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Sneezyone

Building a new home...would you, could you, did you do it?

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We are looking at building our retirement home with a semi-custom builder, great reputation, etc. but I am terrified!!! It seemed like such a good idea until I started thinking about all the specifics and decisions that would have to be made.

 

I've been advised that the process will take 8-10 months with this builder so not a slapdash job. 

 

Are we crazy to even consider it when there are a cubic butt ton of existing homes on the market?

 

If you did it, what was your experience like? 

 

Any tips?

 

Would you do it again?

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We did it, and I absolutely would do it again.  

 

My advice is to develop a reasonable budget and stick to it.  And stick to it.  And stick to it.  

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We did it, and I absolutely would do it again.  

 

My advice is to develop a reasonable budget and stick to it.  And stick to it.  And stick to it.  

 

How do you know what's reasonable? When they say the base price is $X, what percentage should you budget for options?

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I'm in the process now and it's a full time job. I can't wait to see how it'll turn out, but I'm getting really burnt out. Every decision is like, "if you give a mouse a cookie" and five more decisions need to be made first. You have to LOVE your contractor, which I do thank goodness. You have to deal with dudes trying to tell you what you want all the time. That's the worst. Be prepared to speak up for yourself and fight for every little thing.

 

I'm glad I've had the chance to do this once, but it'll take a decade or more for me to consider doing it agajn

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We are in the process of it. Find a good custom builder and he will hold your hand. You don't have to come up with all that in your own.

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And I was terrified too. I told him I was clueless about the whole thing and he was very helpful.

 

I know how to buy an existing home. I have no idea what the process looks like with a builder. Also, most of this would be done long-distance. We'd be several states away during construction. I think the inability to just stop by and check on things is adding to my sense of panic.

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I know how to buy an existing home. I have no idea what the process looks like with a builder. Also, most of this would be done long-distance. We'd be several states away during construction. I think the inability to just stop by and check on things is adding to my sense of panic.

 

Based on life experience, I would not be out of town during a build, even if it meant "camping" in a rental with most of my goods in storage. 

 

Human nature is human nature, and even if the builder is golden, his subs may take shortcuts.  It happened to my FIL, and his house was never right.  (Foundation wasn't up to spec.)

 

We found a number of different small and large things subs had done incorrectly on our house, and our builder has a great reputation.

 

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Based on life experience, I would not be out of town during a build, even if it meant "camping" in a rental with most of my goods in storage. 

 

Human nature is human nature, and even if the builder is golden, his subs may take shortcuts.  It happened to my FIL, and his house was never right.  (Foundation wasn't up to spec.)

 

We found a number of different small and large things subs had done incorrectly on our house, and our builder has a great reputation.

 

 

I wish we could but we can't. I could fly over on weekends once every three weeks or so but that's it.

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I agree with Hope. I don't know that I would do that long distance. There will always be miscommunications and it's best to be able to correct mistakes as they happen. Also, there have been times where I suddenly decide I need an extra electrical outlet or I want to move the washer dryer to another wall. Before drywall it's no big deal. But those things aren't going to occur to you unless you're walking around in the physical space

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How do you know what's reasonable? When they say the base price is $X, what percentage should you budget for options?

 

Reasonable to me means that what you want can actually be built for that amount *and* you can afford it.  So, I'd start with what you can afford and then see how what you want meshes with that.

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Points and questions:

 

1.  I would seriously hesitate to try doing a full home build long distance.  Decisions have to be made, sometimes daily, and it can be exceedingly difficult to do so in a timely fashion if you can't see what they are talking about, they can't reach you, you can't reach them, etc.  Delays are almost inevitable while building a home but in this scenario I would add at least an additional 3-4 months to the estimated build time.  Plus, sometimes builders are very ethical but sometimes they aren't.  And sometimes there can be bad apples in the crew.  If they know the owner is not even in the same city, checking on things, they may very well cut corners in construction.  

 

2.  Plus, another issue with doing this long distance, builders often pull crew off of one job to finish another job and the person raising the most fuss and having the most in their face contact tends to get the crew.  If you aren't around they may keep pulling the crew and delay your own job and you won't know why.  They can say anything at all about why it has slowed down.  You won't be there to confirm.  Not that all contractors/builders are unethical.  I'm not saying that at all and actually I know some great ones.  Even the great ones can end up shifting crews around and causing delays on jobs.

 

3.  Ask yourself how well you handle lots of unknowns and changes and people asking you many questions and having to make lots of last minute decisions.  It is a full time job.  It takes effort and mental energy.  Make sure you and your spouse are prepared for the unknown and months and months of decisions.  Even with a great builder to walk you through everything a lot will still have to be decided by you.  

