We're building a house! Where, how and a construction update
Flashback to a year ago: We were living paycheck to paycheck. Kevin was unemployed, and I was nearing the end of contract work with no future plans locked down.
If you’d told me that just a few months later we would be under contract for a new home? Oh man, I probably would have laughed so hard I’d cry.
But here we are. And here’s a breakdown of what happened and what I’ll cover in this post:
Where we’re moving, why and when
Why we chose to build
What the construction process has been like
How we saved for the down payment
The where, why and when
We’ve been looking to move more north for about a year. Around that time I started working approximately an hour and 20 minutes away. Kev was still working down still (and will be for the foreseeable future), so we were hoping to find something that would cut down on my long commute, but not be too far for him, either.
Since I commute via train, we needed it to be relatively close to a train station, and also close to the freeway so Kevin could drop me off and then be able to get to work easily.
We looked and looked, but everything we liked was snatched up almost immediately, or it wasn’t quite the right time. Back in March our realtor suggested we take a look at a new development going up. It was less than 10 minutes from the station and the freeway, and they were offering a lot of community amenities. While we were nervous at the prospect of a new build, we decided to go for it — but more on that later.
We went under contract the next week, and then immediately went to the design center and spent the next two weeks picking out all the options. We signed off, and then the waiting began.
At this point, we are about three months away from completion. The original completion date was late August, but we’ve had an extremely unseasonal Spring, and it looks like we’ll probably be closing in September.
Currently, we’re moving out of our apartment where we’ve been living for the last three years, and we’ll be staying with family until it’s finished.
Choosing to build
Having this be our first home and a brand new build is a big luxury, and it’s not what we’d planned. We know this still isn’t going to be our forever home, but building ended up being the best option for a few reasons:
We have more control over what we get
It gave us an extra six months to save for the down payment
Building allowed us to plan for a move and still be able to lock down the location and price we wanted.
At this point in time, there are no more units available in the new development, so it was clearly the right decision to hop on something that we couldn’t even see yet.
It was also a lot of fun to be able to pick exactly what we wanted. Even though we won’t be here forever, there were still some things we wanted to make it feel like a personalized home. By the time we move in, it will already be worth more than what we locked our price in at, so that wasn’t a bad perk, either.
We spent a lot of time looking at pre-existing places, and nearly every time they were snatched up faster than we could even contact someone to look at it, or they were not what we were expecting. The Utah market has exploded recently with a lot of big tech companies moving in, and there aren’t enough homes to go around. So jumping on this while we could, and still having time to plan ahead was a big plus for two people with really busy lives.
I assumed that building would end up being more expensive, but we’ve been able to come in just under our price range. Since we weren’t doing a private build, just taking a unit that was going to be built regardless and already had a floor plan, the dollar signs I was afraid of weren’t there.
We’d heard nightmares about people choosing to build and all he things that could go wrong. My in-laws had just finished a build, and it was a rough process for them. But after talking it through with a lot of people and between ourselves, we decided it was the best option. Part of our decision came from the fact that a lot of this community had already been completed, and this floor plan had been done over and over, so the builders had a pretty good grasp on things by now.
Construction so far
The first time we drove by, it was just dirt.
Then we went a few weeks later and there was foundation.
Last week, the whole building was up and framed, and when we stopped by this week, there were walls.
It all feels like it’s going SO fast, but it’s been so amazing to see the process. Every time we go by I get a little more excited and can’t wait to move in. It’s really amazing to walk through and see the bones, and how it creates what the place is going to look like.
For the most part, we’ve had absolutely no hiccups. But we did find out that the orientation we thought we were getting, and signed off on, was not what was built. Basically, there was a glitch in their new system, and it showed us a plan different from what the city had signed off on. Of course, they had to go with what the city approved. The difference is that, now, everything is flipped. It’s the opposite of how we thought it would be.
Now, that might seem like a huge deal - and it’s certainly not great - but we had looked at the opposite orientation and liked it. It’s exactly the same, just with things on the opposite sides. We’ll still have the same rooms and views, but the stairs are on the left side of the house instead of right. Once the builders found about this, they’ve been more than accommodating to make it work for us and adjust things as needed.
