What You Need to Know about Planning and Building a New House
What home style drives your fancy and how do you find – or build – this dream of a home?
Whether it’s a simple one-story or a huge two-story plan, a Ranch, Country, Victorian, Colonial, Mid-Century Modern, Craftsman, or Contemporary style, most people have their dream home firmly and clearly sketched and furnished in their imagination. They have their specifications all lined up to the last detail – location, style, size, materials, number of floors and rooms, and must-have features.
Is this the year for you to follow through on building your dream home? If the new year has finally encouraged you to move out of the city and apartment living – and get going on building that home you’ve promised yourself and your family, we can help you navigate the construction process.
Can you envision yourself living in this attractive one-story Country style home with three bedrooms, 2.5 baths, high ceilings, and outdoor living space? An inviting front porch, exposed beams, window shutters and crisp, clean vertical siding all add to its curb appeal. Can this be the home of your dreams (Plan #142-1205)?
There’s more to building a home than just deciding about an open floor design, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, a master suite, a large kitchen, and outdoor living. Just as you plan carefully for a long journey, you must do the same when building your dream home.
Here are a few helpful ideas to get you started on the exciting adventure of homebuilding.
Research and Set Goals
Take the time to do research on the entire home building project. You may have an idea in your mind. But think carefully and clearly of what you want to achieve: ascertain that the plan makes sense and, that the numbers add up.
You can set your goals by asking these questions:
What do you want in a house?
What are your specifications – square footage, style, dimensions, building materials, energy costs, number of stories, rooms, bathrooms, garage(s)?
Are your specifications/expectations realistic?
Where do you want to build this house?
How much will it cost? How much are you willing to spend?
If Plan A does not work, do you have a fallback plan – a Plan B?
Keep in mind that you are building a home for you and your family – one that’s comfortable, warm, secure, and safe for everyone. It’s a home that’s uniquely your own and gives shape to your life.
So plan carefully and thoroughly.
First things first examine your financial situation. How much can you afford? Will your finances support the cost of the land and plans, construction and residential mortgage loans, local fees, taxes, design and engineering, materials, landscaping, furniture, decorating, and hidden costs? Are you prepared with a contingency fund for the unexpected? What will your finances look like after the house is constructed and furnished?
It all comes down to how much money you can afford for the down payment – and your monthly income.
It’s amazingly easy to go overboard while imagining your dream home and all its features. Once you set a budget – and figure in all the necessary costs, fees, and taxes, plus a contingency fund – stick to it.
An excellent recommendation for anyone seriously considering building a new home is to maintain a spreadsheet program – to develop a budget, keep close track of expenses, and update and modify as the project moves along. Something as simple as an Excel program will work and help immensely with the process.
Top: Perhaps a Farmhouse style home with a huge welcoming front porch, spacious kitchen, enough bedrooms, flex space, plus a fully-furnished guest/in-law suite – like this one-story, six-bedroom, open plan beauty – has been etched in your mind (Plan #193-1017). Bottom: But if you don’t really have the budget for it, go with this scaled-down but equally charming and appealing look-alike: a 1.5-story four-bedroom, 2.5-bath home with a wraparound front porch, dormers, an open floor concept, Great Room with a fireplace, game room, plenty of storage, and a grilling porch. The modern kitchen includes a walk-in pantry, an eating peninsula, and a breakfast nook. (Plan #153-1940)
Hand in hand with budgeting is getting financing. The reality is that not everyone can afford to pay cash for the new construction – and therefore rely on banks, credit unions, and other lending institutions to get financing. Shop around, compare prices to find a construction loan that fits your needs, and ask for a lender's pre-approval at the start of the building process to set your budget.
Two things to remember:
Most lenders require a 20% down payment
Borrowers’ total debt payments (mortgage and other loans) should equal no more than 43% of their gross income.
In addition, familiarize yourself with the two-loan phases of construction mortgages.
During the construction loan process, a lender dispenses funds as the builder meets certain construction milestones. The borrowers make monthly payments based upon the interest accrued on the money paid to the builder. The payments start on the low end but increase substantially as the home nears the completion phase.
A residential mortgage loan upon completion of the home consolidates construction loans and mortgages. Known as “construction-to-permanent financing,” this loan requires only one settlement process.
Top: A construction loan will advance the building process smoothly – from this phase to the completed amazing stop-in-your-tracks stunner below. Bottom: Voila! Construction completed on a gorgeous Cottage style home with Craftsman features. The one-story, 3,696-square-foot home includes a vaulted front porch, an open floor plan with three bedrooms, 3.5 baths, study connected to the master suite, mudroom, laundry room, two walk-in kitchen pantries, safe room/storm shelter, and other amenities. A walkout basement can be converted to an in-law suite with its ensuite bathroom, kitchen, and dining room (Plan #198-1095).
