Process to Build a New House is an online article about the correct process for designing and building your new house, for the best results.
Having a new house designed and built can be driven by emotions, the need to relocate for a job or health, or the simple desire to move to someplace scenic. Lots of reasons can motivate people to take this important step in their lives. It is a major commitment of time and resources.
Test: do you know the proper order of events in project design & construction procedure?
And the first step along this path is supremely significant. It can affect everything else that is to come. What SHOULD the first step be? And once that’s done, in what order should the project proceed? Here’s a little test (What’s the proper order for smoothest project process: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6?):
__ Find & buy land.
__ Hire Builder.
__ Hire an Architect.
__ Have the home designed.
__ Build the House.
__ Move into the House.
Many people use the order indicated above. Is this the right or wrong approach?
answer: DEAD WRONG.
That’s the Land Driven/Contractor Driven Project Approach
Why is that? There are logical arguments why many people follow the above order.
See below for more:
Unfortunately, using that method can result in their house costing hundreds of thousands of dollars more than it might otherwise, along with a lower quality of materials and less quality of construction. What? How would the order in which steps are taken possibly affect those things? How is that possible?
Okay, so what is the right approach order of events? Try this:
Architect & Client Needs Driven Project Approach
1. Hire an Architect.
2. Program Client Needs.
3. Find & buy land.
4. Add Land characteristics to Client Needs to finalize Programming.
5. Have the home designed.
6. Bidding & Negotiate with several Licensed General Contractors (GC).
7. Hire Builder (a licensed GC).
8. Build the House.
9. Move into the House.
Wait a minute…there are some different & additional steps included in this method. And that’s correct, there are. But what about the sequence? Why hire the Architect BEFORE finding the land and BEFORE hiring the Builder? Good questions. Let’s address those right now.
The above is the Architect & Client Needs Driven Project Approach.
See below for more:
What is different about the 2 approaches shown above?
The first one, unfortunately allows perhaps an unwise land purchase and too-early Contractor involvement to drive everything else in the project. Why might those not be good things?
How about this:
a Client’s lack of knowledge and understanding of the implications of site slope, topography and other land characteristics can easily result in foundations costing a whopping $150,000 to $250,000 (or more) for just the foundations of the proposed new house! HOME ARCHITECTS ™ has seen situations where some of their Clients had purchased land without consulting them, resulting in half a million $ wasted on foundations just to create a level platform to get up to the main 1st floor! Clients don’t seem to realize that steep land = expensive foundations. Why: more difficult land on which to build, multiple scaffold sets, much more material, special waterproofing, filter fabric, special drainage.
Early Architectural Services Can Save Later Trouble & Cost
Therefore, it would be very wise to obtain the Architect’s input, through an early economical service, such as this Architect’s “WALK YOUR LAND WITH THE ARCHITECT” service before buying your land. Any Architect with some experience will attempt to guide you away from a too steep location for the house, due to foundation complexity and cost. THAT’S WHY YOU WANT THE ARCHITECT INVOLVED FIRST.
Along with the Architect’s first course of action upon being engaged will ask you: “What do you want?” Which is a simple question that leads to many pieces of information that can and will affect your land choice. For instance: if you want a large house, wouldn’t it be good to know THAT IT WILL FIT ON THE LAND? Before you buy the land? Sounds like a good, idea, right?
We know what you’re thinking: “Hey, I got all kinds of room on my land: look around you: nothing but wide open spaces!” Think again. Ever see a good quality survey? One with proper topographical data on it, such as one with legally required building setbacks? Easements for various utilities? Right-Of-Way for the roads? Landscaping buffers required between lots by HOAs (Home Owner Associations), space and locations required for septic tanks, septic fields, distance from potable water wells? By the time all this information is properly recorded on the survey and on the Architect’s Site Plan, your land is Not free and clear. It has a cobweb of invisible, but legally required No-Build areas all over it. You can’t just build your house anywhere on it. So you have less available open property than you think.
And so your Architect can help guide you toward land choices that will cost less to build on and that will suit what it is that you want to build there. Great reasons for your Architect to be aboard and advising you on those choices in the beginning, don’t you think?
Most people try to over-simplify the process of designing and building their new house. It just doesn’t work that way. Why? Because a custom house is one of the most complex project types on the planet. Yes it IS like rocket science.
Not a Good Idea for the Builder to be Onboard Before the Architect
And why might you NOT want to get a Builder onboard, guaranteeing them that they are going to, for sure, build your house long before you engage the Architect? First of all, let’s get terminology straight. A “Builder” might not necessarily be Licensed. Only a Licensed General Contractor is the type of construction professional that you want to build your house. Alright. But still, why not hire them first? You’re thinking, “Heck, Bob and and Betty-Lou down the street said that Sam The Builder (or licensed GC) did a fine job for them, so why not for us?” Because Bob & Betty might have over-paid Sam for their house, and received lesser quality materials and installation techniques that don’t become understood until months or years later and they just might never understand why they have spent so much on maintenance and other things, just writing the checks to pay for them. They don’t know. Like that they paid $350,000 for their foundations on their steep lot, and they could have reduced that to perhaps $25k if they had built on a gentle lot. Or that their roofing or foundation waterproofing are going to fail and leak within 7 years instead of 30 or 40 years, because the quality of materials used was of lower quality than what an Architect would have specified? They don’t know. They are not the experts on that builder. They just wrote the checks, no matter how much those checks were written for. And things seem okay. For now.
