Stuck finding a house plan

elizabethevaApril 28, 2014

We started looking to buy a home and in our area we are not finding what we need. We live in Utah, which seems to be a lower priced market, but the homes and plans that are popular with the national builders don't quite meet our needs, and I think a traditional custom build it just out of our price range. I'm hoping if I give all of the information here, I might be able to get some feedback about how I might be creative and resourceful in cutting costs one way or another to get what we want. Also, advice in general about where I can continue to research and how to learn more about reading floor plans and the hidden costs that can make them more or less expensive would really help me. This is what we are trying to build:
- master bed and bath on main floor
- kitchen and great room area
- main floor office and 1/2 guest bath
- 2 second floor bedrooms with a jack and jill bathroom we can adapt to meet the needs of my son
- 2nd floor loft area to serve as a playroom
- 2 car garage
- some kind of seasonal storage space, whether it be unfinished basement, attic, or garage space

We really aren't looking to build a castle - this is more about efficiency for our family than marble and custom cabinetry!

There are a couple national builders with current developments within our price range of 240-300k, but most of their plans aren't quite right.. All of them have plenty of square footage, but we have a child with special needs and we would need to make major modifications to accommodate his bathroom needs (it doesn't need to be wheelchair accessible, but it needs to be large enough for another person to help him, store his supplies, and because of all of the medical routines that he does in the bathroom both morning and night, he needs privacy, and my daughter needs her own separate vanity/sink area). My husband also works from home frequently, so we need a dedicated home office (it can be small but it must have a door : ) I'm pretty desperate for a separate play area for my kids to keep their toys out of our main living area, but we've been in a small townhouse for way too long so that desire may be coming from an emotional place and I might be able to sacrifice there.

What I've been reading is that while there are benefits to building with these national companies, especially as far as the ease involved with building and financing since we are first time builders and buyers, it can cost a lot more to make changes to their stock floor plans.
I do keep coming across home plans in various places that are closer to meeting our needs but they are consistently pricing around $30k more. I can't tell by looking what the cost difference is - vaulted ceilings or special decorative features? Is it really the overall square feet?

On paper we are financed for that amount, but looking at our budget we just can't do it. Our expenses aren't traditional so even though it seems like not much of a difference per month on paper, we will already be stretched if we go above 260k and are hoping to stay as close to the low end of our budget as possible.

Also, lots in our area are more expensive than the rest of the county (around $100k, leaving only $140-200 for building costs and excavation) so especially with the uncertainty of excavation and the cost that the developers save by buying the large parcels of land, I'm afraid we would pay more for a lot and would not be able to build as much if we tried to do a lower cost, traditional custom build.

So basically I'm stuck. I'm trying to learn as much as I possibly can about the practical side of building (lining up plumbing, etc) so I can become more educated about where to go next and evaluate plans better.

Anyway, thanks for letting me dump it all out there! I've learned a lot already reading here for a while, so I really appreciate any feedback and suggestions!

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Have you looked at current homes on the market? You get more for your money than building. If you keep an open mind, you may be able to add a bathroom. Just try to think about what you can do to a current home to make it work for your needs. For example if there are 3 kiddo bedrooms, maybe turn one of the bedrooms into a bathroom and play area. Particularlyif you can make a bathroom right adjacent to another bathroom.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 9:51AM
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On the financial side of your equation, are you sure that you're accessing all the economic support that your son is entitled to? It sounds like he should at least be getting Social Security, SSI, Medicare/Medicaid, plus services like In Home Supportive Services, and perhaps nursing services. Just a thought that might make other areas of your life easier.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 10:38AM
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nostalgicfarm, Your suggestion to remodel, specifically to turn a third bedroom into a shared bathroom is actually something I've been curious about. There are a lot of more affordable 90's split levels on the market in our area, but due to their desirable location many are actually listed toward the higher end of our budget even though they are outdated, and I don't know if we'd be able to make those kinds of structural changes with the remainder of our budget.
When you are looking at buying a home to remodel, how do you find these things out? It seems like you would need to have an agent or a contractor with experience in this area in order to make appropriate estimates.

suzannesl, Regarding the financial aspect, thank you for your thoughts. Unfortunately, our income is a little too high to qualify for the programs I know of (SSI cut off is around 50k, medicaid around 20k) but our insurance doesn't cover the supplies he uses to manage his urinary incontinence so we pay out of pocket in additional to his medication copays and other monthly copays. We do have a flex spending account, but it's always used up by March because it's usually applied towards the new yearly out of pocket portion. I don't say this to complain - there are people facing much worse - just to establish that on paper our income is enough to qualify us for more than what we can really afford because it doesn't take into account the thousands we need to plan for each year in nontraditional expenses. And we haven't even reached the years of orthodontics yet :)

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 1:18PM
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It sounds like you need to consider 1.5 story homes (plans, or actual homes). That might not be a popular style in Utah. I'm thinking it is probably more frequent to find 2 story or ranch style homes.

If there are a lot of the same type of house on the market in your area (split level homes), take a contractor with you to a typical one and ask about remodeling.

The thing about remodeling is that you have to have the cash now. So, do you have a large amount of cash? If you are building new, you will also need cash, but you can also get construction loans. Once you own a home, you'll need cash, or enough equity in the home to have an equity loan. Usually, you'll need to buy "down" to have enough equity to qualify for an additional loan right off the bat.

Where to go for info... Well, here is a great start. Also, check the bath forum, because I think you have bath remodeling questions. There is also the plumbing forum, to learn about plumbing costs (for example, much, much more expensive to add bath/plumbing to a home with a slab foundation than one with crawl space or basement).