 

4.  Do you already own a plot of land to put it on?  If not, have you looked at the land available?

 

5.  Have you got specific requirements that would be hard to find in a standard home?  Why do you want to build in particular?  It can be a great thing in the end to have something you built yourself but it is a long hard process.  Have you actually looked in the area to see if there is a house that already meets your needs?

 

6.  Have you already crunched numbers to see how much you have to invest in this?  Whatever you are estimating, make that your absolute ceiling including possible cost overruns then reduce that amount by at least 15% as your hoped for cost.  Try to make that reduced amount your hard and fast estimate that you strive hard not to go over for any reason.  That extra 15% is your cushion if something goes really wrong mid-build.  Don't put yourself at your max ceiling right from the start.  I have had friends and family do that and end up destroying themselves financially.  

 

7.  In the area you hope to build have you looked at the cost of building vs. buying an existing home?  In some areas it is definitely a good long term investment and sometimes cheaper than buying an existing home.  In other places it is the exact opposite and in fact you may lose money trying to build.  Have you researched the area?

 

 

I'm not saying don't do this.  Building your own home can be awesome.   I am saying this is not even remotely an easy process, especially long distance.  Hopefully you will get a super awesome builder that never takes short cuts and hires a top of the line crew and there are no unexpected issues that arise from the land you are building on or the items not arriving on site on time or the wrong thing being built or shipped in but I can almost guarantee that some things will not go exactly as planned.  I have never met anyone who built their house that something didn't go sideways at some point.  And every single person I know that had a house built from scratch went over budget and over on estimated time to completion.  Some people can handle things like this.  For others it is horrifically stressful.  Be realistic in what you can and cannot handle.  Spouse too.

 

And good luck.

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I know how to buy an existing home. I have no idea what the process looks like with a builder. Also, most of this would be done long-distance. We'd be several states away during construction. I think the inability to just stop by and check on things is adding to my sense of panic.

I would panic, too!

 

What's your primary reason for building instead of buying an existing home? If building is the only way to get the type of home you want in a particular location, that would be a big consideration, but if you can find existing homes that meet all or most of your criteria, I would probably choose an existing home.

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I could never do it long distance. All the near misses I've heard about were caught because the owners visited the site almost every day and caught things, like forgetting to frame in a window. The things they didn't catch meant having to get the contractor to come back and fix it. Which is impossible with some things. And lots of running to pick out fixtures, or sinks, or flooring, or cupboard hardware, or.... All decisions that had to be made quickly.

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We are having a house built right now. Our options were 25% of total cost and we went as cheap as we possibly could. We have a lot of things we are going to do later. Our builder started building the wrong floor plan. That stalled the project 1.5 months as they tried to determine how to fix the mess they made. The home was vandalized and will have to be repaired and reinspected before they can proceed. Our estimate for completion was 7 months. It will be at least 10.5 months due to a combination of weather, vandalism, and plain stupidity.  I would not do this from a distance. 

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Well obviously we are doing it, and doing much of it ourselves, completely custom. We started off an existing floorplan only to give us ideas about where to start but it's all being drafted and engineered from scratch.

 

Some people would do just fine in an existing home. Most would, in fact. But we have some odd needs and a lot of design preferences, so this is the most fiscally reasonable way to get a home exactly how we want it down to every door clearance and knob. Remodeling has been a headache, more time consuming, and more expensive per square foot for us. If one can at all help it a new build is the cheaper and easier way to get a custom home than a gut job on an existing one.

 

There are other valid reasons to keep an existing home and remodel, everything from local ordinances to you already living in it and having equity, or loving the location and with no teardowns or blank parcels around. But don't kid yourself that it's easier or cheaper if we are talking more than paint or a single room remodel :)

 

I encourage you in this! We are super excited to embark on our own in the next few months and it makes total sense for us. But that is an individual calculation and one that would be hard to make from the outside. Generally speaking new construction is a better idea. But there are certain reasons and areas where modifying an existing build would make more sense.

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I know how to buy an existing home. I have no idea what the process looks like with a builder. Also, most of this would be done long-distance. We'd be several states away during construction. I think the inability to just stop by and check on things is adding to my sense of panic.

That does make it harder. Interview multiple general contractors, their competence is key to that going off without a hitch when you have no eyes on the ground.

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I wish we could but we can't. I could fly over on weekends once every three weeks or so but that's it.

