Lately, I’ve had several friends asking me different questions about how Robert and I decided to build a house instead of purchasing a home that was already built. Hence, the next issue of “The Newlywed Diaries” – or “Life’s Next Big Step’s Guide to Being a Newlywed” (I haven’t chosen yet…)
Buying a house is, really, one of life’s next big steps. Whether you decide to purchase a home that is already standing or build a new home can be a tough choice. Here are some pro’s and con’s to hopefully help make your decision a little bit easier.
Buying a Built Home:
Next to that, there is house-hunting with a particular style of house in mind and finding almost what you are looking for. For example, Robert and I found a house that we both really liked, only there were several walls that we thought could be knocked down to give us the ‘open-airy’ feel we both wanted. Other than the walls, it was a great house! Thank goodness for our realtor, who said “After you spend this much on this house, are you really going to want to knock down all of these walls to get you what you want, or do you want to just keep looking for what you want?” Enough said. If you have a particular style in mind, stick with it, it already costs a lot of money to buy a house, and remodeling isn’t easy on the wallet either. Something small, like tiling a floor or changing out carpet is different than ripping out walls or adding windows. Those things definitely add up, and quick!
If you are handy and don’t mind getting your hands dusty, there is always the situation of finding a ‘fixer-upper’ or foreclosure for cheaper than your budget and going to town on remodeling (read YoungHouseLove.com – those guys are amazing at what they do, but some of us just aren’t that handy!). Just be prepared to be hit with the realization that remodeling doesn’t happen over night, and many foreclosures and fixer-uppers need some repairs completed before you are even allowed to move in – so be sure to have extra money in your budget to pay contractors that need to come in just to get the house livable, over and above remodeling money. Big projects can take anywhere from a week, re-tiling a bathroom to several months, re-tiling a bathroom and finding out it needs new pipes/beams/electrical/etc, depending on if you hit any bumps in the road or not.
The biggest points, I think, would be:
1. Stick to your budget. Even if you think you might be able to afford another $1,000 – don’t. Just keep looking. You will eventually find what you want in what you can afford. If you found what you want and it is out of your price range, always give your offer, the worst the homeowner can do is say no. Keep looking and, you never know, in a couple weeks, they might drop the price anyway. Don’t buy more than what you can afford. It never ends well.
2. If you know what you want, don’t settle – If you know you want an open kitchen/living room/dining room area, then keep looking until you find the house that has that aspect. Want a walk-in closet? Two car garage? Keep looking until you find it. The houses that have what you want are out there. If you think about getting a house that you don’t feel is perfect, it won’t be, and you’ll probably end up having more work to do in the end.
3. If you don’t know what you want, look at a lot of houses – Initially, we had an idea of what we wanted, obviously something larger than what we currently had, but we weren’t really on the same page with what parts were most important. We knew we both wanted a two car garage (which in Richmond, they are hard to come by) and the open-living space. We were shown many many houses with one or the other, but few that had both. On our showings, we learned about other things we liked and didn’t like, like laundry rooms in the garage, no trees in the back yard, etc. It gave us things to look for at the next place and made our choice easier.
Building a House
For us, building a house was the best decision for two reasons.
1. We could get exactly* what we wanted for our budget**
2. The location was too good to pass up***
*By exactly, I mean we were able to make tweaks to the house…read below.
**We broke one of the rules above and did increase our budget – but we did this before we settled on building a new house, mainly because we knew what we wanted would be more than what we initially decided we’d want to pay and since we didn’t want to budge on what we wanted, we needed to increase the budget – which we were able to do without putting ourselves in any kind of hole. If you cannot increase your budget without getting yourself into trouble, don’t do it!
***Robert walks to work through the back yard and I drive to work – 1.5 miles each way. Enough said.
Building a house is very exciting, especially when you get to see it from beginning, mud and sticks and rocks, to end, an actual house! It also takes a lot of time and waiting, and if you have no patience like me, four months will feel like forever. It can also be stressful – there are a lot of meetings with contractors, the plumbing, exteriors, flooring, couter tops, cabinets, etc. They all come from contractors, and luckily, we had the option to personalize all of those things, but to do that, you have to go to meetings. Robert and I both have understanding bosses who allowed us to go on these meetings, but it did take up a lot of time.
The biggest points for building:
1. In our experience, we were interested in a house to be built on a lot already purchased by the builder. We did not buy the land, then find the builder and have them draw up plans to our specifications. We talked with our builder, who gave us the choice of two ‘houses’ that could be built on our section of land (different elevations give the same house a different look from the outside, with eaves positioning, and windows, but inherently have the same set up inside)
2. Once we decided on the house, and after the whole loan pre-approval process and signing a lot of papers, we set up meetings with the building contractors to pick our plumbing, exteriors, flooring, counter top, cabinets, etc. This is one step that is good and bad. Good because you can pick whatever you want! Brushed nickel plumbing fixtures, oil-stained lighting fixtures, everything can be tweaked to your exact liking. Bad because if you want something that doesn’t fall into the ‘basic’ category – you are going to pay for the upgrade. Want a really nice carpet with really thick padding underneath? Be prepared to pay for it. Covered in the price of the house is the basic necessities to make a house livable. There were several things we made do with that were basic – our plumbing fixtures, for instance, came with the option to be brass, chrome or brushed nickel. We chose brushed nickel for the downstairs, but we wanted a deeper kitchen sink, so that was extra. We wanted swan-neck fixtures in the master bath upstairs, so we had to pay for that too. We initially wanted a granite counter top in the kitchen, but after we saw the upgrade price, we politely declined and let them put in the laminate countertop instead, at least for now. Anything that was going to be extremely expensive to do later in the game we went ahead and paid for – like recessed lighting in the kitchen, a lot easier to put in while the build is going on than after the fact. Same goes for the deck outside, since the county requires it be built a certain way, we had to go ahead and let them do it. Many of these things go overlooked when you decide to build a house, because hey, I’m building a house so I should get what I want. True, but kind of not. Be aware!
3. Once it’s built, the work isn’t done – Our builder had a lot of restrictions. We had to use their contractors, no if’s and’s or but’s, so we couldn’t try to find cheaper, better quality carpet and install it ourselves, it had to be done through the contractors. They also would not let us bring our own paint in to have the painters use that to paint with instead of the Builder’s Flat White they used. So guess what has to be done after moving in? Painting – painting isn’t expensive or necessarily hard, but it is time consuming. Landscaping – our builder did some landscaping, but not exactly what we wanted, so there have been several days spent in the yard planting trees and flowers. They built us a deck, but we didn’t pay to have them seal it, so that is still on the list of things that need to be done. That laminate countertop will go in a few years so we’ll finally get the granite – we’ll install a backsplash in the kitchen – all those little things to make it feel homey – no one had an opportunity to do it before you, the house is new, so anything that is done is done by the new, and first, owner.
Neither choice is better than the other, and some think that older homes have more character than new construction, which might be true. It all depends on your likes and dislikes, your vision for a home and where you see yourself in five, ten, 15 years. In my opinion, you will know it when you see it, and when you see it you will fall in love. Don’t expect everything to go smoothly, because it won’t. There will be bumps in the road no matter which one you choose, but they are all just a fact of life, nothing worth it is easy. It takes work, but the end result is what makes it all worth the while.