Your Dream House
The excitement has been building
The current economic recession may have caused homebuilding to slow, but for the
first-time-buyer, times couldn’t be better
The excitement is in the air. You have decided to build your dream house. No, you are not about to get out the hammer and nails. You will hire a contractor to build your home. It seems to be a simple enough process. He will use your money, and his years of experience to build a home you know will turn out to be everything you have ever dreamed of.
The lot is chosen; it just happens to be called ‘Lot’ number thirteen. Oh, don’t worry. The number thirteen is not necessarily associated with bad luck, because, no matter the number, no matter the terminology, what is truly important is what the ground you have chosen represents. It is sacred territory, ownership, a piece of mother earth that you and your wife can call your own. It is a fiefdom, where your castle will stand as a symbol of pride, a milestone in your flight through life. It is a giant step toward the accumulation of wealth, but most of all, it will be a sanctum of security for you and your family for years to come.
It is not long after you have chosen the location that you are signing the construction contract with the builder, who happens to also own ‘Lot’ number thirteen. The development is well under way, and a brief tour, through the other homes he is building, leaves no doubt in your mind that he knows what he is doing. Besides, this is where you want to live. You love the area. The proximity to good schools, shopping and other community facilities is second to none. But more importantly, you were able to snag the last lot with a view of the lake. It is absolutely perfect. Yes indeed, the excitement is mounting.
The adrenalin really starts flowing when you visit the construction site for the first time. You see a giant pile of dirt and a hole in the ground roughly the size of a house. There are workers in the hole staking the concrete forms for the footers that will serve as the first step toward laying a solid foundation. Yes indeed, it is a wonderful day. Suddenly, you remember you have a meeting scheduled with the contractor to go over some of the details of the house. It's wake up time.
When your builder first went over the contract with you, he pointed out a list of items called allowances.You looked over the list and saw numbers next to things such as carpeting, wood flooring, plumbing fixtures, and kitchen cabinets, just to name a few.
Across from the item labeled kitchen cabinets, was the amount of 6000.00 dollars. The day you took the plunge, and signed the contract, 6000.00 dollars seemed like a lot of money for kitchen cabinets. After all, you have never built a house before, so how would you know what even an average kitchen should cost. You asked your builder if the dollar amount attached to each allowance was adequate to cover the item associated with it. He said, yes. But you never asked him to rate the quality levels. You never asked him to show you a sample of what 6000.00 would buy you.
The contractor suggests two places you can go to pick out your kitchen cabinets. A few days later,you visit the first. The showroom is very nice, and the designer is polite and professional. He explains, however, that you will need to make an appointment for your design consultation, but he will be happy to show you around. You notice all kinds of cabinets in a variety of colors, wood species, and styles. You immediately key in on one kitchen display that strikes your fancy. It's a beautiful painted cabinet, with a brown glazing that accents the detail on the doors and the moldings. While you are traversing the showroom, you unroll your house plans to show him the preliminary layout of the kitchen. He is very complimentary. As many competent Kitchen Designers will do, he asks you what your budget is. You tell him 6000.00, and without taking a breath, you say to him that the display you saw when you first walked into his showroom is what you are looking for. You both just love it. The look on his face needs no translation. Unfortunately, you have not made his day, and he is about to ruin yours. You learn, from a very kind and apologetic Kitchen Designer that you will need to more than double your budget to put the cabinets you fell in love with into the space indicated on your drawings. Your spirits are dashed.
Could this be the beginning of your nightmare? Will this same scenario play out when you go to pick out your carpeting or your plumbing fixtures. What about the things you glanced over, such as the roofing material, the siding, or the windows. You must prepare yourself to discuss, and in some cases negotiate, all aspects of the homebuilding process with your contractor. If your particular contractor does not negotiate, as many larger ones do not, you at least can make sure the quoted cost of the project represents all of the construction issues and finished materials you want to be included in your completed home. So what should you do to guard against the proverbial nightmare?
First of all, you can research all aspects of building a home before you sign the contract; a very daunting task, especially if you have never built a house before. Second, you can hire an architect who will help you design the house, or certain aspects of it, and if you want, guide you through the entire process for a percentage of the total cost of the project. Another thing you may consider is working with your builder on a cost-plus basis. What cost-plus means is that you get to see the real cost of everything that goes into your house, and the contractor receives an agreed-to percentage over that cost. The sticky part of that arrangement is the labor. Last, but not least, you can hire a building consultant to negotiate the contract with you, and then help you watch over the construction as it proceeds. The hourly cost for this service varies greatly.
The point is, do not go it alone. If you are undertaking the building of a home for the first time, you need to have backup. Most contractors are honest, hardworking people with a vast network of qualified subcontractors. Their experience and ability to organize a project in order to deliver the house of your dreams is, without question, quantified by a long list of favorable references. Nonetheless, in an effort to be competitive, the average contractor cannot front load the total cost of the project with top-of-line finishes. By doing that, their firm would appear, to the typical home buyer, to be too expensive. Thus, they would loose most of the contracts they bid, or in the case of larger builders, be uncompetitive in the marketplace.
Either way, it is important to know about the myriad of choices you will be asked to make while in the process of building a home, as well as the costs associated with each of those choices. It is a wonderful thing to find the homeowner and their general contractor friends, not enemies, after the home is completed. It takes hard work on both sides, but mostly it is about the upfront work you put into the planning of your home. It is about spending the necessary time confirming every last detail before the project is started. That will make watching over the construction a pleasant experience; one where you can rest assured the excitement you felt when you fist set eyes on ‘Lot 13’ will carry through to move-in day.
Jeffrey B. Allen