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Building a house...what you wish you had known

zoebartlett

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Dec 29, 2006
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It feels like forever since I've been on PS! My husband and I have reserved a lot and if all goes well, we'll be building a house in the fall. If you built your house, what are some things you wish you had known or thought to ask during the process?
 

kathley

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How exciting! We are building a house too, hopefully breaking ground next week. I am looking forward to responces to your post. Best to you!
 

zoebartlett

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Thanks, Kathley! It's exciting but very nerve racking, and nothing's really been done yet. The developers are clearing the land now.

We're looking at the architect's (many!) floor plans and trying to choose one that focuses on what we want. It's so hard to narrow it down! We may end up combining a few floor plans to get the look we think we want. We don't need much space, about 1450-1600 sq. ft. plus a partially finished basement would be ideal. We know we want to have the living room and master bedroom face the back of the house. The views are gorgeous back there! I'd love to have some separation between the master and the other 2 bedrooms, as well as a good flow overall between the living areas and the kitchen. We're open to one floor or two floor living, plus a basement like I mentioned.
 

tweeter8177

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Feb 18, 2013
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We built our house and here are a couple tips that seem minor but make a difference! Think through where you want outdoor faucets for watering plants and washing the car. Same with outdoor electrical outlets for Christmas lights or other things. Same applies to indoor outlets, for example next to your bed instead of behind it! Final thought...don't skimp on little things or even some bigger things because it will cost you more to do it after the house is built. In the long run an extra $100 or even a $1000 isn't that much, particularly on a mortgage. We didn't put a $50 cable outlet in one bedroom. Well of course we eventually wanted one and it cost $150 to put in. Silly of us! Good luck and don't get stressed out! Lots of decisions to make but it can be fun!!
 

zoebartlett

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Thank you so much, Tweeter! You brought up things I never would have thought about. A few outdoor electrical outlets is a good idea, and making sure indoor ones won't be blocked is a great tip. I have heard the tip to do as many upgrades as possible while building instead of waiting til later.
 

AnnaH

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Feb 12, 2013
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Congrats Zoe and Kathley, too.
If you don't go with a floor plan that you can actually walk through in a model home, I suggest that you employ an architect. We ordered a plan and made a few changes. That led to some things we should have done differently. An architect would have likely alerted us. Don't know about your contractor, but ours wasn't as helpful as he should have been, in my view.
Couple of things I always heard before building was it's hard on your marriage, and you always make some mistakes. The marriage thing didn't apply, but we did make some mistakes. Overall, however, we love our home.
Just recalled what friends who recently built told us. They visited model homes and saw one that was finished just to their liking, so they didn't have to go all over town searching for the right finishings like we did. The house looks great. Of course, you might not be lucky enough to find a model home you love and want to copy, but worth a thought. Seeing everything put together is helpful.
 

Calliecake

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Congrats Zoe on building a new home. One thing I made sure of having when we built our home was having a bathroom or powder room in close proximity of an outside door. This way children are not tracking dirt in the house If they have to use the bathroom. I work out side a lot during the summer months and it's great for quickly cleaning up from working outside. Our laundry room is also located just across from this bathroom. Perfect for cleaning up and not tracking dirt in thru the house.

We also have a pretty view in the back of our home. The back of our home is mostly windows.

Please remember no matter how much you plan there will be probably something you wished you had done a little differently. I walked thru many model homes over the years and took pictures of things I wanted to incorporate in our home for years. It really helped when we were ready to custom build a home. We also had a wonderful builder and architect.

I didn't find building a home stressful on our marriage. My husband pretty much let me do whatever I wanted as long as I stayed in budget.
 

december-fire

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Zoe and Kathley,

Congratulations to both of you!

I love floor plans and looking at layouts and model homes. Off the top of my head, I'd say its important to think about furniture placement, the reality of living in the space and not getting caught up in 'wow factors' that can actually be a nuisance in a home.

Regarding furniture placement, one model home I saw had an odd-shaped bedroom with two almost floor-to-ceiling narrow windows. The space between the windows was too narrow to put a dresser. Placing a dresser in front of the windows would be, well, less than ideal, shall we say. Often, a light fixture will be centered in a dining room or eating area of the kitchen. Usually, that ignores the fact that the traffic pattern into the room means that the dining table will be offset, not in the middle of the room. The light fixture, therefore, needs to be centered over the placement of the table. So furniture placement and traffic flow; don't forget that room is required for one to pull out their chair to sit down.

