Thursday, August 17, 2017  


Designing and Building Your New Home, Renovation or Addition


For many of us, our homes will be one of the largest, if not the largest investment we will make in our lives. It is important to have a clear direction of where we are headed when we decide to build a new home, remodel or add on to an existing home.

Most of us know what we desire or are looking for in a home but don’t know how to articulate it, much less create a plan that can produce positive results and a well- built home. Some of us know exactly what we want and can state it beautifully, but don’t know how to get from point “A” to point “B”. This is where the services of a competent architect, design build contractor or experienced home designer can make all the difference. There are many options that you should consider when deciding how much help you need and who can provide that help.

A good home designer or architect can guide you through a sea of factors and options regarding the design of a new home, addition or the re-modeling of an existing one. They will help you to uncover the hidden potential that every home has, whether it is apparent or not. Often people use their existing homes based on how they think they should use them instead of using their home in a way that is true to their own identity and lifestyle. A thoughtful home design can make all the difference in the enjoyment of your home, long term.

The Marriage of Good Design and Technology —

The technology available to architects and designers today enables them to create plans that are more accurate than ever before, with more design options than you could possibly imagine.

Through practice (not theory) an architect or residential designer will be able to see you through the design and homebuilding maize. Modern technology can allow you to view your new home or addition in 3-D precision. Seeing an elevation or rendering of your dream home or addition prior to construction can help solidify your plans or show you areas that may need some tweaking.

Many homebuilders today also have their own in-house designers and architects that they consult with on a regular basis. They are also able to work with you to create a design that meets your needs and budget.

Perhaps you purchased plans from one of the many excellent plan houses and have been waiting for the right time to embark on building your dream home. The many excellent homebuilders in our area and architectural designers can take your plan to new heights and fully customize it to meet your own specific needs. Whatever has brought you to this point; it is in your best interest to be an informed buyer.

Partners with a Common Goal

Selecting the right homebuilder, designer or architect is essential as you will be partners, working hand in hand for the best possible outcome. Although your various motivations will vary, the goal of each party should be the same. It has often been said that “partnerships are the hardest ships to sail”. This need not be so if everyone is getting their needs met on the owner/designer/builder team. All relationships, whether personal or professional require mutual respect, a willingness to work through differences and to have reachable common goals.

The Design Process – Choosing an Architect or Designer and a Builder

Meet with several home designers or architects to establish a rapport and see if the goals of the designer/architect are consistent with your own. This initial “session” will either feel good or it won’t. The same goes for meeting with potential contractors. There needs to be an element of connection and understanding.

Ask to see examples of their work to determine if their design and construction style or “voice” will fit with yours goals.

Solicit recommendations from friends, associates and acquaintances regarding architects, home designers, contractors and suppliers that they have used. Trust is very important at this point. You’ll want someone who can perceive your building and design needs and meet those needs with your best interest at heart.

The Design Process – What You Need to Bring to the Table

In order for a home designer, architect or design/build contractor to identify your needs, it is helpful if you make a “wish list” of everything that you wish to have or utilize in your new home or addition. Items can be prioritized later regarding their overall importance to you and their impact on the overall budget. In the beginning, everything should be “on the table” for consideration.

Jot down mental notes that you can share with your chosen designer or architect. Their knowledge will help sort through these mental notes.

Good design can and should be built around what inspires and interests you— the homeowner.

If you or a family member has any mobility issues, your architect or home designer will need to know this as well and can incorporate this in the overall design.

Identify your personal style. Often people know what they like but do not know what their overall personal style is. A good designer or architect can help you uncover what that is. They are also experts at helping you to meld styles
in a way that can solve a lot of conflicts between spouses or family members.

Questions to Ask a Potential Architect, Home Designer and Design-Build General Contractor so That You Can Be Sure They are a “Good Fit” for You and You for Them.

  • What is their design philosophy? You will need to know this in order to determine whether or not this is the right architect or designer for your project.
  • What do they see as the necessary steps in the design and construction process?
  • How interested are they in your project?
  • How busy are they and will they be able to give your project the attention to detail it deserves?
  • Will they provide a list of references for you to contact?
  • What do they think sets them apart from the other architects, designers and homebuilders in the area and why should you choose them for your project?
  • Will they allow you to have input in choosing sub-contractors and suppliers?
  • How thorough and detailed will their plans be and will you be getting what you pay for?
  • What will be the fee or draw schedule for the project?
  • Will they be willing to set a timeline for the design and construction of the project?
  • How does the architect or designer see their roll in your home design? Are they designing the home for themselves or for you, the client?
  • Are they willing to be flexible with regards to your wishes?

