Building a House: Getting Started

Building a House: Getting Started

This December is a big milestone for us, as we break ground on the home we started planning for over 3 years ago (and started saving for 7 years ago!).

This is our first time building a home from scratch, and like many of you, we honestly had no idea where to start. I want to take a moment to give you some insight into our process in hopes it might help your family out somewhere down the line.

We’ve always been a very intentional couple, so we purchased our current home with a plan in mind. We’re lucky to live in a suburb of Nashville (a booming, business-friendly environment thanks to low taxes), where housing is surprisingly affordable and home equity is stable to growing, even in this crazy economy. When we moved into our home as a young married couple, our original intent was to sell in a few years and roll the equity/additional profit into another home. A few years after that, we planned to do it again.

Then we had a little girl. Then we had a little boy. Then we realized the nightmare it would be to move our young family every few years into a different house and school system. With all of those changes, we decided it would be better to stay put for longer, save money like crazy people (more on this in a minute), and try to build a custom home where we can lay down roots as a family.

That shift took place about three years ago. Here are some things we’ve learned along the way.

It Pays to Save While You’re Young

As I mentioned earlier, we decided early on to start planning and saving for the long haul. I’m hear to tell you that it’s not easy, but you’ll definitely thank yourself later.

My Dad turned me on to Dave Ramsey’s financial advice as a college student, and we kicked off our marriage with a strict financial plan that we’ve stuck with to this day. Being the spender in the relationship (I like toys, as should be obvious from this blog), it was hard for me initially. However, the plan eventually became fun for us over time.

As Christians, we started by making tithing and generosity a priority in our financial life. After that, we made a game of saving everything we can, putting off unnecessary purchases, and attacking our debt like raving lunatics. I drive a 14-year-old car that sounds like a train wreck. Our clothes come from clearance racks. We’ve taken on dozens of side gigs at night and on weekends to save and pay things off a little more.

It’s far from suffering, but it’s definitely a distinct lifestyle choice. What was annoying in my 20s (I wanted a 4-door Jeep so bad) is now a habit that we’re deeply thankful for, as we’re able to turn years of discipline into an investment in our little family.

I say all of this not to brag, but to encourage your family to do the same. The decisions we made long ago have been tremendously helpful for us over the years, and have helped us weather several financial storms.

If you want to try the same system we’ve done, I highly recommend Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace book. It’s an easy read that’ll put you on the road to good financial health.

They Don’t Make More Land

If you’re exploring building a home, one of the first places you’ll want to begin is obviously deciding where you want to build. Lauren kick started the conversation for us three years ago when she found a piece of land that we fell in love with.

At the time (and in the midst of our planning/saving marathon mentioned above), I hated to spend money and go into debt on something that I wouldn’t enjoy until much further down the road. Fast forward a few years, and I’m pretty thankful for my prescient little wife; our lot is a great spot that’s now nearly impossible to find in our area.

Start your search with land, and act fast if you’re able too. It only gets harder to find (and more expensive!).

New Construction vs Custom Building

You should know up front that it can be much more expensive to build a custom home. Depending on the options available to you, if your family is looking into buying a new home, a house in a development from a popular builder may be a fantastic option. You can get many of the perks of custom building (colors, selections, etc) these days with a flexible developer, and still get the value that comes from a mass produced house.

We chose to go custom because we wanted a few features and a floorplan we just couldn’t find from some of the builders in our area. Thankfully, we found the right builder to balance things out.

Shop Around for the Right Builder

If you’re going the custom route, finding a builder may be the most difficult part of the whole process. There’s something extremely intimidating about meeting with people in a field you know nothing about, especially as a younger couple. I can’t tell you how much advice we sought from parents and mentors. The one statement that kept popping up? “Make sure you shop around.”

We began our search with a fantastic local builder that has a stellar reputation in our community. They were fantastic to work with, but after a few months we decided that their premium approach (and very premium price) wasn’t the way for us to go in this phase of life. It hurt to shop around some more after developing friendships and respect for the previous team, but we knew it was the right thing to do.

We talked with several other teams, then found one who built a beautiful house that I’ve admired for years. We immediately hit it off with them, and were refreshed by their honestly, friendly tone, and willingness to work with our budget. Almost a year after starting the search for the right builder, we’re breaking ground with one that we couldn’t be more excited to work with. I’m so thankful we shopped around.

Take the Time to Decide What You Want

This may be the most important piece of advice I can share after the saving section above… Decide what you want early on. Honestly, this has taken us almost the whole three years.

When we bought our land, we didn’t have a clue what kind of house we wanted beyond a vague sense of style. We poured over thousands (no exaggeration) of plans in books and on the web before we decided we would need to create our own from scratch. It look about a year for those initial sketches to make it into a final floor plan, but having those decisions behind us is a good feeling.

It also made it easier to speak clearly with our builder about the things we want and the things we don’t need. We’ve saved thousands of dollars already by making smart decisions about materials, rooms, and other features.

Don’t wait until your house is being framed to realize “that thing shouldn’t go there.” Have the hard discussions early on in the process if you can.

That’s the best advice I can give from where we are right now. I’ll make efforts to update you as we continue the building process.

Have any questions or value to add in this discussion? Let me know in the comments below!

Author

Eric is the creator of At Home in the Future and has been a passionate fan of the future since he was seven. He's a web developer by trade, and serves as the Director of Communication and Technology for a large church in Nashville, TN (where he and his family are building a high tech home in the woods).

5 comments

  • How do you measure the trade-off of convenience and cost?
    Your goal is to eliminate inconveniences, while also making your home more green/energy efficient and lets say “high tech”.

    Will your new home employ an instant water heater? Have you considered a low cost solar heater to your home that may eliminate almost all of your summer time water heating cost? The convenience would go down a little bit, but the cost savings and energy efficiency would sky rocket.

    Solar panels aren’t cost effective, but during the winter, solar air furnaces have been proven to provide an enormous amount of heat. They cost very little, pay for themselves in 2-3 years and can last upwards of 2 decades with almost no maintenance.

    How about installing a cheap mister on your AC unit so that it runs more efficiently? http://www.themister.com/
    Pretty neat product, only 400 dollars and pays for itself in 1-2 years. Plus increases the life of your AC unit.

    And if you were really hardcore. I’ve seen where people, especially in states like Arizona, are collecting rain water and using it to wash clothes and flush toilets, as well as water lawns during hot months. The toilet and laundry are about 50% of a homes water use according to the EPA. The inconvenience is really only in the installation of the system.

    I’ve been diving more and more into energy efficiency now that I am a home owner and I see where my footprint is each month. Good luck to you and Lauren building your new house and keep up the site as you progress. Hopefully I can build a home of my own in a few years and reference your advice.

    Reply
    • We’re pretty much evaluating everything on its ability to pay for itself over time, either in actual savings, or in perceived savings through comfort or lack of friction. Honestly, I’m more interested in reducing our recurring expenses than being as green as possible. Our builder already uses a lot of green materials by default, so that’s been a big help.

      Current solar panels aren’t too great, but there was a report out today that they’re getting close to 50% efficiency, which would be awesome. Our lot is pretty wooded though, so it might be a loss for us.

      We’ll probably use technology to curb our energy usage instead of seeking out alternate energy in our area. It’s just not that plentiful here.

      Glad you’re digging the site! Send us a message if you stumble across anything cool 🙂

      Reply
  • Or even better- reduce reuse and recycle- buy an old home and give it a little TLC and make it yours. Best investment. I’ve had a 400% increase in home value in 7 years. Don’t overlook an old home with character!

    Reply

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