Regarding the reality of life aspect of a home, think about things such as the following or whatever applies to your particular situation:
- visibility between kitchen and family room if you'll be trying to cook while young ones are playing in the family room,
- practical flooring near doors so that muddy boots aren't entering onto carpet, and practical flooring for high traffic areas (front door, down the hall, into the kitchen with groceries, for example, is not the path for carpeting)
- path from garage to power room and basement; some genders of the human species believe that there is no need to remove dirty boots if they're 'only running in for a minute to get a tool from the basement or use the washroom'
- there are 'wow factors' that are nice and some that don't make sense for some people; for example, large windows that are rounded or triangular at the top usually mean custom window treatments

Try to ensure that there's enough storage, located conveniently, when looking at kitchens, bedrooms, front halls (closets for boots and coats), and also places for storing stuff like vacuum cleaner, broom, cleaning supplies, etc.

Personally, I like hardwood floors and would love to get rid of the remaining carpet in my house (on my stairs, which drives me nuts, and in the bedrooms). However, if you will have carpeting, remember that good under pad will extend the life of the carpet. So if you have to save cost on either the carpet or the under pad, go for the best under pad.

Try to take notes (mental or actual) as you go through your day. When you get home, do you like to drop your purse on a hall table and sit down to take off your boots? If so, ensure your new home has a foyer that allows room for a hall table and chair (or stool that fits under the table). Do you glance in a mirror by the door before heading out in the morning? Will your new home have space for a mirror over the hall table? These examples might seem trivial or unimportant, but its just to get you thinking about how you live and what floor plan meets your needs. There are lots of options because we're all different. Oh, and think about what works and doesn't work in your current home.

That's it for 'off the top of my head'. Can I come back later when I think of more. :angel:

Above all, relax and try to enjoy this exciting adventure!

And, if you don't mind, I'd love hearing updates!
 

zoebartlett

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Thanks, AnnaH! The house is part of a development, and the builder uses an architect whose floor plans we can choose from. They range in size and style, and there are so many to choose from. The model has several features we really like, and of course it was completely decked out. The sales agent and our realtor both recommended that we write out a wish list of "must haves" and then a list of things that would be nice to have.The sales agent said that he could take a look at our lists and help us come up with a plan that we may not have seen on the architect's site.

ETA: Oh, and we're going to ask to see a few homes (other than the model) that were designed by the architect and built by our builder. We're at the very, very beginning stages, so we have time.
 

zoebartlett

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Thanks, Callie! I think most of the floor plans we like happen to have a bathroom near the front door or one near the entrance from the garage. We don't have kids but we have pets, so I'm sure it would be handy to have a bathroom close by when letting the dog in from being outside.
 

zoebartlett

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December-fire, thank you so much for your reply! I'll have to think about everything you mentioned and respond again tomorrow.

I want a very functional house for the two of us and our pets, not one with a ton of space we don't need. We're looking at floor plans with 2 car garages, 3 bedrooms or 2 bedrooms and an office, and 2 or 2.5 bathrooms. I do need storage space and good sized rooms though. Not huge rooms, but adequate without feeling cramped. Some of the rooms we've seen on the floor plans we like (and what's most likely within our budget) are a bit small. That's something we may have to compromise on. As long as we can do a partially finished basement and can use the unfinished part for storage, I think it will work out.
 

kenny

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Sorry to be DebbyDowner, but I'd rather have my skin peeled off than deal with all those contractors! :knockout:
 

Queenie60

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My advise - do it once and do it right. We built our home 18 years ago and 90% of it is "right" - would not want to do it again and glad that we thought it through and are enjoying it many years later. Wishing you well - it's a huge project and when you are finished, I hope you can enjoy it for many, many years! Good luck. :wavey:
 

missy

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Congratulations and yes do what you want now and spend what you need to spend to do it right.

One thought is to build the guest bedrooms as far away as possible from your master bedroom for privacy. This is one "mistake" my girlfriend made and her one regret when building her house. That the guest rooms are too close to her master and they have no privacy when guests are over.
 