  • What is the architect or designers reputation with good builders and with past clients?
  • Will you be dealing throughout the project with the designer / architect or will you be dealing with someone other than the one who designs your home?
  • What is their experience and track record with regard to cost estimating?
  • Have their past projects had excessive change orders due to poor contract documents?
  • What is their management style? n What will the architect show you along the way to explain the project?
  • Will you see renderings, drawings, sketches, or all of the above?
  • If the scope of the project changes later in the project, what will the additional fees be and how will these fees be justified?
  • What services will they be willing to provide, if needed, during construction?

The Owner-Architect or Owner-Designer Agreement

Owner-architect agreements spell out what you and your architect bring to the relationship and what you can expect
from each other. This legally binding agreement ensures that you both envision the same project, requirements and expectations. A good contract eliminates misunderstandings and preserves relationships, from the outset. You should ALWAYS consult your attorney prior to signing any contract. A good contract will protect your interests. This contract should:

  • Determine project requirements.This involves determining what you will be building and how it will be sited. Review schedule and budget requirements and all anticipated team members. If you are at all unsure of your ability to look out for your own interests during the construction phase of the project – you may wish to utilize the architect/designer as your advocate.
  • Describe project tasks and assigned responsibilities. It should identify the administrative, design, construction and facility operation tasks involved, and who will be responsible for each.
  • Identify construction schedule requirements and develop a timeline for the completion of tasks.
  • Establish the compensation to be paid to the architect or home designer

Building Your New Home or Addition – What’s Involved?

Building your new home or addition can be a rewarding and often challeng- ing endeavor. It can be rewarding when done well. There are several areas that you will need to budget for. On the front end, you could incur costs associated with using the services of an architect or home designer. This is may not included in a home-builder’s actual construction contract or cost of construction, as it may be a pre-construction expense.

Site work includes survey work, clearing, location of your septic field, driveways, landscaping, well drilling, etc. It is sometimes included in the overall construction cost by some contractors and excluded by others. It is often up to the owner to determine how involved he/ she wants to be with regard to site work. Site work is essential as it supports and anchors the new home being built, but is not actually part of it.

The actual cost of construction will usually include a fixed price contract, as well as what is included in that fixed price – to build your home. Often the contract will include various allowances that the general contractor is giving the homeowner on items such as: flooring, cabinets, carpet, appliances, counter-tops, bath/plumbing fixtures, lighting fixtures, door hardware, ceiling fans, etc. As the job progresses and nears completion, a list of debits and credits will be presented, showing you the state of affairs with regard to your allowances. If you do not use all of the monies allotted by the contractor for certain items, these will be credited to you. Likewise, if you exceed your allowances in other areas– these will be shown as debits and will be billed accordingly as “change orders” to the original contract.

It is very important to keep a written record of your discussions with your home- builder and to be aware of what your choices have been and how they will affect your budget. If you have an unlimited budget you will still want to know where your money is going.

Bringing Dreams to Life

Of equal importance to having a great plan of action, good design and well executed contract documents is to hire a qualified general contractor who specializes in quality homebuilding. Whoever you hire to build your home will need to have a proactive approach to project management and customer satisfaction. They should be a good communicator, good listener and have the where-with-all to complete the job. You will want to be sure that your GC is financially solvent and have the financial ability to see your home to completion.

In our area we are fortunate to have some of the finest and most innovative homebuilders in the entire Commonwealth of Virginia. Whether you wish to build a fully custom “stick-built” home or a “systems built” home – your contractor of choice awaits you here.

Hybrid options include a “systems built” basic house that utilizes custom and luxury interior and exterior finishes on- site. Like many traditionally built homes, system built homes employ in- house designers who can offer you customizable packages or utilize your own plans of choice.

Comparing Apples to Oranges

There can be vast differences in prices from contractor to contractor due to what they are including or excluding in their price structure. Just because a price is the lowest on the front end doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the best value. Likewise the price quoted can be high, but be full of lower end finishes rather than the custom finishes specified. You have every right to expect a fair, honest bid without any smoke and mirrors.

