Homeowner Rachel D tells us about the challenges and triumphs she's had along her homebuilding journey. She discusses how the pandemic has affected her build, what resources she's used to help her through the design-build process and where she's found some of her design inspiration and fixtures.
MICHELLE: Tell us about yourself and your family and what part of the country you’re in.
RACHEL: I’m married to my wonderful husband David. We have 4 children, one of which is 5 months. So we were building our house in the midst of a pregnancy. And we live in SW Ohio.
MICHELLE: When did you start and finish your build?
RACHEL: Started the design phase with the floor plans in April 2021. We finalized the floor plans in November 2021 and were supposed to break ground in December 2021, but that go pushed back to January 2022. So we broke ground the first week of January. We were supposed to close the last week of November, but that got pushed to mid to late January 2023.
MICHELLE: Let’s talk about the design and style of your house.
RACHEL: My husband like more modern and I like more traditional so we compromised on a style that I call “modern transitional.” We definitely wanted a first floor gym and a curved staircase, which was a huge pain, but it’s going to be gorgeous. We wanted a walkout deck but the builder said because of the grade of our lot we weren’t able to do that. And we wanted a turret, a curved outside structure with windows that you see from the front, just to give the house a bit of interest. I wanted the house to look like something I’ve never seen and that no one has ever built before.
MICHELLE: Well, I think you’ve achieved that Rachel. I really is a good-looking house. Now, what about your house plan? Did you purchase your house plan online or have one drawn up?
RACHEL: No, we did not purchase the house plan. It was fully custom. We had a general idea of the features we wanted— the layout, the number of bedrooms and where we wanted the bedrooms to be. Countless hours on Pinterest helped with the design of the house.
MICHELLE: How did the pandemic affect your build?
RACHEL: Shortages of labor that is effecting us even now. The trim guy is several weeks behind. Definitely longer build times, like I explained earlier. One of the first things we ordered back in February of last year was our appliances, but they said because of supply chain issues, when we move we likely won’t have our microwave. It’s prolonged the entire build process. Typically they build within 10 months, from start to finish. Ours, as I explained earlier, is taking much longer than that.
MICHELLE: Did you change any of your design elements or selections because of supply chain issues?
RACHEL: Yes. For our gym, we wanted an indoor-outdoor feel so the gym opens up to the back patio. But the door we wanted was a very large accordion style door and we just could not find it due to supply chain issues. They did find one, but it was $15,000 and we decided we couldn’t justify spending that on that door, so went with a different style door— a 3 panel door/window, but only one of the doors opens. It still gives the open feel we wanted but it’s not the huge breakaway door that we initially thought we’d have.
MICHELLE: What advice do you have for us regarding dealing with and communicating with contractors?
RACHEL: We don’t deal too much with the subcontractors too much, but we talk with our general contractor on a regular basis. Having a really good personal relationship with him has made the process a lot smoother. He is very responsive to texts, but there is also an app called BUILDER TREND that we used from the start of the build. The builders communicate everything though that app. We send emails through the app and they put progress photos in there. They include a calendar and timeline that lets you know what they are working on and what is to come from week to week. It lets you see if you are on schedule and behind.
MICHELLE: How often do you speak with your general contractor?
RACHEL: At least weekly. We are communicating more often as we are getting closer to the finish.
MICHELLE: How often are you visiting the job site and what did you do when you found a mistake?
RACHEL: We sold our home when everyone was selling their homes and moved into an apartment for a few months and now we live with my in-laws who live directly across the street from our new build. So we visit the job site about every other day.
Where there are mistakes, we take photos and try to keep everything on the BUILDER TREND app so everyone is aware of what happened.
MICHELLE: Sounds like you’re like me and what your house to be pretty unique. Did you get any push back or resistance to some newer ideas that you had that may have been new to your GC?
RACHEL: Definitely. We had a room that we wanted to have a wall of floor to ceiling mirrors on one side and floor to ceiling wainscoting on the other. And there was a hidden door. But when it came time to build it, there were safety concerns, so they came up with another idea. That was something we got some push back on.
I wanted my front steps to be curved which they had never done before, so we went back and forth with renderings until we came to a compromise.
And it’s helpful to go into it with the mindset that they (the contractors) have never built this house before or built something like this before, and give them some slack because they will likely run into some complications with the logistics of it all.
MICHELLE: Did you do any online shopping for materials or fixtures? If so, what are some of your favorite online resources?
RACHEL: Yes because they were things they would offer but some of the things were pretty standard and didn’t go with my style. I used Pinterest a lot to get ideas of what I was going for. A lot of our big fixtures I found at Arhaus. I would try to find dupes if I could at Wayfair and Overstock, but my big ticket items I got at Arhaus.
MICHELLE: Were there any books or online resources that you used to help you through the design and construction process?
RACHEL: Facebook groups have been extremely helpful. It’s nice to bounce ideas off of each other, ask questions and get advice from people who are in the same boat. You can ask about design and layout issues. The one that I called BUILDING DESIGN AND DECOR Q&A FOR 5000 PLUS SQUARE FOOT HOMES. Also INTERIOR DESIGN ASK ANYTHING.
MICHELLE: Did you decide against using an interior designer?
RACHEL: The builder assigned an interior designer to us from the start. We worked really closely with her on deciding almost all the things— tile, the flow of the house, cabinet colors, etc. She was important in helping to steer our design.
The kitchen has white cabinets and a black island and range hood with gold mercury pendants and we’ll probably go with gold stools and matte black hardware. I tried to go with more traditional things that would last versus more trendy things.
Lighting was one of the things I struggled with the most because my designer would help with all the other things, but with lighting she said “what would you like?” And I didn’t know so I spent a lot of time looking for lighting. I guess I never realized how expensive it was until I got into it. We went with more expensive fixtures in the dining room and kitchen— ones you would see everyday. We scaled back and saved some in bathrooms and the basement. Lighting came from Arhaus, McGee and Co, Wayfair, Overstock and Amazon.
MICHELLE: Any surprise costs that you didn't anticipate? And what are some cost savings tips you can give us?
RACHEL: It was my dream to have a grand foyer with a curved staircase. I didn’t have a good idea of what that would cost. I had an idea in my head about the cost and boy was I wrong. That was something that I wanted so bad, so I went with it.
Other surprise costs: change orders. It costed about $350 for every change we made, plus the cost of any additional materials, if needed. We asked for a closet to be removed from my daughter’s bathroom BEFORE we started building and it still cost $350 (to NOT build it).
The increase in the cost of materials was also an unexpected cost. When we originally were discussing the shower doors for my daughters bathrooms, the cost was $750. The shower doors were mistakenly not ordered so we hadn’t paid for them. Now the cost is $1500 and it will have to be out of pocket.
MICHELLE: I didn’t know how meticulous you have to be with going over the house plans and your products lists. And I’m somewhat meticulous, but you have to go to another level when building a house to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
RACHEL: Yes, and it can be overwhelming because you have so many decisions to make and you have this big form that shows all the decisions that you’ve already made and you wonder if everything is on there and you don’t know. We are noticing some things that we missed and some things that we wanted and now can’t have. We are going with the flow as much as we have as we’re nearing the end.
That's the end of part 1 of our interview with Rachel. Come back for part 2 where Rachel answers even more questions about your homebuilding experiences.