9 Ways To Survive Building A House (With a Little of Your Sanity in Tact)

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It’s no secret that going through a new home build is a stressful process. Our own farmhouse build was so much more challenging than we ever could have expected, and it took a toll on us mentally, physically, and emotionally. Whether it be the seemingly endless list of decisions to make, weather delays, or trying to keep it all under budget – the possible causes of stress are all around you. It’s even been known to take a toll on marriages, although thankfully that wasn’t the case for us.

Sitting on the other side, with a finished (well, you know, mostly) house and the build behind us, we can now look back and see what helped us get through the bumpy process, and a few things we wish we could go back and tell ourselves before we ever bought our first piece of property.

  1. Expect Delays.

You know that date you have in your mind that you’re expecting to be all moved into your new house? You probably won’t be. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but you will most likely have delays in your build. Even if you’re expecting some delays, expect more. I hope I’m not sounding too pessimistic here, but I think it’s so much easier to deal with delays and setbacks when you’re mentally prepared for them. We expected delays, but we didn’t expect MONTHS of them. Every holiday, every milestone, every date on the calendar we had looked forward to in our new house that came and went HURT. It’s fun to look ahead and look forward to those things of course, but it helps to keep a little wiggle room in your planning (And daydreaming!). That being said, you could be one of the lucky ones whose build stays completely on schedule, and if you are consider yourself very fortunate!

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2. Choose Your Builder Carefully

If at all possible, choose a builder (or subcontractor) that someone you know has used and recommends. Having a good builder is everything. I don’t want to get into our specific situation here, so I will just say: your choice of builder makes a big difference in the way your build runs, how on schedule you stay, how in the loop you are, how mistakes are handled, etc. etc. If I could go back and give myself one piece of advice, this would be it. Moving on…

3. Plan Ahead For a Few Splurges

It’s going to happen. You’re going to have the budget all set, your resolve strong, and you. will. not. be. moved. And then you’re going to see the bathroom faucet of your dreams and all of that will go out the window because of course it’s three times the cost you have budgeted. Been there, bought that, and yes, it’s quite a dreamy bathroom faucet. Worth every penny. It’s a smart idea to give yourself a little cushion in your budget for those items you just HAVE to have.

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4. Have a Survival Kit

This may not apply to everyone, but if your situation is anything like ours was, you will definitely want to take this advice. Our land was a 35 minute drive from where we were living during our build, and it was in the middle of nowhere. The closest store/restaurant/public bathroom was almost 10 minutes away. We also have 3 young kids and were out at the property often, especially in the early stages when we were doing some of the work on the land ourselves. If this sounds anything like your situation, try to have a way to have a little survival kit for things you may need while you’re out there and might forget to pack every single time – a change of clothes for the kids, wipes/paper towels, snacks, bottles of water. We were really fortunate to be able to keep a camper trailer parked on our property during most of our build. Not only is this a great way to prevent job site theft (because no one knows if someone is staying there), but it was wonderful to have a place to take the kids to warm up and get out of the rain (Washington state build over here), and we stored all kinds of items there just in case. I totally understand that might not be feasible for you, but even keeping a bag packed in the back of your car is a great option.

5. Get Out of Town

Sometimes you just need a break. Building is exhausting, even when you’re not doing the bulk of the “building” yourself. Making all of those decisions for months is exhausting in itself, not to mention if you’re driving out there every other night or doing some of the GC work yourself. Plan a vacation or a weekend getaway at some point during the middle of your build to give yourself a break. It’s nice to have something to look forward to and helps break up the time. Seriously, go somewhere and have some fun and don’t think about which pendants you’re going to choose for over your kitchen island. Just for a few days.

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6. Don’t Worry What Anyone Else Thinks

Maybe you want a pink front door, or blue cabinets, or ship lap pretty much everywhere (ahem). Not everyone is going to get your choices, but not everyone has to live in your house! I felt a little bit of pressure when the finishes started going in, because not everything we were doing was typical. Not everyone was a fan of the ship lap, some didn’t care for our black faucets, some think a white house is boring. You can’t please everyone, and the good news is you don’t have to! This is your house, so as long as you love it that’s really all that matters. The moment I realized that I LOVED my house and I would love it even if ship lap went out of style next week (never!) I felt so much more freedom in my choices. Design a house you love and let the other opinions roll off your back.

7. Check In Often

Even with a great builder, some mistakes may happen. We found it was crucial to check out what was happening at the house often, as we would often find things that had been overlooked. A few examples: two windows completely missed, the kitchen island built differently than we wanted, and our attic trusses were ordered incorrectly. Because we were there often, those mistakes were quickly found and able to be fixed. Had they not been caught as early, they may have become much bigger issues.

