Friday, October 19, 2018

Things I wish I would have known before building a semi-custom home

So, I did a lot of reading online before deciding to build a home. I looked at blogs, I read home website and magazines, but now that I'm done building... I don't feel like I was adequately informed, and I was naive enough to think we were ready.

Newsflash: we were NOT ready to build a home. Here's what I wish we knew (or did)..

Save Money

1) 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 Increases

2) 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 Cheap

3) 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.


4) 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 Compromises

5) 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 Realistic

6) 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.


7) 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.


8) 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.


9) 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.


10) 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.


11) 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.


12) 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!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

After Move-In Update

Well, it's been a month since our official move-in date, and I have to say.. I freaking love our house. It was worth all of the pain and stress we have been through. So, to all of you building out there.. it will be over, and it will be worth it.

Things I love most about the new house:

  • The location. Yeah, we could've bought a similar size house in a neighborhood for a bit more than we paid for the house... BUT we would be looking into our neighbors' houses every time we looked outside. Now, I see grass, trees, and the Puget Sound out the doors and windows. Plus, we have neighborhood friends with kids of similar ages! My kid can ride his bike down the dirt road to a friend's house. My kids can play outside without worry. We even had a small neighborly bonfire and s'mores last week.
  • The private master bedroom. It's tucked into the back corner, and I have to keep my door open to hear the kids at night.
  • The kitchen cabinets. Oh my goodness. There is so much storage that the cabinets look almost bare in some instances. I can put pots and pans in separate cabinets, and Tupperware lids and containers on separate shelves. It's magical.
  • Space. So much space. We don't have to squish behind another person behind the dining room table anymore. We had 5 additional adults and 3 children over at our house and we still had plenty of room. However, I find I misplace things all the time because now I have too much space.
  • The closet. Again, I have more space and organization possibilities than I've ever had. I have my shirts and cardigans organized by sleeve length, shoes by heel height, and even exercise clothes have their own drawers. 
  • The heat pump. The summer heat in the Pacific Northwest is only unbearable for a few weeks, but man.. I love having air conditioning at home.
  • The feeling of being HOME. We have moved 7 times since we have been married (almost 9-10 times if you include when we were dating). We thought we were settled into our first house, but no, I got the crazy idea of building a new house. Despite the craziness, we have been involved with this house from the get-go, and it instantly felt like home. We still have a ton of projects waiting to be done, stuff waiting to be bought, and family/friends to invite over... but we are finally HOME.
Oh, and the crazy thing is, my husband has to travel for work, so he was only able to enjoy the house for 10 days before being shipped off. However, he is working so much overtime that it's helping us pay off the extra expenses for the new house.

Next up... and possibly one of the last home building blogs I'll do before I move on back to real life... Things I wish I would've known before building a home.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

We are IN!

Although it felt like it would never be done, we are DONE (mostly).

Our inspection was delayed until July 31st due to some technicalities with the electrician, the appliances, doorbell, kick plate heaters, etc... But, we passed the final county inspection after the inspector spent maybe 10 minutes at the house. Crazy and kind of anti-climactic after 12+ months of stress.

We also had our home re-appraised to get rid of PMI on our mortgage.. And this is why we built and didn't buy... We have over $100K in equity in our home just starting out. It's crazy! The one thing that sucks about it is that the rates are slightly higher than when we started.. and over 0.5% higher than when we bought our first home in 2015.

Anyways, there are still some to-do items for Lexar, such as the missing doors, fixing the drywall dings and scratches on the wall, and some transition pieces between the floor and cabinets. There are a few painting touch-ups needed, but we can do that. Oh, and we are missing our 6 USB outlets. Anyways, they aren't urgent things, so we are moving in this weekend.

We had a major "what do we do??" moment last week during our move when our moving truck that we planned to rent all week couldn't even hold all of our furniture and boxes. So, we made 2 trips with the truck, our friends and church friends packed up some of our stuff in their trucks, and we moved it all into the garage. The major moving mistake of booking a small truck saved us money and time.

