First time build, where to start?

terrinmJanuary 28, 2012

Like so many here we are possibly about to start our first time build. I've read lots of posts here and looked at tons of your plans. It was great fun until we found the parcel of land we liked, then it became reality! Stress!!!

First a little background. We are empty-nesters in our early fifties. The land we've found is 10 acres with river frontage in New Mexico. We will put a shop there for his toys and the house will need a largish sewing room for my sewing machine and long arm quilting machine (it's a 14' long frame).

I've started a list (and hopefully DH will start his this weekend!) with ideas that I want in a house. From the basic 3 bedroom / 3 bath and the basics I want in those to a little more detail like single floor, flooring, counter tops, etc. I'm thinking if we have a pretty good idea what we want and a basic (even if crude) floor plan to take to an architect it will save time and money in the end.

Is there anything we should be thinking of while we scout around for the architect and builder? Our son has homebuilder 2012 software, does anyone have any experience with this software program?

Or is all of this just my way to deal with the stress and we should just wait until we decide on an architect lol? Thanks for any input as my head is spinning :)

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Make a list and collect photos from magazines and web sites then interview and hire the architect. There is little to be gained by trying to design the house yourself with consumer CAD software if you are going to use an architect. Your expertise is in understanding your current/future lifestyle and budget; let the architect use his/her expertise to give it a physical form that will hopefully exceed your expectations.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2012 at 2:51PM
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This site,, and have LOTS of great ideas. Just start gathering ideas- I have a big box collecting physical info, and a file on my computer collecting electronic info; pay attention to how you really live and what would make life easier for you as you age; drive around and look at houses; visit open houses, etc; talk to others who have built recently to get recommendations. Once you have a pretty good idea of the direction you are going, talk to an architect and/or builder. And don't forget to stay calm and ENJOY the process!!!! :)

Good luck!

    Bookmark   January 28, 2012 at 10:25PM
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We are are also building our "forever dream home". We knew what we wanted, spent hours trolling web sites including Houzz (IMHO, one of the best for ideas), hand drawing a few ideas, pulling floor plan ideas from the many online sites. Interviewed many builders and architects before final selection.

Two books I felt worth the small price are:

Designing Your Dream Home:

Good information on what to ask during the interview process, checklists for each room of the house, etc. A few of the checklists well worth the costs of the book and things I probably would have missed such as cabinet size for those large platters and chargers (larger base cabs than standard boxes). Those interview questions helped us weed out more than a couple builders.

We also purchased What Your Contractor Can't Tell You:

Again - tips worth the price.

Don't rush the design phase - will save stress and money down the road. Get the design right! Pick the best architect you can for your budget and style. Several of them leaned toward Old World and we are Contemporary and we knew it would not be a good fit.

And ditto what Kelhuck said - stay calm and enjoy the process of creating your dream home.



    Bookmark   January 29, 2012 at 12:35PM
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Thank you all for the advice! We are making an offer on the land this week and have pretty much decided this will be a 2-3 year process possibly. We will build the shop first, oh and we are getting 2 lots so 21 acres in all.

I've managed to waste lots and lots of hours this weekend on! great site. Michelle, thanks for the book suggestions, I'm going to order them tonight. So now it's back to looking at gorgeous pictures on Houzz and researching architects.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2012 at 11:45PM
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It sounds like a very exciting project. So that you get off on the right foot, I would make sure your offer on the lot has appropriate contingencies and you have enough time for due diligence. With river frontage, the first thing I would want to know is whether there is a risk of flooding (maybe start by checking FEMA flood maps). I would want to build well above the 100 year flood elevation. A geotechnical engineer might need to consulted to determine how close to the river you can build and what type of foundation is required. You also need to know what jurisdiction controls the zoning, the zoning process and restrictions, and the ability/cost to bring in utilities. If water and sewer are not available, you need to find out feasibility of a well and septic system. If you need to work online from home or just can't live without high speed internet, can you get DSL or cable service?

    Bookmark   January 30, 2012 at 2:24AM
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Once you close on the property, go ahead and plant your orchard of money trees. You will need them to mature a bit while you are in the planning stages. Building a home will use them up faster than you ever thought possible! :)

    Bookmark   January 30, 2012 at 11:59AM
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Before you buy some things to check:

1) Can you build on the land?
2) Are there any restrictions? EPA? Are you in a protected water preservation area?
3) Are there any hazzards? Nuclear waste? Was it a testing ground?
4) If you can build, are there any restrictions as to what you can build? Height restrictions? Landscape restrictions?
5) When you purchase the land, are your really buying the land you saw? Check the map, check the land registary? Note land title deed insurance only covers the land. If you build and the land title company messed up, then you will be out the cost of the building.

I think the best advice when I built my house was the two words "Don't Panic" from the BBC program a Hitch Hikers guide to the Galaxy.

