Personality & Building - What does it take?

DLM2000September 12, 2012

This forum has been a constant source of information and voyeuristic entertainment for me but since we're not building and never thought we would, I enjoy it at arms length. Well..... that may be changing. DH and I have been planning for a move from suburban Chicago to the Asheville, NC area (emphasis on area) but are really disappointed with the houses we've seen, building techniques and condition. We are *considering* building. DH is far more comfortable with that prospect than I am as he's an engineer and his business is home remodeling and repair. I'm the one who reads this forum, follows your build stories and it scares the heck out of me, to be honest!! Remodeling an existing house I could practically do with my eyes closed but the build from scratch idea overwhelms me.

IF we did this, I'd insist we move there and into a rental as there's no way I'd consider doing it long distance. But beyond that, I'm concerned that I don't have the personality to build. Maybe I'm kidding myself but it seems to me there are different levels of building a home. I'm not a subdivision type person and would not be happy with a choice of 5 models and pick your finishes type of thing (and everyone else in the subdivision having the same choices) but the other end of that spectrum is a long process of finding an architect, finding land, going back and forth over plans, making a gazzillion choices in a limited time frame, then monitoring the build and making more decisions because it seems there are always more to be made..... and on and on.

Where's the middle ground? *IS* there middle ground? The remodeling and additions we've done over the years require decisions certainly, but those are done in bite sized chunks, not a whole house at a time. This would not be a retirement move but an empty nesters ready for a lifestyle change move and we don't need/want a huge or grand house. So my question is, assuming there might be a way to do this, where does that middle ground type of building begin? (does it have a name?) What comes first, the chicken or the egg? The land or the general plan? A builder or an architect? Or should I accept that I'm build-challenged and continue looking for a house, hoping to find something structurally superior to what we've seen that is worth remodeling?

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I was pondering that very same thing last night - or rather that I am NOT cut out for it, lol! I was literally almost sick to my stomach overwhelmed by the whole entire process of it and the *what is the right house plan*, how long do you keep looking before you just pick one already and move along!

I think you may be okay if you are so comfortable with remodeling. I know the scale is HUGE in comparison but all the decisions wouldn't come at once....or at least I pray they don't or I will be in serious trouble!

On to your question. The only thing I can add is that the land does need to come first. That was the advice I got here and it proved to be dead on. I had been looking at plans previously and we found one we liked and voila - found the lot and guess what; it didn't fit the lay of the land. I had figured, going from a subdivision to a 2 acre lot - ANYthing will fit. Wrong. So back to square one we went. It was a good learning process I guess and really led us to evaluate more types of homes than we had and what we wanted out of the property we have. Eye opening for sure.

Although I do find it quite daunting I also do find it exciting at the same time. Plus I figure as we go along I can use garden web to 'talk me down'.

Good luck with whatever you decide to do.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 4:39PM
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You could find a house and renovate it with the assistance of an architect. that's mostly what I do and people seems to get through it pretty well. Sometimes the limitations of an existing house can turn into an inspiration, at least that's what I try to make happen.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 5:49PM
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There is really no "perfect" answer, I'm afraid. New house design and construction has its pluses and minuses. Buying an existing house (and then remodeling) has other pluses and minuses.

In one sense, designing and building a new house means making selections and decisions up front. Buying an existing house and remodeling, means making selections and decisions after you occupy the house. Existing construction often means surprises and contingencies, since one cannot see behind the walls and the structural, electrical, HVAC and drainage systems, for example.

Doing either at a distance raises it's own challenges.

Whatever you decide to do, I suggest that you use the necessary professionals from the area who know and are experienced with what you decide is best for you. Good luck!

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 10:59PM
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I am completely opposite. I looked for over a year for a resale and always got sick to my stomach thinking how much I would regret not building. It's an amazing feeling knowing that I am building what I want rather than buying existing home that wold require a lot of compromise. I stay up at night just thinking about the different components of the build. It is so exciting!

That said if I had to buy and remodel that would be fun too. But for the cost of my custom home I would have paid the same or more for something existing that I was not really ever truly happy with.

Also with a resale I would be thinking of all the things I wanted to change before I even moved in. It would be a project for the next 10 years.

Also this was a perfect financial storm for us. Low price combined with low interest rates. Our timing was really spot on.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 12:34AM
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Having rented a number of homes in the area, I agree with you about the quality. It would seem to me that you two would be far better prepared than the vast majority of people who would build.

I find it surprising that someone who is on this forum enough could even consider a resale unless the financials forced it. I couldn't even buy a resale for a vacation rental. I did try but in the end, got new for the same price.

What areas are you looking around? Commute to Asheville? Land is super cheap in most of the area.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 5:35AM
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Autumn.4 ....I can use garden web to 'talk me down'..... HA!! Land before plan - got it!

