However, if you are about to embark on a home building project, it is imperative that you come up with a checklist to make sure you’re on track. Below is a list of things that might be found on a basic home building checklist:
This may seem obvious, but you should know what you can afford well before buying your first 2×4. Having a budget prepared for the land, permits, legal fees, taxes, materials, and subcontractors’ fees, etc. is necessary. If the home you dream about is out of your price range, will you apply for a home loan, or seek other creative financing? Are you even eligible for financing considering your credit history and score?
There are several government assistance programs that could be alternatives for home financing — or supplement your mortgage loan. Habitat for Humanity is a long-standing program in the U.S. created to help low income families build and own their own home. And they occasionally do remodeling projects on existing homes.
Land: Looking at the Whole
Step back and really look at the land you want to buy — and everything surrounding it. Analyze how this location will benefit you in the future and take into account factors like nearby schools, playgrounds, grocery stores, hospitals and so on.
Looking at the neighborhood is something that many people really don’t think about, but it’s probably the one thing that will make your home a joy — or a burden. Walk or drive around the neighborhood at all times of day if possible. This might reveal something undesirable, like a teen neighbor playing drums most of the weekend, or another neighbor with barking dogs they let out after work.
You should know if there are any restrictive covenants or easements that might affect your building a home on the particular piece of land. The taxation rates vary from one location to another (often dramatically).
Will the piece of land suffice in terms of space around the house? A lot of gardening can be done in containers, but would you really like a larger backyard garden? How about urban chickens?
If you plan on having a family later on (or have kids right now), you should give particular attention to outdoor space. Kids definitely need the outdoors to play. A huge outdoor jungle gym might not be necessary, but a single tree swing and a small fort hideaway will allow kids hours of outdoor play time. Kids just love little house-like play spaces to call their own!
Floor Plans vs. 3D Design
Most people start with looking at floor plans when considering building a house. But a floor plan is just one aspect of an overall home design. It’s like looking at a 2-dimensional map of a city. It gives you an idea of how to get around, but there are so many other factors to consider: vertical space, utility supplies, waste handling, efficient storage, ease (or not) of getting from one part to another, quality of construction, etc.
And once you’ve settled on a floor plan you may discover things about the home as it’s taking shape in 3 dimensions. Maybe the layout of the kitchen isn’t quite right, or you discover the washer and dryer really shouldn’t be in the hallway to the garage, or the patio space isn’t as inviting as you imagined it would be. Will the builder you hired be flexible enough to make changes in the middle of the project? Make sure “change orders” are clearly accounted for in your building contract.
But even if “change orders” are allowed in the building process you’ll have to sign off on a floor plan with a builder so they can appropriately order materials and schedule subcontractors. The overall floor plan and home design has to be nailed down (no pun intended) before breaking ground. The clearer the overall plan the quicker the whole project can proceed — and ultimately save money.
If there are any additional features you want added, you must ensure they are illustrated correctly in the plan. The materials that you want to be used in the development of your home must be clearly defined — it just makes the project smoother for everyone involved. Everything from the electrical sockets to the septic system must be highlighted and subcontractors should not have any confusion as to where they go.
Contract to Start Building
The building contract that you have developed must be one easily identified within the building industry. Hiring a real estate attorney to review this kind of contract might be money well spent in the long run, but not a necessity. Generally, the more detailed the contract the less chance there is of misunderstandings and mistakes happening.
The structure of payments should also be clearly defined and be in tune with how long the development and construction aspect will take. Being aware of your rights if you are unsatisfied with the builder is also important. And finally, it is highly important that you do not sign the contract until you are fully satisfied with every point and have analyzed every single aspect of it. Be very careful in knowing what you’re signing.
The Construction Process
Once the planning aspect of your home design is done, you can start on the building phase. This is where you must ensure you hold multiple copies of the builder’s or subcontractors’ insurance certificates. In some areas it’s advised to keep a copy of your land deed (showing ownership) with the rest of your project paperwork.
And check with your local building authority as to what kind of insurance you, as the property owner, and the general contractor are responsible for. A general contractor may be able to carry all of the insurance for a home building project. Local regulations on this can vary greatly.
Next, be aware of the contact details of your building company (or subcontractors) and stay in touch with them constantly. If you are able to make independent inspections of the building site, you will likely get to exert some control over aspects you feel are unsatisfying.
If you want to remain updated of the progress but have to be at a job full time, consider hiring someone to regularly photograph the progress of the construction. Visiting your home construction site regularly is important, but having this photographic record is not only informative, but could protect you legally in the future if there’s a disagreement about something.
Permit to Occupy
You may think that because you’ve paid for the whole process of constructing your new home that you have control over when you can move in. Not so. Getting a final inspection from the building department is a necessary step to actually living in your new home. The intent is to prevent people from moving into a partially-constructed house and leaving it unfinished.
The building authority might also need to be notified of how many people are intending to live in the house, giving them an idea of how much electricity, water, sewer, gas, etc. the home will be consuming. This is important for city and community planning. They might even pass this information along to the local fire department so they’re prepared in the event of an emergency at your new residence.
If, when you start living in the house, you are unsatisfied with any aspect of the construction you should notify the builders immediately. Hopefully, a provision for this was also in your contract — letting the builder have a chance to “cure” any defects or shortcomings before you file a complaint with someone like the Better Business Bureau. This is where those photos taken during the construction phase may come into play (especially images of the open framing of the walls).
And, lastly, make sure your home owner’s insurance company knows you’re now officially living in the house. They’ll need to know this in order to change some of the details of what’s covered and what’s not.
A Sample Checklist
To give you an idea of what a home building checklist might look like make sure to sign up for our email list and receive a free 15 page e-booklet on “Steps in Building a House.” It’ll give you some great ideas of where to start. Or, if you’d prefer not to leave your email take a look at Building Permit Application Checklist to see some of the commonly required building permits you’ll need.
Happy planning on your home building project!