By Jennifer Hodgens/Co-owner of OklaHome Homebuilders
Many couples skip down the path of building a new home with the excitement and expectation of creatively designing their own space to match their own unique personality and style. With over 16 years’ experience selling new construction homes, I’ve learned one major lesson: Building a custom home is not for the faint of heart. As I tell my clients: Reality TV is so popular because of all of the drama. There’s a reason why real estate and design has merited an entire reality TV network!
In the end however, a dream has been accomplished and you actually get to live in it! I’ve found that the couples who are still smiling while stepping over the threshold have followed these 10 rules:
1. “Welcome to the family” It’s understandable that you’re excited to get going right away, but it’s important to take your time to research your builder. Look for reputation and quality work as well as an eye for the latest trends. Check out his website and meet the team in person. You’re going to be working with them all closely over the next couple of months. It’s important that you click.
2. “Oh, it’s just a little hill”. Involve the builder in your lot selection. We usually try to hide the wince when clients come in telling us they’ve already purchased their homesite. One time we had a couple who were so excited that they scored the greatest deal on the last lot in a neighborhood. When we surveyed the land with our Site Preparation Manager, he chuckled that he’d already been brought out to that same lot twice before and talked the last two couples out of buying it because it had a slope requiring over $20,000 of dirt work alone. Your builder can look at the logistics of the lot and estimate how much preparation will be required to build a pad. Also check on utilities. Are public utilities available? Is wired internet possible? Will you be required to add a propane tank or drill a well? Is natural gas available? Is total electric an option? The answers to these questions can blow your budget before things even begin.
3. “Who’s paying for this?” Talk to your builder up front about financing. I’d recommend having him take out the construction loan. That’ll mean you put up earnest money before the process begins and then at the end, that earnest money will apply towards your down payment. This way the builder makes all of the construction loan payments while the home is under construction and all the insurance liability lays on his shoulders. If a roofer breaks an arm, the bill will land under the Builder’s giant insurance umbrella rather than on your lap.
4. “Decisions, decisions” Yes, you’ve looked at home magazines until your eyeballs have glazed over and you have a picture of your dream home floating in your head, but I promise, there are a million details you haven’t even considered yet. If your builder doesn’t offer a Designer to help you along the way, I highly recommend hiring one yourself. Consider the expense an investment. She’ll be able to give budget-saving options to help achieve your mental picture and she’ll be the one staring at doorknob options online until 2am to help narrow the neverending option list for you. (Extra tip – Share your Pinterest and HOUZZ.com boards with your Designer. There’s a reason they say “a picture is worth 1000 words”. She’ll get in sync with what’s uniquely you.)
5. “It’s never too early” Have I mentioned yet that building a home involves SO many decisions? At the beginning you’ll want to pick up paint samples and shop for furniture right away. Resist the urge and try to make your decisions follow the construction timeline. Your builder will need decisions on the style of the home, floorplan, budget, window placement, flooring options and cabinetry long before paint, tile and light fixtures. Following a decision timeline keeps your construction process moving smoothly and keeps you from having to make panicky last minute changes.
6. “Donuts go a long way.” Be kind to the trade contractors working on your home day-to-day. When you’re visiting the jobsite, smile, say Hi and bring snacks. These guys are doing hard labor intensive work in all kinds of brutal weather. There will be times when you ask them to change something, stay late and hurry up. They’ll be much more likely to go the extra mile for someone who appreciates their skill and sweat equity. (Extra tip – Resist the urge to make on-site changes with the trade contractors without involving your builder. One change will often affect several other steps and he needs to stay on top of any changes.)
7. “No one is working on my house!” The construction process has fast and slow periods. There will be weeks that go by without anything to see and there will be weeks when the home looks completely different day-to-day. Just because you don’t see workers hammering, sawing or painting every day doesn’t mean nothing is happening. There are several times during construction that the builder is waiting on the City to conduct an inspection (they’re at the mercy of their schedules’), or behind-the-scenes paperwork is in process or even one trade contractor finished their work early and the next is finishing up work on another house before being scheduled to work on yours. Be patient. Know that the builder is eager to complete your home just as much as you are (after all he’s making the construction loan payments!).
8. “The Ugly-Duckling stage” This is probably the rule I preach the most often. Building a house involves hundreds of people and millions of parts and a very organized order-of-events. There will be times that you’ll want to pull your hair out because the hole in the sheetrock hasn’t been fixed in weeks or the cabinet doors hang crooked way too long or no one seems to notice the crack in the window glass. Builders schedule ample bumper time right before closing to tie up all loose ends. They know there will be multiple scratches, dents and dings to repair so it makes since to schedule only one trip at the end to take care of everything all at once.
9. “Till closing do we part.” After making the decision to build a new home, it might be a good time to find a good marriage counselor. Stresses over money, living with the in-laws and master closet size can cause any couple to want to build separate master bedrooms. One good rule is to decide who has the final say on certain selections. Maybe he gets to decide how big the garage is but she gets to choose the kitchen appliances. That also makes communication easier with the builder who often feels awkward stuck in the middle.
10. “Keep it all in perspective”. When you’re given so many options for selections it’s easy to forget to see the forest from the trees. You’ll spend nights lying awake stressing over the placement of a floor plug (extra tip – add a floor plug under a rug in the living room) when you wouldn’t even notice one in a pre-built home. Remember to keep it simple. When you’re asked to make a decision on an item that wouldn’t have been a deal-breaker, defer to your Builder and/or Designer to suggest an answer. They likely have more experience there than you do.
Plus a Bonus Rule: “It’s going to get crazy” My time spent as a wedding planner before I entered real estate world prepared me for the craziness that happens at the end of the building process. Just like with the Bridezillas, I’d suggest that you make as many preparations earlier in the process than you think you need to. At the very end you’ll be exhausted from packing, moving, sitting on hold for-ev-er with the utility companies and gathering up closing costs, that you won’t want to make one single extra decision. Make plans ahead of time for everything you possibly can. Schedule movers, plan to board the pets, hire a cleaning company, transfer your mail, book a professional organizer. You’ll thank me on closing day.
In the end, building a new house is like a lot of the weddings I helped plan. When all of the drama, stress and emotions are over, you’ll smile, look around and realize that your dream really did come true. And it’s so perfectly you!