So ... um, where do I start?!

sanveannDecember 19, 2012

My husband and I bought a beautiful piece of property (10 acres) a couple of years ago, planning to build some years down the road. Well, due to some changes in circumstances, we will probably be able to build much sooner than that -- as in, any time now, once we figure out what we are doing.

We're not in a huge rush, but we are a family of five that has been feeling cramped for several years now, so we don't want to put it off long. (There is also a school district issue that moving by September or so would resolve, but that's secondary to doing this right.)

So, my rather embarrassing question is, where do we start?! I thought I had a LOT more time before this whole process kicked into gear! Are there any books you would recommend (or not recommend)?

We have our contractor -- we met him years ago and he was incredibly helpful while we were buying land and has been recommended by numerous people. Our next step, I think, is to get preapproval from the credit union so we get a ballpark figure and then nail down a home plan. Does that sound about right?

We have our eye on a couple of online plans, but I want some tweaks done to both of them. Would you suggest an architect or a home designer? Oh my gosh ... this whole thing is kind of overwhelming!

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Yes, next step is to get pre-approved for a loan so you have an idea of budget. From there you would go one of three routes: if you have it in the budget, you hire an architect and together you get a plan in place that fits your needs and budget. If that is not in the budget, you would need to find a plan and buy it or do a plan yourself and have a drafter draw it up. Expect for all of this to take MONTHS. So I would not plan on being in a new house by September. You will also need to be, at the same time or before you are coming up with a plan, figure out utilities, septic and water. The septic part alone can take quite a bit of money and time.

Jealous of all your acreage! Have fun planning :)

    Bookmark   December 19, 2012 at 10:00PM
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Congratulations! I agree that you should take your time. Plus once you have the plans, it will take time for permitting.

It sounds like you have a sound approach. I would start with a budget. I really like the book Get your house right by cusato &pentreath. In the mean time go through magazines, pinterest and and start collecting pictures. Make a wish list and put it in order of priority.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2012 at 11:01PM
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Find an experienced and talented architect and work together to design a home that fits your property, your life style and your budget.

Take the necessary and important time up front to ensure that what you do after that is well thought through and well organized. Plan thoroughly in the early phases and avoid the change orders and costly changes/errors/mark-ups that come with incomplete construction documents.

Plans that you buy online from a plan factory do not take into consideration your site conditions, climate, energy issues, your budget, local codes, ordinances and home owner priorities.

Take your time and think through all of your options.

Good luck on your project.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2012 at 11:03PM
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I'd recommend Designing your Perfect House by William Hirsch Jr. Also, Patterns of Home by Max Jacobson. Both talk about how to figure out what you want in a house and help you avoid major missteps.

We're building on 10 acres too-- we chose our basic floor plan over the summer, and have been working at it pretty steadily since September, and now hope to be at the point where we can break ground in late January. I think it would be very challenging for you to be able to move in to your new home by September.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2012 at 11:19PM
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Thanks for all of the suggestions, guys! I guess I was being overly optimistic for my time frame. On the plus side, I guess that gives us more time to save!

Can anyone give me a ballpark figure on what an architect generally charges for plans?

    Bookmark   December 19, 2012 at 11:23PM
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Architects don't "charge for plans". Architects provide professional services. Typically these are include up to 5 phases, which an owner may choose to select:

--Schematic design
--Design development
--Construction documents
--Bidding assistance
--Construction administration/project close-out

Architect's fees may be determined in various ways: hourly rate, percentage of construction cost, lump sum, etc.

Drafters simply provide drawings, often with little regard for site conditions, regulatory controls, climatic and energy conservation, etc. Architects work with an owner to create a custom design based on the architect's creative experience, the owner's requirements and budget, site conditions, regulatory restrictions, climatic and energy conservation, etc. You get what you pay for!

There are a lot of threads on this subject here. Do some searching and reading.

Good luck on your project!

    Bookmark   December 19, 2012 at 11:51PM
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Thanks for clarifying, Virgil :) I'm still pretty wet behind the ears here!

Do you have any recommendations for finding someone reputable? Unfortunately, most of the people I know who've built homes nearby have used stock plans from builders, so I can't just ask around. Angie's List has been no help either.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2012 at 12:17AM
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The first thing you need to do is get to know your property. Start thinking about where the house will go. There are so many more factors when you're dealing with a large property than a tract home on 1/4 of an acre. Your driveway could be 50', or it could be 1500'. Bringing in utilities in that far would be expensive, not to mention the driveway itself. Do you have a good view? Do you have a bad view? How concerned are you about energy efficiency, or the way sunlight comes into your home?

We are building on 7 acres, but due to the exposure, view, and topography it was surprisingly hard to fit a house to the land. An added complication for us is that we wanted a very small home, which makes it harder in some ways. We are building out-of-pocket, and a very small pocket at that. Throw all of you personal wants and needs into the mix, and it can get very complicated!