Things could have been a lot worse, so I’m perfectly fine if that’s going to be the biggest issue.
Next up are the floors, cabinets…and just about everything else. But we’re getting so close to the end. It’s really hard to believe that we signed the original contract all the way back in March. At the time it felt like September was forever away (and it still feels far when I say it), but I realize how close it is when I see how much progress has been made.
How we saved
I often catch myself asking “how did this happen?” and “how are we going to afford this?” even though I’ve been 50% off the decision making and planning process the entire time. The truth is, people my age don’t really buy homes, and the prospect of owning is becoming more and more out of reach.
I believe it’s important to be financially sound. How you manage your money is infinitely more important that the amount of money you make. Yes, you need to make enough to be comfortable, but it’s more important to be able to look at your finances and know your habits and management skills before you go assuming you just need another raise to make things work.
When we started thinking that maybe, just maybe, a house might be on the horizon, I started reading some finance articles and blogs about how fellow millennials had managed to become owners.
What I read was discouraging, frustrating and just so absolutely out of reach for most of us.
The majority of stories consisted of people who had only been able to make their down payments or closing costs with help from parents or other generous relatives. While my parents and my spouse’s parents are not poor, we never considered asking them for money — and they’re not the types who would make that kind of donation. This was something we had to do on our own.
At some point I may go into the nitty gritty about the exact percentages we saved, how we figured out what we could afford, and even how we worked out a down payment that would give us the payments we wanted. For now, though, I thought I’d offer some of the most helpful tips and financial practices that got us here:
Living well below our means
We’ve lived in the same cheap apartment for three years. It’s not a bad place, and I’m sure we could even be happy here for another year, but we purposely chose not to move to a more expensive or newer place whenever our income went up.
We also made sure to get rid of any unnecessary extras: Cable that we just didn’t use, subscriptions to fitness apps when I could just google workouts to do at the gym, and even going down to one car when one broke down. We could have replaced the car or paid for the other things, but it all adds up.
Staying on budget / giving every dollar a job
A common ‘budgeting’ method I see a lot of my peers do is the “well I only need ___ to pay my bills, so the rest I can spend on whatever.” DO NOT DO THIS.
You should be in control of your money, not the other way around. Give every dollar a job and stick to it. You can move funds around as needed, but when you’re debating whether or not to go to another movie that week, check the number in your activities budget, not your overall bank account number.
Doing this will allow you to save a lot more, a lot faster. We only spend the amount that we’ve allocated to a certain category, and we’ve been able to meet our goals by breaking up the finances this way. Always have an emergency fund, and always make sure to give yourself a little fun money, even if it’s just $50 a month.
Do your research
If you want to know how much you need to afford a home, you’re going to need to run some numbers. There are a lot of mortgage calculators out there — use them.
Do research about your area. You might have a desirable area in mind, but with a few Google searches you might find that just 10 minutes farther is where you can get the most home for your money.
Calculate the monthly payment you want and then find out how much of a down payment you’ll need to get that price.
Research your options. There are a lot of first time homebuyer programs out there, as well as federal and state-level incentives. You don’t know what’s available to you until you try!
Overall, sticking to a very strict budget and not raising our lifestyle to match our pay was how we made it happen. There were times I became extra stingy, and others that I splurged a bit, but the lesson is that one impulse purchase isn’t going to ruin your life. Just like with a diet, not every day is perfect when it comes to finances. The important thing is just making sure you get back on track and quickly as possible.
It also ended up being a good lesson in learning wants vs. needs. Turns out, we need very little and can still do a lot. There isn’t anything I need right now to be happy, and that’s been a good thing to learn.
I understand that buying a home is still going to be out of reach for a lot of people. But I think that there are still many of us who want to make it happen, and I’m happy to share this journey with you in the hopes that everyone will be able to have it someday.
It’s been exciting, scary, wonderful and terrifying all at once. Everything feels a bit unreal, and it’s hard to believe that it’s happening. Next time I talk about the house, there will likely be floors and some of our custom options — eek!