How To Build A House – Don’t Forget About Planning

Written by  //  September 17, 2012  //  Home Construction  //  3 Comments

My fiancé and I are currently in the process of building a house in Central Austin.  We are still in the early phases of the construction process, but everything is going according to plan so far.  I believe the reason that we are enjoying success with our project (thus far) is that we invested properly in the planning phase of this project.

Nearly two years ago, my fiancé and I began looking for a house to purchase, but we weren’t able to find anything that we loved.  We felt it was important to love a house, if we were going to make the investment to buy it.  One house we visited was a remodel opportunity.  We had no experience with remodeling or home building, but the house seemed to have so much opportunity and was priced right. We made an offer on the house and got it under contract with a rather long contingency period, so we could perform due diligence. 

Knowing nothing about building, we turned to more knowledgeable and experienced friends.  We were referred to a contractor with a good reputation, and we then embarked on selecting an architect.  We interviewed four candidates, before settling on Garwood Architecture.  The principal, Clint Garwood, was experienced and talented, but still young enough in his career to be affordable.

Clint did a wonderful job designing the plans, but we soon realized that the inherent design of the house was going to cause the price of the finished product to exceed the value of what we were building.  At that point, we had fallen in love with the idea of creating a house just as we wanted, so we began to search for a suitable lot on which to build a new house, rather than remodeling an existing home.

After a few months, we found the lot.  A friend of mine who knew we were looking told me about a lot that had just come on the market.  It was large but awkwardly shaped and the house on the property was in need of demolition, which actually decreased the asking price a bit.  We quickly made an offer and locked up the lot.  During due diligence, we discovered an easement on the property, but after a few months of negotiating, we were able to compromise and close on the property.

At that point, we employed Clint to design the house.  Clint had already seen the lot and drawn a sketch of the house that he thought would fit on its unusual dimensions.  The lot is 50 feet wide and 250 feet deep and gains 30 feet of elevation from the front of the lot to the back.  It was Clint’s rendering that gave us the confidence to push forward with the purchase.  I highly recommend anyone looking to build a custom home to find your architect before purchasing the lot, so you can get input on the project before closing on the property.

Over the course of the next five months, we worked closely with our architect, contractor and engineers developing the plans for the house and getting them through the city permit process. While the permitting process can be very tedious, it was helpful to have a contractor and architect already in place to work with the city on deciphering what changes needed to be made.

The two most important lessons I took from this experience were:

  1. Architects can build you the most beautiful things money can buy, but it us up to you to find ways to ensure that the cost of the finished product is in line with its market value.
  2. Working with a contractor during the architecture phase is extremely helpful, but it is irresponsible not to competitively bid the final plans to multiple contractors to make sure you have the right team and a great price.

We ultimately changed our contractor after bidding out the project to competitors.  Because he hadn’t charged us to this point in anticipation of building the project, we paid him a fee for the time he had invested with us, because it was both significant and valuable.  The experience was awkward, because we hadn’t considered this possibility earlier in the process.  I would recommend others to hire a contractor during the planning phase, but make it clear from the start that you will be competitively bidding the project once the plans are complete.  They will still have the inside track on your project, so this should give them an advantage that makes it worth their time, but you always have the right to choose someone else for the building work, if you think it’s the right move.

Throughout the process, we’ve needed to sign dozens of contracts, forms, estimates, and other paperwork. I would strongly recommend signing up for an online fax service (this site has a good comparison to help you pick one) to minimize the amount of time spent exchanging documents. It is also imperative to keep copies of everything you have signed (the fax services automatically store a copy, but you’ll want to make sure they have unlimited storage or download a copy before they are auto-deleted), as I’ve already had to reference several of these documents repeatedly. 

Our experience with home building continues to be a very positive one.  Building a great plan and hiring a great team have been critical to our success thus far.  And I’m confident this approach will result in the completion of our dream home.

Author Bio:

Leo Welder is the Co-founder and Operations Officer of Zilker Ventures and ChooseWhat.com, an online resource to help guide entrepreneurs through the process of starting a business.  Leo also serves as President of the Young Men’s Business League, Austin Sunshine Camps and is a Board Member of the Hill Country Conservancy.

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3 Comments on "How To Build A House – Don’t Forget About Planning"

  1. Miesha January 4, 2013 at 1:34 am · Reply

    Awesome!! The ideas given here is superb, as i have a plan to build my own house, certainly this post gives me a clear view how my dream home should be. I am thankful to the person involved in making this post, for giving me the proper guidance.

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