Lessons on Building and Buying a New Home

Monday, October 21, 2013

Hello Lovers. I'm alive! No, I did not fall off the planet in the last couple of months as some of you might have thought. I have, however, been beyond busy with moving to our new casa on 'The LG' (a.k.a. Lower Gar to everyone who doesn't know what I'm talking about). In the last month and a half, I have had the privilege of unfortunate task of yelling at our contractor, dealing with not one, but TWO major gas leaks, and unpacking about 200 boxes on moving weekend without the help of T, who escaped to be on call ALL WEEKEND LONG. A BIG shout out to my mom for coming to help with some of the unpacking in his absence.

T & I on closing day. So excited to finally be able to move into our new home.

The boxes. T is trying to hide himself from having to help unpack!

LESSONS LEARNED | Home Building & Buying

1. We loved choosing all the finishes and personalizing our home to our own tastes.

2. We purchased a spec home (a residence built without a particular buyer in mind or under contract, but designed to appeal to the maximum market possible) at a very early stage of construction and then basically turned it custom. Our builder was very disorganized, and never once shared a list of allowances for the various areas of our home. Read: all those finishes and personalization we love so much = upgrades. We are very pleased with the end product, but there was a lot lost in translation when it came to budget.

Image via pinterest

3. Communication. There was a major breakdown when it came to communication between us, the builder, the listing agent, and the bank handling our mortgage. The builder, who I mentioned did not share the allowances/upgrades with T&I, also did not share them with the listing agent who draws up the final closing statements. Therefore, the bank was not aware of any upgrades until the very last minute causing a mad scramble to have our home re-appraised, and the mortgage revised to reflect the adjustments. SIDE NOTE: Our own personal realtor, Kirk Stauss of Stauss Realty was a delight to work with, and we would highly recommend using their services if you are in the market for a new home in the Iowa Great Lakes area. 

Another example of breakdown in communication. The week before we closed, we were forced to change several major items, including, but not limited to: all faucet and bath hardware, countertops, and carpet. Seriously. All of these items had been decided upon and shared maaaaany months earlier, so on top of everything else that seemed to be crumbling around that time, this was another major stress to add to the pile.

image via pinterest

4. Timeline. When we purchased our home...waaaaaaay back in April, our tentative closing date was July 31st. Yes. July 31st. July came and went, August came and went, and the greater part of September came and went. We finally closed on September 25 (hallelujah!), after what is quite possibly the most stressful few weeks of our lives to date. NO. JOKE.

Explanation: T & I locked in our mortgage rate waaaaay back in mid-June for 90 days. This should have been more than enough time for our contractor to get the job finished, buying him an extra month and half to finish after our tentative closing date. We immediately saw the cost-savings benefit to us as the interest rates continued to rise for more than a month after we locked in. However, that 90-day lock is pretty concrete. As time closed in on our 90 days, it became apparent that our builder was not going to finish the job. After a serious talking to, he agreed that our house should have been completed long before this became an issue, and ended up paying for the extension on our mortgage to keep our rate lock. Whew! (For any of you out there in this situation, know that you are able to get a 15 or 30 day extension on a 90-day lock, but you'll have to pay a percentage of your mortgage in order for this to happen.)

image via pinterest

Lesson: When building a house, ask for a general timeline of what will be happening when, and always ALWAYS have it written into your purchase agreement that if the agreed upon date passes, it is the builder's responsibility to pay any penalties.

Lesson: Confidence. Clearly state your expectations from day one. If you notice things aren't happening, call your builder and demand explanations. If you are tied into a specific timeline based on your mortgage rate lock, communicate this early and often.

Lesson: If purchasing a spec home that you plan to customize, require a list of allowances before signing anything. We asked multiple times for a list, and never received anything in writing regarding the allowances or where we were at with upgrades until closing day. Unacceptable.

Lesson: Ask around the community you live in for recommendations on local contractors. Ours does nice work, but has terrible management of subcontractors, has too many projects going at once, and has very poor communication.

Ultimately, building our new home has had many ups and downs, and we've learned many valuable lessons. We are happy it is finished, we are moved in, and finally able to enjoy our new home. Would we ever do it again? T's not so sure, but I think now that we have the experience under our belts we would be better prepared for next time...

Do you have any extra advice to add about home building or buying?


  1. These are fine lessons. Everyone should take note of them. One thing we can also do is to bring in a mechanism with which to systematize these buncha processes, to get a clearer view of the home we want to see at the end of the line. A software, maybe; totally worth trying.

    Yolanda @ Co-Construct

  2. I bet you had a lot in your plate back then. Congrats on the new house, and thank you for sharing us the lessons you learned. I hope following your advice would make the process of building and buying a new home somewhat bearable for new homeowners. Calvin @ CityBlockTeam.com

  3. Lessons learned, Natalie. It’s nice to know that all these problems led you to various realizations, which might be helpful to first-time homebuyers who are reading your post. Anyway, I suggest you consider getting a warranty for your built-in appliances, HVAC systems and plumbing. It’ll be very helpful in preventing miscommunication problems between you and your contractors. How are you now?

    Amos Daniel


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