As you go through life, you will probably find that the biggest investment you ever make is in your home. When you reach the point in your life when you are ready to own the home of your dreams, you’ll probably find that to get everything you want, you will just have to have the perfect home built for you. Since the investment in a brand new home is a large one, you need to put planning, thought and consideration into what makes the perfect home for your family and who you should work with to make that dream come true.
The Changing Industry
The economy, as well as a number of other issues, have changed the homebuilding industry in the past few years and it’s always a good idea to be aware of issues that can affect your plans. “There have been a lot of code changes that have affected the way we build,” says Lois Hartzell of Vistar Homes. “The biggest thing that has changed in the last couple of years is the move toward energy efficient homes. New legislature is going into effect that will direct us on issues such as number of windows, which direction the house faces, zoning, etc.”
The recent economic impact on the homebuilding industry not only made consumers fearful of building for a short time, but it also made them educate themselves so that when they were ready to build (which many of them are now), they would know exactly what they wanted and how to get it. Troy with Stonybrook Homes comments, “The consumer is now more educated and it makes builders be that much better also. This makes the builder more efficient and better at what they do. Builders know the competition is tough out there and we need to be the best we can be at our trades. It makes for an overall better product for everyone involved.”
Another impact of the recent economy is the confidence level of everyone from the potential homeowner to the product suppliers to the mortgage lenders. This in turn is causing home builders to rethink the way they do business. “Everything is being scaled back,” explains Vicki Christo with Christo Design Build. “Due to demand of homebuyers for lower priced homes, even the most successful home builders are going back to the drawing boards to reduce the square footage and simplify the designs of the homes they build. The entire homebuilding industry is streamlining their businesses as well as reducing their overhead costs. Some have had to lay off employees and/or reduce their benefit packages. Some are simply no longer in business.”
“Good home design is becoming more important than ever,” Vicki Christo adds. “It used to be the bigger the better. Now it is smaller but smarter. Most new home owners still want to feel proud of their home, but would rather have a well designed, architecturally pleasing home with less square footage than an over-the-top mansion.”
Buying Existing vs. Building New
When you’ve decided it’s time to move into a new home, you probably are wondering if you’ll be better off buying an existing home or building your own. Of course, the answer is not always the same for everyone as some people would benefit more from building while others would be better off buying an existing home. Here are a few questions to ask yourself.
–Do I have specific wants and needs that I don’t seem to be finding in homes that are already on the market?
–Do I need to move into my new home immediately or do I have some time to work with? The home building process can take some time, so if you need to be into your new home immediately, building may not be the best options for you.
–Do I want to be in a new development area where all the homes are newly built or would I rather be in an older, more established neighborhood?
–How long do I plan to be in this new home? Many people who build their home are wanting a home they can spend the rest of their lives in, or, at the very least, many many years. If you have an uncertain future and are not sure how long you will be living in your new home, building may not be the best option.
What to Plan
Once you’ve decided to build, you must first decide on a budget. Your budget should include everything, including the lot, the actual structure of your home, appliances, electrical work, plumbing, roofing, etc. You should also include any decoration or furniture you are planning to buy. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a home built then finding you don’t have any money left to furnish it.
It’s important to note that a ‘dream home’ does not have to be a million dollar mansion. Depending on your budget and the phase of your life you are in, your ‘dream home’ can apply to any type of home that best suits your lifestyle.
When the budget is done and agreed upon, it’s time to start looking for a lot. When you start your search, keep the following questions in mind:
Do I want to build a green home or energy star home to help out the environment and save on my utility bills??
What size home will fit? Do I want a walkout or a daylight home? Make sure the lot is large enough to fit the size of home you want to build, with extra room for a yard (front and back) and driveway-but remember the larger the yard the more you have to maintain.
What will the weather be like here? Are there an abundance of trees to act as wind blocks and shade? Is the lot located on a hill, where it will get more wind?
Is there a homeowner’s association present at this location? Some lots will be part of a homeowner’s association, to which you will have to pay dues to cover services such as snow removal and lawn care. HOAs can also be an advantage to make sure someone in the development is not doing something they shouldn’t-i.e.-adding the wrong kind of fence. Decide whether you would prefer to be part of an association or not.