Could you move to the area in a few years when you are ready and rent while it's being constructed? That's what we are having to do. I think you'll run into many less problems that way.

Edited by Arctic Mama
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We are thinking about this, too.  In our area, the land is so expensive that no one builds large 1-floor houses....they go up.  But with arthritis attacking my dh, and so on, it is stupid for us not to at least think about this.  If we sold our house and bought property (either near here but less expensive or elsewhere even less expensive), we could build a one-story house that would suit us and the way we live, and be resellable.  But it is a lot of work and we don't fight all that well, so IDK.  But I can't live in a 1400 sf house with all the stuff we have that I have no say over.  Ahem. 

 

 

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I guess what we did is kind of in between buying an existing home and building a custom home. A builder was building an entire neighborhood in several phases and they were using about 15 different house plans. We chose a lot and one of 2 single-level plans they had (like Patty Joanna, we needed a single-level home for our wheelchair kid in an area and at a time when everything was 2-story because of land prices). The builder let us make changes to the plan--some for accessibility, some just for preference, and like any buyer in the neighborhood, we got to pick finishes, cabinet styles, etc. They had set options that they used for the neighborhood, so we didn't have as much choice as we would have had with a custom home, but it worked out fine for us and was probably a much lower stress level. We probably could have done this from a distance with several trips back for a design meeting, picking out stuff, and a couple of walk-throughs (with the electrician is an important one).

 

ETA: the advantages to us were huge--getting a house that would work for dd. We want to stay in this home forever (and can age in place here), so I hope we never have to do this again, but I absolutely would if we needed to in order to get what works for us.

Edited by Ali in OR
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We built our home as newlyweds, right out of college. It was stressful, but we ended up with exactly what we wanted. I was overwhelmed with all the choices to make, however, I would do it again. I figured we would do it again someday, but we didn't. I do not have the same attachment/appreciation for the current house that was bought as existing house.

 

I agree that being able to visit during construction stopped some problems before they became permanent. We were to have double-pane windows throught the house. On one visit, we discovered that the largest two windows in the house were not double pane windows. The builder said he did not consider them windows, because they did not open. We said most people would define a window differently. He changed the windows to double pane.

 

Do you know anyone where you are moving who could act as a lookout for you? My oldest is moving thousands of miles away to start her career. She will move into an apartment that her roomate will move into first. The plan is for the roommate to send videos while she is looking at the potential apartments, so my daughter will have some say in the matter. If you know someone in the area, would they be willing to do something similar once a week or so?

 

Good luck on your move and the new or new-to-you home.

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We did it and wouldn't do it again. The quality just isn't there anymore. Like with everything, materials are more cheaply made these days and unless you go super custom or super high end, you're still just getting "builder grade" materials.

 

Get an inspection done even if a new build. Best decision ever. Even new builds have problems and anything an inspection catches, the builder has to fix.

 

Also do not build at the bottom of a hill (you'll get the entire neighborhood's runoff). Don't build in the middle of a hill either, your back yard will likely have a swail (or water pathway) for runoff. Build at the top of a hill.

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We did it and wouldn't do it again. The quality just isn't there anymore. Like with everything, materials are more cheaply made these days and unless you go super custom or super high end, you're still just getting "builder grade" materials.

 

Get an inspection done even if a new build. Best decision ever. Even new builds have problems and anything an inspection catches, the builder has to fix.

 

Also do not build at the bottom of a hill (you'll get the entire neighborhood's runoff). Don't build in the middle of a hill either, your back yard will likely have a swail (or water pathway) for runoff. Build at the top of a hill.

I know this is off-topic, MommyLiberty, but I hope you'll post in your thread and let us know how your son is doing. I hope you got good news at the hospital!

 

(Edited to add -- thank you for posting the update! Praying for your son.)

Edited by Catwoman
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We are currently in the middle of building a house for my in laws about 10 minutes from our house. I completely agree that trying to do this long distance would be much harder. Lots of decisions that have to be made that it's like having a second job. Unexpected expenses come up constantly so make sure you have a 10% contingency in the budget minimum. My biggest regret, however, was settling on a plan so that my architect costs down and we could start building. If we had spent more time planning with the builder and architect up front, we probably could have built what we wanted a lot cheaper.

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Could you move to the area in a few years when you are ready and rent while it's being constructed? That's what we are having to do. I think you'll run into many less problems that way.

 

We have a nine month assignment in another state. DH would not be pleased to be there by himself. He won't be available during the day and we still have the kids to think about. Both will be homeschooled until we decide on a place. The builder that we'd be working with builds both custom and semi-custom homes. Think Lennar or Ryan homes just much better quality. This is a model they've built several times before and it would be built on their lot to our specs. They only have one or, at most, two homes going at any given time.

