Building a home is not for the faint of heart. You’ve got to be decisive, able to manage significant stress, insanely patient, fiscally responsible, realistic, an effective communicator, and adaptable.
You need to have strong relationships you can rely on, the ability to thoroughly research hired help and selected materials, flexible timelines, and the ability to fund the project.
If you’re building a house by yourself completely from scratch, the most challenging parts of the project might be finding extra hands when you need them, locating supplies in a timely manner, or physically lifting heavy materials.
But what we’re talking about here is the process of having your house built, along with your part in the overall operation. In this scenario, the hardest parts of building a house are likely not what you thought they were.
1. Deciding to Build
Many homeowner’s dream about building their own custom home. After all, what’s better than having a home that’s completely unique and catered to your personal preferences, from the architectural style to the color of the interior walls?
While the idea of building a house is romantic, the reality is anything but. It’s grueling. It’s frustrating. Building a house will challenge you in ways you never expected.
So the first thing to consider when deciding whether to build a house is whether you can handle the stress.
There’s a reason building, or even buying, a house is on every top five list of the most stressful things you’ll experience in your lifetime.
Do you have a strong support system in place? Although you think living with your in-laws for a year or more will be fine, be honest about that reality.
Is your relationship with your spouse rock solid? There are few things that will put more stress on a relationship than building a house together. Just ask anyone who's done it.
The next question to consider is whether you can really afford to build. There are myriad factors to consider. Some are quite obvious. You’ll need to be able to buy the land, unless you already own some.
Then you’ll have the costs associated with materials and supplies, hired help, permits, surveys, inspections, and loan fees.
When making the decision as to whether you can afford to build, remember you’ll need to live elsewhere during the process and will incur expenses there.
Building your dream home is a viable option, but it might be better to find an existing home instead. Not only will a custom build likely cost you more, but it will take much, much longer.
Most home builds require a minimum of seven months and can easily take two years or more. In contrast, buying a home will see you settled within a few months.
Another thing to consider is how long you plan to stay in the home. If there’s a high likelihood of your job requiring relocation or you think you might want to eventually move closer to family, building might not be the right decision for you.
It often takes a bit to recoup the costs of building a home, so selling in the short term may not be the best option. The bigger issue, however, is you’re going to fall deeply in love with your new home, making it harder to make life changes on a whim.
2. Finding the Right Piece of Land
There’s a toss up between finding a builder or locating property first. The benefit of the former is that your builder can offer advice about the building locations you’re considering.
However, you may already have the land, whether it’s something you’ve purchased with the intent of building on or if you inherited it at some point and now plan to develop it.
Either way, make sure you have the rights to build on the land to avoid any disputes down the road.
When evaluating the cost of building a house vs buying it’s easy to see you’ll probably always come out ahead if you already have land to build on.
This is also the phase of the project where you’ll want to source financing, if necessary. Whether borrowing from friends, family, investors, or a bank, you’ll need to get your paperwork in a row. Gather all required documents.
In the case of financing, get pre-approved before you begin looking for land. Also scrutinize your options when it comes to financing the costs of the build. Pay attention to the details.
Banks don’t like to offer loans on land, so they are hard to find and come with higher interest rates. From the bank’s perspective, land is a difficult asset to peddle. They’d rather have the deed to the house should you default for any reason.
Most lenders offer to convert the rate into a home mortgage once the house build is complete. Along the way, though, you’ll be paying more in interest. It’s one more reason your build will need to be on time and on budget so you can avoid additional fees.
Experienced engineers, real estate agents, builders, and contractors are your go-to in evaluating what issues you might face on a specific piece of land.
Getting ahead of potential issues means making sure the land is zoned properly, you have access to all critical utilities such as gas, electric, water, phone, WiFi, etc., and the slope, flood risk, land stability, and other structural features of the land are suitable to support your build.
In addition, you’ll want to consider the future of the location. Are the surrounding areas zoned commercial, where you might find a loud bar moving into the neighborhood, or industrial, where you might find yourself living next to a factory?
Can the neighbor in front of you build three stories high and block your primary view? Are there easements for government access to consider?
If you get the land at a steep discount, there’s probably a reason for it. If you pay a premium, make sure it’s worth the cost in the long run.
Most of all, make sure the land you choose is a good match for the requirements of the home you plan to build.
3. Deciding Between Wants and Needs
You want what you want. It’s part of the joy of building your own home. You should get to incorporate all the goodies. But, budget is (likely) a factor. There may also be restrictions with zoning, permits, the build site, etc.
You’ll have to be disciplined in deciding what is a must have and what is merely a want.
For example, you may need the entire house to be handicap-accessible with ramps and wide doorways, or you may need to have a designated home office space, a certain number of bedrooms, or in-law quarters.
Start by making the list of must haves. Create a second list of wants. If budget and space allow, you can start adding in those wants.
