How soon is too soon to research?

autumn.4June 7, 2012

Hello fellow gwb'ers.

How much preparation time did you take researching floor plans before you knew you were planning on building?

In our situation it will be about 3 years before we are ready to break ground. The plan is to save to buy land (hope to be able to purchase something in about 18 months) and once it is purchased finish up loose end updates on our current home and put it up for sale.

Is it too early to research plans and try to figure out costs? I already know what our sq. foot parameters will be (and have a few plans I really like and that would be perfect with a little tweaking). I'm finding that I am becoming obsessed already and we have so far to go, lol! My main goal right now is to look at as much as possible so I don't miss/forget anything. It is so exciting to me to have the chance to build what we want (within reason) that I want to make sure I get it right!

Bevangel I think I read somewhere that you built a barn on the new property and lived in that while building? We have talked about doing that very thing also - what is your climate like where you are? We would definitely only be able to do that in the summer where we are at. We will be our own GC and do as much as possible DIY so our build will take a bit longer than 'standard' also.

Thanks for your advice in advance. Last year I was addicted with the kitchen forum updating our kitchen and now I've moved on to the building forum since that is now on the distant horizon. I can't pull myself away!

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We started talking about building around the holidays last year and started researching neighborhoods and property in our area in January. By the time we were meeting with actual builders in February I had already selected three houses/floor plans I found online that all had elements I loved.

When we sat down with our builder's architect I brought him my favorite house and we set about modifying that. Our plans were completed at the beginning of April.

So I would say starting to research houses and what you like about them a month or two before you meet with a builder is appropriate based on our experience.

We got lucky in that the neighborhoods (there were two we fell in love with) we were considering were both building custom homes that were Craftsman in exterior style and that happened to be the style of the plan we had found on our own. So that made life a lot easier.

Had we found a neighborhood that didn't fit the aesthetic we were headed toward I think the process might have been longer/harder. But I can't speak to that as well. Good luck!

    Bookmark   June 7, 2012 at 2:40PM
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I think, if you like to do it, and can keep from being overwhelmed, you can start anytime. With DIY, I think you need to research longer than if you pick a plan, pick a plot, and pick a builder...

I have been planning an addition/remodel for a year and a half, and have about another 6 months at least, before we are going to do it. My thoughts have changed. My process has changed. etc. Paper is cheap.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2012 at 3:20PM
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Fraid you've got me confused with someone else re building a barn on the property and living in that while building the house.

DH and I bought our land by refinancing the house we then owned in order to pay cash for the land b/c mortgage interest rates on the refinance were MUCH lower than interest rates on a raw land mortgage. We then spent five years paying down the refinanced mortgage before felt financially ready to start building. We finished paying off our mortgage on the first house while we were in the process of building the second. So even tho we weren't able to sell our first house as quickly as we would have liked after moving into the new dream home, we never had to worry about making two mortgage payments at the same time.

I was terribly impatient during that entire five years to just "get started" but in fact, the wait gave me plenty of time to educate myself and to design a home that FITS our property and our lifestyle. So, IMHO, you can't start too soon.

Yes, prices will change but the relative cost to build various houses will stay about the same. (i.e., if the build price on plan A is twice the build price of plan B today, five years from now, plan A is still going to cost about twice as much to build as plan B.)

Instead of obsessing about costs tho, use your time to learn all you can about the pros/cons of various building practices. For example, while it isn't exciting, spend some time learning about various types of foundations and how each type is PROPERLY INSTALLED as well as all the ways a particular type of foundation can be screwed up by someone who doesn't know what they're doing. Then when you're choosing a house plan, you can make an informed decision about what type of foundation you want.

Ditto with framing. Learn as much as you can about how a house is framed up and some of the options you have. Terms like "open web joists," "i-beam joists," "California corners," "sole plate," "king stud," "cripple/jack stud," "ridge pole," "purlin," and "load bearing" should become familiar to you as you learn how framing should be done right and all the ways that bad builders can screw it up.

Likewise, get a thorough grasp of the concept of "drainage planes" and how flashing, house wraps, claddings, etc. SHOULD be installed in order to contribute to properly functioning drainage planes.

