Filed in Custom Home, Home Tour — September 2, 2022

What I Wish I Knew Before Building a House

Building a house can be both rewarding and stressful.  You get to custom tailor every detail towards your unique family, lifestyle, and tastes, but that requires a considerable amount of time, energy, and of course, money.  My husband and I undertook this rewarding, yet stressful, challenge a few years ago.  Our main goals in building were to create a separate workspace for my antiques business, have more space for entertaining, and install a pool in the backyard.  We moved into our house at the end of 2018.  Our builder continued to work on it throughout 2019, and we hope to finish it out this year.  It has been quite the journey and turned into a multi-year endeavor, with the pandemic slowing our progress on building setbacks.  With those items almost finalized, I am looking forward to finishing out the decorating and installing the pool, and I’m excited to pass along what I wish I knew before building a house in hopes that it can help you in your building journey.


What I Wish I Knew Before Building a House


When Should You Build a House?

There are many factors that play into choosing when to build a house—finances, construction trends, and life events are the most notable.


There are Many Ways to Finance a New Build

A house will be most people’s largest financial investment in their lives.  When it comes to paying for the build, how will you do it?  Will you be funding the entire project?  Will you be paying as you go and breaking the build into smaller projects?  If so, what are the costs for the foundation, framing, and rough-in?  Will the builder finance the project?  What initial deposit does your builder expect?  Will he request periodic payments?  Will you be financing the project with a bank loan?  If so, what are interest rates at the moment?  Can one bank give you a better rate than another?  How much of a down payment do you need?  Will you get a 15-year loan or 30-year loan?  How does that length adjust your monthly mortgage payment?  Does the bank conduct reviews of the build as part of their loan package?  What does that entail?  Is it smart to take out a loan now?  These are all questions to ask when it comes to the financial side of building.


Evaluate Construction Trends Before Building

Current construction trends can determine when you should build a house too.  Luckily, majority of our house was finished before the pandemic, so the cost of construction materials had not spiked like they did during and after the pandemic.  However, Nashville was still an “It City” and booming at the time of our build with no fewer than ten cranes in the skyline on any given day, and that did affect us. We had to wait for the “good trim guy” because he was busy on other projects. We only had one marble slab option that worked because other slabs that size were on hold or sold for other projects around the city.  Yes, I called every marble supplier in the greater Nashville area, drove to most, and had plans to drive to Memphis when a designer friend informed me of a new supplier in town.  My advice would be to research and ask around to figure out how the trends in your area’s construction industry could affect your house build.


Slabs of grey marble at stoneyard


Put Major Life Events on Hold During a Build

The biggest piece of advice I could give when it comes to deciding when to build a house is to pick a time when this house will be the only major thing that is going on in your life at the time.  I would not recommend getting married and building.  I would not recommend starting a new job and building.  (That combination is one you would want to talk to your banker about too if it happens as that could affect your loan.)  I would not recommend [insert major life event here] and building.  For me, I had plans to start my website during this time.  I learned quickly that more of my time was needed during this process than I realized, and I had to drop the idea of the website until after we were finished building and settled into the house.  Now, I have friends who have built and had another major life event at the same time.  Life is unpredictable, and this might happen.  If you can avoid two stressors during this time, I would suggest it.


Put major life events on hold while building a custom home


How Stressful is Building a House?

Speaking of stress, you might ask yourself, “Exactly how stressful is building a custom house?”  The answer depends on multiple factors as to the degree, but building a house has, by far, been the most stressful event of my life.  In hindsight, there are some different choices we could have made to lessen the degree of stress, but some aspects of house building cannot be changed—the amount of money it takes, the number of decisions you have to make, the delays that will occur, and the mistakes that inevitability will be made.


View from marble kitchen island and kitchen sink into empty custom built home


A lot of Money Invested Equals a lot of Stress

Your home is typically your largest financial investment.  Any time you are putting this much money towards something, you want it to go well.  If there are hiccups in the process, the money factor will come to mind.  That is natural.  You might start to ask yourself—Did you make the right decision to build, to build now, to build on this lot, or to build with this builder?


Decision Fatigue Can Occur When Building

Another source of stress that I was not expecting during our house building was decision fatigue.  I got tired of making decisions.  Now, I have strong opinions when it comes to décor, and I know what I like and what I do not like.  I do not have trouble making decisions normally, but when decision making becomes your constant state for months, it can be taxing.  Plus, the fact is there were decisions I was not expecting to have to make.  Which toilet do you want? (Ummm, one that is white and flushes.)  Which vent for your stove hood?  (Isn’t there a measurement for figuring this out? Oh, two options work!  Which is the best value then?)


