The 9 Biggest Lessons I Learned When Building My First Home

I wish that they had a “First Time Home Builder’s 101” class that I could have taken before I built my first home. If there had been someone to coach me through that process, that could have saved me a lot of money and frustration. From choosing the right floor plan, to saving wasted time on looking at properties I knew weren’t right for me, to saving myself thousands of dollars, it would have been nice to have a “home building genie” there to help me avoid costly and disheartening mistakes.

So, to help you avoid some of the heartache and confusion that I met, here are the 9 biggest lessons I learned when building my first home:

1.It really is all about location, location, location

When I was searching for a location to build my first home, I spent a LOT of useless time looking at developments that I knew weren’t for me. My real estate agent showed me areas that were “growing” or “great investments” etc etc. And I let her show me them even though I knew they weren’t what I was looking for. I knew the general location that I wanted to live in; I just needed to find the right specifics that fit into that location.

You might not already know what location you want to live in. But still make sure that you fall in love with the location that you will be building before you proceed. Make sure to check out the surrounding area, school district, etc. Make sure it is an acceptable distance from your work. Make sure you like the neighborhood. It doesn’t matter if you are in love with the color siding you choose; if you dread your commute to work or the local school district is mediocre, you won’t be happy with where you’ve chosen to live.

2.After the location, the floor plan is second most important

It doesn’t matter if your parents tell you that with small children you should only buy a rambler. If you love two-story homes, then go with that. It also doesn’t matter if your friends tell you that so-and-so builder is the best. If you hate all of their floor plans, you won’t love your home, no matter how nice the crown molding is. Find a builder that offers a floor plan that you know you can live with. Choose a floor plan that you love, and that will work best for you and your family’s needs. It’s okay if your specific builder won’t let you have that fun teal door that you’ve wanted. You need to be able to live in a home that flows and functions well for your life.

3.A good architect is worth their weight in gold

Many people’s first homes are more of your cookie cutter models. With every part of the home, you are to choose from option A, B, C, or D. That works perfectly for most first time homebuyers. For me, I knew exactly what I was looking for, and I didn’t want my builder to limit me on what type of tile I could choose for my bathroom. So I chose to go with a custom home. And when I did that, my architect was my best friend.

Let me rephrase my previous statement. I THOUGHT I knew exactly what I wanted. I knew how many bedrooms I wanted, and the size of kitchen that I wanted, the type of granite I wanted to use, and where I wanted my garage entry to be. But I didn’t know how to make all of that convert into a usable home blueprint. As I didn’t know the idea number of outlets each room should have, which way my doors should open, the ideal width for hallways and rooms, the best way to incorporate adequate storage into my home, and the best places to place lighting throughout my home. But, I found a dream architect, and he was able to design all of these things for me.

If your home is to be a custom home, spend as much effort as you need to find an architect who knows his stuff, who you mesh with, and who gets your vision. But even if you are building a non-custom home, make sure that your builder’s architect also has these qualities.

4.Reputation matters

Whether you are building a custom home or building in an existing development, it is important to understand that reputation matters. I had heard many horror stories of homes sinking, or the plumbing or electricity not being routed properly, or homes beginning to fall apart weeks after the homeowners moved in. Even worse, I had even heard of builders running away with peoples’ earnest money. So I made sure to do my research on any contractor/builder I was working with. And in the end, I believe that research and time ended up saving me thousands of dollars because I ended up with a quality product.

5.What I wanted and what I could afford were two very different 


Here we come to one of the hardest lessons for any first-time home builder to learn: what you want and what you can afford are sometimes two very, very different things. In your head, you may think you want granite countertops, hardwood flooring, a stone-lined walk in shower, and all of the possible upgrades. But when the balance sheet shows you how much all of those upgrades end up costing you, you start to second guess your “needs” vs your “wants.” I’m happy that I was willing to realize that I was building my first home, not my dream home. And I was also happy that I was willing to make the adjustments I needed to my “ideal” to be able to still afford food after the costs of my home were added up.

6.My budget was a lot more negotiable than I thought 

Although I wasn’t able to afford absolutely everything that I had originally imagined for my first home, I was surprised at how I was able to find wiggle room in my budget for the things that I really wasn’t willing to live without. For me, the thought of sitting in front of a built-in fireplace sipping hot cocoa on a Friday night was even more appealing than the thought of going out to a nice dinner. So I took out a couple of restaurant dinners out of my monthly budget to make room for these types of upgrades that I really couldn’t see myself living without.

7.It’s not just about “resale value”

Speaking of the things I really wanted, I also learned that it’s not always just about resale value. Just like I didn’t choose a location just because it was a “growing area,” I also didn’t chose to include/leave out elements of my home just because of how they would affect my home’s value when it came time to sell it. I was told that a jetted tub is a waste of an investment because the cost isn’t justified by the payoff in the end. But I wanted one, and I was willing and able to budget it in, so I put it in. I was also told that a four bedroom house has much higher resale value than a three bedroom. But I wanted a larger living room and master bedroom instead of the extra bedroom, so that’s what I went with. Although resale value is definitely something to consider when building a home, I’m glad I also considered the fact that I would be living in MY home for several years, so I better love it!

8.It pays to sweat

We had some good friends that were building a house across town while we were building ours. And it was amazing to see how much money they were able to save by putting in their own tile and painting their own rooms. Sweat equity can save home builders thousands of dollars, so keep that in mind when building your home. If there is anything that you have the skills (or the ability to learn) to do yourself, you can chop thousands of dollars off of your home building costs.

9.Add 30 days to every quoted deadline

Lastly, I learned a whole lot of patience when building my first home. My experienced friends and family would ask me, “when do they say they’ll be done framing your house?” I would tell them, and then they’d say, “okay, so when will they REALLY be done framing your house?” Anytime my contractor told me that a certain aspect of my home should be done, I learned to add (at least) 30 days to that time quote.

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