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4 Mistakes to Avoid When Building a Custom Home

We silly humans make mistakes; it’s unavoidable. If you succumb to foibles when throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars toward building a house, though, the repercussions can hurt. Not only might your dream home go over budget, but a design once thought genius could quickly become outdated, leading to costly renovations after the fact. So, to keep your custom home project from jumping the tracks, here’s a look at some common mistakes made by those who came before you.


#1 Failing to Prioritize Location

You know the repetitive mantra about real-estate, right? Well, this cliché cannot be overstated—the value of your home greatly depends on its location. You can't usually change where your home is built. Once it's there, you'll live with that choice forever.

Proximity to Businesses and Services- Proximity to businesses and services affects how much time you spend on the road, where your children go to school, how much wear and tear is put on your car and how much time you spend with family after work. Research the area around any lot you'd like to buy. Know what's in the area, and whether those services will be useful to you. Know how far the lot is from your job as well as potential future jobs. Drive the commute and get a sense for traffic patterns in the area.

Beauty- You can always install landscaping around your home, but the more naturally attractive a lot is, the better. Spend time looking at the world around the lot where you'd like to buy. What's in the distance? What sounds can you hear? What would you change? Imagine the house, where it will sit, and what will surround it. Imagine the front windows, and the view from those windows.

Land Features- Note the hills, water features, large stones, old trees and other characteristics of the landscape where you're planning to buy. While some of this can be changed, some cannot. Know what you can live with, what you like, what you don't like, and what can be altered.

Neighbors and Neighborhood- Spend time walking around the neighborhood observing what you can about the homes in the surrounding area. Note the safety, beauty and functionality of the surroundings. Look at the condition of the sidewalks and the roads. Say hi to the people you see. Note their response. Do you feel good here? You should.

It helps to remember, you get what you pay for. Save money on certain materials and upgrades, but splurge on location. Always.

Download Now [Custom Home Budget Worksheet] 


#2 Skimming Bids Without Understanding Them

Reading bids and contracts is an ugly but necessary part of building a home. Some builders estimate price based on square footage while others go by supply costs or component costs. This can make reading bids confusing.

When comparing bids, consider more than the bottom line. Check that each contractor is offering similar services. If one contractor bids dramatically less than other contractors, read the bid to find out why. Are they offering a weak warranty? Are they purchasing low-grade materials? Are they underestimating their allowances?

When the time comes to sign a contract, re-read all language, even if you already feel familiar with the content. The contract with the home builder should be detailed and extensive. Look for these basics:

  • Contractor name, license information, contact information.
  • Your name and contact information.
  • Jobsite address.
  • Scope of job.
  • Cost of labor.
  • Detailed list of materials to be used. Details might include brand names, quantities, weight, color, size, and so on.
  • Allowances. The allowances list is an estimated cost for items that have not yet been selected, but which will need to be purchased and installed in the home.
  • Home warranty information. This should include a detailed list of what is included in the home warranty and what it covers.
  • Change order information. Change orders are written agreements that amend an existing contract while the job is taking place. The contract should specify what's included in the change order, and who must sign off on these changes.
  • List of permits, including price and who is responsible for pulling the permit.

The contract is a binding document that protects you throughout the home design process. You simply can't afford to sign a contract without fully understanding its implications.

[Read More: Selecting a Quality Custom Home Builder: What You Need to Know]

#3 Not Looking Ahead

The house you build must serve you now and into the future. Failure to think ahead could force you to make difficult decisions just a few years down the road. Take the time to consider more than your current lifestyle, think about your future self. Do some deep thinking as you're planning your home with your design build contractor.

Where do you want to work? What's on your bucket list? What hobbies do you hope to take up in the future? Is your family growing? Will your parents need an in-law suite someday? Are you planning to age in place? If not, where will you go? Are you going to invite more pets into your home?

Answers to these questions affect everything. The lot you buy, appliances you choose, number of bedrooms in your home, size of your garage, fencing around your yard, everything is affected by the way you plan to live your life. Once you have a plan, work with your design build contractor to create a home that will make you happy, now and twenty years from now.


#4 Expecting Perfection

Designing your perfect abode comes with hundreds of decisions. Light fixtures, storage space, layout and upgrades can exhaust you if perfection is the objective. While staying true to your expectations helps, an affordable home with everything you want and need is rarely achievable. Instead, expect to compromise. If you want a large kitchen, you might have to trim some square footage off the master bathroom.

While wood flooring feels and looks amazing, your budget might only allow for high-quality laminate. Whatever the case, understanding the project’s limitations will help you cope with challenges. On the other hand, you shouldn't have to lower the bar at every turn. Some items are worth the fuss. The key, then, lies in understanding which is which.

[Related: Why Work With a Custom Home Builder?

Another thing to keep in mind—expect delays. Shipping takes longer than anticipated and contractors have last-minute emergencies. Whatever the source, freaking out every time a deadline gets missed will make a difficult process that much more of a headache.


Final Thoughts

Building a custom home is no easy undertaking. There's much to consider, and you'll endure (or enjoy) the process if you take the time to do it right. In most cases, that means staying organized and keeping priorities in check. Luckily, having the right builder by your side will facilitate the process and lighten the burden.

Custom Home Guide [Free PDF]