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We built our home as newlyweds, right out of college. It was stressful, but we ended up with exactly what we wanted. I was overwhelmed with all the choices to make, however, I would do it again. I figured we would do it again someday, but we didn't. I do not have the same attachment/appreciation for the current house that was bought as existing house.

 

I agree that being able to visit during construction stopped some problems before they became permanent. We were to have double-pane windows throught the house. On one visit, we discovered that the largest two windows in the house were not double pane windows. The builder said he did not consider them windows, because they did not open. We said most people would define a window differently. He changed the windows to double pane.

 

Do you know anyone where you are moving who could act as a lookout for you? My oldest is moving thousands of miles away to start her career. She will move into an apartment that her roomate will move into first. The plan is for the roommate to send videos while she is looking at the potential apartments, so my daughter will have some say in the matter. If you know someone in the area, would they be willing to do something similar once a week or so?

 

Good luck on your move and the new or new-to-you home.

 

Yes, we have friends in the area who could go by there and have offered to help out. They also bought new construction but with more of a tract builder, a spec home.

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I would panic, too!

 

What's your primary reason for building instead of buying an existing home? If building is the only way to get the type of home you want in a particular location, that would be a big consideration, but if you can find existing homes that meet all or most of your criteria, I would probably choose an existing home.

 

My primary reason is not wanting to have a lot of wasted space. There are lots of giant homes in the area that are 3K+ sq feet with two dining areas, etc. There's lots of brick front (not wrapped), or vinyl siding (unattractive) too and I prefer craftsman and cottage-style homes. I hate the idea of buying a home with wasted space and ugly finishes. If I see one more home that needs the kitchen gutted and panelling removed, ugh. I don't want to buy a house just to launch into three months of construction to make it suit our taste. We have no idea how those homes were constructed either. Yes, they are cheaper, significantly so in some cases, but I don't want to buy another dining/dinette set just to fill up space, KWIM? I want 2600-2700 sq. feet that we'll actually use. Beyond that, this is an area where flood insurance is often required and we can ensure the home has lower rates by building new and lifting the foundation to meet the latest recommendations.

Edited by Sneezyone
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I guess what we did is kind of in between buying an existing home and building a custom home. A builder was building an entire neighborhood in several phases and they were using about 15 different house plans. We chose a lot and one of 2 single-level plans they had (like Patty Joanna, we needed a single-level home for our wheelchair kid in an area and at a time when everything was 2-story because of land prices). The builder let us make changes to the plan--some for accessibility, some just for preference, and like any buyer in the neighborhood, we got to pick finishes, cabinet styles, etc. They had set options that they used for the neighborhood, so we didn't have as much choice as we would have had with a custom home, but it worked out fine for us and was probably a much lower stress level. We probably could have done this from a distance with several trips back for a design meeting, picking out stuff, and a couple of walk-throughs (with the electrician is an important one).

 

ETA: the advantages to us were huge--getting a house that would work for dd. We want to stay in this home forever (and can age in place here), so I hope we never have to do this again, but I absolutely would if we needed to in order to get what works for us.

This is what we'd be doing too, not completely custom. This isn't a big developer; the next phase of the community has just 15 homesites. The first phase had maybe 30 and it took almost 10 years to complete. Edited by Sneezyone
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We've built twice; my DH is a contractor. When we built the first house, he didn't have a ton of experience (he is a Master Plumber by trade), but his father helped a lot. When we built our current house, he had already built a few homes for the public and had a better handle on specifics.

 

There are many things I love about it - everything brand new and pretty much just what I want. But it is stressful, even in MY case, where the builder was my husband. A good builder will make your options clear fror you.

 

But I would not do it if I could not be available on-site.

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We thought about it but realized it would cost approx 40% more than just buying a house. But I had a lot of fun planning exactly what I wanted, there's so much to be said for that. In the end, it was not worth the 40% premium at this point in our life.

Edited by madteaparty
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OP with your updates it sounds doable. Not easy. I'm not saying that or that nothing will go wrong. But it sounds more doable than a straight from scratch long distance custom build. Plan for cost and time overruns and be realistic about what you can afford and hopefully have someone check in or one of you check in periodically if you can but yes it sounds doable.

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We did it.  I would do it again, but I would have a healthy budget for upgrades.  I would also make sure the windows were of good quality.  It seems like builders put really crappy windows in new homes to help with their profit.

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