Building your own home to the exact DIY custom specifications that fit you, your family and your personal preferences can be a dream come true in the final finished product, but going through the process step by painful slow step can be a nightmare as well.
Not happy with what was available in the area we were looking, we decided that since there were decent sized lots available for purchase, our best and most exciting option to reach our dream would be to design and build our own custom home. In your mind that is a great idea, but in reality the amount of time, work and sheer frustration involved turned the whole building experience into an experiment in self-control at times when things weren’t going quite as smoothly as anticipated. It constantly fluctuated from dreams to nightmares and back again.
The first thing was coming up with a home floor plan and design that we both agreed on. That took quite a while scanning through books and websites, piecing together a proposed plan. After that I went on a search for an architect to draw up the blue prints. I found out a draftsman did the same job for a lot less, since I already had the design and rough floor plan. His office was quite a drive away. That involved a few out of town trips, but it went smoothly. He had some great ideas and details that hadn’t occurred to newbie me. His prices were reasonable and the finished product was extremely professional. If the whole experience had gone that easily, it would have been amazing.
Next was buying one of the pieces of property available in the neighborhood we wanted. There were only a few lots left. That was easy enough. I picked one away from the main drag.
The neighborhood was all custom houses at that point. The plans had to be approved by a neighborhood board of directors. They could not be the same or similar to another house in the neighborhood. They also had to meet or exceed their minimum required square footage. In addition, they required a blueprint floor plan be left with them for approval, and then if approved, they would keep it in their files. Extra copies of the large blueprints cost extra money.
Admittedly, that made me uncomfortable, not knowing any of them from Adam. I didn’t care for the idea of someone I didn’t know holding a detailed layout of every bit of structure of my proposed home. I suppose I imagined some unknown thief breaking in to their homes and getting access to every nook and cranny, entrance and weak spot that could give them a way in to all the houses. The house plans were approved by the high and mighty neighborhood board of directors.
Then the city had to approve them. Nothing in building your own house is single layered or easy. There was a lot of sitting and waiting involved that drove us nuts too. One person would want it done yesterday while another wasn’t even remotely done with it yet.
The whole DIY home building process is a bit like trying to piece a puzzle together, with a lot of the wrong pieces from other similar puzzles thrown into the pile for good measure to really mess up the plans and timing.
Once the plans for our DIY home were approved by the city, we had to find a builder. You do not just find one builder. You find a few and take bids from them with specifications as to what they do and don’t cover in price. It is a good idea to check into references from and critiques about each builder as well. It is better to find honest appraisals than just glowing recommendations. It is also not necessarily the best choice to go with the cheapest bid either. We drove all over looking at different houses they had built or were in the process of building.
Then we had to get the house we already owned on the market to sell. That meant staging the house for a sale and timing the moving date to coincide with the completion date of the new house as close as possible to make sure we weren’t stuck without a place to live, or that we might have to rent a temporary place if it wasn’t done on time. No one wants to move a whole house twice in a short amount of time.
One or both of us made weekly trips to the building site to see how it was progressing once it was started. The drive was considerable.
Since it was a custom home, I spent months picking and shopping for every item for the house. That meant not only the color and the rugs, the basics, but every knob, light fixture, window and door, sinks, architectural details inside, tile work, floor tiles, tubs and showers, stain colors, bathroom and kitchen cabinetry, ceiling fans, shelving, knobs, outside and inside stonework, closet hanging rods, outlet covers, fireplace style, roof type, color and style, and so forth. The list was much bigger than that. It was huge.
Each thing had a specific budget allotted by the builder in the original budget contract. That increased the shopping and searching time since anything over budget came directly out of our limited pockets. That also increased the stress. I stuck to the budget like permanent glue. I was running around constantly, often to the point of exhaustion on top of work, home and children.
Someone broke in at one point and stole some of the things I had so painstakingly found. That meant reordering. That meant driving all over, sometimes from one city to another.
One of the huge problems we had was the builder was short staffed. He wasn’t sending a whole crew out to work on things. Often it was one guy and often when he arrived, although personable, acted like he had been partying all night. Think slow motion work.
The builder also had specific specialists for specific jobs. Some were excellent. A couple were know-it-all and incompetent, the electrician for instance. A few months after we moved in, a lot of what he did had to be redone. We had told him at the time that certain things were being done incorrectly, but apparently he, in his limited years of experience, knew it all. He didn’t. We were right, but he was great at talking the big talk.
Unexpected events happened too that delayed the next steps. The stone tiles I had picked for the large kitchen turned out to be very heavy, exceedingly so considering the size of the kitchen. That meant bracing up the foundation with pylons under the kitchen, through the crawlspace. The tiles had to be ground out, removing all the gray grout, pulled up again and redone. We were in the house at that point, which meant gritty dust was all over every single thing in the house, not once but twice until it was done correctly. Cleaning up scratchy, gritty grout dust was a nightmare off of everything in the house, not to mention masks, airing out the house and trying not to breathe it. My skin felt like it had a pumice layer.
Our other house sold during a seller’s market in less than two weeks, with dozens and dozens of hopeful buyers coming to see it like a circus tromping in and out all day and evening, every day. We got multiple bids. It sold for a higher price than we asked. That was a good thing though, because even with the extra from the sale, the slow pace of the builder with a skeleton crew put us three months behind schedule. That ended up costing us about an extra $35,000, which the extra from the sale of our old house didn’t cover. So much for a decorating budget, and unnecessary things such as drapes, blinds, and food after we moved in.
Financing took a while, juggling a house sale and land and a house purchase on a limited budget. There wasn’t much wiggling room. Luckily with great credit and so forth at the time, the building loan went through fairly easily. Waiting to know one way or the other was torture though. We breathed a deep sigh of relief once we knew it was approved.
By the time the house was done, we had nothing left in the budget. That meant no back fence and no front yard work yet either for quite a while, which really didn’t please the home owners association.
The many issues were much more involved and layered as well. We were glad to finally see the workers go. Their constant invasion into our daily routine got to be overwhelming and maddening, particularly since they were supposed to be done months before. They tromped right into the house without knocking. I put a stop to that.
The house eventually turned out, with later repairs and adjustments, but there were times we were just about ready to blow a fuse or four. Interestingly, with all the problems, the builder did not put us on his referral list for future customers. They would have gotten an earful. I think he realized that.
Would I do it again if I could ever afford a house again? Maybe, but I would go into it knowing what to expect and avoid, and how to be even more specific in planning and follow through. Building a custom DIY home can be a nightmare as well as a dream come true. You have to decide if you are willing to go through the inevitable delays and battles to get to the final product, or simply to buy an already built home and not deal with the stress.