What are the property taxes going to be? Property taxes can vary widely depending on the lot you are looking at and will have to be figured into your mortgage payment.
What is the surrounding neighborhood like, schools, shopping, etc.?
Finding the right lot can involve many hours of time and work. Location is a huge factor in your enjoyment of the new home and the resell potential. You will want to think about the surrounding area to make sure the location you are building your dream home in fits your lifestyle needs.
After identifying the location and lot you want, it’s time to start looking for the plans for your home. It is important to be flexible when searching for your dream home. You shouldn’t immediately discard a plan because it does not meet all of your criteria. For example, if you want a home with a brick exterior, you might instinctively avoid all plans with a stucco or siding finish. However, adjusting the exterior is typically a minor change that most builders can accomplish. Plans can be adjusted to meet your needs and it is rare that a plan is built exactly as it is drawn. Some common changes are: Adjusting window and door locations; minor room alterations; adding an extra bay to a garage and changing the garage to enter via the side of the house.
Here are a few different types of homes to keep in mind when making your choice:
Traditional single family homes Traditional single family homes are often the choice of those who choose to build their homes. The advantages they offer are that they can be of any size and that, depending on the community in which you are building, styles and sizes of homes as well as landscaping options are usually pretty flexible.
Townhomes or Condominium Homes “Condominium” homes offer many advantages not usually found in traditional single-family homes. Through monthly HOA dues, the Home Owners Association provides building maintenance and repair, upkeep of common areas such as halls, lobbies, elevators, etc.
Choosing a Builder
Of course, a vital part of your building process is choosing the right builder for your needs. There are a number of factors that should be considered when choosing a builder, but probably the biggest one is how you feel when you talk to them. “Go with your gut and the builder that you click with,” suggest Lois Hartzell from Vistar Homes. “Because building your new home is such a big step, you have to go with someone you trust, which is why we really emphasize customer service.”
“You should really meet with any home builder you are considering, that’s the best way to do it,” comments Troy Karsting of Stonybrook Homes. “When you meet with the builder, ask yourself, ‘Do I want to do business with this person?’ Have them explain what they do and how they do it, go over all the features you want in your new home and get their input on it. You’ll know which builder you feel most comfortable with when you’re done meeting with those you’re considering.”
Another vitally important consideration is quality. “Don’t look for the cheapest builder,” says Eric Lemke of Lemke Custom Homes. “Take a look at some homes the builder has already finished. Look at the quality of the home and the features of the home. Take extra time looking at the finished product, drive by during the day so you can see if there are flaws and also take a look at night to see what it looks like. Look at the finish work in the home. Are there gaps in the baseboard or casing? Are there gaps in the cabinets? Do the doors shut properly? Do they use custom made products or are they mass produced? The goal is not necessarily to pick the most expensive builder, but to pick the builder that is priced correctly for the quality of home you’re going to live in. Price is what you pay, quality is what you get. Trust me, saving a few bucks today is not worth the headaches tomorrow.”
“In this economy, it is now more important than ever to do background checks when selecting a builder,” suggests Vicki Christo. “Contact all builder references. What was the building relationship like during and after construction? Were they timely with taking care of warranty work? Call home material suppliers, subcontractors, and mortgage lenders. Do they pay on time? And, just importantly, ask your peers. People are very willing to share good or bad experiences. A reputable builder will do whatever it takes to not only please you but also treat you and the tradespeople who work on your home with respect.” She goes on to say, “Because of the uncertainty of the current economy, it is imperative and beneficial to select a builder with a minimum of at least five years experience. There are a lot of talented builders, but they may not be a good business person and you should require your builder to be both.”
“While building a quality home is the goal of every builder, look for one that is willing to go the extra mile on the front end to plan your home and your headaches at the back end will be minimal,” says Mike Gall of MCS Custom Homes and Remodeling. “We use a checklist for every room of the house, reviewing all design and finish choices with the client before we determine a final price and schedule. Be sure to get all the details in writing! I think there are three things you should verify with your builder. The first is the references of similar homes they have built. The second is the building contract and certificate of insurance issued to you as the owner. Make sure it includes equipment and material coverage for items left on the job site. You should also have the schedule in writing. Verify that the builder will start on your home and complete it in a continuous, timely manner. Exclusions can be made for weather if need be, but you want to be sure that they will work on your house until it is done, not work a week and then be gone for a week. Finally, trust your builder. Maintain open communications and treat your builder and subs as you want to be treated. It’s not unreasonable to talk to your builder every day.”
