The Year of the House | From Dream Home to Reality

18 strategies to realize your dream home in the next 12 months.

Year of the House

Where do our homes end and our lives begin? We ask because it's a surprisingly intimate relationship we have with our homes, since our successes and failures are played out within their walls every day. A house is much more than just a box with a roof on it to hold our belongings—it's an extension of who we are and how we want the world to see us.

We know this intuitively, of course. That's why we yearn for a soaring space that echoes the craftsmanship of yesteryear. The problem, as is the case with many custom homes, is procrastination in the planning stage. It's an obstacle that can derail a dream. How do you break the cycle?

The most obvious silver bullet is to realize that dreams delayed are often dreams denied. Indeed, the timber home you've often fantasized about isn't going to plan itself; you need to be the catalyst for making it come together.

With this in mind, we've compiled tips from the pros to help you make 2006 the year that your castle takes shape.

  1. Create a Planning Schedule
    Don't underestimate how much energy and research building a home will take, advises Sara Lamia, author of How to Enjoy Building Your Dream Home: A Workbook for Buyers and Builders. You can spend a year just on planning and design.

    Your first task is to make time in your busy schedule. Start small by setting aside a couple nights a week to peruse books, magazines and web sites. In the months to come, you'll do more detailed research, such as visiting model homes, timber raisings and timber companies' facilities.
  2. Perfect Your Home Site
    Before you delve into design, make sure you have the right building site, advises Mathew Robbins, designer at Wind River Timberframes. Before you buy, ensure the lot is suitable for building in terms of the slope, soil conditions, accessibility, zoning, well water and the site's ability to pass a "perc" test. (This test is used to determine whether the land will readily accept wastewater from a septic system.)
  3. Know Thy Land
    If you already own land, spend time on it to discover the ideal orientation for your new home. "Sketch the topographical features, map the directions of the prevailing winds and find the areas that will be shady and sunny during each season," says Brenda Baker with Riverbend Timber Framing.

    "Draw different size circles to represent rooms or spaces or make cutouts that can be moved around on the map to understand how the spaces will relate to each other and the site. Think of noise levels, the sun's path, privacy and traffic flow. This process will eventually lead to understanding how your home will live."
  4. Shop for Financing
    Will this timber home be a primary residence or a vacation retreat? How you'll use this home can influence your financing strategy. Visit with mortgage companies that specialize in loans for timber homes to discover the options and develop an accurate budget.

    "We've had clients get in and out of the loan process in a month," says Tracy Keyser with the System Built division of M&T Mortgage, which offers special loan programs for timber home buyers.
  5. Listen to Yourself
    Identify the top five to 10 things that frustrated you in past homes. You can fix them forever in your new design. "The time you spend on this is rarely wasted," says Iain Harrison with New Energy Works Timberframers.
  6. Get It on Paper
    Start with some general questions:
    • What size home do you want? (Use your present home as a guide.)
    • How many bedrooms? How many baths?
    • Do you need special areas such as a workshop or exercise room?
    • Do you prefer a traditional, rustic or modern look?
    • Will your home have a basement or crawl space, or will it be built on piers or a slab?
  7. Chat About It
    A project of this magnitude can add stress to your marriage. Strive to communicate clearly with your spouse about your new-home goals. "Make sure you both get your say," advises Judith Landau with Timbercraft Homes. "If someone holds back, doesn't say what he or she really thinks, many times the project won't ever be completed."
  8. Create a Scrapbook
    Use a scrapbook to compile the features and amenities you want in the home. You'll be performing valuable research, as well as being able to accurately communicate to your spouse and builder what you want.
  9. Think in Three Dimensions
    No matter how powerful our imagination, few of us can look at drawings and then picture the home in our mind's eye. This is why you should tour model homes and visit with producers to get a feel for different designs and capabilities.
  10. Prioritize Your Needs
    You'll probably discover that there are far more products and amenities for homes than you can afford or fit into your new space. "After a while, you have to realize that you can't include everything you love in one house," says Brenda at Riverbend. She advises you to be realistic about what you can afford and what amenities you'll use every day.
  11. Listen to the Pros
    Designers at timber home companies can help you transform your wish lists, scrapbook of photos and floorplans into a workable design.

    "Use their expertise to help you meet your budget", says Iain at New Energy Works Timberframers. Will you need to hire an architect? That's a matter of personal preference. Most timber home companies have designers on staff. It's 15 to 20 percent cheaper to use a timber company's in-house design team than to use an independent architect.
  12. Create the Right Team
    In addition to selecting a designer and a timber home producer, you'll also need a general contractor or builder to turn-key the home. If possible, choose a team that has worked together before on a timber home (not a requirement, but it certainly helps to streamline construction).

    "Everything will work more smoothly if the entire building team is on the same page," says Iain.
  13. Minimize Disruptions
    Where will you live during construction? Stay in your existing home if you can swing it financially, advises Brenda with Riverbend. "Try to make your living situation during construction as comfortable as possible. You'll need that oasis of sanity to go to at the end of the day," she says.
  14. Comparison Shop
    Stay on budget by comparison shopping on every item for your home. To reduce your spending on appliances and minor items such as faucets, fixtures and flooring (which will save you significant cash), use this year to shop for sales and educate yourself about home-improvement prices.
  15. Profit From Your Resale
    If you're selling your primary residence to finance this project, consult with a real estate agent about the many ways you can add value to your home when you put it on the market. This can involve everything from minor repairs and maintenance to moving some of your possessions to storage.
  16. Overcome Decision Fatigue
    There will be times when you feel you can't possibly make another decision, where you seem to have lost your way because you've become mired in so many details.

    Brenda at Riverbend Timber Framing suggests that you and your partner split responsibilities and delegate decisions to whomever has the most interest in a particular room. For example, the movie buff can design the home theater, and the family chef can create the kitchen.
  17. Prioritize the Process
    Even when you have a clear picture of the design of your new home, you may not understand how to get there. Here's a list of the pre-construction tasks you'll need to accomplish, in order of priority.
    • Pre-qualify with a lender, estimate budget, develop initial house plans.
    • Contact several timber home companies, submit plans for quotes.
    • Arrange for a survey and plot plan, choose lender.
    • Select timber home company, pay down payment on package.
    • Choose a builder and subcontractors, work with timber company on final construction documents.
    • Obtain preliminary construction documents, submit request for bids.
    • Arrange insurance, collect and evaluate bids, obtain building-permit information, prepare cost-estimate summary.
    • Receive completed blueprints, submit loan application, apply for building permit.
    • Prepare construction schedule, notify subcontractors, arrange temporary utilities.
    • Receive building permit, get loan-application approval, begin construction.
  18. Be Brave
    Since this is likely one of the largest investments of your life, be cautious every step of the way. That said, know that there's a fine line between pragmatism and being paralyzed with indecision.

    The latter probably stems from a fear that everything has to be perfect. Accept the fact that perfect homes exist only on paper. But what you can control is the process for building a home that makes you extremely happy.

    Some quick tips to protect yourself from major mistakes:
    • Ask an attorney familiar with residential construction to review your home's contracts.
    • Check references of timber home producers and builders with your state's attorney general's office and state contractor's board.
    • Don't choose contractor services or home packages on price alone. Give equal weight to reputation for service and quality.
Frequent contributor Charles Bevier lives in Lakewood, Colorado.

Read the full story in the December/January 2005-2006 issue of Timber Home Living.


Illustration by Jud Guitteau