10 Tips for Building a New Home

ladders leaning against house in front of trees
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In the summer of 2017, my husband and I decided to build a brand new house. Completely undeserving but eternally grateful for the opportunity, we jumped right in.

Sure, people told us it would be hard. Expect delays. Yada yada.

And then we discovered we that we actually had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

So, if you find yourself considering this same “adventure,” I have a few tips for you!

1. Expect delays

This is obvious, I know. But no matter how much I expected it to happen, I still felt surprised when it occurred. Not to mention stressed out and pissed off, as well.

2. Ask your builder if there are investors involved

We didn’t know to ask this. We learned the hard way. Learn from us! Essentially, when it came to every major decision (i.e. our offer, purchase and sale, etc.), our builder was not able to make the decision without consulting the two other investors he was working with on our property. If you purchase your own land and then interview different builders, this probably won’t pertain to you. But if a builder owns a plot of land and is planning to build a subdivision of new houses, you definitely want to ask if there are other people involved. We found out later on in the process that the investors were the ones causing most of the delays at the offer acceptance stage, the purchase-and-sale agreement, and closing. Too many people had a say on the builder’s side of the negotiations and it cost us a lot of time.

3. Ask if you will have direct access to the builder

When we were initially looking into the lot/house we wanted, we met with the builder’s real estate agent. We didn’t really care for her but we assumed we would be able to deal directly with the builder if our offer was accepted. That was NOT the case and we were left dealing with the real estate agent that caused us (you guessed it!) even more delays. Even now, after we’ve moved into our house, we can’t contact the builder directly! So put it in your offer that you want direct access.

4. Evaluate building allowances beforehand and negotiate changes into your offer

Typically, when building a new house, the builder will give certain allowances for things like appliances, light fixtures, granite, tile, carpet, etc. We knew up-front how much our builder would give us for each of those categories. And it seemed to be sufficient—this coming from a couple who had never owned a home or purchased an appliance. Oh how wrong we were! For example, our appliance allowance covered about 3 of our 7 appliances—and we picked a middle-of-the-road, affordable brand. Nothing fancy! Same thing with our lighting allowance. It covered about a third of our lights. So make sure you talk to somebody who has built a new house and see what they think of your allowances before you make an offer, that way you can negotiate any changes into the price of the house. We didn’t do this so we had to pay for all of the remaining balances out of pocket, while still being able to prove to the bank/mortgage company that we weren’t touching our down payment.

5. Don’t put a tile backsplash in your kitchen until after the first year

This one isn’t a hard rule. I’m sure people put tile backsplashes in their kitchen immediately upon the construction of their home and have no issue. But we’ve known some people who have done a beautiful subway tile backsplash only to have it start to buckle away from the wall because of how much the house settles in the first year. Thankfully we knew about this recommendation beforehand so we chose not to put in a backsplash just yet.

6. Your house will settle

It’s not drastic, but it does happen and it may cause some cracks in your grout or in the walls. It shouldn’t be anything major, but it is noticeable.

7. Have extra money on hand for upgrades

Not only will you need to pay out of pocket for going over on your allowances, but you will need to pay out of pocket for any upgrades. If you want a different level granite, or different sinks, or you want your kitchen island painted a different color, etc., everything has a cost! And (usually) you’ll need to come up with the funds to make those changes while still maintaining the same amount set aside for a down payment.

8. Be prepared to make A TON of decisions

From picking out paint colors to choosing appliances and light fixtures (have you ever thought about how many lights are actually inside and outside a home?!) to selecting carpet and tile, there are a lot of decisions. I am an indecisive person by nature. I like to think I’m flexible and easy going—and while that’s partially true, I also just really really hate making decisions. Kudos to Josh though because while he could have made all the decisions without my input, he forced me to make most of them. He knew it would be important for me later in the process to say that I helped make these decisions (probably so I couldn’t blame him if I didn’t like it – HA!).

9. Have everything in writing

This is another obvious one. But absolutely necessary. If you make changes with the builder, he/she will usually send you an addendum to fill out and sign. But when working with the vendors (granite store, tile store, appliance store, etc.), they’re often just going by what they wrote down when you placed your order which may or may not have been written down correctly. So get the finalized selections in writing before the items are installed.

10. Stay on top of people and confront them when necessary

Like every area of life, there will be times when you need to confront people (UGH!). Sometimes you will even need to tell them that they aren’t doing their job which is preventing you from making the decision that they claim they need right now! Be kind but be firm—and speak the truth.

Bonus tip: Let go of the idea of perfection

 A brand new house—everything should be perfect, right?! Wrong. Your house will not be exactly 100% pristine when you go to move in. I noticed nicks in the molding, paint that lightly splattered on the wood floors, stain that got on the white stair rails, etc. Obviously if there are bigger issues, address them with the builder. But this small stuff is just human error. Nobody is perfect and you need to adjust your expectations accordingly.

So I hope I haven’t scared you away at this point! Just know that while it will be stressful it will also be 100% worth it in the end. I didn’t love the home-building process because I hate confrontation, I hate having to remind people to do their jobs, and I hate making decisions. But I absolutely love our house! And you will, too.

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