Mary Kinning with Kinning Design Build sums it up by saying, “When you choose a builder, you should be checking references from past customers and subcontractors, view current and completed homes to see their workmanship and consider time of performance, customer service and service after the sale rather than price. Finally, trust and communication are key and should be your determining factor on the builder you decide to go with.”
Subcontractors are those who are hired by the contractor to provide services such as flooring, drywall, painting and other pieces of the home building process that they do not do themselves. Most contractors have certain subcontractors they trust and work with on a regular basis, but in most cases you are welcome to suggest using other subcontractors that you want involved in your project. Just make sure you bring this up to your contractor in the earliest stages of planning.
Matt Larsen of Larsen Painting says, “Typically, we are a subcontractor hired by the general contractor. When a client expresses an interest in building with a particular general contractor, we will give the contractor an estimate from the preliminary blue prints. He will schedule the work to be done and be involved with us for touch-up just prior to closing.”
The recent economy problems have had an impact on subcontractors as well. “For us, the biggest change is lowering profit margins as material costs go up due to manufacturing costs,” says Matt Larsen. “Just about everyone in the construction industry would agree. The challenge for a small outfit like ours, as the economy shifted, is that we’ve had to think more about who we work with in order to avoid putting our business at risk if a builder chooses not to pay us. We’re grateful to be connected to many quality builders here in town who operate their teams with integrity.”
Lisa from Elite Kitchens and Flooring states, “We generally work in combination with the builder and the homeowner. We help the homeowner create the overall look of the space and then coordinate selections, orders and deliveries along with installation specifications for the builder. We like to be involved as early as possible. If the house plans are still being finalized, we can offer input to help best utilize the space. Many aspects of the home are selected very early in the building process, so the sooner we can be involved, the better the outcome for the homeowner.”
“Working with a designer will help simplify the process of building a home,” adds Lisa. “We are able to narrow the selection field down for you so that the process of choosing finishes isn’t an overwhelming experience. Our goal with any project is to help bring out the best of your style and taste and make your home a reflection of your life.”
Considering Natural Gas
When looking at options to make your home a comfortable place to live for you and your family, you should consider incorporating natural gas into different parts of your plan. According to Greg Shinaut of Black Hills Energy, “Once in your new dream home, above all else, you will want the feeling of comfort. Natural gas space heating equipment will give you that comfort with peace of mind that natural gas is an energy that is safe and reliable. Natural gas is also abundant, domestic and clean and when used for space heating, produces a heat that is much warmer and which has moisture, giving you and your family the comfort you expect.”
He goes on to say, “Natural gas water heaters provide the quick recovery necessary when several appliances are using hot water at the same time, avoiding the unexpected cold shower. Speaking of comfort, how about the feeling of a warm, soft towel without static cling? A natural gas dryer provides this comfort along with quicker drying time, saving you money. Your dream home must also include a natural gas range. Professional cooks demand the heat flexibility natural gas provides and you should, too!”
Many homeowners decide to build their own home so they can make it unique to their specific tastes. One way to do that is through the use of decorative concrete. “Decorative concrete can play a big role in flooring for your new home,” says Tyler Buckbee of Buckbee Decorative Concrete. “Finishing your basement flooring with a stain or an overlay is a great alternative to carpet. If allergies are a problem in your house, stained concrete is a great way to keep that under control. The dirt and allergens sit on top of the concrete and can be cleaned easily as opposed to carpet, which collects all of the allergens and is difficult to clean well enough to remove the allergens.”
“Decorative concrete can be incorporated in the building process and applied to areas such as the rec room, bar area, bathrooms and countertops. Concrete countertops are in higher demand now than ever before. Tired of the same marble or granite look? Concrete countertops provide custom designs and looks that can be customized by the homeowner. Decorative concrete can also be used on the exterior of your new home as well. From the patio to the walkway to the driveway.”