It is of vital importance to go line by line when reviewing bids to be sure what is included in the contractor’s price. You may be tempted to look at the bottom line and think you are comparing apples to apples, when in fact you are comparing Apples to oranges. If you are unsure about reviewing your bids, find someone knowledgeable about homebuilding and allow them to assist you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – after all this may well be the largest investment you will ever make.

Some homebuilders will include site work, others will not. Some will bid using quality materials, others will bid a job using lower quality materials on the front end if they are used to building a lower end home. They may then employ change orders for the additional cost of what the homeowner originally specified, over the cheaper option they provided in their bid. As previously mentioned, most homebuilders will offer allowances for certain types of finishes. Be sure on the front end that the allowance is enough to cover the cost of custom or higher end finishes or be prepared to pay extra for this. It is vital that you are fully aware of what you will be getting from the contractor that you choose.

There is no substitute for good verbal and written communication. You will also want to be sure that their sub- contractors have the integrity, knowledge and the ability to do the job right the first time. You’ll want to avoid any company with a track record of “re-dos” and call-backs. When reviewing bids from potential contractors – “a good fit” is as essential as price. You will want to be sure the contractor you are considering understands the scope of the project and what you are trying to accomplish.

Questions to Help You Evaluate Your Potential Homebuilder

  • What percentage of their business is from referrals and repeat business?
  • How much experience do they have building your type of home?
  • How long have they been in business? n Who will be building your home? (Will they be U.S. citizens?)
  • Will the contractor have any of its own employees on site?
  • Having a project manager who is on the job and knows the job is very helpful in keeping a job moving along. Who will be the project manager?
  • Do they have workers compensation and liability Insurance? (Make sure to verify their certificate of insurance by contacting the agency or company from which it was issued). You’ll want to make sure their insurance has not been cancelled or that it has expired.
  • What is their approach to home construction and project management?
  • Are they willing to give you a list of client references as well as a list of their construction suppliers?
  • Do they speak for their work or does their work speak for itself? – this is very important.
  • How innovative are they with regard to fine homebuilding?
  • Are they flexible regarding your ideas and your input or do they have a cookie cutter approach to homebuilding?
  • Make sure your contractor employs the best people for the job – ask around to verify what they are showing you is really who they are.

Finally, give heed to your instincts. Someone may be well versed in acting like an expert but in reality may not be. Evaluate the information you receive as well the information that is missing. Beware of any contractor who is unwilling on the front end to accommodate you and begins to push you into a decision.

Non-verbal cues are important. Just because someone portrays themselves as an expert does not mean that they are. There are contractors, designers and people in general who do a lot of talking about their work and about themselves – essentially they speak for their work.

Then there are those whose work speaks for itself – the quality of their work lines up with their vibrato! As the consumer you have every right to scrutinize your potential home designer, homebuilder, remodeling company and their suppliers. Review all contracts with your attorney prior to signing and also make sure you are carrying the right amount of insurance on your new home while it is under construction.

The Emerging Trend in Fine Homebuilding

An emerging trend in home design and homebuilding today is the return to extremely well-appointed spaces in lieu of size. The era of the “Mc-Mansion” may be coming to an end.

Homeowners today are opting for gorgeous moldings, transomed windows, exquisite flooring, marble countertops and beautifully appointed faucets, sinks, light fixtures and fans. The trend toward downsizing has elevated homebuilding once again, in the higher end market– to an art form. Fortunately, there are homebuilders for every style of home and every budget imaginable. Whether you are building a starter home, retirement home or a show-place – outstanding customer service, integrity, professionalism and great communication are all musts haves.

In Closing

Building a new home or considering a home addition/renovation, can often
be overwhelming and intimidating. Your architect, home designer and home-builder are your design/build partners. Through careful, thoughtful design and good execution they will be able to maximize your dollar with regard to every square foot of livable space.

It cannot be stressed enough that having a good design on the front end is the most inexpensive way to build your dream home. Making it work, “on paper”, before it is built can highlight potential design issues that need to be addressed before even breaking ground. A good design is an investment in your long-term enjoyment and the lifespan of your home.

As 2012 begins, we wish you a year full of triumphs and successes. May all your home-building dreams come true!