In 2012, my husband and I began exploring the construction of a new wing to our home. The planning phase took over a year, and I became pregnant. Construction started on April 1. Labor started on April 12, and later that night I gave birth to our son. Four months later, we brought him home to our old house made new.
My husband and I have a love affair with fixer-uppers. When we searched for a home to buy together, we found a three-bedroom, two bathroom house with 1960s décor and some structural flaws. We loved the house and the neighborhood, but a house with three bedrooms didn’t fit our plans for a family of six to eight children. Someday we wanted to add bathrooms and bedrooms, but we didn’t know when and how. Here’s what we did right and wrong along the way.
Come up with a cohesive plan. We completed our initial renovations piecemeal, triaging projects as they came up. We invested quite a bit of money into roofing the house, upgrading windows, and replacing siding. These improvements should have had a long life, but when we gutted the existing bedrooms to build a second story above them, we need another new roof and replaced the same siding. We only reused a few of our fancy new windows in the redesigned house. Our someday plan of major construction seemed far off to us, but in hindsight, consulting with an architect early on would have helped us plan better and saved us thousands of dollars.
Consult with an architect. Working with an architect didn’t come cheaply, but we found the services nearly invaluable. I sketched what I thought we wanted, but he took my very rough ideas and improved upon them. He sought our feedback and incorporated it into the plans until we were completely satisfied. Our fast-growing city was dealing with an extreme backlog of permit applications, and the architect helped us navigate that process, cutting months off the average waiting time. The architect we chose was a father of five, and he offered some kid-friendly suggestions for the house too. I wanted a set of wooden stairs between the levels, but the architect suggested they might be slippery for fast-moving kids in socks, and we opted to cover the stairs in cushy carpeting.
Don’t overstretch your finances. It’s easy to overspend a little here and a little there while building, and find out that you’ve totally blown your budget by the end. Life threw us a few financial curveballs during construction. Our son required admission into the NICU for breathing difficulties after his birth, and he stayed there for 12 days. We were already veterans of the NICU from our daughter’s premature birth in 2011, but we were shocked when our son, born at term, also needed specialized medical care. Once you get past the waiting, uncertainty, and stress of an extended hospitalization, then the bills start rolling in. Insurance covered most of the cost, but the total still amounted to thousands in unanticipated expenses.
Back at the house, we did choose to incorporate a few extras into the project, but we managed to stay on track or cut costs in other areas. Ultimately we spent almost 10 percent more than the original budget for our home in extra projects or upgraded features.
Finally, mortgage rates shot up just a couple weeks before we finished construction. We had been looking at rates between 3-4 percent, and suddenly we were faced with a new reality of nearly 5 percent. That makes a big difference in your monthly payment. We shopped hard for a more attractive rate, and we eventually dug up a rate of just 2.5 percent. If we hadn’t had an adequate financial cushion to absorb these costs, the combined threat of hospital bills, extra construction expenses, and a pricier mortgage really could have derailed us financially.
We invested considerable time and money into building our dream home, and today we are very pleased with the results. Even though it worked out well for my family, I really couldn’t recommend building a home to everyone. The decisions are numerous, and the process is fatiguing. But then again, I was growing another person simultaneously, and after he was born, I toted the poor little guy around to paint stores, home improvement stores, and stone yards. Researchers believe that the experiences of a mother during pregnancy shape her unborn child. If that’s the case, I think my son might grow up to experience the same addiction to home projects as his mother and father.