Basically, work your way thru every "system" within a house. The more you understand about how a properly designed and built house WORKS, the better off you'll be when dealing with a builder. Or, for that matter, when trying to communicate with your architect.

And, of course spend time doing the fun stuff like thinking about how you and your family actually live. What in your current home makes your life easier and what are the little things that just drive you bonkers. Like maybe, you actually love having the sun wake you up in the mornings thru your east facing windows but hate the way everything always seems to wind up stacked on the dining room table b/c there isn't really any other place to drop stuff off as you come in the door. Or you love your big kitchen island but hate the the way your top kitchen drawers are half-an-inch too shallow to hold rolls of waxed paper and tinfoil. Make notes about these things and, when you're designing your new home, incorporate the good things and find ways to fix the annoying things.

And of course, spend time finding and saving "inspiration" pictures for the really fun part which is decorating that brand new space!

Three years will fly by!

    Bookmark   June 7, 2012 at 4:25PM
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I built my barn first as a base of operations while I build the house (just underway). We bought our property 5-1/2 years ago, and I have spent the entire time planning and learning.

In my case, it is a custom house, which I designed with lots of help here, and a unique setting in the woods, so there is no such thing as too much planning. Since I'm doing most of the construction myself, there was a lot to learn on different methods of construction.

I'm pretty sure my patient wife has heard quite ENOUGH of various energy-efficient ideas!

    Bookmark   June 7, 2012 at 5:59PM
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Thank you all.

Bevangel - sorry I got you confused. I tried to find the post thread back and couldn't find anything about it - reading too late at night I suspect! That is a lot to consider. Thankfully my hubby will be digging into the more technical side of things as far as joists and insulation. I know a thing or two about load bearing walls and beams but there are quite a few terms you listed I've never heard of so there is much work to do there! I have seen you post some floor plan changes, etc.. Do you use paint for all of that or do you have a specific software that you monkey with? I have gotten a little bit better with paint but not great. Normally when I make modifications it looks pretty blurry and just not very nice in general.

Nik-wow - that is fast! I think I'd be panicking inside if it went that quickly. We like the craftsman style also. May I ask what plan you ended up going with? We have a couple that we like mostly but the master bath in one, the kids bath in the other. Stuff like that which makes me think we will need to have an architect make changes to whatever we come up with. Neither of the ones we like have a 1/2 bath which we'd need to add and the mudroom/laundry is not near large enough for what I picture having to put in there!

Kirkhall-good point. My husband and I were just talking last night about all of the things that we will tackle on our own and those that we'd hire out and I think it's going to be a LONG process! Especially with us both working (me part-time) and 2 active boys....probably a year, ugh. Good point on changes. I think it would be good for us to use this time to work and re-work what we *think* we want.

Flgargoyle-are you living in the barn you built while you are building? Have you already sold your current home? That is another stressor there. Sell too soon and you have no place to live. The market here is a teeny bit better but not a lot. We live in a rural area in a subdivision by the schools so we do have some things going for us but there also have been a couple foreclosures in here and that doesn't help at all. We were thinking we could buy land and build a barn right away and then if the house sold before the new house was done we could live in the barn? Hubby's idea - not sure how that would work. So now we are focused on saving for land and then getting the current house ready to sell. We finished the basement 3-4 years back and have updated many rooms but there are still some things on the list to do. Hoping it will set our house apart as 'move in ready'.

Based upon this feedback I think I'll carry on and continue searching and storing what I find that I like. I have bookmarked quite a few pages and pictures of things I've found that I like. Right now the fixation seems to be floor plans and mudrooms - I am really stuck on the mudrooms likely because I don't have one now! It sounds like most people do not have success finding a stock plan and not changing a single thing on it so that makes me feel better.

Thanks again for all of your tips. I am sure 3 years will pass quickly.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 9:51AM
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I think there are some good ideas above about researching the building process, tracking ideas of how you want your house to work for you / how you live and how you anticipate living in the future, and keeping an inspiration file of styles and ideas you love. I would stay rather flexible on a physical plan until you find the land, as a good plan should take advantage of views, slope, etc.

