When the Hubs and I moved to our current town back in 2002, we were *thrilled* that we could afford a house. We knew it would be a starter home – it didn’t have to be perfect, but it would be ours. We looked at a lot of homes – one of which we totally fell in love with. The bank said we could afford it, but we were a tad nervous because we didn’t want to be “house poor.” House poor was a term I heard a lot growing up – simply put it means that you have an awesome house, but because you spent so much on it, you couldn’t afford to do anything else. I didn’t want that- I wanted to travel and be able to save for our future family, not pinch every penny on a house too big for two people. So, we passed on the house we loved and moved into an apartment while we kept looking.
We saw what is now our home a few months after moving to our town. It is my *least* favorite style of home – the very common split-entry home that you find everywhere around here. But it was on a gorgeous 2 acres of land, in a great elementary school district, with enough privacy to make the Hubs happy. So we put in an offer, got into a bidding war, wrote a heart-rending letter and finally got the house. Even if it wasn’t my favorite, it was our home and we’d only be in it 5-7 years so I could deal with the style.
Shocking no one, fast-forward 15 years, 2 kids, 4 cats and 1 dog later and we were still in our starter home and the house was feeling more than a little cramped. 3 bedrooms (2 of which were oddly shaped and quite small) and 1 postage-stamp sized full bath with a tween, a teen, the Hubs, and me was starting to grate especially as we approached the the kid’s middle/high school years and all 4 of us needing to be ready to leave the house at the same time every morning.
After a bunch of false starts and the help of a VERY patient architect (thank you, Dave!) we finally found a builder to work with. We had gone through a bunch of drawings with a previous builder, trying to narrow down what we wanted to do and while we hadn’t nailed it down exactly, we had a rough idea of what we wanted:
- an extra full bathroom
- laundry inside the house (it was in the garage and the pipes froze every damn year)
- bigger living space in our family room
- bigger bedrooms for the kids
We had also worked with the bank and knew exactly how much they would loan us to ensure that 1) we could afford the monthly payment (see: my aversion to being house poor) and 2) we didn’t out-price our neighborhood and get stuck with a house we’d lose money on when we eventually moved. So when I called the builder we ended up working with (at 7 pm on a Friday night, in tears, while diving in a blizzard – all no joke), I could tell him very concretely what our budget was. (Hi Ian- aren’t you so glad you called me back that night?!)
The pandemic hit roughly a month later – so this project didn’t start exactly on time, it didn’t go exactly as planned and there is still exterior work to do in the Spring – but the interior of our 900+ sq foot addition is DONE! And for that, I couldn’t be more thankful. Especially since we had to isolate in different corners of the house when we caught Covid.
Living through a major home renovation that affects every room in our house during a global pandemic – which meant that 3 out of the 4 of us were home during most of this, the supply chains were screwed and materials could quickly disappear – was something I hope to never, ever do again, but I’m so freaking pleased at how things turned out.
I am not anyone who has interest in interior design, color palettes, home plans or anything of the like. Hell, my living room / dining room hadn’t changed once in 18 years until this past December. This whole process scared the SHIT out of me, but if I survived, so will you. Here is what I learned*:
- If you have a set budget, awesome! It made making decisions so much easier for both the builder and us. It allowed us to take what we hoped were our final designs and whittle them down to something that fit what we could afford. It took A LOT of wiggle room out which was annoying, but also really helpful when it came to making decisions.
- That said, plan on spending more than you anticipated. We ended up going over budget by roughly 12% as we realized we didn’t take certain things into account. For example, we didn’t plan on redoing our front deck- but we quickly realized that 1) the house would look like garbage with the old porch and 2) it was a hell of a lot cheaper to replace the porch during construction than trying to do it after the fact. Same for our back patio – trying to do it after the fact would have cost us thousands more after the fact.
- Don’t skimp on the important things, like your fixtures or your heating system. Tankless water heaters and a new HVAC system aren’t sexy, but we love them both!
- Think looooong term. We put in a new entertainment systems in our family room and made sure it was wired – while the walls were stripped down to the studs – for any future enhancements.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask friends, ask people who’s house you love, ask your internet friends what they love about their house, what they are glad they have, what features they love / hate and learn from them.
- Shop local. It’s not the folks at the big-box store that are going to pour over paints with you, it’s the owner of the mom & pop store. Lowes isn’t going to sweat over botched deliveries with you, but the owner of the local flooring store will move heaven and earth to ensure you’re happy, on budget and on time.
- Find a contractor / construction crew you trust. You’ll be making adjustments on the fly, dealing with delays and having to pivot and if you don’t trust the team you’re working with, it’ll be 1000% more frustrating. I cannot say enough thank you’s to Ian, Jeremy, Annie, Jason, Jefferson, Adam, Eric, Mike and countless others that were in and out of house over the past 6 months.
- Be nice to the people coming in and out of your house daily. Since August we’ve had various crews at our house just about every day – since October, there have been anywhere from 3 to 11 people inside the house as I’ve been working, the kids have been doing school and the cats have been underfoot. You don’t have to be BFFs, but life is a lot more fun for everyone if you can at least be friendly. I treated the crew here to lunch a few times, got them Christmas gifts and learned about their families. They are here 8+ hours a day and liking each and every one of them made this entire process so much more bearable.
- Speak up if you don’t like something. I trust this team immensely, but sometimes shit happens. It’s a 1000 times easier to deal with things as they crop up than waiting until it’s too late.
- Don’t rush, but know ordering items is going to take forever. I ordered new furniture the first week of September and it was delivered at the end of December. That was the shortest delivery time I could find – some stores were 6+ months out on special orders. Now that the furniture is here, I’m taking my time picking out the accent pieces. Does my house look a little blah now? Yes. But I want to get it right since it may be another 18 years before I do this again. 😉
- Realize that the only way out is through. Once construction starts, you can change details and colors, but the only way to the house you want is to deal with the ups and downs. Is it annoying? Yes. Did we have a few times where both the Hubs and I lost our shit? Yes. Did it make a damn bit of difference? Emotionally, yes – but at the end of the day no matter how much I hated all the dust in my house, there was no turning around. So I took up stock in dust wipes, sucked it up and got through it.
I truly cannot say enough wonderful things about our construction crew and the vendors we worked with! They were all kind to me, my kids and my cats so they are solid gold in my mind. I cannot overstate how much liking and trusting the people we worked with made all the difference.
Hit me up with any questions you have on the building process- I’m happy to share what I’ve learned.