1. GET REAL ABOUT YOUR BUDGET.
The primary source of conflict and melodrama in the building process is budget. Set your number, and then listen. If you have a reputable builder or contractor, trust him or her to tell you what things cost. And don’t get stuck on the cost-per-square-foot metric. “When a client comes in clutching a printout from Houzz and his estimation of what something costs per square foot, a whole education process needs to begin,” builder Michael Munir of Sharif & Munir says, “and we start with the myth of square-footage computations.” If you are building or remodeling, know what you can afford to spend. Start there, and have your builder and architect walk you through your options and explain how real-time costs are established.
2. SELECT YOUR TEAM.
In a perfect world, you would have your architect, builder, designer, landscape architect, and lawyer* on board and in place before you’ve even selected the site of your new home. Why do you need the whole team there from the beginning? Each individual will be looking out for your needs from a different vantage point. This is crucial as you choose the property upon which you’re building. Your team will take things like sun orientation, zoning, setbacks, area-coverage restrictions, and height restrictions into consideration while you’re going on and on about how “pretty” the views are. Once you decide on a lot, your team can come together to create detailed plans. On the cost side, it is your builder who will produce and oversee your budget.
*Some people were less enthusiastic about the need for lawyer involvement at any time.
3. GET REAL ABOUT WHAT YOU NEED.
In an age of Houzz.com and Pinterest, a list of wants versus needs can become very confusing. Those all-steel windows that “everyone” has could cost you $100,000. You might go with aluminum-clad or wood windows to save. The concrete floors that you think are so cool? Perhaps you’ll opt for something a little more user-friendly like porcelain tiles. Your old furniture could be an issue. Consider the immense size of Aunt Edna’s dining-room table or that seven-seater sofa. Art collections need lighting and wall space defined. Your team will work with you to devise a personalized plan that incorporates all of your lifestyle needs ranging from that fridge in the garage to closet space. “We have clients who come in and say, ‘We need 6,000 square feet.’ But they’re in 4,500 square feet now, and there are rooms they’re not using,” Bruce Bernbaum of Bernbaum-Magadini Architects says. “Sometimes they have a gigantic list, but their budget doesn’t allow them to have everything. So if they want a library, office, and dining room, we may have to do some combining — bookcases in the dining room, for example. We try to validate their wants, and show them how it might all work in 4,500 square feet.”
Outdoor living spaces have become as important as the indoors. Loggias that open to full outdoor kitchens and lounging areas are the new Dallas requirement.
IMPORTANT: Think ahead. When planning your dream house, think five — even 10 — years down the road. How will the plan adapt to your growing children or to your retirement needs? How will it work through every season? the majority of the builders we surveyed emphasized the importance of taking the very long-term view on the spaces.
4. GET REAL ABOUT THE BUDGET AGAIN.
Have we mentioned how important it is to get real about your budget? Because sometimes, even the most business-savvy people lose their minds when it comes to building their dream homes. Don’t play games with your builder. The idea that saying, “our budget is X,” while meanwhile squirreling away Y is not smart. A smaller stated budget will not get you more for the buck. If you have a good builder, he or she will be completely transparent. Builders and architects design to a number; let your team know what your numbers are so they can design to it. And don’t forget to budget for landscape and interior furnishings. “A lot of times, those outdoor spaces cost more than your air-conditioned areas,” builder Bob Thompson of Bob Thompson Homes says.
So figure out your money situation, and be realistic about costs. Most builders have an entry level for pricing, and they can direct you to vendors who will help you stay on budget. Some costs for items like framing or foundation simply are what they are. “The house is going to cost what it costs. If you find a dramatically cheaper bid on a house, then chances are, that guy is leaving something out,” builder Mickey Munir of Sharif & Munir says.
Repeat after us: you will have change orders. But the more you nail down in the planning stages, the better.
5. GET REAL ABOUT THE TIMELINE.
Nobody loves reality television more than we do, but HGTV has done a disservice when it comes to our expectations about how long it takes to get things done on a construction site. Spoiler alert: Your house is not going to be built in three days. Your backyard will not be done in an afternoon. “People have preconceived ideas about how simple and easy everything will flow. They think, ‘Oh, it’s not difficult.’ But it’s always a process,” landscape architect Glenn Bonick of Bonick Landscaping says.
Bottom line, no matter what you see on Property Brothers, with construction comes delays. If you’re dead set on putting in that basement, you’re going to add time (and money and headaches due to probable problems with soil depending on your neighborhood). If you insist on limestone walls, be mindful that you’re at the mercy of that quarry down in Granbury. If production shuts down for some reason, then there’s nothing to load on the truck to head your way. Even acts of God like weather can put you behind. If you know to expect delays and a few momentary setbacks, your experience will be smoother and saner throughout.
People like to tell their builders that they know a guy who knows a guy who’s a builder, and that guy said it can be done cheaper. Don’t do that. Trust your team and communicate with them accordingly.
6. COMMUNICATE ABOUT EVERYTHING.
You have selected people who are knowledgeable and great listeners. It is up to you to stay engaged and in the loop. Establish communication patterns. Attend team meetings on a regular, predetermined basis. Ask questions. Utilize technology—many builders have special websites or apps that outline the plan and keep track of progress. Text and e-mail your builder as necessary; it’s great for quick decisions and creates a record of your interaction. Insist on transparency. Look at the invoices and keep track of costs. Also, if you’re a person who lives by the credo of William James—“If you can change your mind, you can change your life”—good for you. But in the home-construction realm, that mindset is also going to change your bottom line. “Every time you make a change, you’re going to want to see the new price and how the schedule will change,” builder Mark Danuser of Tatum Brown Custom Homes says. Planning well and carefully is key.
7. MEET THE PRESS.
Once you and your team have completed a project that has surpassed your every dream and expectation, sing its praises from your stylish lanai. Shout about your new rooftop from your new rooftop. And then invite the editors of D Home over so we can see your lovely and amazing new home. We like to sing and shout, too.
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