Key Takeaways for New Home Construction

by Steve CookSeptember 21, 2016

When construction wraps up, and you put the finishing touches on your new home, you might take a few moments to think back over what you have learned about building a home yourself. You’ve absorbed an immense amount of information, both in the research you did before and during the project, advice you received from the professional with whom you worked and even the things you learned the hard way during the process. Hopefully, there weren’t many of those!

If you had to do it over again or if a friend is considering building a home and asks your for advice, is there a short list of guiding principles that guided your overall management of the project?

Listed below are brief takeaways from each of the five steps summarized in earlier posts in this construction series, with links to each. First, however, is a short list of five lessons gleaned from the experiences of others.

Concept of designing calculating budget and building a house project

Five Guiding Principles

  • Know what you want before you build. Visualizing whether a wall or whether a window is in the right place to frame a view of the scenery is difficult when you are working from blueprints. Many minor fixes can be made as you go along but major makeovers are expensive, waste time and cost dollars that aren’t in the budget.
  • Anticipate compromises. Before you begin working on design, make a list of your priorities—must haves, nice to haves and extras. Before you leave the design stage, make sure your general contractor has priced out blueprints and presented you with costs and options. Make your major decisions before the earth is turned and stick with them.
  • Budget for the unexpected. Not even the best-laid plans or more experienced professionals can foresee every contingency. Bad weather, labor and materials shortages, site problems like permitting and access for utilities, overbooked subcontractors, and a host of other things can cost time and money. Build a cushion in your budget and make sure you have the cash or credit to handle the unexpected.
  • Communicate transparently. When you’ve picked your professionals, make every effort to ensure that they completely understand what you want. Share your vision for your home and invite them to help you achieve it with suggestions and advice. Build positive, business-like relationships and encourage them to communicate with you freely—especially when there is bad news—by controlling disappointment and anxiety. Builders who are effective communicators will encourage your questions and provide satisfactory and prompt answers.
  • Be smart about saving money. When confronted with a decision that involves costs—as most decisions will—think through the consequences and alternatives. You will encounter long term vs. short term costs and savings, such as spending extra from your construction budget to install solar panels or geothermal heat. Using better materials also may cost a little more now but save you even more in future maintenance costs. Hiring professionals is another area where you should carefully consider the costs of hiring more qualified professionals or subcontractors versus the risk of paying for mistakes from a less experienced person or by doing it yourself.

Collage illustrating the building of a house

Takeaways on Building your own Home

  • Know how to pick a piece of land. Finding the ideal lot begins by deciding what you are looking for. Decide on the features you want and prioritize them to make it easier to make decisions when you winnow down your list. Use a variety of sources to locate available lots. Drive around the area to get to know kit well. Don’t make a final decision on a site until you have thoroughly checked it out. Work with a civil engineer to make sure you’re following the regulations for the jurisdiction where your lot is located.
  • Work with a site development contractor. Before moving ahead with a site contractor, you may need to have the site surveyed. If your lot has challenges, such as a location on a hillside or flood plain, on rocky or sandy soil, or in an earthquake zone, make sure that the contractor you hire is qualified and has relevant experience. Get at least three bids and compare costs in light of the quality and reputation of the bidders. The lowest cost bidder may not be the least expensive if they cannot meet your deadlines or don’t meet your standards.
  • KNow how to pick an architect. To design your home, you have options: purchase stock blueprints from Internet sites and use them as is; hire custom builder who offers design services; hire a home designer who is not a licensed architect or hire a licensed architect who met certain academic requirements and passed state licensing exams Costs differ but before making a decision, take into account the complexity of your project and your own experience and skill. Guard against being “penny wise and pound foolish”. A professional costs more but can save you significant construction dollars and translate your dream into a great design.
  • What to keep in mind, and what not to forget during the design process. No matter how you choose to go about creating blueprints for your new home, you should undertake a step-by-step process to ensure that your design will result in the home you want by creating a pre-plan. Begin the design process by determining as a family and your priorities for the new home. Settle on a style you like, one that will blend in with the neighborhood, whether modern or traditional. Work with your architect or designer and your general contract to rough out a budget so that you can make informed decisions about trade-offs. Consider both short term costs and long term savings. Be sure your design fits well with the lot and the surrounding neighborhood.
  • Know how to pick a contractor. Begin your search for a contractor by deciding whether you will need special services, such as design or site preparation. Decide on a budget, design, location, and your timetable. Be sure to do due diligence on any candidate to verify licensing, registration, insurance, bonding, pending lawsuits and customer complaints. Settle on at least three finalists and visit recently finished projects. Interview each and look for candor, trust, excellent communications skills and good chemistry.

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Happy house hunting!

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About The Author
Steve Cook
Steve Cook is editor and co-publisher of Real Estate Economy Watch. He is a member of the board of the National Association of Real Estate Editors and writes for several leading Web sites, including Inman News. From 1999 to 2007 he was vice president for public affairs at the National Association of Realtors.
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