Sunday, February 26, 2017

Choosing a Home Builder

Now that we'd decided to seriously consider building a house.. We had to figure out how to make it happen.

The thought of picking out a house plan, hiring a general contractor, and making all of the little decisions regarding building a house was an exciting but daunting prospect. Graham's brother, James, has been involved with multiple home renovations and projects, and gave us some initial advice. From that, I was intimidated by the prospect of being my own general contractor or hiring one. I also found out that it'd be incredibly expensive to go with an all-custom builder. I then decided to investigate "on your lot builders". The idea of these businesses are for land owners to build homes with instant equity by decreasing the amount of overhead for similar suburban tract homes. Most of these builders provide semi-custom home plans with cost in mind. The builders provide the plans, the construction of the home, but allow the buyer to participate in the designing, planning, and building process.

The biggest ones in our area are Hiline Homes, Adair, Reality, Stanbrooke, Lexar, TrueBuilt, and Garrette Custom Homes. I found plans that I liked with most of the builders, but then I looked up reviews of the various builders.. which scared the crap out of me. Lots of bad reviews for many of these builders. Most of them require the buyer to do a lot of the work, like permits, site development, etc.. which seemed like too much work. I've also seen some disgusting bare bones homes from these types of builders, aka homes with brown trim, cheap vinyl floors, low ceilings, and horrible floor plans. I didn't want to build a house I'd be ashamed to show anyone. Many of these builders have been around for a long time, and there was a lot of info out there from previous customers, but two companies didn't have many negative reviews: Garrette Custom Homes and Lexar Homes.

Then, there was the pricing. By far, my favorite was Garrette Custom Homes. They have a great Craftsman style with lots of details, especially the exterior. We even toured some of their homes in person. We found 2 home plans we loved, but the cost of the homes themselves (with no site prep), usually started between $230-299K with no upgrades. The homes were still nice, but no, I don't want a tile kitchen countertop or vinyl floors in all bathrooms. Been there, done that. We toured their homes in person, and we loved them, but we couldn't or didn't want to afford them, having to pay so much for simple upgrades ($15-20K for tile showers, double oven, and tile/glass backsplash alone).

Then, I asked someone at work who was building her home. She said she didn't have a great experience with her office, but that her home turned out well overall. She was building with Lexar Homes through the Silverdale, WA, office. I had only heard of this builder from their mall storefront location. They are a "Build On Your Lot" builder that focuses on energy efficient homes. Because the home we'd be building is in a different county than my co-worker's, we wouldn't be going through the same office. From there on, I focused on Lexar Homes through the Tacoma, WA, office, as our likely builder. The Tacoma prices were better than nearly ANY of the other offices in Washington. Also, the Tacoma standard features were awesome, including laminate floors (for all of you hardwood snobs-- yes, I'm talking to you mom--wood isn't the best option for us in the Pacific Northwest because of all the moisture) in hallways, den, great room, kitchen, and dining room, granite countertops in kitchen and bathrooms, full tile backsplash in kitchen, tile backsplash in bathrooms, heat pump (including AC (!!)-- big deal for us), smart home technology package, fiber cement siding, etc. All of these things would've been expensive upgrades with any other builder!

So, we were trying to get info about land financing prior to putting in an offer on the land, when Graham had a good idea to call Lexar of Tacoma and ask them about their process and financing. We were able to speak to someone incredibly helpful despite the fact that we hadn't even committed to building with them or even  meeting with them yet. He gave us more info about a good lender they work with. It's a small credit union in the Puget Sound area that does lot of construction loans, specifically with Lexar Homes. They also give an interest break for "green homes". So, we applied for a lot loan with the bank, and set up a meeting with Lexar as part of our feasibility study. We had a list of wants/needs/maybes that we could address in our meeting and price them out. I also brought various floor plans that I liked of theirs, but it was all cost-dependent. I used HomeAdvisor's website to estimate everything, including adding a 3-car garage, an upstairs bonus room, metal roof, etc, so I could be prepared to be hit with the bad news that we couldn't afford anything we wanted. On the phone, we were warned that the home prices were going up as of December 2016, so that was another disappointment.

NEEDS:
--3 car garage or shop.
--3 bedrooms plus den/guest bedroom (preferably with master and guest on main floor).
--2+ full bathrooms.
--No brown trim or doors. No NO NONO ONO. (Can you tell I've been traumatized?)
--No laminate countertops in kitchen.
--No vinyl flooring in main areas (kids bathroom and laundry room ok).
--Separate vanity area for makeup in master bathroom (my makeup is literally on my kitchen counter right now).
--Double oven (I don't know if this is a need or a want, but with how much baking I like to do, it's more of a need).

WANTS:
--Quartz countertop.
--Wood burning stove (necessary in the sticks where power goes out frequently).
--Separate play room for kids.
--Stone surround behind wood burning stove.
--Full tile backsplash in master shower and behind master vanity.
--Pantry and large kitchen.
--Laundry room sink

MAYBES(??)
--Metal roof (I wanted this because of all the freaking moss on our roof now--moss doesn't grow as much on metal roofs--Graham wasn't into it).
--Separate room for exercise.

We waited impatiently for our appointment with Lexar of Tacoma. I had a binder of everything I'd been saving about floor plans, the site plan from the engineering company, etc. At the end of November, we met with the sales person/branch manager for almost 3 hours because we hit it off so well. We were pleasantly surprised to see how affordable it was to build with them, as he was able to price everything right away, including the proposed changes to the floor plan and additions to the house. I didn't get my metal roof (an additional $12K--would be nice, but not THAT nice), but the attached exercise room to the master bedroom fit in the plan.

The next best thing about our meeting was that if we signed our contract and put down a deposit before December 1st, we would lock down the lower initial price of the house.. which would save us $30K off the base home price plus interest! We didn't have to start building right away, so we said YES. Crazy! And, there went our savings along with the down payment on the land.. So now, we have to sell our house, which will then give us the down payment we need to get a construction loan to start building the house. This has all been happening so fast! I wasn't ever thinking I'd only buy a home to live in it for 2 years, but.. that's the way it's working out.

Anyways, I plan to keep up this blog during the process of obtaining financing for the construction loan and building the house because I cannot find hardly any info about people who've built with Lexar. I've found experiences with HiLine and Adair, but no Lexar blogs. So, I'll be the first independent reference for anyone out there in cyberspace. (Hello strangers on my blog!)

We are putting our house on the market next week, but I'll be updating this blog occasionally as we go through the next pre-construction phase.

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