Anyways, I'll post more pictures when we are done.. But we did book a cleaning service that specializes in post-construction cleaning, and they did an amazing job. There was not a speck of dust left, and they cleaned the windows inside and out! Thank you Victory Cleaning Services in Yelm, WA!

Here are some finished house pictures until I start taking some new ones with my nice camera and in a furnished house..

All lit up at night. We definitely need some walkway lighting because it's quite dark in the middle front of the house.

My favorite thing: my painted navy blue door.

Our accent tile wall on our kitchen island. We still need to adjust those globe pendants down a bit.

Our rain wall stencil from Cutting Edge Stencils. Paint is Sherwin Williams Mindful Gray with silver metallic acrylic paint on top.

My baby: round wood mirrors with patterned subway tile wall.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Cannot Believe It

Our final inspection is set for Thursday, July 26th.

I seriously cannot believe it!

The painters were delayed from the 4th of July holiday, so our project manager threw everybody at our house that he could (there was someone there every day for a week doing things like finish plumbing, HVAC, etc).. but then the house had to sit for a week because we were waiting for painting.

In the meantime because everything was moving along, we put in our 30-day notice for our current rental. Then, we got scared that the house wouldn't be done by July 31st, and we asked to stay for another 2 weeks. The landlord/property manager said no (although technically they couldn't evict us because we pay rent).. and so then we FREAKED out. Like we would be homeless until our house was done. Luckily, someone from church offered to have us stay at their house for a week while our house gets done. AND, they have air conditioning. We save on rent for a month, and we move out of our stupid house. So, win-win. We will just move our house into a moving truck for a week, and then move into our new house when it's done. Hopefully all things will go well!

Anyways, the trim is beautiful, the baseboards are tall, the paint looks great, and our yard is landscaped (it was not optional for us---thousands of dollars later--can't say it looks great). I am so freaking excited that it's happening! I'll update as soon as we hear something.

Our kitchen desk. I plan to fill this puppy with cookbooks as soon as I can. It's still missing the bottom trim to the cabinets, but I don't know if we'll add it.

 Kids' bathoom sans mirror. I chose the white shades for the light and now I'm regretting my decision. 

Carter's room with paint and light.

Master bath vanity. Picture it with the mirror below.

Broyhill round mirror I found at Home Goods like 17 months ago.

Re-purposed lights we took from our old house. This is the view from the exercise room into the master bedroom. We plan to have barn doors between the two rooms.

View of the front porch. Turns out we need a railing per the county's regulations with anything four steps or more!

Kitchen island. I went with smaller West Elm globes, but now I'm kind of wishing we got the medium size. They also need to be adjusted down closer to the counter top.

View of our finished navy blue front door with white trim, Mindful Gray on walls, and mini-chandelier. I can't wait to get rid of the floor cover.

Dining room with toddler and chandelier. Man, I really wanted the long rectangular light, but it didn't work with the sloped ceiling. I think the light needs to be lower.

Blurry back porch photo. Man, we should've upsized the light!

Mulched hill with homemade rock wall, retaining wall, and gravel around the porch.

Our hydroseeded back yard after its first haircut.

Update: Curious about our progress? Click on this link to see all of our home building updates, or check out my Instagram account for continuous updates.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

House Update #1,000,000

Ok, so maybe I'm exaggerating a bit with the title.. but that's how it feels.

And, my the title for my last update was a little misleading as well. A race is defined as a competition to see who/what is fastest. That is definitely not the case to finishing our house. We have been racing to get all of our loose ends tied up, but not our builder. They have done these things over the past month: flooring, tile backsplashes, and trim. They just installed our heat pump and mini-splits yesterday. Mind you, the trim was done last Monday, and the painting was supposed to be done that week as well. We are still waiting for:
  • Painting.
  • Cabinet finish work (like crown molding)
  • Electrical--lighting and outlets.
  • Plumbing--fixtures, toilets, and shower door.
  • HVAC--water heater, vents, kick plates for vents under cabinets.
  • Misc--Shelves, mirrors, and "punch list" items.

