7 Things We Learned Building a Custom Home

We closed on our new home back in November 2022, and it was quite the wild ride to get there. It wasn’t our first build, although our first home was more “cookie cutter” with options rather than custom. We thought we had learned a few things going into it, but our most recent build was a whole new challenge. I wanted to share a few things we learned building our custom home in case you’re thinking of doing the same!

Please note: I am not an expert on this subject matter. We went into it just as naive as most people do. Building a new home can be a real headache, so I just want to pass along some experiences we had to help someone avoid any extra stress in an already stressful situation.. Most people don’t build a custom home multiple times or have any sort of learning experience to draw from unless you have a family member or friend who’s gone through the process or you’re in the industry somehow.

#1. Do Your Research

This is by far the most important part. The more questions you ask up front and the more you plan, the smoother your process will be. Think through what type of house you want to build for your family. What do you like about your current home? What do you dislike? Meet with multiple builders to see who the best fit will be for you and your project. Get quotes. Ask for advice from people who have built previously. It’s hard to plan for everything, but the more prepared you are, the less stressful the entire project will be.

#2. Review Your Contract Thoroughly

Hooray! You’ve landed on a builder. Before signing anything, be SURE to read everything meticulously. This isn’t like skimming the terms and conditions when you download the new version of iOS. Your contract can be your friend or foe during the build process, so make sure you understand everything going into it. Ask questions, negotiate where needed, and be well-informed before committing!

#3. There Will Be Additional Costs

We knew this going in, as we had experienced it previously with our first build. However, that was minor compared to this time around. In our contract, some things were alluded to. For example, it stated that 4 of loads of dirt would be included in our contract price. We assumed that number was pretty average and that we might need to pay for a few extra loads. Our lot was already mostly developed, so we didn’t think much of it until we were charged for 30-ish additional loads of dirt. Turns out, dirt is not cheap. We were also given no warning beforehand, just an invoice asking us to pay an additional several thousand dollars to cover the overage.

One thing that did work in our favor, is that we signed our contract in 2021 prior to escalation clauses being included into most builders’ contracts. The rise in cost for materials and labor did not affect us as the buyer because there was no escalation clause written into our contract at that point. Because of that, we ended up getting a great deal, overall.

#4. It’s Okay To Be Picky

I will do anything to avoid conflict, so I spent a good portion of the build process not speaking up if something wasn’t exactly how I wanted or expected it to be. But then I got a great piece of advice from a friend who said “If you were buying a brand new car, you’d expect it to be nothing less perfect, so why would you expect anything less on a new house?” I feel like this gave me the courage I needed to (reasonably and respectfully) speak my mind about the things that just weren’t on par with our expectations.

Obviously you don’t want to take this to the extreme by being a difficult client to work with, but speaking up sooner rather than later can help prevent bigger problems down the road.

#5. Visit the Site Often

Once your builder breaks ground, I recommend going out to visit the site as often as you are able to. I get that this one isn’t feasible for everyone depending on where you’re currently live in relation to the new home. It can take a lot of time, but it also can be really helpful to the team building your home. Sure, it’s fun to see progress, but if you see issues or discrepancies with what you’ve chosen, it’s better to catch it sooner rather than later. You are the one who spent hours agonizing over every detail from top to bottom. That means you are the one who knows the house best. Don’t just assume that everyone has a master plan to look at. Subcontractors come in to do one tiny piece of that puzzle, so the more you can go out check that the pieces are coming to gather correctly, the better.

#6. Take Photos of Everything

While you’re out visiting the build site, it’s super helpful to take photos of everything at every step. The more thorough, the better. I organized everything into an album on my phone so I could easily reference it if there was an issue, especially after the drywall went in and we couldn’t see the plumbing, gas, or electrical lines anymore. If you’re trying to find a leak or you’re deciding where to drill into a wall, you’ll be able to look back at photos to help you do so. Plus, it’s fun to see the progress as it moves along!

#7. You Can Close Before the Build Is Finished

This is not the ideal scenario, but as it turns out, not uncommon. We expected to move into our new home once it was finished, cleaned, and ready to go. Unfortunately, it was none of those things. We were put into a situation where we had to close on the house or pay our builder an astronomical fee. Per our contract, we had 5 business days to close on the house once they obtained the Certificate of Occupancy or COO, otherwise we would be charged a DAILY fee. This is a document issued by a local government agency stating that a house has met all locally mandated building codes and inspection requirements, and is therefore fit for people to live in. That does NOT mean that the house is finished in terms of the owners expectations.

We did complete a punch list prior to closing that our builder is required to complete within 60 days of closing, but you guys… They haven’t finished grading our lot so it is therefore not sodded. There are countless paint and drywall touch ups that are needed. We have an outdoor fireplace and kitchen that haven’t been been constructed yet. And the house was SO dirty when we moved in. It sounds whiny, I know, but when you have given a substantial amount of time and money and effort into a custom home… It really takes the wind out of your sails. Closing day was not the joyful happy day we envisioned. We felt taken advantage of, and honestly, a little sad.

I say all this not to complain or freak you out, but to inform you. I had no clue this could happen. Did we end up in a beautiful home? Yes of course! Is it finished yet? At the time of this writing… no lol.

Final Thoughts

Keep in mind that everyone’s experience is different. Every builder, client, and job varies so much that it’s never going to be comparable to another. These are just some things we ran into along the way that really would have been helpful to know beforehand.

Are you in the market to build a new home? Have you built a custom home in the past? I’d love to know your tips or questions in the comments below! And as always, thanks for reading.

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