Planning your dream

Planning is the most important aspect of building your home.

For myself I like to start the planning process at least six months before the first stake is pounded in. Design and planning includes the choosing and modifications of house plans and blueprints as well as the compilation of material lists, financing options and estimates of cash flow. It also may include the search and choice of property if you don’t already own a site or a determination of the special considerations of a location that you already own. Detailed planning cannot proceed until you have the necessary property secured.

planning my next home

In progress plan for our next retirement home

In our case we began looking for property a year before we were planning to build. Our priorities were to find a large lot within a small community reasonably close to family and a larger city. To keep costs down we looked for accessibility to services, a low tax regime and a reasonably level property for ease of building. We wanted low traffic area close to the edge of town with shelter and shade if possible.

After about four months of driving streets, watching ads and talking to locals we found an almost ideal site in our first choice community. It has tall trees to the south for shade and protection from our prevailing westerly winds. Frontage is to the east which is perfect for taking advantage of sunlight. There was the added advantage of a very good and nearly new garage with electrical service already on the site. The price was very reasonable and we gained possession quickly.

Shortly thereafter we spent a night in our RV (caravan to my Aussie or U.K. readers) on the site and awoke in the morning to find deer grazing on our lawn. Needless to say we are ecstatic with our purchase.

If purchasing a property there are many considerations that you should prioritize.

Of course your personal needs and preferences are the most important. Is a view or other aesthetic important? How far to work? Driving to work can be tremendously costly in terms dollars, time and stress so carefully consider the distance and routes. How accessible are schools, hospitals, emergency services, churches, shopping, parks, playgrounds and anything else that may be important to your family? Make a list and prioritize in the order of importance to you. Keep in mind that there is likely no such thing as a perfect property and in some cases you may have to settle on something acceptable. In this case consider the properties disadvantages carefully to see if you can live with or minimize them. Much of your planning will be determined by the property you choose,

Before buying and before building take a close look at the local area and at the region. Find out the history of the area. What is the risk of flooding, earthquakes, volcanic action, hurricanes or tornadoes, extreme heat or cold, sand storms or other disasters? What is the crime risk. Who are your neighbors, are they in the same socioeconomic class as you? Is noise from traffic, industry or the neighbors likely to be a problem? Do nearby businesses such as bars pose a possible problem? How about air quality? Check upwind for industry that could have odors or dangerous chemical releases. A feedlot or pulp mill can make life pretty miserable when the wind is wrong. Become familiar with the entire area so that you understand the risks. Finally make certain that your activities will not be a nuisance to your neighbors. 

None of the above factors have to be deal breakers but you must decide what level of risk is acceptable to you. You may have to modify your planning to minimize risk. However a tremendous view might be worth a small risk of land slippage as an example. Just don’t expect a lot of sympathy if your house slides into the ocean.

Now that you have a place your planning can begin in earnest. The first thing is usually to decide the maximum amount you can or are willing to spend. Once you have that figure in mind, a good practice is to reduce it by twenty percent and plan within that boundary. Many unforeseeable things can inflate the cost of a project and it is necessary and prudent to have a hedge. If you have left over cash it can be used for decorating or later improvements to enhance the value of your home or simply to keep your mortgage payments lower.

A good place to start is to determine the average building cost per square foot for your type of construction. This information, while quite general, can be obtained from real estate people, appraisers, contractors and others. You can reduce this figure by a percentage depending on how much of the work you will be doing yourself. This could be as much as seventy percent if you will be hiring no sub-trades at all.

planning your living area

Our current living dining room

By now you should have a good idea of what you can spend in terms of size. Your next step is to determine your needs and wants. Consider you needs carefully to see if they are not actually wants to make it easier to prioritize. Remember you have to fit everything into a predetermined package.

Buy a computer progeam for home planning.

Buying a decent home planning program for your computer can help tremendously and most are inexpensive enough to be well worth the money. Get one that is simple enough to learn quickly and still good enough to do floor plans and three dimensional projections. Unless you have previous experience don’t spend the money on professional type programs. I have found that most are excellent for floor plans and can be good enough to build directly from without the need for blueprints. Save your plans often and under different names so you can backtrack easily. The programs I have experience with are practically useless for material lists and estimates as they are too general in construction methods and do not account for regional differences. Once I have my floor plan with 3d views, elevations and walk throughs I retire the program and only use it for reference. They are still worth far more than their cost.

A new vacuum cleaner salesman knocked on the door on the first house of the street. When a lady answered the door the enthusiastic salesman barged into the living room, opened a big black plastic bag and poured horse manure onto the carpet.
“Madam, if I can’t clean this up with the use of this vacuum cleaner, I will EAT all this s…!” exclaimed the eager salesman.
“Do you need chili sauce or ketchup with that” asked the lady.
The bewildered salesman asked, “Why, madam?”
“there’s no electricity in the house…”

Be sure you have all the facts before proceeding with your plan.

For a view on planning from Australia.

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