We were given a "worst case scenario" completion date of July 31st, but we will be lucky to have our house done by then. We just gave our property management company an official move-out date of July 31st, but I feel like we will have to rescind that date. It's just that getting ONE THING completed a week doesn't cut it when you're trying to get the house done. 

Anyways, we've had to make a couple of concessions to get the house done in a timely manner, but now I'm questioning if we should have done that or not because our house is not being worked on in a timely manner. Example: they installed the subway tile in the wrong design in the master bath, and I didn't hate it, so we took a discount instead of having them re-do the design. Also, the door to the garage opens out instead of in, and now the tile floor doesn't meet the threshold to the door. So, do we ask for them to re-do the door and trim, or do we just fix the tile floor that was installed according to false directions? 

             Wrong design                                                                                   Right design 

Flooring gap by the garage door

I am just sooooooooo done with this. I am not sleeping well because of the stress and the heat. I wanted to have the heat pump for air conditioning in my new house prior to the summer heat, but that's not happening. I am a very angry person when it's too hot and I can't sleep. 

Hopefully next time you check this I will be a nicer person.

Cabinets on cabinets on cabinets

Our project: kitchen island tile backsplash

 Basketweave subway tile backsplash in kitchen

 Kids bathroom. Big vanity, tiny sink.

Another one of our projects: kitchen desk. Pro tip: don't install wall cabinets yourself unless you're a pro.

Update: Curious about our progress? Click on this link to see all of our home building updates, or check out my Instagram account for continuous updates.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Race to the Finish Line

I can't believe I'm saying this.. but we actually have a finish line in sight: July 16th!

If you had told me in June of last year when we started clearing the land that it would be another 13 months until we moved in, I probably would have cried.

Mind you, that's a pretty tight schedule over the next 4 weeks to complete the following items:

  • Flooring: laminate & carpet. We paid a separate contractor for our tiled bathrooms and laundry room and he got everything done in a week.
  • Trim after laminate. All baseboards, windows, etc.
  • Tile back splashes for kitchen and bathrooms.
  • Painting.
  • Cabinet finish work (like crown molding).
  • Electrical, including lighting and outlets.
  • Plumbing (it would be so NICE to have a toilet and not a port-a-potty).
  • HVAC--heat pump and water heater.

But, I am remaining hopeful that we will be in by July 31st. I can't be in our current house in the August heat again.

We have arranged our upcoming responsibilities:

  • Final grade and driveway.
  • Hydroseeding.
  • Wood porch/stairs.
  • That's it!! (Other than the projects below, which are mostly cosmetic.)

Graham's projects include the following (poor guy hasn't gotten a break in months!):
  • Cabinet hardware (51 in total!).
  • Finish kitchen desk nook.
  • Butcher block counter for desk--install and stain.
  • Address numbers
  • Paint front and side door (I can help with this)
  • Finish closet supports.
  • Finish laundry cabinet panels and counter top.
  • Lawn edging/trim.

Here are some progress pictures if you don't follow me on Instagram..

Anyways, thanks for following along. I might be able to update closer to closing time!

Update: Curious about our progress? Click on this link to see all of our home building updates, or check out my Instagram account for continuous updates.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Ch ch ch ch ch ch Changes

One thing is for sure about this home building process.. There will be changes!

Quick Update: drywall is nearly done. Our project manager told us it would be done by May 15th, which was yesterday, but it will definitely be done by the 18th. We don't know what will be next, but we hope it will be paint then cabinets. Our cabinets have arrived, but we can't see inside the boxes yet. It is so exciting to be so close to the end! We had a minor/major freakout during the drywall process as they cut out drywall for the heat pump mini-split facing the wrong direction. Of course, we took it as the worst case scenario, and assumed they'd have to rip the whole ducting out to turn it the right way. Luckily, super easy fix, and all they had to do was patch the drywall and cut the correct side. Most of the mistakes have not been that easy, so we were happy about that.