Also, check out the household finances forum for questions about creative financing and the types of professionals to find to ask your questions of.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 3:58PM
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HI Elizabetheva,

We are moving to Utah from Idaho and having a similar issue. It seems like all the newer homes there are the same kind of floor plan and none of them really meet our needs. (Family of 8---wanting all bedrooms on main level and just one large dining space, etc....we don't want an enormous and fancy house, just one that is practical and very functional for us). I'm looking into building too and having the same problem. I'm not sure what area of Utah you are in, but I've found lots cost less the farther away you are from the bigger cities. My husband will be working in Provo. The lots there are $150K for half acre or less. So, we're looking in the Payson area where you can get larger lots for under 100K.

However, building is still going to be more expensive than buying an existing home.

My sister's husband was paralyzed several years ago and they needed a house to accommodate his special needs. They looked into building, but found what you did--that trying to tweak builder plans with a large national builder was going to cost too much. They ended up buying a house in Provo and remodeling it to fit their needs. The biggest changes they made were to the master bathroom. They found a few houses that they thought were "close" to what they needed, then they took a contractor with them to view their top choices. He gave them bids on how much it would cost to remodel the houses to meet their needs, then they made their decision on which house to buy. They had all the work done before they moved in. The remodel took 3-4 weeks and they did have to pay cash for it. I think they spent between 15 and 20K for everything (including putting in hardwoods throughout the house and widening all the doorways).

Best of luck!

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 1:47AM
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Granted I'm in the northeast, a long way from Utah. But when I read your list of house needs, nothing sticks out at me as unusual. When you have been looking at existing houses, or even new construction, exactly what on your list is not being met? That could help us figure out a solution for you.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 7:31AM
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hhwiseman, it is interesting you mention Payson, we actually lived in Salem for several years but my husband works in north utah county so when gas went up really high a few years ago we finally moved closer to his work. In fact, I really think we could build what we want if we moved to south Utah county, possibly even Provo, but I really love the school my kids go to, and we do so much driving up to the hospital in SLC, I want to exhaust every option before going that route.

I would love to know more about your sister's process of finding a a contractor and if they were happy with the work. My only exposure to building was when my parents were doing work on their house in a different state. They took their plans to several contractors to get bids and then balanced their reputation with the best bid. So this probably sounds obvious, but if you're considering buying a house and it's contingent on the changes you could make, it doesn't sound realistic to try and get several bids during the buying process . . . but maybe people do that? or did they just trust they could make the changes within their budget and plan all of that after they closed on the house?

Most of our family and friends that have built houses have either built custom, and way out of our price range, or used national builders, so I'm not sure how I'd even go about finding someone to remodel by word of mouth.

Just curious, Is the land you first looked into near the Vineyard area or the east side of Provo? It sounds like you need a large lot if you are looking to build several bedrooms all on the main floor. Also, this area would mean changing school for us, but if you are already thinking about commuting from Payson, you may want to look in Saratoga Springs or Eagle Mountain - I've been stalking the builder sites and I recently read something about someone developing very large lots, I think 1/2 acre and up, west of the lake in that area, maybe it was even in Lehi. Although I do love there seem to be more trees in Payson!

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 11:21PM
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ElizabethEva -- you can email me at and I can help you get in contact with my sister so she can answer your questions about their remodeling process. And, I have some questions for you about the Salem area.

To pixie_lou -- It seems like there are very limited styles of homes being built in Utah. All the ramblers follow the same formula and most of the two-story homes follow the same kind of formula as well. It sounds like the most difficult thing for ElizabethEva to find is a large bathroom space and I can attest that secondary bathrooms are all very small in these homes. Jack and Jill baths are a rare find. The other issue is that most homes have large (generally unfinished) basements, which increases the overall square footage of the home (and the taxes) and can make it more difficult to afford the size of "finished" living space that someone needs because you have to buy the basement with it. It's super annoying to me when I'm looking at listings and it says "3000 sq feet" but only 1500 sq ft are finished and the rest is below grade unfinished basement.

We currently live in a 2400 sq ft house all on one level, with NO basement, and it's just the right size for us (family of 7). To get that kind of main level living in Utah, I've got to buy nearly 5000 sq ft of total house.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2014 at 12:47AM
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Yes, the description about the style of home built here for under $400k is completely accurate. I grew up in a different state and there were many more options - you could buy an older home, and there were many well maintained neighborhoods of older homes to choose from. This area has grown really fast in the last 20 years, and there was plenty of land to grow out, so the 'older' homes here were build in the 1990's and most seem to be that same split level or one story with basement style. Also, from what I can see, the 'semi-custom home,' for lack of a better term, has been nonexistent in the lower priced market until recently - now that a lot of these national builders are out here I think is slowly changing, but there really aren't unique floor plans unless you are looking at buying someone else's full custom build, which can start to cause a budget problem.

I actually found a couple of house plans that might be feasible, so right now I'm measuring my house and my sister's house trying to get a feel for the size of the rooms. A couple of threads have been helpful for that here :)

The only issue with remodeling for me is the cost, which I know sounds odd when considering building as an alternative. I know normally you get more house when you buy, but the homes in our price range that would allow us to budget for remodel as well are really outdated, and from what I understand, 'style' updates don't add much value to the home. Like I said before, I'm not looking for marble, but I still care what my house looks like. So if I budget 20k to update a hideous 90's yellow oak kitchen that is basically in good condition and functional, we're really not going to get much back on that, are we? Maybe I'm mistaken.

From what I can see, if we buy and remodel, it would likely be a 1990 split level homes, so based on those I've looked at, I would want to convert a single bathroom to a jack and jill, likely losing one bedroom, update kitchen cabinets, and replace any country style or oak railings common in the split level homes here. Are those really smart remodeling investments? Will my home end up losing value because of the loss of the bedroom?

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 10:47AM
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