Building Home: The Realities of Mixing Design and Budget


Building Home: How we are learning the delicate balance of budget and design | The Fresh Exchange
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We all know the feeling. You start a new job, move to a new place, or start dating someone new. You build up expectations of this new reality, what it will be and how life will move forward with this new thing. You walk down the path of the experiences ahead for you in this new situation. Then something happens that throws off the expectations. Things take a shift you didn’t expect and it breaks your heart and shatters those expectations. I have learned, now, it is all just part of the journey. Sometimes this is a make it or break it, but many times I find these situations instead are the moment to reevaluate your course and expectations and then choose where to head next. This experience is not much different than what it means to build and bid a home.

We have spent the last 6 months designing and concepting our future home. Each room that is designed I imagine the realities of the experiences we will have. The bedroom for our son where he will grow up. The kitchen where we will make all of our meals each night. The dining table we will sit at and enjoy our meals and gather with those we love. The living room that will warm us in the winter and provide space for dreaming. Each wall that is drawn begins a long list of imaginative stories I create and fall in love with. The dreams in some way become tangible as we watch it come together, but then reality hits and we realize the walls we are drawing may not be the right ones or the ones that are meant to hold our family the way we anticipated. We realize the real costs involved in constructing even a simple home and then there we are finding ourselves back to the drawing board, quite literally.

These months of designing have been a ton of fun but also a lot about letting go and reevaluating our life and needs and budgets. Nothing great comes quickly or easily. I know this from building a business and even becoming a mother. These lessons have been abundant and may be why even now I am more than optimistic and quick to say okay what do we do next, how can we adjust to accommodate this dream.

Since the beginning of building our home, our goal has been to eventually own our home. As business owners, we know the smartest thing we can do is limit our debt. We have worked hard to both save as much as possible while also eliminating school debt, holding any credit card debt, and making our money work the best we can for ourselves so that when there is a hard month we don’t feel the stress as much as we could. Our house will be a debt for us, but one we hope to eliminate over the course of 10-15 years. That said, though a loan may come through for an amount that could afford us something larger and more elaborate, we have decided to build to something that both fits our needs and some of our important wants, while also being within range of something we feel we can own in a reasonable amount of time. Moving here, life was about simplifying and the house must be a soul piece of that vision.

This means that the past month as we have gotten serious about finding a contractor that fits us we also have gone through quite the reality check of what our budget can accommodate us. We have gone through nearly 6 different designs, not out of being picky but out of narrowing into the wants and needs in a budget we are comfortable with. This week reality checks got real and a home we felt was economical was far from it we learned. At first, we were shocked and felt defeated with so much of our hearts and souls going into the design. Then in true Mike and Megan fashion, we went into action to get down to what we could do to make our dreams a reality. After a late night, we took the advice of some close friends and a contractor to design something that will hopefully be THE design.

I tell you all this because just as we have, we all look at homes and spaces on Pinterest, Houzz, Dwell, and HGTV and think…gosh that seems simple and possible, but what we have learned is it is a little more of a huge process than is always explained. Things cost a lot and there is a lot of money that goes into things you don’t see or might mark on your budget sheet such as moving dirt, setting a well, putting in a septic system (if you live in the country), or even the insulation that lines your basement or crawl space. All key pieces to getting to a point where you can even construct that kitchen you are dreaming of. It is the unsexy money you have to spend to get to the fun things, but it is a real cost in the experience.

The concept of Building Home is more than just designing, building, and decorating. It is a labor of love, growth, and reevaluating yourself and your life in order to make a dream a reality. Hard work and humility go a long way in the journey of achieving a goal in life. This is just another opportunity to learn these things in a new way.

We are still in those early days of evaluating pricing and landing on a home we feel comfortable with as far as budget as well as one that meets the needs of a family that will grow in it over the years. It is hard to find the right mix we have learned, but we have learned so much in the process that we look forward to sharing more once we get more thoughts on this new design. I wanted to give an update and let you know how things are going and why the plans I thought we would share haven’t made it here just yet. At the root of it all though I am most thankful I find myself having the chance to walk this path no matter the challenges. I get so filled with joy thinking of our family enjoying life together in something that will take so much from us to accomplish over the next year on top of our already busy schedules. I am finding joy and calm in this process knowing the journey will yield a worthwhile and beautiful result. The difficulties and challenges have a wonderful way of making something even more meaningful and precious.

More to come including plans soon enough, but for any of you thinking of building a home this is all normal to go through this ping pong of design to budget over and over again. It is always best to hammer it out early on before ground breaks instead of once walls are being put up.

I would love to hear any of your stories of designing and bidding your home? I know everyone has at least one that has been through the process. What is your advice? What did you learn? There is no real way to escape the trials of building a home. The variables are far too vast, but the bumps in the journey do not ever outweigh the destination I am sure of it.