Example of what not to do: There's a large house behind me - infill build that replaced a cute little house on a big lot. They spent a few years planning and designing but I swear they never matched up the plan to the physical lot: their garage wing (no back windows) faces the prettiest part of the yard and neighboring yards. The family room and master BR with huge windows face a corner of the yard with a view of 3 neighbors' garages and an ugly transformer on a utility pole. It's so sad; I'm sure they wish they could flip the orientation now that it's built.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 10:17AM
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chicagoans - WOW! That sounds awful! We are hoping to find a somewhat wooded lot - about 2-3 acres. Right now we live on a decent sized lot - .75 acre but in the middle of a fish bowl. It is a nice subdivision. BUT, the lot next to us was empty (as were many others) when we bought and the people that bought the corner lot next to us built the house in the most awful spot. It is RIDICULOUS. They didn't take advantage of the yard at all and the back of their house buts up to the side of our backyard meanwhile their side yard is HUGE and empty and everyone that drives in thinks it's an empty lot for sale (seriously that's how much wasted space there is). We planted about 8 pine/spruce trees on our property line for privacy. Their backyard is basically just about IN our backyard off the side of it. Needless to say when we saw ground breaking we couldn't figure out what they were doing over there. Thought at first maybe a shed or something but sure enough, it was the house - crowded out ours and their other neighbors on the side of them. Stupid, stupid, stupid. And that house happens to be one that is like a revolving door. It was foreclosed on 2 years ago, people that left trashed it (couldn't believe that) and the people that bought it cheap don't take care of it either. :( That will be our biggest hurdle selling I think. Stresses me out just thinking about it!

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 10:42AM
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I use Google Sketch-Up for drawing, which is free. Many people use it, and once you get over the learning curve, it is pretty easy to use. There is tons of on-line support, and huge catalogs of pre-drawn objects that you can import into your drawing- again, all free.

I stayed in a little pop-up camper for a few months while I built the barn. I put a full bath in the barn, and now live in the barn. I have city water, but am running off a temporary power pole, so I don't have unlimited electricity. If I forget to turn off the water heater and turn on another appliance or large tool, it gets dark rather suddenly LOL!. So- I'm still basically camping- not many amenities.

Make sure it is legal to camp or live in a barn on your lot- many places frown on that sort of thing nowadays.

We haven't sold our old house yet. My wife still lives in FL, keeping the income and insurance up while I build in SC. We're building a very modest house, and doing everything out-of-pocket. When we sell the FL house, whatever equity will just go back in the bank.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 4:30PM
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Thanks flgargoyle.

I will give google sketch a try. I am pretty computer savvy but not when it comes to these drawing things so I am glad to hear that you can use pre-drawn objects!

We will be in the country so no city water but hopefully natural gas. I think my husband is toying with the whole build a barn and live out of a pop up while building. Did I mention I was born and raised a city girl????? I am not sure how long I could 'rough' it. I have tent camped once and that was over 10 years ago and we were on a vacation. I wouldn't think functioning in those tight quarters with 2 boys and a dog trying to do work/school etc. would be very fun! I do love being in the country but I am not really in to roughing it!

We will be building modest also. I don't like wasted space or having extra rooms just to have them and not use them. We'll be moving 'up' from 1450 sq. feet to around 1800-1900.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 5:15PM
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I'd find the lot/acreage first. Once you see the land, get familiar with the topography, where the sun rises and sets, prevailing winds, etc. that would be the time to start looking for a home plan. The home should fit the land, not the other way around...but that's just my two cents :)

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 8:50PM
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LL makes a good point. That is one of the advantages to living on-site for a while. We had our property for 5 years before we finalized a design, which gave us the opportunity to get a feel for the land in different seasons and all times of the day. Our best view is to the back, so we had to go with a different layout than most homes have.

If I had it to do over again, I think I would have gotten a rigid trailer camper instead of the pop-up. It would be much easier to heat/cool, and give you a little more security from the outdoors. My space heater was only able to raise the temperature about 10 degrees above ambient, so in the fall, when it got into the 30's, I woke up to 40's INSIDE the camper! Because of that, I took the winter off, and returned to FL, where luckily I found work for 4 months. Of course, I only paid $600 for my 40 y/o pop-up, so I shouldn't complain!

BTW- I am almost 59 years old- should've done this a LONG time ago!

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 6:23AM
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