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10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Building a Custom Home

Updated: Jan 8, 2021

A year ago we started the process of building a custom home with 5P's Construction. It has been a wonderful and exciting learning process and while you'd be hard pressed to find someone who said their custom build was perfect, I'm happy to report that creating this list was not due to mistakes but rather guidance for those potentially venturing down this path. This list is not exhaustive however a good point of reference for those considering building a custom home!

1. You will go over budget on some allowances.

This shouldn't come as a shock to anyone. You will go over budget. Whether it's upgrades, late changes or just the price of a particular product at that time of the build you need to anticipate that your perfectly planned budget will not execute that way. A high compliment to my builder (Dino Pasquotti) is that he always made an effort to evaluate overages in areas and find other areas where it could balance out and keep on track.

While you very likely will go over budget, I will go so far as to say you should go over budget in certain areas. Let me explain my personal theory (feel free to agree or disagree, so long as the dialogue occurs):

This is your home. Your place of refuge. My Dad advised me "create a space you want to go home to and spend time in." My perspective is that I want to be happy where I live regardless of how long I live there. I'm not saying to break the bank or go beyond your means, I am saying to make calculated decisions based on your needs. To me, it mattered to have a kitchen I love to cook in with a perfectly planned out pantry. To have a closet that is an organizational dream and an outdoor space we'll spend every minute of free time in. To me, it wasn't about re-sale value of a particular upgrade I'll get if and when I decide to sell in the future. It's about US and OUR TIME in this home. I recommend you advocate for those aspects of your house that matter to you and be unapologetic about it. Be selfish! If you are building custom, those thoughtful additions to your house are what makes it a home. And, you never know. There's a very good chance that those bonus upgrades you did will positively impact resale value down the road. (Spoiler alert: another blog post coming with BEST upgrades to do for value!)

2. The house will look smaller than expected during certain stages.

Prepare for this! During the initial pour of the foundation and framing stages I walked around thinking "wow, this seems a lot smaller than what I envisioned" and panicked. Questioned my floor plans. How wrong I was. Don't panic - unless you're building a tiny home they always seems to expand exponentially.

3. Go to the job site every day.

I was given this piece of advice and I am grateful beyond measure that I followed it. In the beginning it seems like things are moving very slowly and then a switch flips and suddenly there is huge progress daily. That being said, if there are mistakes it is imperative they are caught early on so they can be re-mediated easily and at much less of a cost.

I was warned to not be that overbearing client, however I argue that you are making the biggest investment of your life - if it isn't exactly how you want it why are you paying so much for it? It's not the trades' home, its YOUR home. Ensure it is the home you are asking for, not someone else's interpretation of it.

That being being said - if something doesn't look right, ask. The most important contributing factor to the success of our build was the communication between our builder, architect, trades and suppliers. Become familiar with the build process, time frames and your plans!

4. Settling HAPPENS!

Southern Alberta is known for its clay soil. On top of this, concrete takes time to cure - meaning settling can (and will) occur within the 10 years post-construction. There will be cracks and separation and you will be calling your builder back for minor repairs. Unless there is a big concern (and you'll know what those are), don't sweat the small stuff.

5. You'll change your mind - a lot.

My Realtor (who you know is Manson) affectionately said to me once that I was his worst client ever. Why you may ask? I had a very clear image in my head of what I wanted (or thought I wanted) and when that wasn't matching up, I made changes. In my defense, when I considered a change I'd spend time mulling it over, evaluating cost and timing and getting advice from professionals.

Bless Dino's heart. There were several changes we made where I'm sure he questioned what on earth I was thinking, however as my builder he genuinely made me believe anything was possible. Changing your mind is okay, just ensure you are being mindful of how it impacts your budget and construction process.

6. You'll wish you did things differently.

There are many things that once you move into a home you'll learn you wished you had done differently. This can also occur while during the construction process. Whether its colour choices, layout or finishes, it happens. Do your best to make decisions slowly and with as much information as possible (ie: put ALL your samples together before you start picking colours for continuity!!)

