Biggest Mistakes?

krycek1984September 8, 2010

Hey all!

I was just wondering what you all thought were the biggest mistakes first-time home builders make. I think this would be a great thread and I would really love for all of you to share your hard-earned wisdom! I'm sure I'd love to avoid all the pitfalls, as would others.

Also, what mistakes did you make that you would hope others wouldn't? It could be anything from floor plan, to outside appearance, to something as simple as not enough light switches!

Can't wait to see the responses!

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If you search the archive you will find this to be a common discussion.

Here is a link that might be useful: similar thread

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 10:11AM
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Not allocating enough budget to the build is the most common mistake. And that goes hand in hand with not spec'ing out the build in enough detail so that there are lots of change orders that are always "upgrades". And that goes hand in hand with choosing the lowest bidder only to find out that what you really want in the build isn't really included and will always be a change order.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 10:18AM
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We didn't have an architect review the design. We think having another party involved would have caught a couple of things like not having a full third bathroom. Our house is fairly well designed and we did have a designer. Structurally we didn't need an architect because our house is a one level ranch which is a relatively simple design.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 11:08AM
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Five years ago I got a builder to build my first house. There was many things I didn't know and many mistakes I didn't catch. One that is showing up now that i could have prevented for just a couple extra hundred bucks was the upgraded carpet and underlay.
Another would be the completely drywalled basement!!! They didn't put any access doors to anything like the outdoor hose bibs!!! And now the valves need replacing so I have to go on a hunt for the shut off valve ( if there even is one).
Making sure cabinets measurements and appliances will all fit nice! I have a fridge (not a built in) that has way too much room on the sides.
I'm really excited for the new house my new husband and I are building. There is a ton more decisions to make being your own GC but it's worth it and fun and if we make a mistake yikes it's our own stupid fault! LOL.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 12:12PM
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We closed last Friday and moved this past weekend so I don't have much to add yet but I specifically asked my builder if my top load large washing machine would fit under the cabinets in the laundry room and he said YES. Now that we have them out of storage the lid does not open. Since our appliances were in storage we should have found the specs on-line rather than rely on him looking at the space. Now he's having to rebuild the lower shelves to allow room for the lid to open. The other thing is GET IT IN WRITING! There were several small things we asked for such as a small bench in our closet, dual AC for the living space and bedrooms which didn't get done. It's not a big deal but something to make certain to do.
Over all we are LOVING our house. I will post pics soon.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 1:30PM
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To echo what live_wire_oak said, we did not allocate enough into our budget and went over on every single allowance. We actually knew we were going to be over and put in a buffer and still went over that by a good bit.

One of our biggest problems was pacing. Early in the build, we splurged on certain items that caused us to go cheaper on other items later. If we had to do it over, we would not have splurged as much on some of the earlier items (that we could not undo once done). It is difficult but definitely better to do more planning/researching up front to figure out what to splurge on and what you will have to compromise on. Of course, this is if you have a certain budget in mind. If your budget is unlimited, then you can splurge on everything, haha.

Wei Yan

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 2:39PM
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Be prepared to spend about 20% more than you think it will cost. Everyone told us this and we didn't believe them. It's true, esp. for first-timers. There are always small needing more cabinet screws. $10 here, $20 there, it all adds up. A LOT!!!

Or it takes more concrete than they thought it would to fill the foundation. $700 extra. Or they hit rock when digging. $1250 extra. Or they under-quoted the amount of exterior trim and you have to order 30 more pieces, $400 extra. These are the things you don't think of, and can't plan for. Leave a big cushion for that.

Or porta-john & utility bills (even silly connection fees). I didn't put those in the budget. There are always things you miss, no matter how well you plan.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 3:40PM
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I guess my question is...what happens if you don't have that extra 20%? Does the house just go unfinished?

For example, let's say I got a bid for 160k. I put 40k "down" and got a construction loan for 120k. And then I only have 5k in extra cash. What the heck happens then? LOL. Not saying that's my situation but just an example.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 3:51PM
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krycek- the people posting here have all kinds of contracts with their builders, so don't get too excited about the 20% figure. That said, if you need to stay in a tight cost range you better plan the build down to the last detail so you can get a firm price from a knowledgeable builder who is working from a super detailed plan.

