One Year in....Starting Over?

burbmomoftwo_gwJuly 29, 2014

As August approaches, we approach the one year anniversary of finding 'the lot' - desirable area, walkout, over 3/4 acre, cul-de-sac.... Went in wanting to spend $600K for the lot and the house.

Thru several cycles with the builder and architect, we have whittled a 3800 sq ft ranch for $950K to a 3000 sq ft ranch for $800K. Of course that includes finished basement and all the HOUZZ we wanted.

In the interim, a 2 story has sprung up next door, and today that went up on MLS - $575K.

I'm torn - I don't want to be the most expensive house on the block, but that is sure to happen now. But our lot just doesn't exist anywhere else in the subdivision now - the only similar ones are $50K to $100K more.

Maybe I don't need a 3000 sq ft home, but this was to be our 'forever' home. We've been in our 2800 sq ft 2 story for 17 years - wanted to spend the next 25 or more in this one.

Should we just start over and move to a lot, while not as desirable, that has homes closer in price to what we want? Or find a way to build a home closer to my original price target on my desired lot? We have learned that our original budget number may not have been realistic, based on the size and finishes we wanted in a home.

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A 3,000 sq ft house with a finished basement is 6,000 sq ft of living space. That is a LOT of house. I guess with that in mind, I'd choose to shrink the house some more. Also, consider building's cheaper than a ranch.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2014 at 11:20PM
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Wow, I feel like we are in we EXACT same place you are in right now. We closed on our lot in May of last year and we will have not broken ground.

My husband's BFF offered to build our home for us at cost. So we went bigger with square footage. We ended up at almost 2,400 sq feet with wanting to originally have 2,000-2,100. It took a while for him to get all the bids in because he wanted to get our house to the price we could afford. We got to the point of pulling permits and he had to back out from building the house completely.

So we were left with no builder, a lot, floor plans that we couldn't afford for another builder to build, and no architect to help modify the plans because he un-expectantly passed away.

Our new builder immediately started looking at what we had and started pointing out ways to save money. Lowering ceiling heights a little, adjusting roof lines, making our kitchen island shorter to save on cabinets and granite, choosing paint grade cabinets instead of stained, etc. All these things he told us to cut costs and I had never heard of them before. I was actually upset that the previous builders never mentioned those options. I mean, I know they are going to make a good commission on my build, but they are working for me and it's my money!

So, we took our plans to a designer that our builder recommended and paid for her to adjust our plan to slightly over 2,100 sq feet and I am very happy with where we are. By reducing that square footage we are saving about $25K which is 10+% of our budget.

Through all of this, we are realizing what we want, what we can afford, and what we need, have got to meet in the middle somewhere! I am a Houzz addict like you. I have so many Ideabooks of what I like. But it has taken my husband and my builder to nicely tell me no. That $10K Graywater System that I wanted is not happening. The spray foam insulation is not affordable for us. The Carerra marble backsplash in my kitchen is not possible for us.Those higher end Moen Fixtures aren't happening. We changed to Delta and I think they are going to look just fine.

With your situation, I have a couple of thoughts...

1. Do you really like your lot. A lot is not changed as easily as plans. Even if you move to a less expensive lot, you have got to get rid of your current lot. I don't know how real estate is in your area.

2. This is my biggest question....Are you locked into this builder? I am not expert but I think it is your builder's job to help you build your home and help you stay in your budget. He/She needs to wrangle in your crazy ideas and let you know what is possible and what isn't. This builder has not done that. You were initially $350K over budget at $250 per square foot and then adjusted down to $200K over budget at $267 per square foot. So you went up $17 per square foot even though you cut square footage. If you were able to build at the $250 per square foot mark, that $800K house becomes $750K. There is $50K right there. You mentioned that you realized your original budget may not have been realistic. Did your builder not express any concern on that? How much were you off?

3. Would you consider doing a multi story house? That could save you some money right there.

4. If you decide to dump your lot, are you going to stick with this same builder. I feel like they are a big part of the problem and if they can't help you build on your current lot in budget, how would the new lot be that much different?