Find – and Buy – a Building Lot
Ultimately, the question is: where do you want to live? Are you tired of city living and crowded neighborhoods? Will it be the suburbs with wide spaces or the countryside with mountain views and lakes?
Before making the important decision regarding location, take the time to study neighborhoods and communities. Does a particular location have access to all the things you need? How is the school system (if you have children)? Are there nearby churches, parks, recreation centers, hospitals, supermarkets, drug stores, restaurants, shopping centers, etc.?
Once you find that ideal community, then get ready to move to another major step: choosing the property/land to build your dream home. This is one of the most critical points in the process – since the lot will decide the final design and look of the home.
Ask a lot of questions and seek the help of professionals. Research the going cost-per-square-foot building rates in your region by contacting some local builders or the municipal or county building-code office.
According to data compiled by HomeGuide, the average cost to build a house in 2021 is $248,000, or between $100 to $155 per square foot depending on your location, size of the home, and if modern or custom designs are used. New home construction for a 2,000 square foot home runs from $201,000 to $310,000 on average.
This chart illustrates the average cost of building a house. It goes from a low-end price of $178,000 to a high of $416,000 (source: HomeGuide).
Depending on the region in the country, the cost per square foot goes from $100 to $155. The South records the lowest price with the Northeast coming in at the most expensive per square foot (source: HomeGuide).
As you navigate the different types of lots for your home, remember that the kind you choose - ranging from the direction it faces to the size and slope - can affect the overall design you want for your home. Some lots are also better suited to particular features than others.
Here are the most popular types of lots you will encounter.
Perhaps the lot people are most familiar with, a flat lot is also called a standard lot – and benefits those who are not planning on having a basement, but instead are looking to build the home on a slab foundation. Avoid a flat lot if you are living in an area where the soil beneath the home is not going to drain well – or if your home is sitting at the lowest point in your neighborhood.
If you want to take advantage of the natural beauty of your surroundings, a building lot with a view is the way to go. Love lakes and mountain ranges or foliage and a small creek? Choose a lot that will showcase all these views. Your best bet is finding a lot in the suburbs or the countryside – that is still untouched – or will be untouched – by developers looking to build condos and shopping malls.
All the windows surrounding this spectacular two-story, three-bedroom Vacation-style home, provide a breathtaking view of the lush natural landscape (Plan #168-1001).
Located at the intersection of two streets, a corner building lot provides a large side yard in addition to a front and backyard. With no house next to yours that blocks natural light, your house will feel brighter. These lots also allow easier access to the rear of the home and give the option for two separate entrances to the home.
About 45 feet wide or less, narrow lots are most common in urban areas and cities, where road frontage is at a premium and there’s room to build up – or deep from front to back – but not wide. Houses built from these plans can be as attractive and modern looking as their wider counterparts. And because narrow homes may also be somewhat restricted in square footage, they are also gaining in popularity with the shift toward smaller, and simpler living.
Don’t be fooled by this narrow-lot Ranch with Craftsman touches. The charming home built on a 40-foot-wide lot packs a lot of features within the 1,886 square feet of space: an inviting front porch, an open floor plan, three bedrooms, 2.5 baths, a family room with 11-foot-high ceilings and a fireplace, and a kitchen that includes an island and pantry (Plan #120-2563).
Adapting very well to a hillside and providing many aesthetic advantages, sloped lots are nevertheless often seen as less desirable because they may restrict use of the yard, so they can be cheaper to buy. But they can also be quite expensive to build on, adding an extra $10,000 or more in site preparation and other costs.
There are three kinds of sloped lots that you can choose from for your dream home.
1. Side Slope
With this kind of a lot, you can build a regular or walk-out basement, a side-entry basement garage basement, or a high crawl space.
2. Up Slope or “Up Site”
Locating the house at a point higher than the approaching road, an upslope looks over the street at views. If you want a front-entry basement garage, an up-slope lot is the answer.
3. Down Slope or “Down Site”
Sloping down and away from the front of the house, a downslope is ideal for a walkout/daylight basement with the exit/entrance in the rear, often with a generous patio or rear-facing garage that is covered or at least partially protected by a rear deck or covered porch.