But there’s an even more important reason for not getting the Builder onboard first: Do that, and they think they have a lock on the project. They may ignore the Architect’s documents, specifications, details and wise counsel. The builder who interprets that he is driving the project may become irritable and unpleasant to the Architect, and eventually even try to talk the Owners out of using the Architect. There are reasons of profitability at the core of such actions. No one, including Builders, appreciate anyone looking over their shoulders. So, if they believe the Owner has them (The Builder) controlling the project (rather than the Architect), the Contractor may attempt to, at some point, “throw the Architect under the bus.” Why would they do such a nasty thing? Undermining another professional? Because when the fox has no one guarding the henhouse, a few chickens might go missing. Not that all builders act in this manner. Blessings upon them for building what we live in. We need them. But to give them carte blanche may not be in any Owner’s best interests. An Owner wants and needs the Architect there, as the champion for quality and durability.
And any Builder who has no one else watching, is going to try to talk an Owner into some sort of “Cost Plus” arrangement, wherein the Owner has to pay the Builder for whatever the project actually costs to build, PLUS a Contractor “Fee” (typically profit margin, regardless of how much the project costs to build, totally open ended). What’s that you say? “That won’t happen to me!” Yes, it will, if you put the Contractor in charge right up front. What helps to prevent that from happening otherwise? Wouldn’t you rather have a fixed, guaranteed price, in writing on a contract to build your house according to your Architect’s plans & specs? Of course you would.
Architect Will Typically Attempt to Help you Control the Contract for the Construction
The Architect (at least HOME ARCHITECTS ®) will often suggest a form of agreement to build the project from a 3rd party independent professional organization like ArCH (Architects Creating Homes), which has an outstanding form of agreement for residential projects. It typically requires the Contractors (note the plural there) to competitively bid on the project. No one Contractor has a lock on the job (unless there are some unusual circumstances, such as the Builder already worked on the project previously or similar reasons). Now then, all of the Contractors bidding are going to try to bid lower than each other, which helps the Owner to obtain a lower price to build their house. Isn’t that a great idea? That’s not going to happen, if you GIVE your project to a Builder earlier in the project process. Doh!
Is it starting to make more and more sense to have the project process driven by the Architect’s methods? Why? Because the Architect’s methods have at their forefront: Help the Owner. Make the house as nice as possible, within certain constraints. The Architects sole motivation is to help you obtain the best house possible for your land and your lifestyle.
Architect Can Help You Negotiate with the Best Contractor
Did you notice that bit about Bidding & Negotiating in the Architectural project process? What’s “negotiate” mean in this context? Well, dirty little secret here: no Owner ever saw a price to build their house that they liked. ALL prices to build what you want will ALWAYS be more than you would like to pay to have it built. Therefore, having your Architect, the person that designed and specified your project be available to discuss price cuts in return for not building certain things can make all the difference between a viable project and nothing. A crucial moment in the project. Because: You don’t know what is important to the structural integrity of the project and what isn’t. Or in terms of energy conservation, which impacts your monthly power bill. Or any number of other issues. Your Architect will know what can give and what can’t. They can be all that stands between your proposed house or nothing at all.
Having your Architect there, looking at what the Contractor is building can make a huge difference in the Contractor’s attitude and performance. If anyone thinks that no one will be checking on his/her work, they probably won’t be as likely to do a better job that requires more effort. And so, too, for Builders: if a Contractor believes that no one will be checking his/her construction (or just an inexperienced Owner or the over-burdened Building Department), he/she might not be quite as inclined to do a top-notch job of construction. Any human being who KNOWS that someone is going to be checking their work, will instinctively, out of self-preservation, try to do a better job. Basic human nature. Not that Builders are bad people. Not at all. They work hard, under unpleasant circumstances: heat, wind, rain, snow, ice, dirt, and have to deal with all sorts of people all the time: employees, material suppliers, 50 subcontractors (for every project), owners, architect, engineers, etc. So we aren’t implying they aren’t worth what they earn. They are due their income. But having the Architect check periodically, say once a month, timed immediately after the GC sends out his Pay Request for the Architect’s review & approval, so that the Architect checks the work, is just one more precaution to helping the Owner obtain what they believe they are paying for: a well-built house.
Now then, what differences do you imagine would occur if the Contractor knew no one, other than you and a once in a big while overworked Building Department person would be looking at things?
And NO, the Building Department checks are NOT any sort of guarantee that your project is going to be built correctly. Take a good look at the permit. It says, right there, that the County/City in no way is responsible for the quality of your construction or that it even meets Code. Why: not their job. They may look for code minimums, but it Not their job to see to it that your project design documents are built as designed. They could care less if your roofing underlayment is what was specified, only what minimum Code calls for. If they even check it. We have seen so-called Building Department “inspections” consisting of a literal “drive -bys” where the so-called inspector didn’t even get out of his vehicle. Or where the inspector knew the Contractor and signed off on that basis. And the “inspectors” could be political appointees that know nothing about design and construction. Check out your County’s budget some time. Do you really think they have licensed engineers or Architects on-staff that check on the construction of your house? Highly unlikely. It is not their job or their legal requirement to protect you.
And one last time: this online article is Not intended as an anti-Builder article. We’ve said it once and we will say it again: The world needs Builders. We’d be nowhere without them. Some of my best friends are Licensed Contractors. The issue is WHEN in the design and construction process they are brought into the picture, that’s all. Architects program, plan & design. Builders build (hence the term “Builder”). In those respective roles, they both excel and work well together, in the best interests of the Owner.
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