass along. The biggest is to be there as often as you can. It goes fast! We had an Amish crew frame our house and where there was a hole, a house was built within days. I would drive out almost every single day after work. First of all -- it was incredibly exciting to watch. Secondly, I just wanted to stay on top of the process: 

tips for building a house

Our superintendent was AWESOME and we were in constant communication. If something came up he would call and I’d be out there. A few times I noticed things as well – like that we were supposed to have a gas oven and dryer and only electric was installed. (I noticed it before drywall so it wasn’t a big deal to fix it.)

Don’t be afraid to ask for small changes along the way! At least with our builder we were able to tweak throughout the process. Little things like not having a half wall installed in our front room weren’t a big deal for them to adjust, and our super would often ask along the way what we thought. I was so thankful they were open to it. I don’t know if all builders would but it never hurts to ask.

When you’re visiting all the time, be sure to take photos! I took them every time something big happened – framing, electrical, drywall:

tips for building a house

That fireplace is now this one: how to decorate a mantel


I’ve referenced our build photos many times in ten years. I looked back at pics to see if I remembered right about the wood on our stairs before I decided to rip off the carpet:

tips for building a house

There are some changes I’d like to make to the kitchen and when I looked at the framing photos I realized there’s a huge plumbing pipe running right through a wall I’d like to change up. Drats. But it’s MUCH easier to study photos than it is to cut out drywall.

And finally, when you’re picking out all the goodies for your home – keep in mind what’s easy to change out yourself. When you buy a fancy sink through the builder it costs more than just buying it yourself (the bonus is that you’re paying for the sink over 30 years). ;)

So my advice is to go builder basic on things like light fixtures (at least ones you can reach to change out), faucets and hardware. (Or see if they will install items you bought instead!) Even a novice DIYer can change out a door knob and I promise switching out lights is not hard. Of course this depends on the time you have to dedicate to this stuff – if changing all that out seems like torture it will be worth it to just pay for what you want!

That’s the whole point, right? You’re building a home to your exact specifications. That’s the best part! That and the new house smell – I swear ours smelled new for years.

So those are my thoughts on building a house. There are definitely some things I’d do differently in our home and I’ll talk about those sometime soon. For us the process was pretty fantastic and other than some stress it was a fun experience. I would do it again for sure.

Have you gone through the building process? Did you enjoy it? Any other advice you would add?