In my case getting the foundation in was the most difficult bit. After that it got easier :).

Best, Mike.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 9:09AM
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Great questions! And here are some more things to ask before buying raw land...

1) Is this a legal lot? If not, how do I make it legal?
2) Are there any existing liens against the property?
3) Does the Zoning on the property permit my project?
4) Are there any existing zoning violations on the lot?
5) Are there any cultural heritage sites on the property?
6) Does the deed also convey the mineral rights to me? (Don't be surprised if it doesn't b/c on almost all land, the mineral rights have been divided from the surface rights. But do find out what minerals are likely to be located in your area and who owns those rights. Consider the possibility that the owner of the mineral rights may decide to mine for them. Laws generally give mineral rights owners amazingly broad rights of access to the surface property as NEEDED in order for them to reach their underground minerals. You do NOT want someone deciding to drill an oil well or strip mine for copper in YOUR back yard. It might be worthwhile to find out who owns the mineral rights and whether they would be willing to sell those rights to you for a small fee.)

7) Is the site subject to flooding? (Get a FEMA flood plain map and do NOT plan to build inside of or very near a 100 year flood plain. Even better, don't build in a 500 year flood plain!)
8) Is the area subject to any other natural (or semi-natural) hazards? (landslides, forest fires, earthquakes, faults, subsidence, liquifaction, etc.

9) Does the lot have legal access to a public road? (For example, if the only access to the public road system is via a private road over a neighboring property, will the buyer of the lot acquire a legal right to drive over that private road?)
10) Does the existing access roadway meet the fire department access requirements? If not adequate, what will it cost to improve the road?

11) Is the lot served by a public sewer system? If so, what is the sewer connection fee and does the sewer district have the capacity to serve my lot?
12)If public sewer connection is not available, will I be able to install a septic system on the lot? If a perc test has already been done, what were the results? (IF NOT, AND YOUR ARE GOING TO NEED A SEPTIC SYSTEM, MAKE THE CONTRACT CONTINGENT ON PERC RESULTS THAT WILL ALLOW FOR AN ADEQUATELY SIZED SEPTIC SYSTEM!)

13) Is the lot served by a public water system? If so, does the water purveyor have enough capacity to serve the lot? Do water lines already run to the edge of my property and if not, how far away are there and how much will it cost to get them to my property? How much is the water connection fee? How long does it take to get a water hookup?
14) If the lot is not served by a public water system, is it possible to drill a water well on my property? How much is drilling a well likely to cost?
15) Does the local fire department have water pressure requirements that I must meet before I can build?

16) Does the lot already have access to electricity, gas, telephone, cable, trash pick-up services, etc. If not, what is it going to cost to get these services to the lot?

17) Does a Homeowners Association have jurisdiction
over the lot?
18) Are there any Homeowner Association or Covenants,
Conditions and Restrictions (CC&R�s) related to the development or use of the lot?
19) What deed restrictions exist on the lot?

20) Has the lot been recently surveyed? (Get a copy of the survey but also have your own survey done BEFORE you buy... and either be on site when the survey is being done or have the survey company mark the boundaries with very clear markers that YOU can see. You don't want to purchase land, start building and then discover that the land you actually purchased is the next one over from the one that you thought you purchased and started building on!

21) What building permits are required to build on the property and what do those permits cost?

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 12:12PM
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Wow you guys great things to find out. Some of which are on our list and some not, but will be now :) The surveying and geotechnical surveys have been done, we are just waiting on copies.

Max, ohmygosh it never dawned on me to check for DSL! thank you!

and live wire oak we keep trying and trying to plant those darn money trees and they don't bloom!!!

Books are ordered, list of things to check into is growing and my Pinterest boards are getting bigger and bigger. Most of the time this is fun, but every now and again the panic sets in lol.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 3:12PM
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Wow do we have a lot in common. We already own our lot but will start building in 2-3 yrs.( I too need a sewing room but sadley not for a long arm although I do quilt. I have designed our home using house plans I liked and used a home design program to "play" with my ideas. I also obtained the zoning rules from the town in which we are building. That helps with how wide the house can be and where it can sit on the lot. That sort of thing. Once I know what I want I will go to a home designer( they are cheaper and architects in our neck of the wood only design homes over 3000 sq. ft) and get plans drawn up. One thing I have learned though is work with the district you are building in...staying on their good side will make a lot of difference! Good luck!

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 5:25PM
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It is so exciting - we had our second meeting with the architect and WOW, it was great to see our thoughts and inspiration pics come to life in the design. We are so far away but I feel like I can walk through the house (well - the main floor) - I can see exactly how we will live in it. Rosey stages now - know there will be many bumps in the road.

Keep us posted!

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 6:24PM
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