Are you thinking about building a house? Below are ten tips for building your new dream home.

When we were making a decision on whether to build a house, we were very hesitant at first. We had read horror stories about builders leaving in the middle of the build, things not being built correctly, builders cutting corners, and so on. We did our research to help put some of these fears at ease. Boy are we glad we ended up going through with it!

We’re very happy with the final product and would do it again if the opportunity presented itself in the future. While our build went pretty smoothly, there were a few bumps in the road (which is to be expected). That being said, we would like to pass on some lessons learned from our build with the hopes that these tips will help you should you ever build a new home.

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1. Take photos and video.

When we started down the road to building our house, we poured over the internet for tips to building a house. Hands down, the best piece of advice we found was to take photos and video when the house is a framed shell and all of the electrical and plumbing is roughed in.  This turned out to be a great piece of advice, even before we moved in. When we suspected that outlets had been drywalled over (see # 4), we looked at our pictures and videos, and sure enough, there was an outlet box behind that wall! In any future updates to the house, we can check these photos so that we’re not opening different walls to see what’s behind there.

Bottom line: With the ease of taking pictures and videos on your cell phone, this is a simple thing to do that will save you a lot of headaches and issues down the road. You’ll be able to “see” behind your drywall without the need of ripping holes in it, saving you extra money on repairs.

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2. The options are limitless.

When we finally decided on a lot, we weren’t crazy about the house plan our builder offered.  We emailed the builder’s realtor to ask if we were stuck with this floor plan. He said we weren’t and emailed us several more options.  But we still didn’t like any of them! We finally took one of the floor plans and started playing around with it. We moved some walls upstairs so our daughter could have her own bathroom. Moving the way the garage faced, adding a 3rd car garage, and pulling the garage away from the house allowed us to have a massive mudroom off the garage.  With 3 kids, we were always dumping backpacks, shoes, and mail all over the dining room table. Now we have a room where it can all be dumped. If company comes over, we can shut the door! 

Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to ask! Your builder should have multiple floor plans or be able to adjust the ones they offer. You’re only limited by your budget and imagination. 

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3. Be flexible.

As we were adding all of our options into the final sale price, one item we wanted was 9 ft. ceilings for the upstairs. We knew we could always change flooring later on, but you can never change the height of your ceilings. Unfortunately, the company that supplied our builder’s framing thought it was a typo (who wants high ceilings upstairs?!?) and constructed the second floor with 8 ft. ceilings instead.  Since I was still living in another state, I wasn’t there each day to monitor the progress and assumed everything was peachy. That was until my husband stopped by the house one day and sent me photos. As soon as I looked at the headers above our doors, I knew the ceilings were the wrong height. At this point, the framing was completed, we had a finished roof, and the house had been wrapped in preparation for siding.  If we wanted to be jerks about it, we could have said, rip everything off and do it all over again. That would have cost our builder tens of thousands of dollars and would have delayed our build by many weeks. The way we looked at it, there are many people in the country who don’t have a roof over their heads, we can’t be so pretentious that we could demolish a perfectly good one over 12 inches. Instead, we asked our builder if we could make a trade.  Since we were already paying for the ceilings in our mortgage, we wondered if we could take that money and apply it for something else. We took advantage of a bummer situation and opted to ask for something we never would have put in our original plans: 5 mudroom lockers! The company that supplied our kitchen cabinets created our lockers and they look amazing! The total for all 5 lockers ended up being more expensive than the price of the ceilings; however, our builder paid the difference himself.  Being flexible allowed a crappy situation to turn into a win win for everyone. And in the long run, our family will use those lockers a lot more than the ceilings! 

Bottom line: Things can and will go wrong with a house build. Being prepared from day 1 for missteps will make the process smoother. Look for ways to turn those negatives into positives.

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4. Check and double check!

We can’t stress this enough! Pay attention to every little detail. After the fiasco with the ceiling heights, we pledged to check on the house every 1 to 2 days. We would swing by the house at night, after all the trades were gone in order to take our time and check on things without getting in the way.  This ended up saving us so much time! By staying on top of the build, we were able to catch things before they became big issues. In two rooms, outlets were accidentally drywalled over. This never would have been caught, had we not walked in and thought, “wasn’t there supposed to be an outlet right here?” Sure enough, after checking behind the drywall, there were our missing outlets. In our master shower, the wrong tile was put up in the niches. We were able to catch it before they grouted, so fixing it was a lot easier.

Bottom line: When you have a lot of trades in and out of the house, it’s very easy for stuff to be misunderstood or miscommunicated. Paying attention and staying on top of everything will ensure you have fewer issues at the end. 

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5. Be VERY clear!