5. Basements are expensive. Maybe adjust the level of finished that you have it done.

Good grief, that was a long response by me. I just relate to what you are going through because you feel really stuck and you don't know what direction to go. We were there too. Good Luck!

This post was edited by aimless07 on Wed, Jul 30, 14 at 0:24

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 12:21AM
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Just playing devil's advocate, but if this is your "forever" home what difference does it make if it's the most expensive house on the block? You won't be selling it in the near future which is when the most expensive home presents a problem.

We ended up building the most expensive home in the neighborhood. It wasn't intentional as we were one of the first homes here. It just happened that way for a number of reasons. It doesn't bother us at this point because we aren't going anywhere soon.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 6:46AM
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Aimless doesn't live up to his (or her) name -- that post is absolutely right. You've gotta consider what you want, what you need, and what you can afford . . . and meet in the middle.

You're talking about being the most expensive house on the block -- by a fairly significant margin. I know you're saying this is to be your "forever home", and that's a pretty common thought here, but none of us can really know that for certain. So many things can happen to change our plans. Overbuilding for the neighborhood can really put you into a bad spot later.

So the bottom line question is, what's the best choice for you:

- Choose this house on a different lot ?
- Build a smaller /less expensive house on this lot?

You sound like you're most interested in staying on this lot, so I'd say cut down on the square footage. 6000 of living space is very, very large -- especially for your retirement years. Are you going to want to /be able to keep up with the maintenance and the costs? Then go with a simple footprint and simple roofline. Consolidate your plumbing and make sure your interior walls are lined up. Then pick a couple places where you want to "splurge" and choose moderate finishings for rest of the house.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 7:14AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

We spent many years designing our home largely because we wanted to build small (build green), yet we wanted what we wanted. When you design a home you run into tradeoffs that most often can be fixed with additional sq ft. So in order to get what we wanted in our home, it grew too large, we ripped up the plan and started over. We did that easily a hundred times. We finally created a design that met 95% of our wants and desires, including sq ft and we built it. We love it. It is big enough for company, small enough for us to feel cozy in, designed for aging in place and easy maintenance. We're delighted.

So hang tough, it can happen. But most likely it won't happen by tweaks as you lose too much in the can happen though with a re-think and re-design.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 8:06AM
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Thanks for the comments. I do think we are in 'shrink it down' mode, since we do think the lot is the best one we can get.

Reducing the amount of finish space in the basement is the first thing - but basement finish space is very affordable compared to the rest of the house. But $15K is a start - we do need a bedroom down there for my older son.

We've walked thru a ton of models and for sale homes, to try and determine what we feel are decent sized rooms. We eliminated a formal dining room early on, since we rarely use it today. But a 14x14 L-shaped kitchen doesn't seem to have as much cabinets as I do today, so I don't think I can go much smaller than that.

Anyone have a suggestion of a 3 bedroom plan that has what you feel are 'good' sized rooms? Gives me a head start on what sizes we need to be shooting for. This is where I started when we were moving from 3800 sq. ft. to 3000:

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 2:36PM
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Just wondering...have you looked at that two story house? Maybe you could buy that, sell the lot and save quite a bit of money.

If that doesn't work, have you considered eliminating some of the HOUZZ? That can be a budget buster, all by itself.

Remember, you can only live in one room at a time, so possibly combining a living room and family room, sharing a bedroom or bath (how many kids?) and maybe finding a 2,000-2,500 square foot home with full basment might be a better fit.

I hope this is your 'forever house' but as MrsPete said...things happen every day to people, who don't expect it. And you sometimes have to move.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 3:14PM
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At age 44 with kids in high school I just knew I wanted a bigger house for my forever home so we built a beautiful 3,600 sf home on a big lot in a really snazzy neighborhood. We could easily afford it but after living in it for 8 years we woke up one morning and said "what the hell were we thinking that we needed or wanted such a big house in such a fancy place?". We sold it and moved into a 1600sf home and it was so liberating and now at 60 I'm so glad we did it. Funny how what you think is forever can change as we age even if we aren't forced to make a change. Priorities change unexpectedly.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 3:53PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

If you are putting living space below, be mindful of what's above. We looked at a lot of homes where, no matter how well finished, if the windows were below a deck, it still felt like a basement. Our lower level includes a bedroom and the view is unobstructed so it doesn't feel at all like a basement.

