5.16.2013

{Series Part 1} How to Build a House: Buying Land, Finding a Builder and Architect


This is part 1 of a series I'm calling How to Build a House. This post has been 7 years in the making. Years of planning. Years of saving. Years of meetings and payments and excitement (and my God... the Pinning!). 7 years ago my husband and I started the process of our forever home.  Of course, depending on where you live, the process may vary slightly. This is what we did. Just a regular couple in the burbs/country (we're kind of a mix of the two) in Florida building a house from scratch. No model home to look at, no planned community... we just bought some dirt and started. Ready to come along? This is How to Build a House.

We began our process with a realtor. Our realtor helped us find the land for our house. Honestly, I didn't think we needed a realtor. Anyone with an internet connection can search Realtor.com and find land, right? And we did that for a little while but weren't having luck. Everything was either out of our price range or not in the area we wanted. Our realtor found properties that we did not know were for sale. After looking at maybe 5 lots, we put an offer in on one. This goes just like the process of buying a house. We negotiated and got the price down a little bit.
 Our lot.

Just like when buying a house, you might have rules in your contract about the house having to pass an inspection before you really agree to buy it. Same goes for land. I live in Florida. It's very swampy and wet here and "wetlands" are protected. As are some local endangered species. So in other words, if the land was considered "wetlands" or had some special turtles on it... we may not have been able to build anything. We would have owned some dirt and trees that could only ever be dirt and trees. Not good.

To make sure our land was buildable, we went to our local county office and filled out some paperwork to have a "wetlands study" done. Basically a man from the county came out, walked around, and gave us a paper that said yep, you can knock these trees down and you won't be killing any turtles. Go to your local county office and see if your area has anything special going on that would prevent you from building on the land you purchase. Protect yourself.

After that, the bank that was giving us the loan for the land, sent out someone to do a survey of the property... we were buying 1 acre. They needed that for their records to know exactly what we wanted to buy. After all of that, it was time for the closing (we got a copy of the survey in the closing documents). Same process as buying a house. All of this happened while we still owned the house we lived in. The land payment was essentially an expensive car payment.... or at least that's how I looked at it. Everything was moving along.

Then baby #1 came along and the housing market crashed, in Florida especially. Guess what, we could not sell our house. We would have lost way too much money. We were stuck. This is why we had to wait 7 years! We waited out the market and continued to pay for our property every month until we could sell our house. We paid as much as we could towards it every month. A couple of things happened in that time. Baby #2 came along and we managed to pay off the land. Yay us!

Those 7 years were at times painful. We'd joke that we were going go visit our trees some days. That the house was just a pipe dream and all we were ever going to have were some trees and dirt. It seemed like forever.... kind of like this blog post. Go ahead, take a pee break, get a snack... I'll wait.

Better?  Okay, good. Let's keep going.

So finally, last summer, we were able to sell our house. We did and moved into a rental close to our land. This seemed most logical to us. Close to the build and free of a mortgage. All set... but yes, we'd have to move twice.
Last pic of our old house as we left. *sniffle, sniffle*

Now lucky us, my parents are good friends with a builder/general contractor. He built their house in the 90's. He will be building our house.  Ask around, network, use Angie's List. Get a recommendations and shop around to find a reputable builder you trust. We took him out to the property, explained what we were expecting, and paid him a small deposit for his services and to show we were serious. He basically said, yep, sounds like something I can help you with and found us a company to clear the lot of the brush and trees. We paid for that out of pocket since we did not have the building loan yet. (that's a whole other post!) Why didn't we wait? Because in Florida, it rains a lot in the summer which is the soonest we would have had the loan. Trying to clear the lot in mud would have taken longer and therefore, cost more. We cleared in winter to do it as cheaply as we could. Something we would not have known if our builder hadn't told us.
The kids exploring mid clearing.

This day was an uneasy feeling. Really, I wanted to puke when we pulled up this day. Like there was no going back... it looked pretty awful. I had to keep telling myself "it's going to get worse before it gets better".

Timber truck on site taking the cut trees to be used elsewhere.

The builder also found us an architect. Someone he worked with several times before. I had also worked for an architect right out of college so I emailed them too. Basically, I shopped around. Again, Angie's List if you don't have any contacts. We ended up going with the architect the builder recommended... he was cheaper and just as experienced.

Another thing to note is architects charge per square foot. That's total square footage including any garage space and porch space. Not just the inside living area. (Not sure about basements, we don't have those in Florida) So if your plan is to have a 2000 sq ft house + 500 sq ft of porch + 500 sq ft of garage... you'll be paying the architect for 3000 sq ft of space. This cost, most likely, will also come out of pocket since you will need the completed plan to submit to the bank to apply for your building loan.

So did you make it to the end?! It's quite the process and definitely requires the "marathoner" mindset. In the past year I've flipped between really excited, to really nervous, to really overwhelmed, to excited again. At the moment I'm excited to be on this journey. I hope this post (and series) helps someone out there unsure about the process. I'll be your guinea pig... it's cool. Next post will be all about the plans!


 This is our completely cleared lot. We left as many trees as we could in the back and on the sides.

And this is what it looks like as of this week.... much better.

14 comments :

  1. this is really useful, we almost built a house, but good thing we didnt since I didn't know I still have a lot of things to learn about before we go forth. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad I could help. I'm still learning too! :)

      Delete
  2. Fun series! We are nearing the end of a big remodel of a house we bought this winter -- I used the site houzz.com for a lot of inspiration.

    www.birdyboots.etsy.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes... love houzz. Great site and ideas! :)

      Delete
  3. I love the post and yes, I made it all the way to the end. I couldn't get enough and I can't wait to read the next post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Rebekah! The process of the plans will be next!

      Delete
  4. I love the post girly .. and the house is beautiful .. Cant wait to see it all come together.. Prayers for many blessings for you in that house. HUGS

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Sherry! Always such sweet comments from you :)

      Delete
  5. Wow this is very informative... we don't have any plans of building a house from scratch (any time soon lol!) and I'm sure it's different from where I come from.. but I love this post I really enjoyed reading this..I landed here checking out ur DIY stuff and will check back to know more of your progress :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Donna! I'm so glad people are finding this helpful. I googled forever before we started trying to find people in the same boat. It was hard! Hopefully, I can provide a real-life account of what you need to go through!

      Delete
  6. 7 years in the making. It only means how unimpulsive you are as a couple. There are a lot of things to plan and a lot more things unplanned that would happen, which may have caused delay. Legal matter is another thing which would eat a lot of time. All the same, I'm happy that you're towards the end of the biggest project you'd probably handle in your life. :) Lashawn@Co-Construct

    ReplyDelete
  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi Sarah - any progress on the build? Love your blog, especially the tutorials!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! Yes is the short answer. haha It's taking MUCH longer than we thought. The plans are done though so I can get that post up soon. I've been going through all of my old email from my architect so I can show what the plan evolution looks like. The financing is holding us up right now but they keep telling us we'll have the green light in July. Thanks for checking in and keeping me motivated!

      Delete