What started as a lazy Saturday afternoon looking at model homes soon turned into a full-scale homebuilding project. That’s how my husband and I went from a pair of looky-loos to building our own home over the course of a year. Now, it’s a funny anecdote we bring up when talking with friends and family. During the process, though – that was another story. Hindsight, of course, is 20/20. When we started our build, we were naive and had all the energy in the world, but it didn’t save us from some of the pitfalls of building a home.
Would I change the experience? Of course not. Would I change the number of linen closets in my home? Absolutely. After a decade of living in our custom-built home, there are definitely a few things I wish I’d known back when we were building. Here are 10 things you can learn from my experience in the hopes your build goes a little more smoothly.
1. Your schedule is a guideline
Our build stretched over the course of a year. Originally, however, our optimistic contractor gave us a tighter timeline, and we hoped to be done in nine months. Of course, what I thought was a hard-and-fast schedule was really a loose guideline. Bad weather, building issues and scheduling contractors meant the timeline was out of our control. I wish I’d understood that the schedule was definitely subject to every contingency in the book.
2. Design for your future
At 21 and 25, my husband and I were anything but seasoned. It definitely showed when designing our home; we could barely even imagine what life with kids would be like. Sure enough, however, we had three children over the space of 10 years and things that worked for us as a child-free couple aren’t ideal now. We designed our home with “right now” in mind, but it would have been better if we’d had a 5- or 10-year perspective.
3. Finish before moving in
This might seem like an obvious piece of advice, but when you near the end of a long build, you’re just ready to move in. Plans you had to finish the basement or landscape your backyard seem less important if they’re holding up your move-in date. But I wish we’d finished everything before moving in, since those last few items literally took years to complete afterward. If you already have contractors there, it’s much easier to finish projects now than paying them to come back later. Keep your resolve and get all of those little jobs done before your first night in the home.
4. Plan for storage
No one gets that excited to plan their storage spaces. Most of the attention goes to the master bath finishes and picking out cabinetry details. But I’d bet that if you polled homeowners, most would say they’d rather have more storage space than, say, a deeper bathtub. I wish I’d known that storage is prime real estate in a home. Planning for storage isn’t the most exciting part of the process, but it has a huge influence on your lifestyle and organization later on. Keep it in the forefront of your mind when designing.
5. Research contractors
We hired a roofing contractor and handed over a huge deposit before he’d ever set foot on our property. Rookie mistake. He made off with the cash and we never saw or heard from him again. Looking back, we hadn’t done our homework and properly researched all of our contractors. In some cases, we got lucky, but we definitely should have asked for referrals and reviews before doing business with our contractors. It would have saved us time and money in the long run.
6. Sweat equity is king
My husband loves to tell houseguests about me grouting our tile at nine months pregnant with our first baby. At the time, I thought it was cruel and unusual punishment, but now I’m glad for the sweat equity we put into the home. It wasn’t only a money-saving tactic; sweat equity helped move the process along faster, too. Instead of waiting for contractors to fit us into the schedule, we were able to get our hands dirty and take care of some of the work ourselves. Definitely leave some stuff to the experts (no self-plumbing, please), but don’t be afraid to pitch in and help where you can.
7. Invest in fixtures
It was hard to know where to allocate funds when building a new home. There were plenty of trendy items I’d rather have spent money on – decorative pillows, anyone? – but in the end, it was better to invest in fixtures. Those are the parts of your home that stick around, even when you change your decor. By investing in higher-quality fixtures, we’ve been able to swap out finishes and colors to freshen up the house without having to make major changes – or repairs.
8. Go neutral
If you ask me or my husband what our biggest design regret for the house is, we’d probably both say, “The dark green.” See, we used two-toned paint throughout the house, with a dark, mossy green on the bottom and a neutral beige on the top. The beige has worn beautifully, but we’ve already painted over the green. It was fine for a few years, but when the time came to redecorate, it was a huge challenge. I wish we had chosen more neutral colors and changed out accents, rather than using a specific color throughout the home. I can’t even tell you how much we’ve spent on primer, let alone paint, to cover our mistake.
9. You’ll spend your own money
We were lucky enough to secure a construction loan, which meant the big stuff was all covered. But we didn’t account for the things we’d pay for out of pocket along the way. Sure, we could submit draws to the bank to pay for the foundation or drywall, but trips to the hardware store for screws or sandpaper on our dime really added up. Looking back, a contingency fund for construction expenses would have saved a lot of stress.
10. It’s stressful but rewarding
Everything you’ve heard about how building affects relationships is true. We often joke that if you’re able to build a home together, there’s not much that can shake your marriage. Rather than simply choosing an existing home, building is a neverending tug-of-war between wants, needs and compromises. It’s easy to let the stress get to you, especially when you’re debating the merits of fixture finishes or floor layouts. But if you keep the main goal in sight – a home where you can live, grow and love – it’s easier to see what’s really important. Pick your top three building dealbreakers and expect to make compromises on the other choices.
My husband and I often talk about building again. On one hand, we’ve learned so much that the next time wouldn’t be as stressful. On the other hand, there’s something about living in a house that you’ve created from a piece of scratch paper to a structure full of life and memories. Building your own home isn’t for the faint of heart, but for those brave enough to take on the task, the rewards are immeasurable.