WRITTEN BY PJ WADE
Is this the year you begin construction of your dream house?
What have you done to ensure your dream does not turn into the nightmare that house building has become for too many?
- If you purchase a custom-built home from a subdivision developer, you may believe its construction will be smooth sailing, with just a few choices of interior and exterior finishes to resolve.
- If you buy an amazing lot and hire an architect and contractor to turn your dreams into a stunning and practical design, on budget and on deadline, you may believe the hard work is behind you. Thinking there’s little to stress about until the agreed-upon move-in date does not make this true.
- If you’re determined to self-manage and self-build your long-contemplated, inspired design, you may believe that keeping overall control of the build will ensure no surprises with budget, scheduling, and quality control.
In any and all of the above three scenarios, you’d probably be wrong.
The degree of unplanned problems, frustrating delays, and escalating costs will vary from situation to situation, but the unpredictability of construction will not. Because problems, delays, and additional costs are expected and accepted as part of the construction process, they appear.
Adopt the following Five Stress-Saving Strategies to minimize the unexpected and help the expected to materialize in all three of the dream-house construction scenarios above:
#1. Plan The Entire Project.
Just as homebuyers fixated on acquiring a chef’s kitchen can overlook many other aspects of the home, similar distractions can leave aspects of house plans incomplete or poorly thought-out. Mentally live in every corner of the dream home. “Walk” through every activity that will take place during each season. Consider all the elements of functionality you’ll count on to make the home practical, affordable, and a pleasure to live in. Architects, contractors, and every other professional involved in this project will rely on the future residents of the building to clarify exactly what they need and expect. However, remember:
- Let an architect focus on ambitious design aesthetics instead of your budget and practical needs, and you and the house may suffer.
- What you overlook or do not fully think through in the planning stage, may come back to haunt you during construction or after you move in. Getting it right from the start beats rebuilding once you move in.
- Invest time on the wide range of variations and wild possibilities during this planning phase. Prioritize costs, price options and consider timing. For instance, your temptation to add a second lavatory sink, an extra bathroom, a skylight, a larger window, or a new amazing feature during construction will slow progress and raise costs.
- Rely on others to fill in design gaps and make choices for you, and you may not be happy with the result that you’ll be living in and paying for.
Learn to read plans (scale, perspectives, symbols…) so you can see what the professionals see. You’ll save time, money, stress, and frustration. You’ll enjoy the process when you understand what is going on and should be coming next:
- Computer graphics will make the visualization easier, but they may not tell the whole story and are not detailed enough for contractors to work from.
- Architect’s design plans formalize concepts and aesthetics, but they may not be to-scale, “how to build the house” instructions. If the architect will not be involved in the entire build, who will project manage to translate design into precise reality?
- Contractors work best from detailed architectural or construction plans. Incomplete plans mean expensive guesswork, delays, and changes. This is all true for self-builds, too. You want construction accuracy, building-code compliance, and first-rate craftsmanship, so take time to find the right professionals and help create the comprehensive plans they need to get the job done.
#2. “Hope” Is Not A Building Strategy.
Figuring out how much you can afford to spend and hoping this will be enough for what you want built is a formula for disaster. Have your plans costed out by construction professionals. Disagreeing with professional budget projections does not make their calculations wrong. Either your budget or your house plans may need revamping. Add a realistic contingency amount to the budget—an amount that would undermine your project if you had to come up with it out of the blue. Cost out interior finishing and flooring, including furnishings, and also landscaping. This part of the build may cost almost as much as the structure.
#3. Do Not Expect Your Schedule To Dictate Move-In Date.
You may hope to move in by the holidays or before your interim housing lease runs out, but this is not what drives the construction timetable. The more restrictive your interim accommodation arrangements, the more vulnerable you are to forced compromises, expensive shortcuts, sloppy workmanship, unplanned accumulating costs, and unseasonable weather. Ask about realistic schedules and what could cause delays. The fact that you have chosen to temporarily live precariously or expensively is not a construction criteria. Many would consider this bad planning on your part. You’ll pay for this one way or the other, so save by resolving interim accommodation issues at the start.
#4. Changes Change Everything.
Once construction is underway, moving a wall, window, or layout element is never “simple.” Many interconnecting systems and details, from wiring and plumbing to planning permission, may be involved. Changes on the fly can wildly inflate costs and add significant delays. This is where the nightmare ramps up.
#5. You’re Not The Only Customer.
You’ve put your life on hold to get the build complete, but contractors and suppliers of everything from roofing systems, engineered structures, heating systems, and windows must satisfy many clients at once—some of them more significant spenders than you. Trusting, respectful relationships and genuine expertise are key to a successful build. You’ve paid someone with exacting standards (architect, contractor, project manager…) to oversee the build and keep on top of the entire project. Now, do the same from the client’s (your) point of view, so you can help anticipate gaps and shortcomings instead of being forced to pay for what’s been overlooked or misunderstood.
What could possibly go wrong? Won’t everything just go according to plan?