Here's my list of things that can really throw off the number:
1. Windows and doors - quantity and quality.
2. Cabinets - quantity and quality.
3. Flooring - type and quality.
4. Mouldings and built-ins.
5. Appliances - brand (builder standard - high end)
6. Plumbing fixtures - you want a $50 faucet, or a $1,500 faucet?
7. Lighting fixtures - do your shopping in advance! The $ range is limitless.
8. Bath and shower surrounds.
9. Tile work detail.

  1. Countertops - quantity and material.

The shell and roofing costs are predictable, but you can blow your budget in a heartbeat if you (and your Wife) have not agreed on the 10 items above.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 4:24PM
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Learn to BE PATIENT at times and BE FORCEFUL at others.

A basic mistake is to rush into buying a LOT without checking every aspect of the area -- zoning, municipal or county requirements, how the house you want to build will sit on the lot, trees (or lack of them), access, school districts, nuisances...this list could go much longer, but you get the point. You can't change the WHERE of the house.

You need to STAY ON TOP of the building -- daily checks are wise. Don't expect your contractor or building subs to CARE the way you do. "Good enough" will be their attitude in most cases. It's just a job.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 6:13PM
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I built 5 houses over the years, and you'd think that the last one I would have caught a few issues. Clearly Communicate and make sure your contractor understands exactly what you are requesting. #2) Bring a tape measure and measure and double check things and especially your kitchen layout and cabinetry.

One issue we had was our fireplace. We were building a model home, so you'd think they would have build it the same as the model, right.. ? They didn't, the firebox was way higher, and we didn't notice it until they bricked it all up and finished it. It became a battle, and eventually - they redid it at most of the cost, but we ended up paying $500.00 for failing to notice it.

My kitchen is great, BUT.. the sink is moved over to one side much more than I anticipated, and it was a 60/40 sink, and they placed it different than what I wanted or expected. And my final issue was my microwave (advantium oven) Guess the kitchen people didn't realize that my microwave door opens like an oven (pulls down - not side ways) and once it is open - I can't reach it inside! (I'm 5'%''). I have to use a stool to clean it.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 7:01PM
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hate there is no edit!! I'm 5'5"

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 7:03PM
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robin0919 got sc@ewed outta 500 bucks...The GC(or construction manager(sounds like a track builder?) should have caught that mistake!!!

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 10:00PM
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I'm close to finishing my first custom build and if I could go back and do it all over again, I would definitely have a more detailed contract between myself and the general contractor. The contract would be MUCH MORE SPECIFIC about the contractors specific duties and responsibilities and the consequences of not following through. I was way too naive. For example, their would be consequences for not meeting a time deadline (contractor to pay construction interest, pay rent at current residence, etc..) I would have made sure I had a written plan of what decisions needed to be made and when. I would have asked to get in writing how much time the contractor planned on spending at the construction site each week and also had in writing how often we would actually meet at the construction site together. And lastly, as far as budget is concerned, we are WAY over but primarily because we didn't research exactly what we wanted before we started. If you know exactly what you want and are very detailed in your decisions before you begin, then you shouldn't be over budget all that much unless you change your mind to something more expensive. Good luck to everyone

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 10:45PM
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We are just about to start framing but so far my biggest regret is like chisue said " how the house will sit on the lot, trees...". We have two acres but the lot is a weird kinda pie shape. We are building a 2400 bungalow with a pull-thu triple garage.

Our lot was covered in trees with only one close neighbor, our neighbor's property was almost removed of all trees on our side when they cleared their lot so the only trees between us for privacy are on our lot.

Because of the weird pie shape and the huge width of our house we are now left with the choice of either removing more of the trees between us and our neighbor (so less privacy) or having a functional drive-thu. If we dont remove the trees we have a drive-thu that doesn't go anywhere. :(

I wished we would of spent more time picking a house that fit with our lot shape, with the importantance of trees and privacy being so important. Who knew a house would have such a hard time fitting on two acres, lol. I'm sure it will all work out, I hope. :)

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 11:25PM
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I agree with the contractor issue. I expected my contractor there a bit more than he has been and that left me spending most of my day there because he wasn't and trades needed decisions made and someone to approve them. Aside from being about 10% over budget, my biggest thing I didn't anticipate was my time on-site. I know I had a tight deadline and we're building a custom home from start to finish in 5 months and I thought all my decison-making before starting would help me but I still spend 8-10 hrs/day at the house. I'm still glad I did most of my planning, even the light fixtures were purchased before I started or I would definitely be delayed or more stressed than I am now.