Sound and Security
Sound systems and security systems are important features that should be considered when you are making plans for designing your new home, not only for your own entertainment or safety, but also to give your home an added edge for resale value as well. “If you are interested in a security system, home theater, whole-house audio system, central vac, or other features that require extensive wiring, these should be considered in the design phase,” recommends Lance Nelson of Sound & Security Innovations. “Even if your budget won’t allow you to have those amenities installed right away, make plans for the pre wire wiring to be done during the construction phase. Not only will you have more design options in this phase, you will save money by planning ahead.”
Some of the more popular services Sound & Security Innovations provides are whole house audio systems, home theaters, security systems, security cameras, and flat screen television installation. If you’re interested in including these in your home, make sure you call a professional while you are in the design phase to discuss your interests and make plans to have them work with your contractor to schedule all of the necessary wiring and installations needed.
Although some homeowners may not consider landscaping a part of the actual home building process, it’s very important to realize how much it means to the finished product and to make landscaping plans with a professional during the planning stages.
“Landscaping for a new home is no different than interior paint on the walls,” points out Ken Svoboda from Ray’s Lawn and Home Care. “You can live without painted walls, but would you want to? Landscaping completes the house. It anchors it to the property. It provides the necessary curb appeal that announces to guests and passers-by that someone who care lives here. It’s an investment in the home and property that has a positive return and in many cases a 300% return on investment.”
So when should a landscaper be involved with your new home plans? Ken Svoboda says, “It varies with the home, the owners and the builder. For a home that will require utilities such as natural gas or electricity for outdoor living spaces or retaining walls that require a certain type of foundation, it’s best to get the landscaper involved in the design phase. Otherwise, the owner may consider involving their landscaper during the construction process so that the completed landscaping can be included in the mortgage. New neighborhoods may have covenants that require a certain percentage of landscaping to the value of the home. My rule of thumb is ‘it’s never too early to talk landscaping’.”
New Trends in Homes
It’s always a good idea to be up on the newest trends in homebuilding so you can decide if they are things you might want to consider in your own home. When you first start thinking about building a new home, immediately start doing research. Subscribe to magazines, go to home shows, attend parade of homes events, go to open houses of homes that you think look similar to the type you want built. The more information you can gather, the better. Ask your friends some of their favorite and least favorite aspects of their own homes. Ask them if they’ve installed or incorporated anything new recently and how they like it. When you start interviewing builders, this is a great topic to discuss as they will likely have more information on the subject than anyone else. Ask them what they’ve been seeing in homes they’ve built recently or even in homes from out of state they’ve come across in their travels or just by talking with others in the industry. Ask which new trends they think will be a good return on investment and will be a value to your home and which are just ‘passing fads’ and probably won’t add much to the finished product. Make a ‘wish list’ of things that you see that you’d love to incorporate in your new home, then do research to see if they will fit into your budget and your plans. Remember, some of these things can be added down the line as your budget frees up, but if you think you might to install them, mention it to your contractor so he can see if any pre-wiring or other groundwork needs to be considered.
We asked our experts in the industry what they saw as some of the biggest trends in home building and here are the ideas they gave us:
–I’m seeing energy efficient as the biggest trend in home building,” says Eric Lemke of Lemke Custom Homes. “Many more builders are having their homes Energy Star certified. There are several factors that come into play to get a good rating, including furnace efficiency, insulation, windows and how you seal the home.” Mary Kinning with Kinning Design Build adds, “We’re seeing greener products, including materials used in the home plus the energy savings of appliances and heating/air units.”
–“We have more people ask about “green” paint,” says Matt Larsen of Larsen Painting. “Zero VOC and Low VOC products are readily available. In fact, the paint we’ve been using for years from PPG Pittsburgh Paint has always been Low VOC.”
–“The new big thing lately has been pantries,” says Lois of Vistar Homes. “Everyone wants a big, walk-in pantry for storage. Another new trend has been soaking tubs, which are bigger, deeper versions of regular tubs.”
