If you are thinking of building a house, or already in the process, you’re busy doing a lot of planning. If you are anything like me, you may find yourself following accounts on Instagram and Pinterest, dreaming of the ways that your home will combine the perfect amount of shiplap and brick, without coming across as too “Farmhousy” and longingly looking at gorgeous appliances anytime you visit a store or model home.
You’re not wrong to be excited; building a house is amazing! Building a house gives you an opportunity to truly create the home of your dreams. It’s incredible to look around your kitchen and know that you selected every tile, every cabinet door style, every countertop and every appliance! There’s no greater feeling than watching your vision for your home come to life before your eyes.
That being said, there are three things that I wish we had understood before we started this project last summer. If you are planning to build a house of your own, grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and take notes! It’s about to get real.
You will go over budget
I have yet to meet someone that built a house and managed to stick to the budget that was originally planned. The only exception are homeowners that actively participate in their home build and complete a lot of the labor themselves.
People warned us that sticking to a budget was difficult because there are too many unpredictable things during construction. However, by the time we finished our house, we weren’t just slightly over budget – we had grossly surpassed our target cost! And when we looked back on it, that surplus wasn’t caused by “fun” decisions. For example, we didn’t upgrade to costly flooring or tile options. We didn’t choose elaborate door and cabinet hardware. We didn’t pick out the highest end appliances. Our budget issues were all caused by things fundamental to the home: concrete, foundation, dirt work, etc.
Whatever nest egg you have set aside to cover your over budget expenses, double it. If you don’t need it, you’ll be grateful for the extra savings. However, more than likely, when you do need it, you’ll be relieved that you set it aside to begin with.
Extend whatever timeline you are given by at least three months
I know what you’re thinking now. “Oh no, our builder was confident that he would have our home finished in six months and we’re really making great progress already!”
It is possible that, by some miracle, you never encounter any weather delays and every single subcontractor shows up to complete their work on the day they are supposed to. If that’s you, buy yourself a lottery ticket, because you’re the luckiest person I know!
The reality is, unless you have experience with building a house and can complete construction tasks yourself, you are at the mercy of the subcontractors working on your home. Remember, your house is just one of several houses they are working on at the same time, and a delay from one can set off a chain reaction whereby all the subcontractors that were supposed to follow are now set back as well.
We started our home with a Memorial Day move in date. By April, we knew this was impractical, so we pushed it back to the Fourth of July. July arrived, and we hadn’t even started our swimming pool or landscaping and there were so many unfinished details within our home that we started to worry August wasn’t even a possibility. However, by that time, we had already sold our previous home and had to move out by the end of the month. We got lucky and received our Certificate of Occupancy at the end of July, allowing us to move in even though we knew there was lots of work left to do.
It was Labor Day weekend before we swam in the pool for the first time.
It’s now October and we still have plumbers scheduled to come out next week to resolve issues we’re having with our master bathroom shower. There is still a punch list of “To Do’s” sitting in our builders Inbox.
Your home will not be perfect
I know that you are probably reading this and thinking, “Of course, my home will be perfect! We’re choosing every design detail ourselves and we’ll be overseeing the entire process!” At the beginning of our build, I believed that as well, but it’s just not the case.
Keep in mind that no matter how incredible they seem, your builder and subcontractors are building your home, not their own home. This means that the extreme love and attention to detail you want them to put into your project just doesn’t happen. You will find paint splatters, holes in sheet rock, light switches in weird places, crooked flooring and scratches everywhere you look.
If you’re a perfectionist like I am, you will drive yourself crazy for weeks before you move in, plastering blue painters tape on walls and cabinets every place that you find an issue. When you return to the house to check up on the progress, tape will be removed from places where things still haven’t been fixed, so you’ll reapply. Then you’ll notice ten more things that need repair or touch ups. And the cycle will begin again.
Once you move in, you’ll discover things you never would have noticed during a walk through! For example, when we moved in, the towel rings in every single bathroom were hung too low. We didn’t notice while we walked through the house because there were no towels hung at that time. But once we started to hang the hand towels, they all hung too low and dragged onto the counter top below. This seems trivial, but even fixing a minor thing like this resulted in a visit from the trim carpenters, sheet rock guy and painters. Yes, three different subcontractors had to come out just to move four towel rings!
I genuinely believe that by the time you move in, each of your subcontractors is just hoping you’re so frustrated with the process that you’ll give up on your dreams of perfection. You’ll settle into the house and start overlooking the imperfect paint job in your guest bathroom or the tile on your laundry room floor that doesn’t sit just right.
So, if I can give you any advice regarding home building, it would be this. If your builder suggests planning to be 5% over budget, double that. At least. If your builder tells you that your house will be finished in May, plan for August. At least. And if you expect to walk through your home and find zero issues with anything, adjust your expectations. Or plan to spend an extra three months relentlessly following up with your builder and subcontractors and countless hours of your time overseeing their work to ensure perfection.
Then, when all of it is done, smile and pat yourself on the back. You survived building your first house! It was brutal and sucked you dry of all of your extra energy, occupied every free minute of your time and probably drained your bank account… But it’s yours and it’s beautiful. Cheers to that!