Before we lucked out on finding our land, my husband Will and I went back and forth endlessly between building or renovating a house.
For him, there’s a bit of nostalgia to it. His parents found a pristine plot of land in the ’60s and spent the next 10 years building their dream home, much of it with their own hands (and it’s still going strong today). He grew up remembering all the sacrifices, hard work, and rewards that came with a solidly built house that involved your own sweat and tears.
On the other hand, I never thought that my first home purchase (especially as I’m nearing 40 years old) would be a teardown-come-new-construction. Renovations, DIY, and working within the confines of an old home with character were things I’d just assumed would be in my future. So while Will was familiar with what it took to start from scratch, homebuilding was uncharted territory for me.
Here’s why we decided to go the custom home route.
Building a house was on par with renovating a house, cost-wise
If you’ve read my previous post, you might remember that we actually searched high and low for two years for a home to make our own. We’d hoped to find a fixer with good bones in a great neighborhood, but it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
In a booming market like Bend, Oregon, it was nearly impossible to find the right balance of budget, location, land, and size. We wanted a home where we could raise our family and establish a homestead, not just settle for a few years and move on once we’d outgrown it.
After looking at dozens of real estate listings, we came to the realization that we could easily spend just as much money renovating an old home as we would if we’d built a home exactly how we wanted it, where we wanted it. Building simply made sense as a long-term plan for our family.
Once the decision to build was made, I spent my free time Googling things like “how to be your own general contractor,” “how to get a construction loan,” and “how much does it cost to build a house.”
I researched online house plans, energy-efficient building options, and passive solar design principles. I went to a local home show where dozens of companies in the building trades exhibited their goods and services, and I brought home piles of specs on roofing, siding, flooring, plumbing, and HVAC equipment.
In short, I wanted to learn as much as possible about the homebuilding process to gauge whether we’d be in over our heads with building a custom home, as opposed to buying a prefabricated, modular, or semi-custom stock home.
You see, we were hesitant at first because we need a construction loan to make this happen. After talking with a few banks, we learned that we can’t get approved for a loan until we have a bid from a builder. But, we don’t know how much house to design until we have some numbers from a bank. It’s truly a catch-22.
All we know is the range we want our monthly mortgage to fall in, so we’re going off that figure and crossing our fingers that our design fits within that budget (a budget that’s relatively small for Bend, but we’re hoping to offset that by doing some of the work ourselves).
All that to say… We are going for it! (A little terrifying to think about, actually.)
We can build energy efficiency into our house from the get-go
Before we’d even closed on our property, we knew that our number-one priority for our new home would be energy efficiency. We saw new construction as an opportunity to go beyond “builder basics” and make smart decisions from day one that would pay dividends in the years to come.
Too often, new construction (especially in our area) means speedy builds with no forethought as to orientation, insulation, structural integrity, or energy costs.
For us, however, new construction meant we could position the house and windows in a way that maximized solar gain, perform energy calculations to determine ideal insulation levels for our climate, focus on air sealing methods to achieve an airtight building envelope, plan for good ductwork design to support our heating and cooling needs, and select home appliances and systems that could be supplemented with renewable energy sources in the future, to name a few things on our wish list.
While many of these features can be added to an existing home, it’s more expensive to install them after the fact than it is to build them into a home during construction. (If you’ve ever had to upgrade plumbing or wiring in an older home, you know how crazy it can get!)
All of these decisions—while not nearly as exciting or glamorous as, say, picking paint colors or countertops—are long-range solutions that we couldn’t have easily implemented in an existing structure.
We’re choosing to invest most of our money into the things that no one sees, and while I hope we’ll have a little bit left in our budget to splurge on something fun like a statement tile, I know these are things we won’t regret.
Many aesthetic features can be inexpensively DIYed or changed down the line, but the guts of the house aren’t something we want to scrimp on.
We can choose the exact features and finishes we want
Speaking of aesthetics, a huge advantage of building a fully custom home is being able to choose every single fixture, tile, slab, paint color, and trim, right down to the tiniest details. We even created our own electrical and lighting plan because we knew where we wanted extra outlets, separate circuits, and different types of switches, and what kind of lighting to put throughout the house.
For many people, making these kinds of decisions would be a nightmare. But what I’ve learned in the last four months of intense planning is that my Type A personality works well with this extreme level of detail, as does my design background, which is loving all the problem-solving and creative stimulation.
We’ve done a massive amount of research and after several iterations, we’ve landed on the perfect design that’s a little bit Linda, a little bit Will, and a whole lot of awesomeness.
What’s next in the homebuilding stage
With most of the structural details pinned down, we’re now trying to establish a reasonable budget for the interior finishes. This is one area where we’re trying to stay super flexible, as it’s the easiest place to save money if necessary. (It’s also the easiest place to overspend since a few hundred dollars here and there really adds up!)
While we’re visiting showrooms and browsing magazines for inspiration, our home designer is wrapping up his end of the project. Our construction drawings are currently in the engineering stage, and I am super excited to reveal our plans once they’re approved in a few weeks.
I have much more to update on the site prep front, but I’ll save that for another post!
(P.S. This isn’t the greatest picture, but it was taken spur of the moment on the day we closed on our property and it just makes me so happy. I’m hoping I’ll still have that warm, fuzzy feeling about it all when we’re deep in the trenches of construction! Haha.)
Follow along as Garden Betty Builds a House:
- And Just Like That, We Are Officially Landowners
- Why We Decided to Build a Custom Home
- Pre-Construction Progress: Septic Feasibility, House Plans, and Property Cleanup
- How We Found Land to Build On—and How You Can, Too
- A Surprise Move With a Silver Lining
- The Home Building Begins: A Recap of the Last 5 Years
- Demo Day: Tearing Down Our Old House
- What You Should Know Before Buying Land (My Real-Life Tips)
- Construction Loans: What I Wish I’d Known As a First-Time Borrower
- How to Get a Construction Loan While Being Self-Empoyed—My Experience