Selection of kitchen sinks to be installed in custom home


You Will Have Delays in Building Your House

Delays can add to your stress level.  When you are working with multiple people (i.e., architect, builder, city government, trades) to complete one project, there could be delays trying to get everyone on the same schedule.  A government meeting might run long, and the approval for your building plans might get delayed until next month’s meeting.  A roofer might have a job he has to finish before he can start yours.  A rainstorm or snowstorm could occur and stop several trades from being about to work on your project.  The color of tile you wanted might be on backorder and cause a two-week delay if you decide to stick to that color.  Delays will happen, and the best way to prepare for them in my opinion is to know and accept that this will happen.  It is the nature of building a house.


Mistakes Will be Made in Home Building

Inevitably, humans make mistakes, and in the case of home building, you have multiple humans with multiple opportunities to make mistakes.  The good news is most of these mistakes can and do get fixed!  On our first home purchase, the bank wired our money to the wrong account!   That mistake was very stressful, but it got fixed (someone did get fired for that one, though).  Our marble slab was damaged during transport and made it unusable.  The company discounted our other slabs, and we found a supplier who could get us a replacement for the damaged one.  The tile was laid incorrectly in our guest bathroom, but the company redid the tile per our agreement.  My advice here is to expect the unexpected, try your best to accept that mistakes will happen, and keep moving forward.  Mindset is key throughout this process.


Beautiful white and grey marble slab

What to do First if you Want to Build a House?

You are prepared to answer the “When?” and “How?” of home building, but what about the “What?” What do you do first?  Some people will tell you to secure the money.  Some will say to find the lot.  The thing that I did first, and I would do it first again, is develop a dream home plan.  I created Pinterest boards of home exteriors, home interiors, and floor plans.  I went inside model homes in neighborhoods to get floor plan ideas.  When we met with builders, I presented them with a “Dream Home” document, including photos, measurements, and finishings.  In my mind, I thought this was the logical order to do things.  How do we know how much money we need and what size lot we need if we don’t know what we want our house to look like?  I would take this step first again.


How Long Does it Take to Build a House?

The question that I asked the most in those meetings was “How long does it take?”  From securing the lot to moving in, there were 20 months that passed.  We did our architectural planning and material selections during the first half, and it took seven months to actually build the house.  Those numbers might be normal, but I know our entire house building timeline is an exception to the standard answer.  We had sold our former house and were told the timing would work for moving out and directly into the new house.  We were only a week away from being able to move into the new build when our realtor came to check out the final product, and told us we were not informed correctly by our builder, so we checked into an extended stay hotel for a week with our moving trucks loaded down in a secured parking lot.  Unbeknownst to us at the time, another week was still not long enough, and we would move into an unfinished house in 2018.  The builder worked on the punch list for the entire next year, and we were left to finish items after that time frame.  The pandemic hit, and we had trouble getting trades to feel safe coming into the house to work.  It is still hard for me to believe, but we just finished the last punch list item in 2022!  This experience leads me into my next thought on house building.


Custom kitchen with white cabinets and marble countertops in custom home


What is the Most Important Part of Building a House?

Our opinion on the most important aspect of building a house changed from the beginning to the end of the process.  I hope you can benefit from our experience on this one.


Choosing the Right Lot is Important in Building Your Dream Home

We put more emphasis on finding the correct lot.  My husband and I are opposites in many ways, with him wanting to live in the middle of nowhere, whereas I want to live in the middle of it all.  Finding a location that worked for both of us was challenging, and it became our main focus.  We found two locations that we both liked, and in both cases, a builder owned the lot.  Once we decided on our location, we asked about purchasing just the lot.  (I had a builder in mind that I wanted to use.  His wife was the designer on his jobs, and she was a customer of mine at the antique malls, so it felt like the right direction to go.) However, the builder who owned the lot asked for a premium to let the lot go without the promise of a building project.  The markup on the land was 40%, and we loved the location so much that we chose to stick with the builder who owned the lot and not spend the extra money.


