What you have to do before you move any dirt

Everyone will tell you that building a home takes longer than you think.  What you might not realize is how much has to be done before you move any dirt.  This is especially true if you are building a custom home and super especially true if you're designing the home yourself.

Here's a list of what we've done in order before moving any dirt.

1. Find property

Finding the right property certainly is a challenge.  There are so many different factors to consider.  What area do I want to be in?  What size property do I want?  What features do I want?  School districts.  Tax rates.  Area amenities.  Work proximity.  Etc, etc. etc...

For us the property search began probably about a year before we found our land.  We'll write an other post detailing that process and what we ended up buying.  If you don't want to be in a development, then count on this potentially taking a long time.

2. Design the house

For most people this means find a house plan that you like.  There are thousands to choose from.  Some custom home builders have plans you can use or you can search for your own on a site like houseplans.com.  Some firms also offer "Design Build" service which means they have designers that will create the house you want and then they build that house.  This is a great option and one that gives the best collaboration between those designing your house and those building your house. 

We started by looking at existing plans and ultimately found our house designer because of his plans on houseplans.com.  He just happened to be in the next town and so we were able to meet with him in person to discuss our project.  We talked about modifying one of his existing plans but decided to have him draw up custom plans for us based on Amanda's sketches.

Because of a variety of factors, this process took about 10 months to complete.  Ideally it should be a 2-3 month process.

Cost: $4500

3. Structural Plans/Soil Test

The architect or designer will create construction documents for the builder, but you'll also need structural plans from an engineer.  Since our house is slab on grade construction, the structural plan is especially important so that the foundation is engineered correctly.  This requires a soil test.

The soil test involves taking core samples and then having them tested.  A report is given to the structural engineer.

The soil test took about 2 weeks and cost $1,200.

The structural engineering work took about a week and cost $1,000

4. Builder

Perhaps one of the most important steps is finding a builder.  We talked to four builders before settling on Sierra Custom Homes.  The builder can give you a general idea of cost per square foot, but will need the construction documents and interior specifications before an estimate and contract can be generated.  The more the builder has either the house design or the interior design services as part of their services, the easier this will be on you.  Since Amanda is an Interior Designer and we have a pretty good idea of what we want, this wasn't a huge factor for us.  The main issue we had was communicating what we wanted to build since it's not a typical suburban house.

5. Financing

This is the least fun part of the entire process.  A bank is investing a lot of money in your project and they are going to make you jump through all kinds of hoops to get it.  Like a typical mortgage, the bank is going to want all of your financial documentation, but they are also going to want the construction documents and documentation on the builder.  The bank has to approve the builder and they do this by looking at other projects, business history and various insurance policies.

The bank will also hire an appraiser to value the entire project.  This means a value on the land as well as the house once it's built.  We've had a nightmare with the appraisal process and are currently waiting on a second appraisal.

Don't count on this process going quickly.  I hope our experience is a huge exception since we've currently been in the financing stage for 5 months (3 of those months just on the appraisal).  All the banks I talked to said 5-6 weeks, but I'd count on more time than that.