I mentioned a few weeks ago that we’re currently in the process of building a new home, which is incredibly exciting (and I shared the pros and cons of building new vs. buying existing). Today I want to share some of the things we know now that we wish we’d known almost a year ago when we started considering a build. For anyone considering a build in the future, here are 9 mistakes you don’t want to make when you build a new home.
NOTE: This post is sponsored by Ivory Homes, the builder we are using to build our home. Additionally, these tips are more applicable to the semi-custom build process, where you choose a builder supplied floorplan, as opposed to the custom build process.
1. Don’t confuse the base price with the actual price of the home. Realize you will be quoted a cost for the home itself, but that you will need to plan on upgrade costs as well. The upgrade cost will depend on the choices you make about the design of your home, but the cost to get roughly the same upgrades varies widely from builder to builder. A sales agent may sell you on the amazing “base price” of the home, asking you to choose a lot and put down a deposit before you have any idea how much the upgrades will add to the price of the home.
2. Don’t assume that anything you see in a builder’s model home comes standard. We visited a builder in our area that advertises low home prices, and were shocked to find out how much of what we saw in the model was an upgrade. I knew that the granite countertops would be an upgrade, but the entire kitchen layout was an upgrade costing $10,000, and the master bathroom layout was another upgrade costing nearly as much. Window sills were an upgrade. A garage door opener was an upgrade. Central air was an upgrade. Any light fixtures other than fluorescent bar lights in the kitchen were an upgrade. Not to mention 2-tone paint, the trim, the doorknobs, all the fixtures, the carpet, the tile, etc. There were even upgrades on the outside of the home that were required by the CC&Rs in the neighborhood that we weren’t told about until AFTER we’d signed and put down a deposit on a lot. On the other hand, most of these items DO come standard with the builder we eventually chose, meaning we didn’t need to spend nearly as much money upgrading it to get what we wanted. Turns out the “budget” house wasn’t much of a deal after all.
3. Don’t take the sales agent’s word for it on upgrade prices without verification. We dealt with three different agents at three different builders. All of them could tell us up front what the base price of the home we were interested in was, but they varied widely in how much they could tell us about upgrade costs and how accurate what they told us was. One agent gave us an estimate of “what most people pay” in upgrades that ended up being only about half of what the upgrades we wanted would have cost. Another agent promised costs that turned out to be nowhere near true. The agent we ended up working with gave us good estimates the first time we talked to him, then verified them in writing the next day, adjusting the few things he was off on. He also offered to meet with us at the builder’s design center so we could get a very accurate idea of how much the specific things we were interested in would cost BEFORE we committed to a floorplan. Remember, the sales agent works for the builder, not for you, and he or she will likely earn a commission based on how much you spend. This doesn’t mean you can’t trust any of them, but it does mean you should verify costs in writing early on in the process if you don’t want a disappointing surprise later on.
4. Don’t forget to ask for incentives. Your sales agent may be able to offer “incentives” that will reduce the total cost of the home. Ask about current promotions on the base price of the home, possible design center credit toward upgrades, and the preferred lender incentive. (And ask more than once. All they can do is say no, right? And you might be surprised when they say yes.) All three builders we looked at offered an incentive, or credit, if we would use their preferred lender, but the incentive amounts varied widely.
5. Don’t ignore a builder’s reputation. Ask around about the builder you’re interested in BEFORE you begin the process. As I mentioned above, we were very impressed with the initial information we received from one of the first builders we visited – it seemed like we’d be able to build a beautiful house for even less than we’d expected. We spent weeks working with an agent, choosing a lot, picking upgrades, etc., and got pretty emotionally invested. We finally realized that the upgrades required to build on the lot we’d chosen were much, much more expensive than the sales agent had led us to believe, and we decided to walk away. Once we did so, people started sharing all the horrible experiences they, their family and friends had had with this builder – things they were too polite to tell us once we’d already signed. Ask around and google your builder before you get emotionally invested in the homes they offer. All home builders will likely have some bad reviews due to how complicated the process is, but if you talk to people in your area and no one seems to recommend a builder, just save yourself that hassle and find a different builder.
6. Don’t assume your current house will sell during the build without a backup plan. You may be able to get financing to build a new home before you’ve sold your current home, but no matter what your realtor tells you there’s always a chance your home won’t sell before the new home is done (slow market, appraisal problems, buyers with financing issues, etc.) That doesn’t mean you must sell your house before you even start the home building process; it just means you should have a plan in place. If your current home doesn’t sell in time, will you: 1) try to rent it? 2) make both house payments until it does sell? 3) walk away from the new home (losing deposit money in the process)? Make sure you have a plan.
7. Don’t expect everything to go smoothly. As the supervisor on our build put it: “No home is ever built perfectly start to finish.” You can be pretty well assured that something will go wrong at some point in the build process, and expecting it will help it not feel so frustrating when it does. Visit the home as often as you can during construction and pay attention to make sure things are going up as planned. It’s ok to take a tape measure and measure to make sure rooms are the right size, cabinets are in the right place, etc. Make sure you know who you need to talk to if something goes wrong, because you likely won’t get anywhere trying to talk to the subcontractors who are actually doing the work. We’ve been very pleased with our experience with Ivory Homes in this respect; the agent who sold us the home continues to stay in contact with us and helps ensure any of our questions and concerns get taken care of.
8. Don’t forget that the interest rate may change between now and then. When you start the home buying process, you’ll get a quote on what your monthly payment will be for the cost of your home, but that quote will come with today’s interest rate. The actual interest rate you pay will likely not get locked in until 30 days before the house is done, which means it could change in the time it takes to build, affecting your payment amount. Luckily, rates have been low and steady for the past few years, but as the economy and the housing market continue to recover it’s possible they will go up. Ask your lender to give you a couple of estimates, one with today’s rate and a few more with slightly higher rates to make sure you’ll still be comfortable with your payment if things change.
9. Don’t rush the process. Building a new home is not only a lot of work, it’s a huge investment. Take it slow so you can be sure the home you end up with is one you’ll be happy with. I’m not saying everything about your new home needs to be absolutely perfect – because that probably won’t ever happen – but you do want your new home to be something you can picture your family being happy with in the long term. That might mean you visit multiple builders and many different model homes before you choose a floorplan, or it might mean you wait a year or two to make sure you end up with the home you want, not the one you can afford right now. Remember to consider what will be best for your family 10 years from now, not just what seems best today.