Lisa purchased a 1/4 acre lot and built a home in 2006.
The Lessons I Learned From Buying and Building My Home
person found Lisa's experience helpful.
After living in a town home for 8 years, my husband and I decided it was time to move into a larger space. We were ready to start a family and needed more than our 2 bedroom master suite unit (read tiny shared bathroom in the middle) could offer. We looked in the surrounding area but what we were interested in - a 4 bedroom home with three floors and a decent amount of land around it – was far more expensive than we were willing to commit to. Frankly, some of the home costs were so far out of our price range that we just avoided certain neighborhoods entirely. We conceded that while the area we were living in wasn’t always the place to be, it was now, so buying a house there wasn’t going to be easy. We decided to look outside of our town and, indeed, out of our state.
We found something almost instantly. And it was everything we wanted – 4 bedrooms, large master suite with a bathroom we didn’t have to share (bonus!), three floors, and decent plot of land. It even had a family room, and for people who were used to standard issue dens this sounded fancy! The best part was that this house, done up the way we wanted, was half the price of the very same model in our current area. Half! Here’s the catch – it was an hour away from our jobs in a decidedly slower-paced area. We thought about the change of pace, thought about what it would mean for our new family. After checking education comparisons for the new area, going to the mall not far from where the house would be and people watching, we decided that a slower pace would be nice for the kids. We went for it!
We were lucky in that not only were we moving into the home we wanted, we were going to build it from the ground up. This was a new experience for both of us and the idea of choosing everything from the floors to the paint color was heady. The price rose quickly… but it was still less than it would have been where our town home was.
We were careful to choose a lot near the proposed recreation center which would have a pool, playground, and basketball courts. We also loved the fact that we would back up to woods. We bought a ¼ acre lot and considered that to be a nice bit of land for us to enjoy. We visited our lot often when they started to build. My husband wanted to be a part of the process and meet the people who were putting our house together. I would tag along and fantasize about the furniture I was going to put in the sunroom and the ceiling fan I wanted to pick for the bedrooms upstairs. I would listen to the “shhhh” of the trees on the hill behind our house and wonder if it would sound the same when I sat on my deck. Everything was lovely… and then the other shoe dropped:
• They didn’t grade the hill in the backyard like they said they would, so that ¼ acre of land was mostly hill with just a sliver of flat land to run around on in the back.
• Even with our consistent presence onsite and all the conferences about what should go where, there are electrical sockets in parts of the house that don’t need them and none in some spots where they were requested.
• That recreation center we were supposed to get never happened.
Of course we all gathered together to find out what recourse we had about the land (many of us were affected) and the recreation center, but to no avail. The community developer went bankrupt and left us standing with our mouths gaping. If I had it all to do again I would have gotten those options in writing. They were mentioned to us during the sales process but never written down on anything that was binding. Considering how important those things were to us, I would definitely pay more attention to those details if I could do it all over again.
The electrical stuff is a different story. We attempted to have them redo it but that would have delayed our move-in date. That would have also extended our lease since we sold the other house and had moved into an apartment to wait for the new house to be ready. We opted to let it go. We could pay to have the sockets fixed but now we’ve gotten used to it. It will just be something we pay more attention to next time around.
So, in short, my advice from buying and building my house is as follows:
1. Choose your area wisely. This is where you are planning to spend your life - it's important to know what you're getting into. Visit common areas like parks and malls. See who is walking around. Take side roads and drive around the area - this not only gives you an idea of who your neighbors are, but also shows you how to get to and from places. If you have or plan to have children check the public education system and private school options. Due diligence is key.
2. Sweat the small stuff. While a plug here or there seems miniscule, it ended up being pretty important to us in the long run. Making sure we were present during the process wasn't enough - be sure to go over the agreement with sales initially, then with the project lead for the team working on your house, the actual workers, and then the electrician. Ask to be notified when the electrician is coming in and show up before they get there. A quick review of placement will save you grief in the end.
3. Know there will always be something off. The hill not being graded and the rec center never going up were out of our control. We also have nail pops and sloppy caulking in some places as well. You can't catch everything. But our presence onsite helped to catch a lot of things that many contractors do when they are putting together houses en masse. Some of the lackadaisical stuff like uneven chair rails and crooked light sockets were caught and fixed because we called them on it. Don't be afraid to have a voice before, during, and after production. It doesn't have to be perfect... it just has to be perfect for you.
Buying your house is an enriching experience. You are choosing the place you’ll call home, the place where you will raise your children. My advice is that you keep your eye on the goal and let the fantasies come in only after you have taken care of business. Be watchful and don’t be afraid to ask questions – maybe your plugs will be in the right spot after all.