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Top 10 helpful tips for building a house

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Avoid stress when building your dream home. Here are our top 10 tips to guide you through the new home construction process.

Building your home from the ground up can be an incredibly rewarding experience. It gives you the opportunity to tailor your home to suit your tastes and needs both now and in the future. But as anyone who’s watched any homebuilding show can tell you, it can also be a tremendously stressful and time consuming process.

Building a home doesn’t have to be a grueling process, though. Going into the process with your eyes open and a firm plan can save you heartache along the way. Here are our top 10 tips for a pain-free home construction process.

1. Get your plan in place

Planning is the most important part of the construction process. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Winchester Mystery House? This San Francisco area mansion was built over a period of 38 years by an eccentric widow who thought if she stopped construction on the house, she’d fall prey to vengeful spirits. The house is a labyrinth of stairs that dead-end into ceilings, hallways that grow narrower and narrower until they disappear, doors that open onto two-story drops. This is what happens when you build without a plan. It’s fascinating, but not a very welcoming abode.

Make sure you meticulously plan the details of your house. What direction will it face on the lot? What will the layout and flow of the rooms be? What kind of lighting will you use, and how many power points will you install? (tip: you always need more than you think).

There are a number of useful tools for planning out the design of your home. Sites like Floorplanner and RoomSketcher let you create mock floorplans. When in doubt, good old graph paper will work as well.

You’ll also want to start keeping track of design ideas that inspire you, and that you’d like to emulate. Think about starting a Pinterest board for each room of your house to file away examples of your favorite designs. As well as helping you plan, they’ll be a great point of reference to show your builders before construction is underway.

Tips for building a house - plan

2. Budget more than you expect

No matter how much you think the building process is likely to cost, it’s likely going to cost more. There could be any number of items that aren’t included in the estimate your builder gives you. For instance, your builder is unlikely to include costs such as electrical and gas meters, internet & cable hookups or window coverings. Items such as landscaping and outdoor concrete, fences and gates, decking and letterboxes might also not be included in the estimate. These are known as finishing costs, and could run anywhere from 15-25% of your budget. You’ll also need to take into account site costs and zoning fees, which are the costs associated with preparing your site for construction, and you may also have to pay for planning application fees.

In addition to add-ons you might not have considered, you need to budget for unforeseen circumstances. For instance, you might want the luxury of changing your mind should any of the fittings or materials not match your expectations. You can use the table below to work out a rough budget.

Item Cost
Land price $_
Taxes $_
Loan settlement costs $_
Site cost $_
Planning fees $_
Finishing costs (15-25% of budget) $_
Build cost $_
Total $_

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Rates last updated October 15th, 2018

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3. Pick the right builder

This might be one of the most important decisions you make in the home building process. Whichever builder you choose, you’re going to be working with them for many, many months. It’s important to get the choice right at the outset to head off problems down the road.

There are several factors you should consider when choosing a builder:

Credentials

Make sure your builder is adequately licensed and insured. You’ll also want to make sure the builder is a member of the National Association of Home Builders.

References

Check into the builder’s past work. Were previous customers satisfied? Don’t be afraid to ask the builder for references before you sign a contract. Also, check online to ensure there are no complaints against the builder you choose. Also, check up on the warranty and service they offer.

Past work

Have a close look at some of the houses the builder has constructed in the past. Make sure the level of quality is high. Also, look into resale data on some of the houses the builder has previously constructed.

Style

When looking into the builder’s past work, check that it suits your design style. A builder might be very accomplished at constructing a particular style of home, but if what you want is outside their area of expertise, it might be wise to look elsewhere.

Personality

As mentioned above, you’ll be working with your builder for a number of months. Make sure you’re comfortable with them. Also, make sure they communicate well. If a builder doesn’t communicate well with you, it’s likely they don’t communicate well with their contractors either.

Price

All of this is a moot point if a builder is outside your budget.

4. Understand your agreement

Carefully read through the contract with your builder to make sure you understand its contents. Make sure you’re not taken by surprise by what the construction costs cover and what they don’t cover.

Make sure it includes a cooling off period, and that it specifies a timeframe for construction that suits your needs. Check to see that it includes detailed plans, warranty and insurance information. Also pay close attention to the payment schedule.

Finally, it’s wise to have a lawyer look over the contract before you sign. Cross out any blank spaces, and make sure any variations to the contract are well documented and mutually agreed upon.

5. Know what you’re entitled to

If you’re building your first home or an environmentally-friendly structure, you may be entitled to grants, depending on where you live. This could substantially offset the cost of your home, so you should speak with your mortgage lender or local council to explore any possible credits and rebates

6. Get your financing in order

Chances are you’ll need a construction home loan to finance the process when you’re building a property. A construction home loan is structured differently than a regular home loan in that the lender won’t release all the funds at once. Instead, the lender will decide how much you need for the project, and will then release the funds in periodic payments to your builder. These periodic payments are known as draws. They’ll be paid out at the completion of each individual stage of your construction.

Another way construction loans can differ is in the size of deposit lenders require. Because construction loans can be seen as inherently riskier, lenders might require at least a 20% deposit.

Before you seek out financing, make sure you have a detailed plan in place. Since construction home loans rely on an estimate of the assumed value of the completed house, your lender will want to have detailed construction plans that are fully costed.

Learn about home improvement loans

7. Communicate constantly

Throughout the process, communicate with your builder and tradesmen often. Get regular updates on the progress of construction, and check in yourself. It’s a good idea to take pictures of the progress on a regular basis so you can document any problem areas.

Don’t be afraid to stick to your guns. If your builder, contractor or tradesmen tell you something can’t be done, push back if you’ve done your research. It might cost you extra, but odds are with the right amount of effort you can accomplish your vision. It’s worth putting up a fight for details that are important to you. After all, you’re the one who has to live in the completed home.

With good communication, though, you should be able to avoid arguments during the building process. If you’ve clearly laid out what you want and the details that you see as non-negotiable, construction will run much smoother.

Top tips for building a house - communicate constantly

8. Look for ways to save

Building a home is going to be an expensive process, and as we mentioned above, it’s likely you’ll end up paying more than you anticipated. That being said, there are ways you can save money. Shop around for the best prices on fittings, fixtures, and materials your builder will use. Get multiple quotes for any item needed during the construction process.

You can also save money at the start of the process by choosing a site that takes less preparation. Hauling off dirt, removing rocks or clearing brush can end up being costly. Picking a lot that needs little preparation before construction commences can minimize these costs.

Owner builders

If you’re really looking for savings, you could consider taking on the role of owner builder. This means you would manage the logistics of the home building process. This doesn’t necessarily require expertise in home building, but it will require a lot of your time and some serious project management skills. If you think you might be up to the challenge, check out our guide on how to save money by being your own general contractor.

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9. Get an independent inspector

Each stage of your construction should be inspected by an independent consultant. This will help you rest easy knowing that all the building materials and practices used in constructing your home meet all the necessary codes and regulations. You’ll want inspections at the following stages:

10. Know your rights if something goes wrong

Tips for building a house - know your rights if something goes wrong

If you’ve planned your renovation well, budgeted correctly and signed on with the right builder and lender, you’ve laid the groundwork for a smooth operation. However, if the worst should happen, there are a number of channels you can go through for complaints against builders.

If your builder is a member of the NAHB, you may be able to file a complaint against them in the event that their work does not live up to expectations. Each state generally has its own process for handling building complaints, but here are a few resources to get you started:

Adam Smith

Adam is the home loans editor at finder.com.au. He's been writing about the home loan market for 7 years, and still learns new things every day.

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