Elizabeth35

Shiny_Rock
Joined
Sep 24, 2011
Messages
367
You are getting lots of good advice here!
One thing I would think about is the placement of the doorway to the basement.
I have lived in a house with the door placed between a stairway and a powder room---and it had a 180 degree turn after 4 steps.
Made it really challenging getting furniture down there!
The house I am in now also has a less than ideal basement door placement and it has precluded us from getting certain pieces of furniture down there.

In this era of over-stuffed furniture---consider also the width of all doorways. Think about what you have to move in and what doorways it will need to pass through.

One pet peeve of mine--skinny walkways to the front/main entrance!
I prefer a walkway wide enough for two people to walk next to each other.

I don't know your age or if you have elderly parents or expect to have houseguests but you may also want to consider accessibility.
I had issues at my house when my dad began using a walker. He could easily get from garage to family room/powder/room, but stairs made getting to the bedrooms impossible.

You are wise to put the thought and planning in now and to learn from others experience building.
Best of luck and enjoy!
 

NTave

Shiny_Rock
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Aug 15, 2011
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There are so many things to upgrade on, put in the things that will cost you the least to replace later on, or have good resale. Don't skimp on kitchen cabinets, good bones bathroom cabinets. You can change a light fixture easily but not put in a tray ceiling or jetted tub as easily, it sounds obvious but the choices can be overwhelming. It's also easier to put in gas stoves now then paying to convert a new set later on. I wish I had done that in my home, converting is pricey to run a new line and not really worth it now but would have been handy, especially since we live in an area that power can be iffy. Speaking of, wiring up for a generator may be worth it if you choose an area that has frequent power outages, and you can eventually buy a generator and hook into that system.
I upgraded my subfloor to ensure I can tile eventually without wrecking anything else. That was a good investment. I had laminate budget then but now ots an easy change. Make sure you have enough cabinet space too, sometimes in looking at a paper plan you don't realize how much linen a household uses, or where seasonal items should be stored or a guest coat. Also think about durability of flooring choices if you plan on staying long term for large pets or children. Outside electrical outlets is a good plan, also an plan outline for future deck/patio lighting. Also good insulation/tight window are worth their weight in heating/cooling costs.
 

Elizabeth35

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I almost forgot----we have electric outlets in Master bedroom and guest closets. Great for putting in a mini-fridge and/or coffeemaker.
That way guests can have water and coffee without going downstairs, and I can have coffee before heading downstairs.
 

zoebartlett

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Queenie, we've heard and agree with the thought of doing something when given the chance instead of waiting. It would cost more to wait, and you may not actually follow through with upgrading something in the future.

We're thinking about what type of floors to install, and we're thinking of trying to save some money by asking my brothers in law to install hardwood (either throughout or in the living areas and hallways, depending on the layout). They own a wood flooring business, so this sounds like a no brainer.

We're thinking of having tile installed in the bathrooms and possibly carpet in the bedrooms. I'd love tile that looks like wood, but that's considered an upgrade, according to the sales agent for the builder. We'll see what's in our budget. My main concern with hardwood is damage caused by pets. Tile throughout isn't very practical in the folder climate we love in, and I've heard that it's hard on your joints. Vinyl sheets is something I'd consider, but I don't want to cheapen the look of a new house, you know? It seems like all options have pluses and minuses.
 

Mayk

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I'm married to an architect so he has something I don't have.. a vision. I had a very difficult time thinking about how things would look put together. I selected the paint colors I wanted and painted about five or six pieces of dry wall with the colors I was considering. I then took those pieces inside, outside, low lights, bright lights and finally narrowed them down to my two inside paint choices. I took those samples everywhere to pick out tile, counters, flooring, cabinets, furniture, you name it I had samples. Once I'd picked my counters and tile, etc. I took a sample with me. Whenever I was planning on choices I made sure I had my previous choices with me. We also did this for the outside. We painted boards with the exterior, the trim and the shutter color. This really helped when we picked out the pavers for the house and the stain for the porch. We took the choices by the house during the day and then at twilight when it was under construction so we had a good idea about how those colors looked together. This made my choices much easier.

I made a couple mistakes in my picks but both are easily fixed. In the cubbies in the master bathroom my first choice was discontinued so I dropped by on my lunch hour and made a quick choice because we were pressed to get it done and I didn't take all my samples with me. (not a good decision, next time they can wait)... Take your time making your choices and if you can't decide take a couple choices you like home and lay them out with the rest of your choices and see how the look to you in a day or two.

