You Own a Lot. Now What?
It might be easy to look at a piece of land and envision your dream house sitting there. But where, exactly, do you begin to make that dream come true?
Shop for a Builder
Finding the right home builder will set the tone for the entire experience. And given the amount of money and time you are about to invest in the project, you definitely need to have confidence in your builder. Start by asking family and friends for recommendations. As with most businesses, a word-of-mouth referral from someone you trust usually leads to a better customer experience in the end. If you are stuck doing your own research from scratch, there are some important questions to ask a prospective builder:
- Can you build on my lot or do you only build in established developments?
- Are you willing to look at the land that we are considering buying and offer your expertise regarding clearing, conditions of lot, etc?
- How long have you been in business?
- What makes your homes distinctive?
- What do you include as standard features in a custom home build?
- Are you familiar with any energy saving/green building techniques?
- Do you subcontract all facets of your home or will I work with the same representatives from beginning to end?
- Can we search for any floor plan of our choice, or do we have to choose from a list that you provide?
Meeting with different home builders, seeing their work and talking to their past clients can help you to find the right person for your personality. If you need a lot of guidance and are unsure of what type of finishes and amenities you want, for example, look for a builder who will take the time to lead you through the process. On the other hand, a builder who wants things done his or her way, or who insists on selecting your interior finishes, will drive you crazy if you have your heart set a specific floor plan or look for your house.
Architect or No Architect?
Some builders work with their own architect – this insures that you stay within the budget that you set forth for your complete package. If you go to your own architect and have your home designed without the input of your builder, it could become unaffordable. Some builders will take your plans and have them amended to meet your goals, but it really depends on how much freedom each builder offers as far as home designs — some will have you pick a floor plan from an existing list and then let you have input on tweaking the design. A custom home builder will work with you from the beginning to translate your ideas of your dream home to the desk of his architect.
Assess Your Lot
Builders should be willing to take a look at your lot before you decide to hire them for the job. Not every builder is comfortable working on lots with hills or in remote locations. Once you have settled on a builder, the prep work begins to figure out how best to use the land, as well as the land’s history. If you haven’t already gotten disclosure information from a realtor regarding any fill used on the lot or whether it has been mined, your builder should be able to tell you how you can find out. If the stability of the ground is in question for any reason, your builder needs to know. If you don’t have a realtor representing you, your builder may work with or have on staff a realtor to insure make sure you get all of the information you need about the lot.
Excavate the Land
Breaking ground is when you can really start to get excited about your new home project. The dirt is moving and you can see the first footprint of where your house will be. Some builders farm out the excavation to another company. No matter who does the digging and laying of the foundation, it’s important that everyone has done their homework as far as required permits and utility requirements. Again, if you haven’t already obtained this kind of information when you closed on the lot, you builder can help you find it or may handle it for you.
From the Bottom Up
The next steps in the home building process — framing, plumbing and electrical, and then walls, roof and insulation — can move along rapidly depending on weather and availability of supplies. A healthy builder-client relationship really pays off at this stage, and even more once interior work begins and you are really able to see where you and your family will be living. Being in the space might have you wishing a door was in a different place or thinking the floor material you initially picked is the wrong color. Depending on your builder and how well you communicate, you might have some flexibility along the way.
As soon as you have a lot to build on, or even before that, it can’t hurt to research and organize as many specific photos, drawings and other information showing all of the distinct design elements and features you want in your new custom home. Then focus on finding a builder who you feel comfortable with, and who has the experience to make it happen.