House

Five Lessons I Learned While Building a House

July 18, 2016
Five Home Construction Lessons I Learned the Hard Way (So You Don't Have To!)

Once upon a time, a happy couple moved into their very first home together. It wasn’t just any home. It was their dream home, practically perfect in every way! Except for one little thing: they didn’t have internet. And that made the happy couple unhappy, especially as weeks passed with no signal to be found. Calls to customer service went unanswered, scheduled service appointments were cancelled. Finally the couple got fed up and called their internet service provider to complain and get some answers.  It turns out the lines for said internet hadn’t even been installed and their completion date was unknown!

And that’s where the story ends because y’all, we still don’t have internet. I had to type this from a Panera because there’s only so many times I can visit my parents before they get suspicious that I’m just there for their bandwidth. It’s driving me bonkers and the longer it takes, the less understanding I become. I’m calling the company again today to see what their plan is, but am not holding out much hope.  I miss Netflix.

Lesson #1: The house isn’t going to be perfect.

While hopefully you’ll have internet upon moving in, I guarantee your dream house that you lovingly crafted to be perfect in every way will not be perfect when you move in. Walls may be slightly more textured than you wanted, maybe there’s a subway tile in the shower that you SWEAR is crooked, perhaps your back door only shuts when you throw your body weight into it.

As A and I did our final walk-through before we closed, we constantly reminded each other that our house was built by people and not machines. People make mistakes, people cut corners, people want to leave early on Fridays. The sooner you accept that, the easier (and less stressful) your life will be.

Now, I’m not saying that you should ignore the leaky faucet and the giant whole in your drywall.  Just know what your deal breakers are and make sure those are taken care of before you close.

Lesson #2: The house isn’t going to be complete.

A brand new house you helped design should have everything done to it that you could ever want, right?!

Wrong.

We should have known this would be the case because we had been warned by friends who had just gone through the process. But somehow we figured it wouldn’t apply to us.

Wrong again.

Due in large part to lesson #3, A and I are prepared to take on quite a few projects over the next few years. I think we may have more projects on our to-do list in our new house than we could have ever dreamed up for the old place. Everything from building a fire pit and patio out back to adding crown moulding to painting and installing blinds.  We may not have technically built our house ourselves, but we’ll be putting plenty of sweat equity into it.

Lesson #3: Upgrades are expensive (and not always necessary).

Model homes are gorgeous, but much like a human model, they’ve had some help. Fancy paint colors, custom light fixtures, the highest end of everything…you get the idea.  So what you see when you visit a model home is definitely not what you’ll get, unless you’re willing to pay (waaay too much) for it.

I felt like we had a pretty good handle on our wish list, but when we saw the final price tag, we knew that some compromises would need to be made (see lesson #5).  So we looked at the upgrades and realized that so many of them were way overpriced and not really something we needed at that moment. For example, to have the builder case the opening around our dining room was more than I make in a month. Add another project to the DIY list!

When you choose your upgrades and finishes, really consider what’s feasible to do after you close and what really needs to be done at the upgraded price.

Lesson #4: The mortgage process is a pain in the butt!

I’m not sure why exactly, but the mortgage process for building a home was so much more painful than purchasing a pre-existing home.  The process stretched on for months and we had to supply so many versions of the same document that I was completely burned out on paperwork by the end of it.  Plus anytime you have two people they’re looking at, things are bound to be even more complicated.

Lesson #5: You will need to make compromises.

I don’t care if you’re JT MoneyBags with an unlimited budget, compromises will have to be made. If you’re Mr. Moneybags it may be that your gold carpet clashes with your diamond wallpaper and one has to go. If you’re like the rest of us, it may be that having hardwood floors throughout means you’ll need to eat Ramen noodles for six months and you have to settle for carpet upstairs.

And it’s not just budget-related compromises! A and I had to make compromises with each other left and right when it came to the design process.  He liked one cabinet better than I did and I liked a flooring sample more than his choice. With a little give and take, we were able to come to an agreement that we both loved. Just because we both didn’t get 100% exactly what we each wanted did not mean that our choices weren’t perfect for us.  Yours will be perfect for you as well.

Have you built a home? What lessons would you add to my list?

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  • Jen

    Yes to #4!!! I worked in the mortgage industry for 6 years and the process for new construction is insane.

  • I would’ve never thought the mortgage process for a new home was harder than a regular one! The new houses around me seem to sell in like a week so I always assumed it was easy. Great tips though- no matter what you’re always going to have a lot that you want to do to a home to make it your own, whether new or old I think =)