To me making these choices and being sure everything flowed together was the toughest part.
 

zoebartlett

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Thanks, Missy! I hope to have separation between the master and the other bedrooms. We don't have guests stay over often, but it would be nice to give us all some privacy.

We need to think about whether we want one floor living or two, in addition to the basement we'd opt to have. I don't mind having a 2 (or 3) story house, but I do see the convenience of living on one floor - as long as it flows well.
 

zoebartlett

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Elizabeth, those are all good things to think about. Thank you! We don't have kids, so that's not an issue. We're in our early 40s, so accessibility isn't a major worry for us now. It is something to think about for the future though, which is one of the reasons I'm leaning towards one floor living. My parents live over an hour away, and although I don't forsee them moving in with us or anything, mobility is an issue for my mom. It is harder for her to do stairs. I'm assuming the width of the doorways would be standard, not narrow, but we'll keep that in mind.
 

zoebartlett

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NTave, thank you very much for your advice! We know that upgrades would be best suited for kitchens, master bedrooms, and bathrooms. We're not sure what comes standard and what is considered an upgrade, so it's hard to know what will fit into our budget.

I do know that white cabinets and a kitchen island (both things I really want) are upgrades. Backsplashes are upgrades, too. That can be put in later though, for not much money, right?

I think a small deck comes standard, but a screened in porch or a sunroom is a very expensive upgrade. I don't think we can swing that, unfortunately. I think the non negotiable must haves for my husband are a partially finished basement and central air. Our list of nice to have items are white cabinets, an island, and a backsplash in the kitchen, a gas fireplace in the living room, wood-like tile in the bathrooms, a mud room or at least a front entry with a coat closet, and receased lighting. I'm sure there are others but that's what I thought of at the moment.
 

zoebartlett

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Thank you, MayK! Choosing paint colors is what I'm dreading the most, but we're a long way from that stage. I'll keep your thoughts in mind.

Honestly, as of now, I'm leaning towards just sticking with a very safe neutral like eggshell for the interior walls because white goes with everything. We can change furniture or artwork as we want and we won't have to think of what will coordinate with the wall color. I also want a very light and airy look to the house, too.
 

Mayk

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Zoe|1468179941|4054051 said:
Thank you, MayK! Choosing paint colors is what I'm dreading the most, but we're a long way from that stage. I'll keep your thoughts in mind.

Honestly, as of now, I'm leaning towards just sticking with a very safe neutral like eggshell for the interior walls because white goes with everything. We can change furniture or artwork as we want and we won't have to think of what will coordinate with the wall color. I also want a very light and airy look to the house, too.

We also spent a lot of time on Houzz. Our builder does mostly costal homes. Porches, tin roofs and color like you would see in Key West or Watercolor in the panhandle of Florida. So we went with color still like light but color! Neutrals so much easier to pick!
 

zoebartlett

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I love browsing through Houzz. There's so much to look at, I could spend hours on that site!
 

Jimmianne

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I've built four houses. I wished I had known from the beginning that nothing is ever as perfect as you imagine it will be, and also to maintain a good relationship with your builder and work things through without getting upset. It's a stressful process and a sense of humor is a great asset!
 

iLander

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kenny|1468131060|4053891 said:
Sorry to be DebbyDowner, but I'd rather have my skin peeled off than deal with all those contractors! :knockout:
That can be arranged . . . :Up_to_something:

Haha! :lol: :lol:
 

december-fire

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Zoe|1468179941|4054051 said:
Thank you, MayK! Choosing paint colors is what I'm dreading the most, but we're a long way from that stage. I'll keep your thoughts in mind.

Honestly, as of now, I'm leaning towards just sticking with a very safe neutral like eggshell for the interior walls because white goes with everything. We can change furniture or artwork as we want and we won't have to think of what will coordinate with the wall color. I also want a very light and airy look to the house, too.
Gosh, I'm not sure why you'd dread choosing paint colours, unless you meant exterior colours.