A good way to manage this is to do your best to have realistic expectations. You can't expect caviar on a KD budget.

Just do not play the "what if" game in your head. With infinite options it is easy to spiral down into the what-if rabbit hole. Don't do that. Trust me.

7. Lean on your builder.

Again, bless Dino's heart. I asked him everything under the sun and he was patient beyond measure. Anything I didn't understand or was concerned about were met with explanations I could understand, solutions I wouldn't have thought of and advice that I needed. Don't be afraid to "bother" your builder - they are there to answer questions, problem solve and ensure you are getting what you want. Your builder, realtor, trades, architect - they all work for you. Ensure they are fully attentive to you.

As REALTORs, our perspective is that this process is just as exciting for us as it is for you. We get to play a small role in watching your dream and hard work come to fruition in a very tangible way and we are extraordinarily privileged to navigate you through it.

8. Get quotes for e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

This should go without saying however to cover all the bases, GET QUOTES and research products! Understand the differences between vinyl flooring and laminate flooring, quote out everything and anything (this includes your upgrades!). I took a very hands-on approach to our build and it mattered to me to have involvement in what trades contributed to our home as well as the products used inside of it. I was eager to support small, local businesses. I was very interested in learning about paint finishes, insulation, smart home technology, you name it. My google search history is wild, ya'll.

The more quotes I received, the better grasp I had on the budget and where I was able to afford upgrades, especially as we rolled closer to completion.

9. Take pictures!

Everything is virtual now. Texts and emails tend to take precedence and it turned out to be hugely advantageous that I took pictures of essentially every small detail in the home. If we caught a mistake, wanted to make a change or needed to reference something we had record of it. Being able to share them with off-site trades or suppliers ensured clarity and that things were done correctly.

10. Stay involved and do your research.

This one has several layers to it. Prior to acquiring the land in the community where we built I did extensive research on the bylaws and architectural controls for that particular area. Even though I did this, we still experienced a multitude of delays with the City of Lethbridge and being approved for permits. Some of this is trial and error, however it's important to understand you are bound by these regulations. If you're looking to build an ultra-modern home, ensure you are allowed to build that style in your chosen neighbourhood first.

Architectural Controls: local ordinances regulating the construction and design of buildings. These laws deal with specific architectural features and sometimes encourage a certain architectural style. In Riverstone the architectural control that we circled around was "arts and crafts" and "craftsman" style. This is open to your interpretation, however you have to present enough elements within that style to be approved by an independent third party firm. To take it one step further, they also police the exterior colours, architectural style (bungalow, bi-level, 2 storey, etc), square footage and landscaping requirements.

Set backs and right of ways: bylaws designate precisely where your home (and any additional buildings) sit on your land. Be aware that these mean that you cannot construct a building on those areas and also receive a permit for them.

A right of way is a registered easement on private land that allows the City and various companies (i.e. utilities) the right to access that portion of the land (and the services that lay in them). Meaning - you cannot build a permanent structure on that portion.

Real estate transaction research and additional budgeting: always consider your additional expenses outside of the actual construction costs - legal fees, home inspections, taxes, buffers for upgrades, after-thoughts and most of all, you still need to move in! Things like window coverings, furniture and fencing/landscaping can cost a pretty penny.

There you have it! I would happily build with 5P's Construction again and knowing what I know now I may be a less stressful client for them.

As a REALTOR I wanted to include a short debrief here of such questions and items that I asked myself and had many people ask me. What's important to remember is that amongst your feelings and wants it's imperative to be realistic. I talk a lot about spending more for upgrades and going over budget but I also want to ensure this is being met with significant cost savings in other areas. If you are building a rental property or hoping for a quick turn-around, don't spend the extra money. If you want to grow old in your home, do it. Situations differ and if your builder has a clear understanding of your ultimate goal for your home you're more likely to end up being satisfied with the results.

A REALTORs input:

Answer these questions while you are designing your dream custom home:

- How long will be living there

- What are your needs vs wants

- How will your needs change during that time

Ensure the practicality is there amongst satisfying your Pinterest exuberance.

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