A Personal New Construction Story: Part One - Picking the House
The home buying process as a whole is puzzling to most - we're never taught how to purchase a home in school, and there are too many sources online to possibly wade thought. But if the general purchase process is mysterious, then the prospect of building a new construction home is down right sphinxlike. Where do you start? What are the different steps?
My husband and I have been planning on upgrading to a more spacious and nicer home for the past couple of years, and we were waiting until the right moment to do so, which for us is this year. So this spring, as we were finishing up filing our taxes, we decided to start considering our options.
The plan wasn't always to build a home, but it was one route we could take. Since we weren't entirely ready to pull the trigger, we figured we'd walk through model homes and open houses to get a general sense of what we liked and what we didn't. We wanted a house we could spend the next 15 years or so in, so we planned to be picky. We walked through a couple dozen beautiful homes - the decorating in these models was impeccable, and one day we fell IN LOVE. So here's our new construction story, to demystify the process a little bit...feel free to follow along :)
SIDE NOTE: It's smart to NEVER go to a model home without your Realtor present, and bare minimum you should have your agent call ahead to the model home to register you as their client. Most builders will register each person that comes through a model and if your agent is not present then the builder will NOT pay your agent's commission, which means that if you want a buyer's agent to represent your best interests (which would be smart to protect yourself) then you're suddenly left with the bill of paying your own agent. Having an agent on your side is extremely important when it comes to understanding the lengthy purchase contract, negotiating repairs, and ensuring that everything is completed properly, and you can bet that the builder's agent is there to represent their boss - not you.
First, it's important to note that when building a house it can be done in one of two ways.
Option 1: You buy a plot of land, then you hire an architect, you get the permits, and you hire a custom home builder to do the work. It requires a lot of money up front, since you have to first buy the land, and then hire so many professionals to help in the process. You can also hire an architect first, and then find the appropriate land to build the house on.
Option 2: Builders will buy a big area of land to develop into a subdivision, and you choose one of their predetermined floor plans and a lot that they know it can be built on based on their permitting process with the city. You can often make design selections to personalize it, depending on where in the building process that lot is at. You don't purchase the land until you buy the finished house, and because the builder has done most of the planning before you come along, it's a much faster process, with less money needed up front.
We are doing Option 2.
Here we go...
Kyle and I had been making our way through different areas to see what city or neighborhood we liked most for a couple weeks already. Today we stopped in West Valley, West Jordan, Herriman, and Saratoga Springs, which is where we saw the best option we had seen yet - it just wasn't quite right, but the neighborhood was nice, especially the group of homes just across the way: bigger yards, more expensive houses, better views. The search continued...
With how much we loved what we had seen in Saratoga Springs already, we went out to consider more homes around Lehi and Saratoga Springs - I had my nephew, Riley, with me because we were having an "auntie-nephew sleep over" that night (big mistake, by the way - taking a 3 year old with you to look at houses is ROUGH), and we ran around to look at as many homes as we could. "Auntie, are you going to buy THAT big house?!" Super cute, but also super cranky and impatient, and insisted on taking his shoes off every single time we got in the car. I eventually gave up on shoes and just carried him to the door of each house.
A little after 6 pm we discovered it was just our luck, there was a new construction house that had recently been completed on the street we'd been ogling the week prior, you know - the bigger, better, more expensive street. And it was ready for a quick move in! The model home had barely closed for the evening, so we thought we were too late to see it, but we decided to drive by and peek in the windows.
Like magic, it had been left unlocked. We walked inside and fell in love! There were just a few things we would change if we could.
We went back during business hours to talk to the agent at the model home. Being the ridiculously detail oriented person I am - I had questions. A LOT of questions. There were a handful of lots available to build the floor plan we liked, and it turns out the changes we wanted to make were possible if we started from scratch; an extended kitchen and a third car garage in particular. So the decision was: do we buy the house we first saw that was available now, or do we wait 7-9 months to build the house we actually wanted?
As a tie breaker we tried to fit both my SUV and his truck in the standard 2 car garage. Result: they barely fit. So we needed a third car garage if we wanted space for a lawn mower, snow blower, our trailer, and Kyle's scooter. But we hadn't planned on this happening so soon! Ah!
We had the builder's agent price out the options we liked on a lot with a fantastic view of the entire mountain range in Utah County, as well as a full view of Utah Lake. It was more money than we had wanted to spend, but it was also a more perfect house than we had ever thought we would find. We left to chew it over, but were given a heads up that come Monday they were told there would be a price increase across the board from the builder.
There were still a few locations we hadn't thoroughly checked out, and because we weren't comfortable moving forward without being sure, we spent our Sunday seeing a dozen more houses in Layton, Syracuse and other northern areas. Two things became apparent - we very much preferred Saratoga Springs over the Layton area, and nothing else even compared to the house we fell in love with.
We truly adored that house, and it had SO many features that no other house had, just about everything we had wanted from the beginning. Not to mention, that view! So we decided to do it.
Admittedly, we were panicking just a little bit (as happens with most buyers when the time comes to write an offer - excitement, nervousness, second guessing, cold feet...the whole range of normal, but intense emotions that come with buying a house). My mom was going to come walk through the house that had already been built with us before we signed a contract to build on the lot we wanted, because while I am a fully functioning, independent adult, I still like to have my mommy approve of big decisions in my life. But due to a snow storm and a giant crash involving about 100 vehicles she was stuck in the middle of Wyoming for the foreseeable future until the road was cleared. Lucky for us, my delightful aunt Kirstie stepped in as my substitute parent and confirmed that the house was gorgeous, the location was perfect, and said all the right things to give us that extra boost of confidence I needed to take that big step. My broker even drove out there for an extra dose of moral support.
As part of the new construction process, you have to choose all your structural options as part of the initial contract, and it's usually extremely difficult, if not impossible, to change those options beyond that point.
- Do you want a two car or three car garage?
- Do you want to add an extra window - in the mud room? In the laundry room? In the master bedroom?
- Do you want to add a wash basin in the laundry?
- A fire place in the great room? Do you want a fire place blower with that?
- Should there be a built in bench in the mudroom?
- Would you like to upgrade to one of the three tiers of gourmet kitchens?
- Is the basement going to be finished or left unfinished?
- Which master bathroom layout do you like best?
- Do you want to add a hose bib in the garage?
And about 500 other questions having to do with the structure of the house...
It is A LOT to consider. And every upgrade option adds a few, or often times many dollar signs to the price. Builder contracts are not the standard purchase contract. They are long, and convoluted, and while a standard contract for an existing home is designed to largely protect the buyer, new construction contracts are almost purely designed to protect the builder (which is why you REALLY should use your own agent). We spent about 3 hours with the model home agent going through the contract, and we had already chosen the bulk of our options a couple days prior. Whew!
So, we left that day officially under contract to build a house on Wildflower Lot 309.
Next up: selling our current house!
Most builders allow for purchase contracts to be written contingent on the sale of another house, but they have certain rules about when that house has to be sold, in this case we had 60 days to have it solidly under contract. We were scheduled to leave on a week long cruise on March 13, so we had exactly 12 days to get our house ready to list so that we could go live on the MLS the second we got back from our trip. Since we weren't planning on this happening so quickly we had a long list of things to do before we were ready to sell. No pressure!
EDIT: I realized that I didn't share the floor plan of our house at first - so here it is! We won't have a covered patio, but will have a 10' x 15' deck. We will also have the coffered ceiling in the master bedroom, and the basement is being finished, complete with plumbing for a kitchenette/wet bar, and we'll have cold storage that extends out under the front porch (not pictured in the floor plan here).