The other big one which every trade has commented on, is not making changes to the drawings while building. We went through every detail for over a year before building so that we wouldn't change walls, plumbing or electrical. Some things are expected to happen but overall, it wasn't because I didn't like where something was or decided to change my mind when it was already done.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 8:04AM
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robin, we did get sc@ewed, and it was a CUSTOM home builder with an idiot foreman. The foreman lied to us so many times, but DH knows construction inside and out.. and called him on it. Worse thing about the fireplace, after the foreman ripped it out - he did it wrong again! We just was tired of it, and let the 3 inches go, but I shouldn't have - as it still bugs me to this day.. but, we will be building our final home, and this time, I don't care if it takes 2 years - I'm going to watch even single detail.

It helps to know things you must think and decide upon first, many first timers don't realize. Like decide your roof and windows so that once the house starts, it gets closed in. You should have a pretty good idea what color you want on the exterior, so you know what roof color.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 10:07AM
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The windows around my whirlpool tub are too high to see outside when you are seated in the tub. Missing out on a spectacular view!

    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 5:50PM
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If you don't have that 20-30% override cushion, then you just don't build. Or you risk losing your property (collateral for the construction loan) and any money that you put into the project as a down payment. Lenders will have a hard time approving a build where the financials are so close to the bone, as they are the ones left with the mess, and they already have enough of that on their plates as it is.

Lenders also won't lend above the appraisal and most appraisals aren't coming in at the cost to build either. So to start a project, you'd better own the land, have at least 20% for a down payment, and have 20-30% as reserve for upgrades and in case you can't make appraisal. You'll spend almost every bit of that and maybe more if it's there. And that's if you can find a bank that will work with you on a build. That's getting rarer as well since so many builders went belly up with partially constructed home and so many owner builders did the same.

Or do a 100% cash build with no financing. You'll still need the "20% upgrade cushion" but you won't need to cushion for the appraisal mess because you won't need to make an appraisal for any loans. Build as you go with cash over a lengthy time frame is also possible for cash builders with limited funds, but that requires a LOT of time dedication and many skills to DIY a home. It also requires a certain laxity in permitting by your local codes guys, as most permits have "drop dead" end dates.

Or, buy an existing home, where your money goes much further.

You build a home because you are able to get what you want from the beginning, realizing that getting what you want comes at a premium. Or you build to be able to have "new condition" rather than "used". Just like a new car loses a lot of value the moment you drive it off the lot and it becomes used, it's the same with new construction. But people buy new cars to be able to say they have something new and (hopefully) reliable rather than an older fixer upper. But, that older fixer upper is certainly a LOT cheaper!

    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 9:30PM
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That's a very interesting post, live_wire_oak!!! And so very true, at least from what I have read, and the experience of my friend that did a custom build.

Thankfully we own the land clear and free, so that won't be an issue. I'm sure a lot of problems crop up if the land isn't owned clear and free - assumedly it gives you some cushion in the appraisal.

I guess because we own the land clear and free we're in a unique position. We could build a new house, and it would cost as much as purchasing an already-built house of any age, on a similar piece of land, if not MORE. Building a home will actually save us money instead of costing us money.

I know we have been looking into Schumacher Homes as a good compromise. I read that once the build and all details are finalized, the budget is guaranteed to stay within the quoted amount. That would help with budgetary constraint, although obviously, using them opens up problems that would not happen with a true custom home builder from the area.

Interesting, post, though. Very informative for people with little experience, like me!

    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 11:47PM
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Hey live_wire_oak, you left out a reason for building: because a suitable house/property is not for sale in the area you want to live and it could be years or NEVER before one is. That would be us. :-)

BTW, the only reason our appraisal came back really good for us was because we paid cash for the land 4 1/2 years ago. I haven't seen the appraisal yet to know how much that made up, but I suspect a lot.