Choosing the Right Builder is Important in Building Your Dream Home

In hindsight, we should have bought the lot outright and went with our architect and builder of choice.  We had hoped to save money by not paying the premium on the lot, but in the end, there was more stress to be had, more time lost, and more money spent by making that decision.  The lot and the builder are equally important.  My advice is to not compromise on either!  If you end up in the same situation as us, I would properly vet the builder and weigh your options.  Ask how long he has been building.  Ask him about his education and training.  Ask him how long he has lived in the area—this is important when it comes to knowing quality tradesmen.  Ask for a list of trades he works with and how long he has worked with them.  Ask if he has a designer on staff to help with the selections.  Ask for names of interior designers he has worked with on projects.  Ask those designers about the quality of his work.  Ask to see multiple examples of homes he has built.  Ask to speak to those home owners.  Ask him how many homes he will be building at the same time as he is building yours—the fewer, the better.  Ask him how often he, not his project manager, will be on the job site.  Ask him what he means by “custom home.”  Ask if there are decisions you will not get to make.  Ask him how he handles a request he has never received previously.  I would even go so far as to ask him to explain a time something went bad on a build and how he rectified the situation.


Formal living room in custom home build with fireplace and built in shelving


What do you Pay Attention to When Building a House?

In addition to selecting the right lot and builder, I would recommend paying attention to the contract and the job site.


Read Your Building Contract Carefully

If you are like most people, your architect went back to the drawing board to make your custom home just right for you, or maybe your builder recommended you swap materials to cut costs at some point in developing the plans.  It is important to read through the final contract to make sure the correct version will be built.  We were trying to meet a deadline for the city to approve our build, so we were rushed getting all of the paperwork submitted.  Our builder brought a contract for us to sign that focused on an old version of our plans and left off a big feature of our project.  Luckily, we caught it! Even in a rush like that, make sure you read every part of the contract and review the final plans before submission.


Visit the Building Site Often

Secondly, I would suggest you go to the building site often.  Now, be sure you are aware of what trades are there for safety reasons.  When you go, check to make sure things are being done the way you asked for them to be done.  If you catch a mistake the day of, it will be less likely to cause delays.  Now, your builder and the project manager or designer should be checking in on the job site periodically as well, but it is wise to have multiple eyes on such a huge investment.  Some people recommend daily check-ins and that might be too time consuming for you.  At the very least, I would recommend going once a week to check on progress.


Where do you Splurge When Building a House?

What do you pay attention to in terms of materials?  Where do you splurge?  A realtor in your specific area can probably answer this question better than I can, though most will tell you to splurge in the kitchen.  We did.  We went with an imported range, marble countertops, and paneled top-of-the-line appliances.  Also, we chose to splurge on the flooring.  We ran hardwood throughout our entire home.  Yes, there is no carpet in our house anywhere, just hardwoods and tiles.  This decision was based on allergies, our past experience with shampooing carpets, the fact that we have a senior dog; however, the investment added value to our home too.


Marble baseboard and bathroom tile samples


What are the Dos and Don’ts of Building a House?

Obviously, this is a topic I could spend a lot of time discussing, and I hope you are finding something that will help you on your home building journey.  Here are some quick dos and don’ts based on my experience:

Dos of Building a House

  • DO prioritize self-care during your house build.
  • DO think long term when designing your home.
  • DO consider hiring an interior designer.
  • DO expect delays.

Don’ts of Building a House

  • DON’T move in with a builder punch list.
  • DON’T compromise on quality.
  • DON’T let push-back on a design idea stop you from implementing it.
  • DON’T close on a Friday afternoon.
  • DON’T forget to breathe and enjoy this journey! You get to build a home custom-made for you! How exciting!!


Related Posts, Pages, and Sources



Enjoy the Custom Home Building Journey

Building a custom home is a rewarding, yet stressful, endeavor.  There are many factors to consider when tackling this type of project.  In terms of when is the right time to build, consider your finances, the trends in the construction industry, and your life stage.  Know that this process will be stressful because of the investment you have made, the decisions that must be made, and the delays and mistakes that are the nature of building.  Start with a plan for your dream home, and know that the time from breaking ground to moving in is not set in stone.  Remember that selecting a lot and finding a builder are equally important to your project’s success.  Be sure to read your contracts carefully and do periodic check-ins at the job site.  Have fun with your selections and consider splurging in the kitchen.  Do prioritize your self-care during this process, and don’t forget to enjoy this journey and the home that was built just for you.


Are you building or considering building a house?  What questions do you have about the process?


What I Wish I Knew Before Building a House


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