Interior paint colours are probably one of the least expensive and easiest things to change. Its more expensive, time-consuming, etc., to change flooring, cupboards or countertops. Which, by the way, is the order in which I'd select those items:
1. flooring
2. cupboards
3. countertops

Its usually wise to go neutral with those choices and add colour/pattern to your home through more easily changed items such as pillows and other accessories, art and paint. Different styles are usually associated with certain features; e.g., medium or dark wood floors in a traditional home, light wood floors in a coastal home. But pick what you and your husband love, not what you think you should pick or what others like.

Of course, there are no wrong choices when it comes to the 'decorative' aspects of a home; just different preferences for different people. For some people, the ideal kitchen has red cupboards. Their home, their choice.

It sounds like you've already got a good idea of what you'd like. Have fun! :))
 

iLander

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We've built 3 houses over the years, 2 with developers, 1 with just an independent contractor.

Make sure you check frequently! Once, we almost had a bathtub installed without jets. They were lugging it into the house when we caught it, and no one remembered that promise until we pointed to the word "jetted" on the plans.

You can still negotiate with a developer/builder, regardless of that silly price list. There's a lot less room in the budget since you have a realtor involved, but it's worth a try. Ask for a ton of upgrades for free. Settle for a few upgrades for free. :naughty:

It's sometimes better to get a credit on the cost, rather than use the builder's standard stuff. You may find a better deal on cabinets, counters, etc. when you look on your own.

When specifying things like pools, kitchens, wet bars, flooring, etc., write down the words "exactly like the XXX model home". In our case, the model home had a sand filter and upgraded tile for the pool, which was a $1500 upgrade, which they had to give us since our pool was written down as "like the model".

Measure the rooms in your current home, and in the model homes, so you can learn what a room "x feet by y feet" feels like. Then it makes more sense on a plan. If the plan shows a room size that you don't currently have, have DH hold a sheet up to the measurements while you try to get a feel for that.

The biggest thing about building a house is the start up. Don't scrimp on square footage. Our neighbors built a pared-down, cheaply finished 2000 square foot house, and only saved about 30% off the cost of our nicely appointed 3,200 square foot house. Now our resale value is 55% more than theirs, on identical lots. Again, the majority of the cost is in starting the machine, keeping it going a bit longer doesn't cost as much as you think.

The difference between a house with excellent resale and low resale is often the finishes. Cabinets, floors, bathrooms, using cheap finishes will look a lot worse for wear a lot quicker.

Get everything in medium. The wood tone should be medium brown (in the '80's we all thought pickled pale wood was the new classic :rolleyes: , espresso will date too), the floor tile shouldn't be white or black (had both, both show soooooo much dirt) but a medium tone with a swirl or pattern (say no to wood-look tile, it will date). Though I do like plain white square tile for showers, tubs. Say NO to colored bathtubs, toilets, sinks. Our first house had a pink tub, which we put in! :doh: Do not permanently install technology; no intercoms, speakers, vacuum systems. How many of those have you seen in 1970's houses? Even if it's hot now, it will be a relic soon. Think, what if you had "installed" your first cell phone? :rolleyes:

You're better off sticking to an already built plan. If you mess with their plan, the developer will pad the budget to cover the learning curve on time and materials. Ask if they have other models built elsewhere, even if they're already sold.
Look through home magazines and the HGTV website for ideas.

Do not close until the entire punch list is done.
I don't care what the pressure is, they will NOT come back to fix that popped nail or dinged corner after you close. They just won't. No, they won't. No, they really won't.

I loved building our houses! It is a ton of fun! Enjoy it! :appl: :appl:
 

missy

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Zoe|1468177799|4054043 said:
Thanks, Missy! I hope to have separation between the master and the other bedrooms. We don't have guests stay over often, but it would be nice to give us all some privacy.

We need to think about whether we want one floor living or two, in addition to the basement we'd opt to have. I don't mind having a 2 (or 3) story house, but I do see the convenience of living on one floor - as long as it flows well.

Zoe, something to think about that just popped into my head reading your reply. If you can get enough square footage with one floor that might be your most practical option. If not try to make your MBR on the first floor. As we get older stairs might become a problem depending on circumstances beyond our control so if you have a MBR on the first floor (in a 2 story or more house) that is most practical just in case. When I broke my leg it was an ordeal with stairs and because of that I had to stay in our city home that is all on one floor instead of enjoying being at the beach. So my POV is to plan ahead for problems and that includes getting older and not being as mobile no matter what we wish we won't stay young and as healthy forever and it is good to be prepared.
 
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