Renovator8 I do find it fun, in a perverse sort of way, to look at a house and mentally knock down walls, add rooms, push the roof up... Living through it isn't fun, but I have a campers mentality and the operative word is ADJUST!

virgilcarter we wouldn't do either from a distance so that is a non-issue. But you're so right - there is no clear cut winner which process is better. We've already talked to one builder, just a meet & greet and a quick look at one in process build and one finished - we didn't get excited by what we saw, though.

gaonmymind you hit on one of my fears - that we buy existing and it will take forever to remodel. My DH would be the one excited about every aspect in a new build, just like you - 'Oh, look! They're drilling the well! - he's a geek that way and would be involved in e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g !

david_cary - construction practices there are SO different from what is required here and my DH is flipping out. Maybe if we were looking in a far higher price range it'd be different, but I suspect not really enough to calm him. You're familiar with the area? Our wish list seems to be hard to fill and we've looked at homes from Weaverville to Flat Rock, Candler to Swannanoa, at least 40 houses so far on our various trips. It's discouraging. We're heading there again next month but don't want to look at a ton of homes - we want to check other areas but I'm concerned about getting too far from Asheville for a number of reasons. DH works from home and needs a stand-alone workshop of some sort so a commute to Asheville is not a concern for him on a daily basis.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 8:50AM
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Just experienced what you are pondering. Relo from Chi-town burbs to NorthWest Arkansas. 'Rehirement'. We needed to 'take the foot off the gas'. DH telecommutes. Frankly, and have strong constitutions, build plus relo was very, very demanding. Need a Pepcid infusion. We built a Garrell plan.

Although it was not the plan, build was long distance. One or both of us were on site at least once a month. Toward the end, due to finish detail, we made more frequent visits. An opportunity arose ($$) that kept us north, it worked out well. AND, not sure (in hindsight) we have the personalities to have handled the stress of daily oversight.

Was our decision folly or fortuitous? Our GC is a good man and fine builder. DH prepared a 7 page RFP and issued to it to 5 builders. Would describe the selection process as detailed and thorough. Due to our experience, the GC is now building for another remote client.

Your observations regarding regional distinctions is KEY. Building techniques, exterior and interior design, and (affordable) access to building materials all come to fore when building in a different geographic location. In addition, communication styles, establishing position and use of technology can come into play. Eventually, it became exhausting to combat the message, 'we do it this way, why do you want that?' We did not cave.

We LOVE our home and enjoy our lives. Best of luck to you in this life-changing decision. Being deliberate in the process is a very good start.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 10:24AM
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I'm almost done with a middle of the road (cost-wise, for my area) build, and even though I thought I was prepared for this.....I have to say it just about did me in.

What shocked me is how many things go wrong, take longer, and cost more than you ever thought possible. It seems like every stinking day something wrong happens. I went into this "sort-of" knowing that, and yet at a certain point the never-ending problem-du-jours pushed me to the edge.

You are right, I think someone's personality has a lot to do with how well they can sustain the process of building a home. I thought I was a "roll with the punches" person, but again after months and months of it, I admit I'm probably only one minor problem away from being a lunatic right now.

Another thing to consider - I planned this house for a long time. I mentally walked the hallways, thought about the way it would live, placement of things, etc.. And so we built a home because I thought I could get it exactly the way I wanted it. Layout, function, colors, etc..

It turns out nothing is ever perfect. (Shocking, I know, Ha-ha.) But there are several things that I would already change if I could. Some of them are my fault, in that I didn't notice some things on the plans - but then again, at a certain point the details overwhelmed me, so some mostly minor stuff got lost along the way.

I mention that only to say that NOTHING is ever perfect. You have to weigh the pros and cons along with really knowing yourself and how well you will survive a long, stressful process.

I'm not quite done yet, so ask me again in a few months. As it stands right this second, I am wondering if we should have just bought an existing home. It definitely would have been a lot cheaper, and likely less stressful too. But then again, I do LOVE 95% of my new house, so it is possible a few months from now (once I'm in and it's done) that I will say it was totally worth it.

Who knows.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 12:00PM
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Beth Parsons

Not sure if I had enough patience to oversee a custom build but I figured that with enough Prozac and tequila I could handle it... So far so good!

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 12:39PM
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I would echo Patriceny's thoughts to the T. We are almost done with major renovation, not a from scratch build. But its so major its got several aspects like a build, but of course the headaches of a reno (unexpected soffits in basement, rotten wood when the ceiling was exposed, etc...).

Also, dealing with the people in this industry has taken getting used. I come from the corporate world and consulting, where we communicate constantly and things are much more documented. The designers, builders, etc...are much less formal and organized, which in our experience has led to some delays and mis-understandings about "who has the ball" or "what needs to happen here?".

