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What to Expect When Building a House From the Ground Up

Imagine custom designed cabinets, the latest appliances, freshly painted walls, a home free from any hidden maintenance issues – and the thrill of knowing it was built just for you. Though it sounds like the musings of a “dream house,” the process of building a home from the ground up can be daunting, expensive, and time-consuming. Here is a guide to help you manage expectations and understand what is to come.

A realistic timeline

You finally decide to build your own home and, understandably, you want to get the process started as soon as possible. It is important to have realistic expectations on the timeline. On average, a single-family home in Massachusetts could take nine to ten months to build. Then factor in locating and buying land (including financing the purchase and construction), determining permits and zoning regulations, hiring contractors, engineers and architects and obtaining legal representation – you may be looking at an even longer period of time before you can move in.

There are also additional factors that can affect the timeline. One of the major bottlenecks is supply chain delays in materials. Since the builder cannot control supply issues, you do need to factor potential delivery delays into your schedule or choose only in-stock materials. You may have to forego that marble tile from Italy to stay on schedule, but only you can decide if it’s worth holding up the project for specialty materials.

Incorrect or missing information in the paperwork and permit application can also cause delays and prevent you from starting your project on time. It behooves you to review all paperwork carefully to ensure there are no errors that could cause unexpected delays.

Establishing the budget

The first step in the home building process is to set your budget and determine how much you can afford and want to spend. Although this may seem obvious, many first-time homebuilders underestimate the importance of this step – or overlook it entirely. A lack of good budgeting can easily lead to cost overages and delays. When considering your budget, you need to also determine the type of loan you will need, which most often is a construction loan. The best course of action is to seek expert advice from your banker, accountant, and/or financial advisor on the type of loan to apply for, what amount you qualify for, and the application process.

Generally, when assessing your financial situation, it is important to consider the following factors:

  • Cost of land. The amount generally spent on purchasing the land that your new home will be built on can be estimated at approximately 20-25% of the overall cost of the project.
  • Hidden expenses. Don’t overlook hidden expenses. These include extra site work needed for the land, new furniture and fixtures, appliances, landscaping, and even more. Comprehending your financial limits allows you to modify your building plans to meet your needs.
  • Research. Look into market prices for materials, labor, land in your desired location. The cost to build can vary significantly by state and region.
  • Ask for advice. Your builder or general contractor can advise you on details in your budget as they relate to local market prices, as well as any state and local regulations to be aware of that may have extra fees associated with them.

Finding and buying land

Choosing a plot of land is one of the most critical aspects of home building. You can always design a home to suit a landscape, but you may not be able to alter a landscape to accommodate your home. The configuration of rooms, the placement of windows, the location of the driveway and garage, and many other design elements will be affected by the land you build on.

The cost of a plot of land should also be considered. Land prices in Massachusetts are some of the highest in the country, averaging roughly $102,214 per acre. However, the average cost of land for residential use in the Boston metropolitan area is currently between $195 and $230 per square foot.

Paperwork, permits, and zoning

Building permits are required for all new construction and renovations in Massachusetts. Permits ensure that the structure is built according to local building codes and rules and regulations to protect your safety. There are penalties and potential fines for homeowners and contractors who begin projects without approved permits. Additionally, if you decide to sell your home in the future, it will be more difficult to sell your home if proper permits were never obtained.

If you are using a general contractor to build the house, the contractor is typically responsible for obtaining and managing all the necessary permits and inspections. Most permits can be obtained either in person or online with local municipalities. For new buildings, a long-form permit is required. To obtain the permit, homeowners will need to complete a form and submit the construction drawings. The cost of the permit varies by municipality, so you will need to do your research and factor this cost into your budget. Keep an eye out for additional permits that may be required along with the long-form permit such as fire/smoke, plumbing, electrical, and so on.

Site prep, labor, and construction

This is where the fun part begins! Now that you have found your perfect plot of land, and the financial paperwork and initial building permits are addressed, it’s now time to focus on the construction of your home.

If your land has many trees or uneven terrain, it can be costly to clear and prep the property before construction can begin. Taking the time to consider your site and determine whether any alterations need to be made before developing construction plans are critical to both your building plans and your budget. It is beneficial to hire a land surveyor or engineer before you even purchase the land to determine the viability of the land and to ensure success.

In Massachusetts, homebuilders are not required to have a license to build. Technically, anyone can build a house – although it is risky to do so alone. Much time, research, and dedication are required to manage the many aspects of homebuilding and ensure the house passes all safety and other inspections at the end of its construction. Not using a licensed builder may save on labor costs, but it will most likely cost you in the long run. Homebuilding is not something you can learn as you go. A safer approach is to hire a licensed contractor to oversee your homebuilding process. A general contractor typically charges anywhere from 15% to 25% of the total project cost.

One of the biggest draws to buying land and building a house is the ability to make it into your dream home. When buying a house in today’s seller’s market, you run the risk of over-bidding, which can leave you with minimal flexibility to update any parts of your new home that may require renovating. While building your own home can be a lengthy process, you are guaranteed to get exactly what you want in your new build. If you are interested in learning more about the home building process, contact Christos Viores, Esquire at Ligris + Associates PC today.

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