Finishing basement space is a great and very inexpensive way of adding sq ft to a home. So even if you don't do it at first, do make accommodation to add what you will need. So much easier when the walls are open and the ceiling is accessible.

I would start with what functions you need from the house and then move to what rooms are necessary to perform those functions...often they can be doubled up. For example, our family room, kitchen and breakfast nook is really just one decent sized room, but because of how we designed it, it feels like more.

Also take a look at smaller house plans than what you want and see how they accommodate the functions. Much easier to make rooms larger than smaller.

We spent a lot of time going to model homes as well ... we knew we were never going to be in a condo unit, but they offer a lot of compact space with a lot of functionality and, with the floor plan or a tape measure, you can get a sense of what it'd be like to live in a kitchen of x size or how much space between appliances there is or how big the PR is and does it work, etc. So we looked at a lot of them to get ideas.

In fact, the core of our house plan came from a model home we saw in FL. Go figure.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 4:08PM
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So you went up $17 per square foot even though you cut square footage.

This is actually really common, and not necessarily the sign of a bad builder.

Not all square footage costs the same. If you make a bedroom smaller, you save on lumber, drywall and carpet, possibly the cheapest items in a house. If you make a kitchen smaller, you save on all the same things that went into the bedroom, but also you save on cabinets, countertops, tile flooring, and possibly plumbing and even appliances (no longer have room for a range and wall oven? there's at least $1k savings right there).

Or perhaps by making the dining room smaller, you lose a nice flat back exterior wall and simple roof line, and add in a jog in the wall and complicate the roof line. This might actually cost MORE money.

Quite often, when people focus on saving costs by reducing sq footage, the easiest space to reduce is empty space. We can easily make the bedroom 2' smaller. But we can't make the bathroom 2' smaller because then there's no room for the toilet. So the bedroom gets chopped. But if you get rid of the bathroom altogether, you save more than 2', AND you save on all the plumbing and fixtures. But cutting a bathroom is often a much harder decision to make.

On the other hand, these are things that a good builder should be pointing out to you. And if you tell him you need to reduce costs, and he only focuses on making bedrooms smaller, then perhaps a discussion with another builder will be a productive thing.

But then, from the builder's perspective, it can be really hard to convince a client who has dreams of every child and potential future house guest all having their own bathroom that it's extravagance. They don't all need to pee simultaneously, but it seems necessary sometimes.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 4:23PM
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I looked at that plan, and I don't exactly know how those plans work if you find one, but want to make adjustments to it. It sure is pretty.

But I see some ways you could save some square footage if you want to shrink things down looking at that particular plan. You have a 3 bedroom home with 3 1/2 baths. Most 3 bedroom homes have 2 bathrooms. Does every guest room have to have a bathroom?

But, I also saw you said something about having another bedroom for your son downstairs. Are you doing a bathroom down there as well? If not, I would say turn that bathroom in the guest wing into a normal hallway bathroom so he has easy access to a bathroom and people out in the living room have access without going through someone's bedroom. You could cut out that half bath on the main floor with having a regular hallway bathroom. If he's downstairs, having a 1/2 bath down there might be helpful.

The size of your guest bedrooms are very large as are the guest closets. You could lose some footage there easily. Your study is huge too. If someone works from home and needs that space, that's understandable. But if you look at square footage, that's an expensive room for an office. Easily the size of a bedroom if you throw in a closet.

There are also 3 eating areas shown. We are going to do a formal dining room and also an eat up island. We aren't formal dining room type of people either, but we added one for resale value.

Keep us updated!

    Bookmark   August 1, 2014 at 5:08PM
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