Oh, and we're just now moving in this week, but I can already see that I wish my laundry/mudroom was bigger (it's 13x8) and I wish we had added a couple of feet each way to the garage and put a slightly lower pitch on it(it's 24x24 with a 10:12). I wish I had known how much things cost before I started so I could have budgeted better. We were under budget a little bit, overall, for what the builder put in the estimate, but there were several "little" things left off, like cabinet hardware and doorknobs, fireplace surround, and screening the back porch that ended up being extras I didn't plan for. He knew we wanted these things, they were just not accounted for in his cost to build estimate that we based our line of credit on.


    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 1:24PM
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I agree with all that's been said. We were 10% over budget, about half of that was underestimated excavation costs. We actually did pretty well on our selections and not getting carried away.

We've only been in the house a couple of weeks but:

-we didn't purchase new washer/dryer. I didn't realize how far out they would stick out. There has to be a better way to do the plumbing & exhaust. We will probably get a new washer/dryer in a few years and fix this issue.

- the kids' bedroom' windows are dormers and the casing is not deep enough for recessed shades.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 1:58PM
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I want to thank everyone for your input. I was personally curious as to the mistakes that you all have learned from to benefit my own well being (lol) and I also think it's great to have a thread like this so when someone searches, it will come up. I know previous threads have gone over this but it's still valuable to share this knowledge. Part of this forum is reaching out and helping others and hopefully this helps!

For example, I knew that people usually had overruns, but I had never thought that it could be such a serious issue, especially if every single thing isn't written into the contract. So for little old me, it has certainly helped. When the time comes to build our house, I'll know to keep extra reserves for the "overages", which will probably happen!

And even though some companies like Schumacher have so/so reputations, the benefit to the consumer is that they have a guarantee not to go over budget, so that's always an option for people that are budget-constrained.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 5:41PM
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If you are building on property in a rural area make sure you "know" your land and also, the expenses for the well and septic are NOT included in your build!! The excavation can be costly too if you have hard ground!! Can make your build very expensive!!

    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 6:38PM
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Budget was fine here - 3% over and that was all expected. Not every builder has unreasonable allowances.

Insulating plumbing pipes for sound. We have cast iron downpipes - it is the PVC elbows before that are noticeable. Modern toilets move a small amount of water very fast.

Not doing HVAC returns in all the bedrooms and just generally not large enough vents upstairs.

Not building berms for privacy trees when we had the equipment here and the dirt could have been moved rather than brought in. (Relatively easy fix)

    Bookmark   September 11, 2010 at 9:21AM
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My advice would be to research everything and to be at the site at least once a day. That will put you in a position to ask good questions, make good decisions and sort of keep everybody on their toes. For example, we had hardy siding put on our house so I went to the Hardy site and read the installation instructions so I could talk intelligently with the siding guy about what his plan would be. Same with the HVAC and insulation contractor. I found that by doing research on the web I was able to form strong opinions about how I wanted certain things done. Doesnt make for the smoothest relationship with your contractors but you will be more likely to be happy with your house. I liked the Journal of Light Construction web site and the Fine Home Building web site.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2010 at 7:11AM
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The JLC site is the best source of home construction information but to ask questions on the forum you are required to be a construction professional but that's why it's such a good site. You can fake it but they can be harsh about amateurish questions. To see the magazine articles you must subscribe. Some of the forum members also contribute to the magazine.

Here is a link that might be useful: JLC

    Bookmark   September 16, 2010 at 7:35AM
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It appears that our builder was very generous when he made the allowance allocations--he had a vision of the type of house he wanted to build, which was even "grander" (trim work) than I expected (going by what I'd seen in existing homes in the price range when we were house-shopping). We're amazed that we have a much nicer, prettier, better-built house for a price less than the one that I wanted (previously owned)!

We know where we went over when we did it--like asking for a foam "seal" in addition to regular insulation (yet got all foam because of mistake by the foam guy) and a bigger HVAC unit on the ground floor that would also furnish the future finished basement (which he hadn't planned on). We also upgraded to a dual-fuel system. Kitchen cabs were also slightly over budget because I changed my mind on what I wanted after having told him one thing. Appliances were over, but that was because I choose a high-end item for the rangetop. Otherwise, we're more than pleasantly surprised.

Yet yes, there's still some things I'd change and do differently ;-) I think that's only natural. Not that they're "mistakes".

    Bookmark   September 17, 2010 at 10:13AM
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