Better, more detailed plans from the get-go are the best defense against these things, but as mentioned above you still can't get everything "perfect".

I have also been frustrated that it's hard to see what everything costs. You don't just walk into a store and see the brands/products and it costs $X. It takes time to pick what you want, get the quotes, re-work the design, re-issue quotes, finalize, figure out the labor component, the list goes on and on. Very hard sometimes to do this for all the myriad details you have to on a new build or major reno. Sure you expect this for big items like granite or tile, but by the time we got to door hinges I about had to scream.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 1:02PM
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billygoatjoe - you have no idea how glad I am to hear your experiences. Sometimes I think we're crazy for being uncomfortable with certain building practices. Obviously people build those homes and live in them and have perfectly ok lives, so I question if we just expect too much. Chicagoland codes are just different - I can't say they are better, I'm no expert - but they are our 'norm' and some building norms there are way out of our comfort zone. I love your foot off the gas analogy - perfect. Glad it all worked out for you in the end.

patriceny that is quite a valuable perspective and your experiences mirrors many of my fears/expectations. I think of myself as a roll with the punches type, too - so much so that I really have no 'dream home' in my head. That's at least in part because I never seriously thought we'd build so I never let my dreams go there. Of course I can conjure in my mind features I would love to have but I visualize them as alterations to existing space, never new. I know nothing is ever perfect and that's why remodeling seems to make more sense to me - I'd be going into it knowing the limitations and working towards hitting most major needs/wants and letting go of things not possible. With a new build, I think the pressure to achieve our 'perfect house' would be paralyzing to me. I hope that 95% love you feel now hits 100% when all is said and done.

parsonse - LOL!!

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 1:23PM
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Sowega I missed your response while I was typing. Funny you mention the door hinges as that's one thing I read about people agonizing over on the Decorating board; 'Antique brass or ORB - do all rooms have to match or can they be different?.....' And to me, it's just not that important. Do the doors swing properly, stay open, stay shut.... good enough!

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 1:32PM
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I would say a ton of the stuff you agonize over in selecting, is stuff 98% of guests in your house would notice except your spouse and you. Even stuff like which type black granite, or the shade of paint, that you go back and forth to achieve "the perfect" decision....nobody will notice the parts. They will enter the room and see all the parts together.

But if you know it's there, then nothing wrong with taking your time in deciding what's important to you! I know I will have a ton of satisfaction at the end knowing its exactly how i picked it. Even the mistakes will be good stories to tell I think.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 2:29PM
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Must be Sowega and I are cut from the same cloth...because the comments about communication really ring true for me too.

We've had some major communication snafus along the way. I have lost count of the number of times I've said (to myself), "I would be fired if I operated in this manner" - but it does really seem to be an industry norm.

And I laughed out loud about the door hinge comment. Totally understand.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 2:46PM
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I don't know if you're going to be in NC in the next 2 weekends, but there is a Builder's Association Parade of Homes in Asheville the next 2 weekends. I went to it 2 or 3 years ago. We're building in the Boone area but we wanted to get a feel more for the mountain vibe after touring a Parade of Homes in the Piedmont area. I think you could get a good feel for the neighborhoods where they are building new homes, get a feel for local materials, and perhaps even meet a builder whose style you appreciate. Below, find the link to it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Asheville, NC Parade of Homes

    Bookmark   October 8, 2012 at 8:59PM
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We're at the beginning of the whole building thing, but I can totally relate to your reluctance about building. I never thought we'd build, but the available homes where we're headed just don't work for us. We're making a local move from one part of the outer Twin Cities metro to another part of the outer Twin Cities metro, and many of the homes in the area we plan to be are either a layout that doesn't work for me (lots and lots of split levels), or they were built 50 years ago and haven't been maintained in the last 15 years, or the owners lost the house to foreclosure and trashed it-- we looked at a lot of homes where we could put $50-100k into the house, and still have something that only kind of worked for us. When we look at what we could get for our money, building is the only thing that makes sense. But it's scary.

Having said that, before we moved up to the Twin Cities, we lived in Northern Virginia, and I wish we had rented for a year before we bought up here in the North, because I think having a year to become more familiar with the climate, etc... would have helped us make a better decision. Our current home is a pretty typical East Coast layout but unusual here and that's making resale more painful than I would have guessed. Also, I underestimated the extent to which the latitude change impacts window placement-- our house is darker in the winter than I would like, but the window layout would have been fine in Virginia. You're going to have different issues in the mountains of NC, but since locals don't tend to realize what makes their area different, living there for a while might be the easiest way to figure out which differences most matter for you in how you want to live in your home.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2012 at 10:10AM
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Here's something I found appealing on that's in the area of North Carolina where you have an interest. I have no connection with this firm or development, but it's yet another option to consider. Good luck!

    Bookmark   October 9, 2012 at 6:24PM
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