–“So many of my new homeowner customers are looking for more ‘valued time’ in their outdoor living areas than ‘maintenance time’,” says Ken Svoboda. “That means a larger percentage of low-maintenance landscape than turf areas. It also means more space for outdoor entertaining that generally includes larger patios and seating areas, outdoor kitchens, fire pits, arbors and pergolas. It also includes amenities to extend the outdoor seasons with propane heaters and ceiling fans.”
—Troy Karsting of Stonybrook Homes says, “Even in the lower price range home, we are seeing people who are wanting to do more of the upgrades—more tile vs. vinyl flooring, etc. Most people these days want master baths with extras like two bowl sinks. People are wanting as much as they can possibly get into in terms of amenities versus square footage.”
—Mary Kinning has this to say about trends: “We’re seeing open floor plans with properly placed windows for extending views to the outdoors, less carpet and more wood and tile flooring, multi-purpose “flex” rooms which could be a bedroom that can be converted to a study, exercise or hobby room. We’re also seeing that formal spaces such as the formal living and formal dining rooms are losing demand to make way for larger and less formal great rooms and dining spaces off the kitchen. Ever hear the term “they all congregate in the kitchen”? We want to be together and trends in home design are reflecting that. Finally, we are seeing more requests for trading the whirlpool tub for oversized walk-in showers with multiple shower heads and an increased demand for outdoor entertaining spaces.”
–“We are seeing a lot of patterned carpets and darker, soft textured carpets in new homes,” says Lisa from Elite Kitchens and Flooring. “Wood flooring is still popular throughout main living areas and there are many new and innovative porcelain tiles with broader variety, texture and graphics available. For kitchens, it’s all about storage and internal organizational components (roll-out trays, recycling centers, pull-out pantries). We are also designing around the work station model more and more. For example, a cooking station that would be located around the cook-top with spice storage, chopping block, pots and pans storage, and maybe a pot-filler faucet.”
Working with a Realtor
When you are having your new home built, it’s easy to think that you don’t need the services of a realtor. However, this may not be the case. Sandra Larsen with BancWise Realty says, “Like any other industry, there are companies that are good, average and then fair. With so many different builders to choose from, having an expert help in the process of selecting a builder is key. As in other real estate transactions, buyers having their own representation is prudent and wise. Whether intentional or not, consumers can be at a disadvantage when working with the builder’s agent or the builder directly. To have an advocate working on the consumer’s behalf is the best way to go. Our job is to negotiate a better contract for the benefit of our client, then walk with them from the first twinkle in their eye to closing on their dream home!”Sandra goes on to say, “The majority of the time, when planning to build a home, there is a home to sell as well. For most people, this is the most critical piece of the transaction and can be the most stressful. We are experts at solving that problem. Properly pricing the home and utilizing our free professional staging service will help minimize stress and, more importantly, help you sell your home for the most amount of money in the least amount of time.”
Choosing a realtor who you feel comfortable with and who is ready, willing and able to help you is key. Here are a few questions you should be asking yourself as you consider realtors.
–Does this realtor work mostly with existing homes or have they represented others who are having a new home built?
–Does this realtor have references I can call and ask how their service was?
–Is this realtor readily available to me if I have questions or concerns? Though this may be a difficult question to answer when you are just in the consideration stage, you can get a pretty good idea that if the realtor is returning your calls quickly now, they will probably continue to be there for you if you choose them for your realtor.
–How long has this realtor been in the industry?
–Do I feel comfortable with this person? This is probably the most important question of all. You will probably be spending a lot of time with this person as you look at lots, interview builders and hold open houses and consultations. If you don’t feel comfortable with him or her, it’s likely you won’t ask all the questions you want to ask and won’t have a mutually satisfying relationship. Look for a ‘connection’ with your realtor, just as you will be looking for in your contractor.
Now is the perfect time to build a new home! Material and labor prices are down and mortgage rates are still low. However, once the homebuilding industry really starts heating up, so will the prices, so now may be the best time to take advantage and get plans ready to build and move into the home of your dreams. Make sure you are working with the right professionals, planning ahead and keeping in mind new trends, products and services that are on the market and you will find that your new home building process will run smoothly and that the end product will be something you and your family can enjoy for years to come.