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  1. I don’t have any RECOMMENDATIONS for building a house, but want to give you KUDOS for choosing a budget (and sticking to it!) that will enable you to pay it off quickly! My husband and I are set to pay our house off late next year (hopefully!) after going at it the last four years and are looking forward to the financial freedom it will allow us in our careers and life in general. I’m constantly worried about our peers (early 30’s) who CONTINUE to accumulate large amounts of debt. I want all the people I love to be financially secure so when i see them making financial decisions that i believe sets them back it makes me incredibly sad. Wow that turned into a novel – but good for you guys! stay the course! you won’t regret it 🙂

  2. My husband and I just went through this process last summer in tc. the markup in this area on building is unbelievable, we had as much as 100k difference in quotes. the key for us was finding someone who was going to work with us on the building process. we ended up selecting a smaller builder in town. we hope to have our build complete at the end of the summer. happy to share any additional insights. looking forward to following your build!

    1. So good to hear someone else has gone through this. That is nuts that you saw that much of a difference. We are now looking at smaller companies in the area. It feels crazy a little bit. I am going to email you cause I would love to chat some more if that is okay.

  3. Always have a second opinion on everything! We find out our project of having a second floor built on top of our house could not be done when we we’re looking for a contractor… our architect had forgoten to make sure the soil underneAth the house could support it before she did the plans. Seriously! That was not an happy ending!

    Anyway, I wish you the best with your project, we too have decided to move and have a farm! So i’m really enjoying reading your journey, even when it does not go as plan!

    Take care,

  4. I appreciate that you are being candid about the building process, and I’m hopeful you will continue to provide tips and guidance as you go through the process. My husband and I bought land in the hudson valley and want to build a small weekend place in a few years, but as I do research I know this will be a major undertaking. Our style is a lot like yours so I’m excited to follow your progress. Best of luck. I’m sure in the end it will be worth it.

    1. Oh I am glad. I didn’t want to freak out anyone talking about it so openly. I just think it can be so misleading out there when you see all these pretty places and think they are simple but before you ever get to the look there is so much more. We love the Hudson Valley! What a treat. I cannot to see what you do!!!

  5. we looked for someone to guide the project with their expertise & contacts with good subcontractors AND would work with us, letting us do a lot. Example: we were the clean up crew, every night we would clean/clear debris (nails, wood cuts, drywall, etc.), make the dump runs, our general contractor hired the electrician to do the rough-in and we did the final (putting in all the sockets, switches, light fixtures, etc. – a couple of night after work and we were done & proud!), we primed & painted inside & out after the drywaller finished his texture. Once we had our design done, we made a list of all the fixtures (toilets, tub, shower, light fixtures, cabinets, etc.) and we started shopping – using a borrowed garage for storage, enabling us to get some great deals, closeouts and special touches that came mail order as well as local sourcing, letting us spread a little bit of the costs over the 6 month construction period. we wish-listed some of the items and when asked for birthday or christmas present ideas, a stainless steel laundry room sink and a couple of light fixtures as well as a bunch of cabinet knobs & pulls happened! Our project took a little bit longer because of the work we did (we had to perform it after our 8-5 jobs & weekends) but we learned a lot about how to do a lot (tile work, grouting, we installed our own insulation, too!) and I feel very comfortable with knowing all the particulars about our homes construction. We are on track with a 10 year payoff, too! I know you can do it, it’s finding someone who shares your vision, wants to be a partner in the project and has patience (with all the questions!) – we interviewed / got bids from 5 contractors – the one we picked was in the middle of the price extremes and the one who gave us great references (we went and looked at former projects & talked to the home owners) AND most of all, was willing to work with our schedules vs. his to complete the project.

    1. My parents did that on their home. My dad use to be a builder so it was very easy. We have committed to doing some of the projects ourselves, but since we don’t live near the building site it will make it a little hard. It is almost 40 minutes away one way from where we currently rent. So we are trying to simplify the design and find a few ways to save some. This is great advice though!!! Thank you 🙂

  6. I’m excited to see how the designs turn out! My parents just bought 9 acres in the Hill Country in Tx last year and ultimately want to build a small dogtrot or tiny house to retire in. They’re currently still clearing the land and it is a long process but they just got electricity so that’s a big step! My dad used to be a contractor and it will be interesting to see how they build the house since I’m not sure that’s an undertaking they can do on their own…

  7. Its a long journey but it will be worth it! WE ARE APPROX 2 MONTHS FROM MOVING INTO OUR HOUSE WHICH IS CURRENTLY UNDER CONSTRUCTION. We found the design process/Council sign off a lot harder and more time consuming than expected but the actual building stage seems to be going pretty quickly. Since we have a new baby and time is tight (we also do not live onsite) we are taking more of the project management jobs and spending a lot of time making calls/getting quotes/organising contractors and inspections etc to try and make the project go more smoothly and let the builder focus on what he does best. Our budget is also VERY tight and this was difficult during the design process but in some ways has helped us to relax about the build as we know we have cut all that we are comfortable cutting and the few extras we have kept in the design are worth it for us.
    I’m really looking forward to watching your house take shape – best of luck!

  8. My husband I just finished this process about a year ago. We had built our previous home (downstate) and were shocked at the markups – some as much as 4x higher! It was very eye-opening. We didn’t know any contractors or Subs when we moved up here like we did before. We are getting ready to put our house on the market and do it again. We learned a lot through this process, unfortunately most the hard way, but hope we can take what we learned and apply it for our next home.

    GOod luck!