This stunning two-story, 2,340-square-foot Country style home built on a down slope features a rear-facing two-car “drive under garage.” The sloped lot allows better views of the spectacular surroundings from the rear of the four-bedroom, three-bath homes main floor and wide rear deck (Plan #126-1888).
Put a Building Team Together
Building a home is not a DIY project. You may have wonderful ideas – but you must select a team of professionals to assist you with the process.
A contractor/project manager who will supervise all aspects of the build should also be on your team. The contractor will be responsible for coordinating all the subcontractors and any legal aspects involving the job. In some cases, your contractor can also be the actual on-site builder.
An interior designer/furniture expert to oversee the selection of fixtures, décor accents, and overall look of the home’s Great Room., kitchen master suite, bedrooms, and other spaces.
A landscape artist to create attractive and appealing outdoor spaces – front yard, backyard, garden – even the driveway.
Find the Plan for Your Dream Home
Close your eyes and imagine your dream home standing in the location and property you’ve selected. While visions of a contemporary Farmhouse, Cottage, a classic Colonial, Cape Cod, or Victorian home flash through your mind, ask yourself if the style fits the surrounding landscape.
Not only should the architectural style be appropriate for the location and the lot, but it should also be in harmony with your lifestyle and your family’s needs.
Get the family involved in style and plan selection – discuss and ask questions of each other. And in the end, you will come up with a style, plan, and design that makes everyone happy and excited. So whether you decide on a one-story or two-story home, there’s always a plan that is wonderful for family living.
Whether it’s this gorgeous modern Farmhouse style home (Plan #142-1180) with 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, a Great Room, split bedroom layout, wraparound porch, and rear porch …
… or this amazing two-story classic Colonial home (Plan #180-1018) with the lovely covered front porch, four bedrooms, 3.5-baths, a family room, bonus room, main floor laundry, the main considerations are: lifestyle, family’s needs, comfort, security, safety, and happiness.
Get Real About What You Really Need
Yes, it’s your dream home. There are rooms and features that are “must-haves” and those on the wish list. Just balance your needs and wants with a reality check. And be certain that all exterior and interior design elements meet your specifications.
Here’s a look at some of the standard “must-haves”:
an open floor plan
spacious kitchen with a huge kitchen island
outdoor living space
spacious bathrooms with oversized showers, stand-alone tubs
main floor laundry
Want a wraparound porch? Look at this welcoming one in a Country Ranch home with three bedrooms and a Great Room with 14-foot vaulted ceilings (Plan #138-1002).
An open floor concept remains on many must-have lists for the breeziness and light that it gives the home. Here’s an amazing example of the design illustrated in the Great Room of a one-story, 2,686-square-foot Country style home with four bedrooms and 2.5 baths (Plan #142-1169).
With the emphasis on outdoor living spaces, you can take a page from this impeccably designed and furnished large, covered terrace in a three-bedroom, 3.5-bath Modern home. The terrace – which has stacking patio doors – serves as an additional entertaining space for family and friends (Plan #202-1027).
Oversize showers and stand-alone tubs – as seen in this classic and elegant ensuite master bathroom of a three-bedroom, 3.5-bath Country Craftsman manor – are big design trends in 2021 (Plan #106-1283).
The home office has been reinvented to accommodate the needs of the work the home population, as in this beautifully designed – and compact – pocket office in a one-story, three-bedroom, two-bath French Country home (Plan #142-1209).
Bonus/getaway spaces are wonderful extras for the times you want some private, alone time away from the family. Get some inspiration from this multi-purpose space in a 1.5-story, three-bedroom, 3.5-bath Country home with Rustic touches (Plan #106-1274).
How about a mudroom/drop-off zone for all those muddy shoes, boots, flip-flops, and dripping umbrellas and hats? This spacious corner in a one-story Craftsman style home with Country and Ranch influences provides hooks for jackets and coats, plus open shelves on top and under the bench for storage. The 2,518-square-foot-home includes three bedrooms, two full baths, and two powder rooms (Plan #108-1794).
Time to move the laundry room out of the basement into the main floor. This incredibly attractive and brightly painted laundry room is located next to the pantry of a two-story, four-bedroom Craftsman style home (Plan #153-1746).
Once you find the house plans of your dreams, you'll be ready to finally build the home you – and your family – have always wanted.
Don’t be daunted by all the tasks ahead of you! Look ahead and picture your home when it’s move-in ready – and feel the emotional connection to your dream of a home.
Footnote: The top right photo in the lead image of this article is a fabulous Country Transitional style home with four bedrooms and 3.5 baths. For more on the amazing 3,254-square-foot residence with the Dutch gable roof, see Plan #204-1017.