Be realistic. How often are you going to use an expensive home theater? Is it worth the cost and increased insurance rates to have an underground pool? Is a game room with a bar something that will make or break the deal?
4. Creating a Realistic Budget
You know you have to do it. A budget is not only a guiding principle, but a contract with yourself and your builder.
A well-defined budget includes every single line item of the build, from lunches out while you shop for land to hanging the last mirror when the construction is complete.
It’s highly unlikely the project will land exactly on the budget number, but a thorough and expansive budget is critical to the overall success of the project. Spend the time. Do the research.
Scrutinize, evaluate, and overestimate in most categories. Plan for material costs overruns as the price of lumber can change significantly within the timeline of your build.
Permits may be much more expensive than you originally thought. There might be an additional survey or inspection along the way.
In addition to land, labor, and loans, include finishing touches such as appliances, flooring, countertop materials, smart technology, and every other item for the home.
Creating a detailed budget not only gives you an idea what the project will cost, but also helps you keep on track as each item is purchased, and invoices begin rolling in.
5. Finding Reliable and Knowledgeable Professionals
Building a house is a group effort.
You’ll be dealing with contractors from the general contractor who oversees the project to tile workers, drywall professionals, painters, roofers, flooring installers, window installers, excavators, concrete pourers, electricians, plumbers, HVAC professionals, and so many more workers.
Then you have the architect you may rely on for the home’s blueprints, perhaps a lawyer to review contracts, inspectors, title and escrow officers, bankers, a real estate agent, employees at the building department, etc.
Every one of these people is human and has the potential to make a costly mistake, or worst case, rip you off in some way.
While there may be less than desirable results from a single person’s actions, if you do your research to make sure all professionals are licensed and bonded, well-respected, and experienced, your woes should be few.
Just build in a little mental leeway to deal with potential issues as they arise.
6. Being Patient
This should probably be the first challenge on the list. There will be delays. It’s almost guaranteed. You should never plan on timelines going according to plan.
Delays are common, stemming from employee shortages, supply chain issues, setbacks from subcontractors, problems with permits, wait time for inspectors, and a host of other contributing factors.
Do yourself a favor and plan for at least one year, if you’re hiring out the work rather than building your own home DIY style.
You can help the process along by reliably sticking to timelines on your end, such as when making decisions about materials, colors, and appliances.
Regularly communicate with your contractor to mitigate any issues that may cause delays.
7. Dealing with Delays and Issues
Being patient throughout the process of building a house extends to how you deal with those inevitable delays and issues when they pop up.
You can do your best to anticipate permitting and inspection snafus by figuring out what they will request ahead of time and having the documentation ready to go.
The length of time before permits are approved varies widely by county and state. It may be a few days or a few months, sometimes longer.
It’s depressing to watch your partially-built house sitting unimproved during that time, but if this or something similar occurs, keep yourself busy by selecting cabinets, countertops, flooring, paint colors, siding, roofing materials, windows, decking materials, landscaping design, patio furniture, and everything else you’ll need by the end of the project.
Also remember to be kind to those around you. Delays and issues are stressful, but it’s not your spouse's fault. Don’t take it out on the kids or co-workers either.
We said building a house is hard. Having coping mechanisms in place is part of the process. So hit the gym, get away for a weekend, walk in the woods, play with your dog, or do some yoga. This too shall pass.
8. Working through the Process with a Spouse
We hit on this lightly, but building a house with any partner will test your relationship. For example, if one person is inflexible on the budget, but the other sees it as a loose guideline, you’ll be in for problems.
Same goes for if you have widely different interior design styles or architectural preferences. Even minor decisions like light fixtures and cabinet hardware can bring the best relationship to a breaking point.
Communication, calmness, and compromise are key here, so work those tools as you maneuver the process.
9. Monitoring the Project
Life is busy. While you likely will not be able to be on the jobsite every day, you must remain involved in the process.
The overall project of building a house will be broken into smaller projects in order to achieve the final goal. Getting each of those smaller tasks done is an ongoing time management challenge.
Excavators must complete their job before the workers get to work on the foundation. The framers are next on site. Then the plumbing and electrical components need to be completed before the drywall covers it up.
No contractor, subcontractor, or worker wants you to be on the job site all the time. Honestly, you’ll get in the way and slow them down. However, it’s critical you’re aware of what’s going on during each phase.
For example, is the level of insulation the correct thickness? Are the light fixtures where you expect them to be? Are you happy with the pour of the driveway?
You do not want to show up when the contractor is ready to hand over the keys, only to find there were issues that should have been addressed months ago.
As your construction progresses, personally inspect each phase of the project before making payment. Payments are traditionally staggered, with you paying in a few lump sums as the project progresses.
Ensure you’re satisfied with each phase before handing over a check, or you might never get the issue resolved. It’s much easier to make adjustments when they are identified than further down the road.
Home building is intimidating and can be overwhelming. Although it’s a daunting task, with the right planning, communication, and flexibility, it may be the most rewarding thing you ever do.