My husband will be the first one to tell you, I am extremely detail oriented!  Having painted many rooms in our previous homes, we both agreed that we never wanted to touch another paint roller for as long as we live!  To that end, we opted to have the whole house painted for us. We went through our floor plan and picked a color for each room. Since it could get really confusing trying to keep track of what goes where, we took a copy of our floorplan, and colored in each room with the color it should be.  The painter loved this! He printed it off and used it as a guide as he went through each room. We also took the floor plan and put in where we wanted certain plugs, internet ports, lights, fans, or cable connections. This way the electrician could make sure the right things were going in the right places.

Bottom line: Making things clear and having a plan allows your trades to complete their jobs on schedule without having to stop and get input from you. It will save you time in the long run by planning everything in the beginning.

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6. Design your home for how you live.

When our builder gave us the initial blueprints, we virtually “walked” through each of our rooms. We looked at how doors would open, where the light switches were, what those light switches controlled, etc. This way we could see that when we walked into a room, the light switch might be behind the door or on the other side of the room. (This lesson we learned from our last house where there was a light switch where you had to turn off the hallway light and then walk down the darkened hallway. Who planned this?!?!) This also extends to your kitchen. Think of where you want your pots and pans, your dishes, trash can, etc. to go. This will help you keep organized right from the beginning. 

Bottom line: A little planning beforehand will save a lot of headaches later on when things can’t be changed or will cost a lot of money to change.

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7. Shop around.

It may sound silly but shop around and don’t settle for what your builder says the sub-contractor is going to charge. The builder is typically going to have a set group of sub-contractors they always work with. For the kitchen, we wanted to go with a white quartz countertop with a waterfall edge on the peninsula. Unfortunately, the counter that came with the builder’s price was a basic dark granite. When we asked to get a price quote from the kitchen cabinet and counter store he used, the price was really high. On a whim, we saw that a large home improvement store was offering a great deal on countertops. We scheduled a measuring and got a price back that was $6000 cheaper than the other store! (Ummm, yes please, we will definitely take a $6000 savings!). When we asked the local store to match that price, they wouldn’t even try to match it. Instead, they tried to badmouth the large box store by saying they were always late, they did shoddy work, there were extra costs, and on and on. The builder’s only caveat was that he did not want to be delayed because this was an outside contractor and that we had to deal with the scheduling and installation. The large box store’s contractor was on time with all of the correct measurements, had the job complete in a few hours, and the counters came out looking great! (It was the builder’s own kitchen subcontractor that was late and installed a wrong bathroom cabinet!)

Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to shop around for certain items in the house. You can save a lot of money by doing so. In hindsight, we wish we had priced out having the kitchen cabinets done by the large box store as we could have saved even more money. Just make sure that, by going with a 3rd party installer, they don’t delay your builder and their timeline.

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8. Don’t be afraid to ask!

When it comes to a custom house, don’t be afraid to ask! There were several times we really wanted something but were too afraid to ask. We worried that we were being a pain in the butt or that it would be too expensive. But the times we did ask, we were usually pleasantly surprised with the answer. For instance, above our cabinets, we eventually wanted to have toppers to the ceiling. We assumed it would be too expensive so we would have to wait and do it in the future.  One day we decided to price out how much it would cost us to do it on our own. We then asked the builder how much it would cost to have it done with the local cabinet store. IT WAS HALF THE PRICE! So in the long run, we saved ourselves quite a bit of money. Looking back, there are several other areas we should have asked about!

Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to ask your builder about adding items to the build, but, also get other quotes. In some cases, the builder’s connections may get you a much better price!

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9. Make a file.

This is something we wish we had done when we first started. Take a large, expandable file folder and label each section. How you choose to label it is up to you, however, we recommend by either month or by section of the house (electrical, plumbing, flooring, etc.) Every time you send or receive an email, print it and put it in the corresponding section. When it was time for the builder and us to settle up, there had been hundreds of emails and changes. Keeping track of everything was a struggle! We had originally thought, we’ll just keep all of the emails, but when you’re searching for “that one” email, it can be hard to comb through hundreds of emails!

Bottom line: With changes and additions bound to happen during the course of the build, it’s very important to stay organized.  Make sure the builder completes the work agreed to and at the price agreed upon. These are your hard earned dollars you’re spending!

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10. Have faith in your DIY skills.

You may not love that builder grade faucet or cheap chrome pendant light, but after a few YouTube videos, you can easily change those later down the road. You can also head over to your local hardware store where they have DIY classes on various topics every Saturday.  Plus, it’s smarter to pay for fixtures out of pocket than add that gorgeous matte black faucet to your mortgage and then pay for it twice over 30 years! 

Bottom line: Swapping out a light fixture, faucet, or ceiling fan yourself can save you a lot of dollars down the road. Just make sure you turn the right breaker off!

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