Anyways, we have been reviewing our finishing touches, and we decided to make some changes. Choosing flooring, countertops, lights, etc like eight to nine months before you get to see them is a loooong time to sit and think about something different to do. So, these are the changes we decided to do:

1) The lighting. We figured it would be worth an additional $300-500 to get exactly what we want for chandeliers, pendants, etc. We hate flush mount lights that look like boobs, so it was important for us to get better flush mount lights for our hallways, kids' rooms, etc. We already have a few semi-flush mount lights from our old house, which we plan to use in the playroom (they're a little fancy for the playroom, honestly, but I want to get personalized lighting for the guest room and master bedroom when we have more money). One complicating factor is the sloped ceiling in our great room and kitchen, so everything had to be slope-compatible. The sad thing is I found a chandelier that I loved, but we couldn't hang it parallel to the slope, only perpendicular, which didn't work with our furniture placement. I had my co-worker help me pick a new one. I really like it, but it wasn't my first choice. We were happy to get some discounts on lights from Coscto, and then I found Seattle Lighting online, which I loved. I couldn't find a better deal on globe pendants other than from West Elm.

Flush mount lights from Costco:

Foyer light from Seattle Lighting:

Dining room light from Seattle Lighting:

Kitchen island globe pendant lights from West Elm:

Kids' bathroom light from Seattle Lighting:

Master bathroom lights from Seattle Lighting:

Outdoor lanterns from Costco:

Outdoor flush mount lights for front and back porches from Seattle Lighting:

Playroom fancy lights from Wayfair (no longer available from them):

2) Laundry room floor. We originally were like, well, I don't want to pay for tile right now, so we will stick with the vinyl and just change it ourselves later. Tip: when it comes to flooring, it's probably easier to do it yourself before a flooring is already placed. So, bye bye cheap vinyl.. Here is some dark linen-style tile for the laundry room and the kids' bathroom (might as well, right?).

Metro Gris tile from Home Depot:

3) Closet organizers. We decided to go with Easy Closets (such a deal!) for both the master bedroom and the pantry. You give them the dimensions, they help you with the design. It was really great working with them. The only con--you have to install yourself.. Or you can pay somebody. So, now we have 39 boxes in our current rental waiting to be installed. Also, I wasn't into the cheap wire shelving for the kids' bedrooms, so I went with Modular Closets for an easy and affordable closet design. I am super excited to use both of them!

Master Closet:

Pantry (not shown are the connecting corner shelves):

Kids' Closets:

4) Kitchen desk unit. When we originally inquired about doing a custom desk niche in the dining room with Lexar, we were told to do it ourselves or they'd probably charge us $10K. So, we looked into buying the same Procraft cabinets for our desk, but in white instead of the espresso for the rest of the kitchen. But, they do not sell to non-contractors. We looked online instead, and I found Cliq Studios online from their Facebook and Instagram ads. They sent me samples, and I found the quality and design to be the same as the ones of the rest of our kitchen. Again, we gave them the dimensions, and they gave us a design. We do have to install the cabinets and shelves ourselves, but we are up to the task. I am so excited to have a place to make shopping lists, use the computer, and store my cookbooks all in one place!

That is it.. I don't think we will do any more changes until we are done. We do have a lot of work ahead of us, such as finishing the rock wall, painting the master bath blue, painting the master bedroom stencil, installing the pantry and the closets, the tile accent in the kitchen desk back splash and the kitchen island wall, and some minor landscaping stuff. But, we are ready for the challenge. I don't know when the completion date will be. I'm hoping by the end of June, but we are leaving for a week-long vacation on the 30th, so that's not the best time for us. I'm thinking we will probably move the second week of July.. which isn't too bad. It would put us 10-11 months since the foundation was poured. I just want the air conditioning before August!! Anyways, keep checking on my Instagram for more updates. It will all be happening quickly.  :)

Update: Curious about our progress? Click on this link to see all of our home building updates, or check out my Instagram account for continuous updates.

Things I wish I would have known before building a semi-custom home

So, I did a lot of reading online before deciding to build a home. I looked at blogs, I read home website and magazines, but now that I'...