Newsflash: we were NOT ready to build a home. Here's what I wish we knew (or did)..
Save Money1) Save more money. Don't just think you have just enough for the down payment and monthly loan payments. You need more money for unexpected items along the way. If you can, budget in more money in the contingency fund section for your construction loan. Don't ask how much to save--just keep saving until you think you have too much money.
Price Increases2) There will be price increases even if you're using a general contractor or a well-known on-your-lot builder. The price of lumber increased, there are tariffs on some foreign home building products that recently increased, and sometimes your builder may charge you a fee if your home isn't ready to build within a certain time frame (check your contract carefully prior to signing!).
Nothing is Cheap3) Everything is expensive and will add up. We decided to get some crawl space vent covers for our home, which were over $75 each! We paid someone to build our stairs, and while the lumber wasn't too expensive, labor is not cheap. A $3 bag of mulch sounds cheap, but it's NOT when you have to buy over 100 bags.
Landscaping4) Put money in your budget for landscaping. If you're lucky, maybe you don't have to do a thing to your dirt prior to moving in. But, if you're like us, you may have to do SOMETHING and cover all disturbed soils, so we HAD to hydroseed, we HAD to mulch, and we HAD to put bark on our sloped hill.
Make Compromises5) Cut costs where you can if your budget goes over. We had to get rid of our concrete driveway pad and walkways. We now just have gravel, pavers, and rocks, which isn't my ideal in our PNW wet winters. We bought cheaper floor tile for our laundry room and the kids' bathroom. We bought and installed our own utility sink. We went with chrome bathroom and kitchen fixtures because the upgrade cost was ridiculous for brushed nickel. If we want to upgrade faucets later on, we can replace them easily.
Be Realistic6) Be realistic about your abilities for DIY projects. We initially were going to get vinyl flooring in the laundry room, and put in tile ourselves later. Tile installation is not too tough right? But when we carefully considered our plans, that would mean we would have to rip out the flooring, remove our mudroom shelves along with the utility sink, and take out the washer and dryer. Was that realistic for us with 2 kids and 2 full-time jobs? No way. We found some cheap but nice-looking tile at Home Depot and nixed the vinyl.
DIY7) DIY when/if you can. We did our own dining room nook cabinets, tile backsplash, and butcher block countertop. Ask for help if you need it. My husband struggled with installing cabinets by himself and some ended up a tiny bit crooked. A neighbor helped us cut our countertop down to size. My father-in-law helped my husband install the pantry shelves. Watch YouTube videos if you're really unsure of yourself, but like I said.. be realistic about your skills.
Mistakes8) Errors will be made--by you, your builder, the tradesmen, the county, the draftsmen, etc. Everybody is human and you cannot expect perfection. However, the most important thing to know is to catch the mistakes early. Ask questions. Verify the dimensions, the angles, the plans. Don't be afraid to confront someone and demand mistakes to be corrected. It's much easier to get things fixed before it gets too far. Look closely at everything done in your house. We realized after we moved in that our tile guy installed our master bathroom's tile floor with two different grout colors.
Estimates9) Get things in writing, whether it's the work to be performed or the estimated price. Sometimes a contractor will increase the price after the job has been started. This happened to us, and our guy nearly doubled our tile installation cost after the first day in our master bathroom. (He said it was because we were using specialty limestone tile, but really--double the cost??) We also wanted a specialty subway tile design in our kitchen and master bathroom. We thought it would be cheaper to get subway tile and get a cool design rather than buying fancy geometric or mosaic tile... but it wasn't. Because we didn't know we would receive a significant upgrade cost for installation of a subway tile design prior to choosing it, we went over our tile budget.
Builder10) Research your builder. Contact others who have built with them (I've received at least 10 e-mails from people looking to build that have found my blog). Find other people on social media to see their experiences. Meet with them multiple times prior to signing a contract. Ask them questions about their timelines. Ask them about their standard features. Ask them about their subcontractors. See if they will provide resources from satisfied customers. We have neighbors that have built with other similar builders and ALL of them had major issues. My husband has a co-worker that was building a house with a solo General Contractor who could not get subcontractors to work for him because everyone has been so busy. This co-worker's house is still under construction... 2 years later.
Details11) Really get into the details of the build. Find out what is your builder's preferences for insulation, HVAC, plumbing, foundation type, cabinet materials, etc. Ask your builder before you do or buy anything. We knew nothing about a ductless heat pump HVAC system. And yet, I bought an Ecobee thermostat so I could make our home a smart home with heating/cooling and save on energy costs. Little did I know, our house doesn't even have a thermostat. Yes--that's right--no ordinary wall thermostat. The temperature is monitored by the heat pump and a remote, but no--you can't just see the house's temperature on the wall. We expected something totally different than what we got. Research your materials--are you buying something that requires specialty maintenance or installation (like limestone tile)? Make informed decisions.
Expectations12) Lastly, adjust your expectations, then re-adjust them again. Your house will take more time to build than they tell you. Take their timeline and add 2-3 more months. Your house will cost more money than they tell you. Take your budget and add $10-20K. There will be delays, mistakes, and this will be the most incredibly stress-filled time of your life. It's exciting, yes, but OMGoodness the stress was unbearable. My husband and I both agree that if we had to do it all over again, we would totally do it. It is awesome to have this amazing house exactly where want to live. However, we keep saying, if only we had known this or that.. so we both recommend building your own home as long you review this list and change your expectations of how your build will go.
And to answer all of your question, YES, we would build with Lexar of Tacoma again knowing all that we do now. We just wouldn't expect our semi-custom home to be done in eight months during a building boom in the Seattle/Tacoma, Washington area. To all of you potential home builders out there, good luck and best wishes for your future build!