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8. Don’t Stress Every Little Detail

I know a beautiful house is all about the details. I love the details. But try to keep perspective. There probably will be something that isn’t perfect about your house when all is said and done. Maybe the tile grout got a little sloppy, or a piece of trim isn’t quite right, or your carpet doesn’t really match the doors as well as you’d hoped (that last one was my example. Sigh). It’s all going to be okay. When your house is complete and you live there, those little details are not going to stick out to you as much as they do the day you first notice them. I know there are some details that will mean a lot to you and can and should be fixed if they’re not working out right. But if it’s something small and you think you can live with it, try not to stress it.

9. Keep Your Eyes On The Finish Line

Building a house is a marathon, not a sprint. It will feel slow at times. Sometimes excruciatingly so. Say it with me: slow progress is still progress. Trust me, I wondered if we would EVER live in this house. We dreamed and planned and worked for four years before we finally got to move in. And now, it just feels like home. I have to remind myself how long we waited to get to this point, because those memories fade while you’re making new ones in your new home. Try not to compare your progress with someone else’s and try to not get discouraged if your projected “move in” date arrives and you’re still in the middle of drywall. Slow progress is still progress, and you’re getting a little closer every day.

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Home Sweet Home

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Our Building Journey

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Our farmhouse – 2018. It took us YEARS to reach this big dream

If you’ve been following on Instagram for awhile, or know us in “real life,” you probably know some of our backstory – why we wanted to build, how long it took (spoiler alert: it took a long time), and the challenges we faced to get to our dream house. But I think most of you have gotten to know us more recently and probably have no idea.

My husband, Josh, is an architect and it’s always been his dream to design and build a house of our own. Josh has definitely been the dreamer in our marriage, while I often took on the role of Worst Case Scenario Imaginer/Big Dream Buzzkill. You know, the one who asked the no fun questions like: How would we afford to do that? But where would we live while we build? Do you have any idea how expensive land is around here? That kind of thing. So jumping on board this dream was a little scary for me, but we both loved houses and the thought of designing one from scratch together was enticing.

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Accomplishing a goal he’d worked toward since high school – becoming a licensed architect!

About 5-6 years ago we started casually looking at properties. Josh was always keeping an eye out for a deal on land for sale, even though we really thought it would be way in the future. At the time he wasn’t an architect yet – he was studying all the time and going through the testing process to get his license – and I was a stay at home mom to our two kids. Money was pretty tight. That all changed when we found a piece of land for a great price in an amazing location that seemed really perfect for us. One detail I didn’t mention before is that we lived next door to my dad. He lived alone, and when Josh and I were newly married the house next door went up for sale – and we bought it! We liked being neighbors (um hello free babysitting! And if you’re reading this we like your company too, Dad…)  and when we started talking about buying property and building – we all decided it would be ideal if we could somehow buy adjacent properties or a parcel big enough to split up so we could still be neighbors. Well this land that we found just so happened to be two 5-acre parcels side-by-side!

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Dreaming dreams and making plans at our original property

We did our due diligence, we hired an expert to make sure it would be buildable, and we got a great deal on the land. Everything seemed to be falling into place perfectly, and after praying about it and feeling total peace about the whole thing – we went for it! And Dad bought the lot next door. We didn’t have a lot of resources to put into the land or house at that time, so we decided just to take our time and do work on the land ourselves to get it ready to build. We spent many hours, evenings, and weekends there clearing brush and trees and putting in a driveway. My thoughtful husband even built a little playhouse out there so the kids would have somewhere to play while we spent many hours working on the land. We designed our house plan and knew where our backyard would go and where we’d put the kids’ playground and our garden. We were finally ready to start building, so we submitted our site plan to the county – which, based on the info we’d been given from our wetland’s biologist, we thought was an easy approval. Then one day, an e-mail popped into our inbox. I couldn’t tell you the exact wording, it’s all kind of a blur at this point, but the overall message was loud and clear: STOP ALL WORK IMMEDIATELY. I really felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. Unbeknownst to us, the wetlands regulations had changed since we purchased the property less than a year previously, and we were left with no buildable land anywhere on our 5 acre parcel. Dad’s 5 acres next door was in the same boat. We were completely shocked, so we did the only thing we could think to do: start looking for a loophole. We had a second opinion of the wetlands done, which unfortunately didn’t come back in our favor. Our last and only option was to apply for something called a Reasonable Use Exemption, which basically is a way for property owners to use land that would otherwise be unbuildable. This was a pretty lengthy process. We even had to have a hearing examiner meeting, which was at the courthouse and felt a little like an interrogation – super intimidating! After all of that, they finally agreed on a site plan for us. Unfortunately the site plan was VERY different from what we’d envisioned. We would have to choose a different house plan with a smaller footprint, have a pretty small yard , and our house would be up against a pretty busy street. We’d envisioned a long driveway with our house tucked away from the road behind the trees. We’d dreamed of a big yard with lots of quiet and privacy. Pretty much the opposite of what we would be able to build there now.

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