I designed our very simple rectangular home myself. Hiring an architect was out of the question financially. All of the factors about our property actually narrowed our choices considerably. The sloping land dictated either a walk-out basement, or a tall crawlspace, so we opted for the basement. Our view is in the back, so the rooms we are 'awake' in, kitchen/dining/living, face the view, while the bedrooms and bathrooms are more at the front of the house. Finally, by a stroke of luck, our house orientation comes pretty close to ideal for energy efficiency in our climate. I rotated the house a bit to prevent the back from being due north, which is a cold and unfriendly orientation.

That, of course, is an over-simplification of our thought process, which evolved over 5 years of studying our property at different times of year, and meanwhile studying up on best building practices for energy efficiency. I'm building the house myself, which requires a lot more knowledge on the subject, but I strongly advise you to learn as much as you can. This way, at least you'll know if your architect and contractor knows what they are doing, and are appropriate for your situation. An architect who specializes in urban in-fill design would likely be all wrong for a rural property. An otherwise well-qualified architect may have very little landscape architecture experience. An architect known for ultra-modern design would be a bad match with a family yearning for a traditional farmhouse.

The point of all of this rambling is that you first need to educate yourself, at least as little, and discover what you want, and what your land is saying to you. Then interview several likely architects, and see if they speak your language. Communication is vital, too. Does he/she listen to you? Do you listen to them? Ask to see their portfolio, or actual house they have designed. Do their designs 'speak' to you? Make sure that they understand your budget, and are experienced and comfortable designing the kind of house you want and can afford. If you want to expand your research, I can recommend books and websites that I used in my design process. Good luck, and keep us posted!

    Bookmark   December 20, 2012 at 6:53AM
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Flgargoyle, thanks for the suggestions! We do have a fairly good idea of where we want to build -- the property is a long rectangle, with the short side facing the road (about 330 by 1280), so we don't want to build too far back, plus there are some low areas about halfway back we want to avoid. (Hopefully we'll have a pond there down the road.)

The area that's about in line with the neighbors' houses is about where we want to build, and it also has enough of a slope that we'll be able to have a walkout. There are some nice trees in front, and the back will have whatever we decide to plant back there :D I've attached a little photo with our property outlined in red, and an X where we plan to build.

The good news is that my great-uncle, who is an architect, is interested in helping us :) I wasn't sure he'd be able to, as he's working in Afghanistan right now, but apparently he has Internet access :)

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   December 20, 2012 at 9:32AM
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For recommendations for local architects, contact the nearest chapter of The American Institute of Architects and ask for referrals for experienced architects who do residential project of the size and scale you envision.

Good luck on your project.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2012 at 9:33AM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

Since you already know a contractor that you have confidence in, you could ask him for recommendations of an architect he's worked with and that he respects.

The process will go a whole lot easier if your builder and architect can work together.


    Bookmark   December 20, 2012 at 10:45AM
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First you need a road...
I am not being snarky, that was enough for us to focus on when we first started.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2012 at 2:07PM
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Lori (loribug26_gw) Wagerman_Walker

so what do you have planned for the acreage? ot, sorry. :) lol

    Bookmark   December 20, 2012 at 3:22PM
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I think there's a road, but she cropped it off the bottom of the photo-- there are established neighbors with driveways.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2012 at 3:31PM
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Ha! Yes, there's a road -- I just cropped it to cut off the street name :)

Loribug, we are planning for a good-sized yard around the house, of course, and probably a pond beyond that (about halfway back). The back half we're hoping to eventually reforest. We're really into native trees and plants, and this whole area was originally maple-beech forest, so that's what we'll be focusing on.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2012 at 4:27PM
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You've already received good information, and I agree with the others that having a house built by September is not realistic -- not if you want it to be RIGHT, something that'll serve your family well for years to come.

Off-topic, but of value:

If your land is actively being used as farm land or if it's forest land (very specific rules about what counts as forest -- specific trees, though newly planted trees count just like large, established trees), you can get HUGE tax breaks. I'm not sure whether 10 acres is enough to qualify or not. You'll need to visit your county government office to see exactly how to qualify, and it won't be an easy process . . . but I pay about $450/year in taxes on my 40+ acres (we have roads and utilities, but no actual houses on my portion of the land). In contrast, I pay $1100/year on my the one-acre city lot/house where I actually live right now.

Also, you might qualify for lower-priced license tags, if your vehicles can qualify as "farm vehicles". I have family members who do this, though they themselves don't farm. We rent the open tracts to a cousin who farms our land and other small farms.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2012 at 9:17AM
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MrsPete, thanks for the info! The land is currently being used as a hay field, so it's definitely being actively farmed. We might allow them to continue farming the back half or so for the next couple of years at least. Do you know who I would want to talk to at the county office? The property taxes in our township are NOT cheap and are going to be much worse once we build, so any little bit would help!

Btw, we apparently need to update our perc test (the property has perked before, but the test is "expired"), which we won't be able to do till at LEAST May, and only if it's not a super-wet May ... so yeah, September is almost certainly not gonna happen :P Oh, well -- more time to plan and save!

    Bookmark   December 21, 2012 at 10:49AM
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