You can picture the home of your dreams. You think you know exactly what you want.

But how do you actually build it?

For expert advice on how to begin this process, we sat down with Melanie Kramer, a Realtor with Keller Williams Coastal Area Partners, who has over 12 years of experience in residential construction, home design and building. She has helped over a 100 clients build the home of their dreams, and she has built two homes of her own.

Step One: Get prequalified and determine your budget.

According to Kramer, your first step should be to get prequalified. This is an essential part of the process because it will help determine your budget and steer you in the right direction. Once you’ve determined what you can afford, you will have a better understanding of whether or not you should build with a production home builder or with a smaller, custom home builder.

The difference between the two types of builders is that a production home builder builds multiple homes from a library of plans on pre-planned lots and offers pre-planned interior selections for cabinets, flooring, countertops, etc. “There is very little, if any, redesign of plans,” explains Kramer. “Using production home builders can be quicker since a lot of the planning has already been done in advance.”

On the other hand, a smaller, custom home builder creates more of a personalized home where you can customize the floor plan, choose your interior finishes and select your lot. This type of home typically takes six months or longer to build, depending on the size and how quickly decisions are made.

“Regardless of [which builder] you pick, you want to stick to a realistic budget,” advises Kramer.

“Don’t get too distracted by all that you see online.”

Step two: Choose your builder.

Once you have a budget determined, you’ll need to choose your builder. If you’re building a custom home, you will want to interview several builders before you make a decision. Your Realtor can provide you with a list referrals from friends, family or of builders, and you can also seek home builder associations. 

When interviewing potential builders, Kramer not only sug- gests asking questions, but also walking through a home that the builder has completed. Ask such as the types of homes they potential builders about things build, warranties, change orders, how they design their floor plans and who will supervise construc- tion. Equally important as the builder’s answers to your list of questions is how you relate to the “Don’t focus just on the an- builder.

swers,” warns Kramer, “because it has to be a personality fit.

You’re going to be talking to them as much as to your spouse over the next six months.”

Step Three: Choose your lot.

The next step in your building process is to choose your lot, not your floor plan, as many people think. “The biggest mistake people will make is to design plans or order plans on the internet [before choosing their lot], and the plans “Not every lot is the same. You have never get built,” cautions Kramer. wasted design money if you design a house that is too big for your budget or that is the wrong size and will not fit on your lot.”

When choosing a lot, be sure to include professionals such as process. They will help you deter- your builder and Realtor in the mine the best lot for your needs, and avoid costly mistakes. “Not every lot is buildable, and if it [has to be made buildable], it’s expensive,” warns Kramer.

Flood zones, soil quality and  absorbs into the soil) can all fac- percolation tests (how well water tor into the quality of the lot. Your builder and Realtor will know what specialists are needed to determine the quality of the lot and help you select the appropriate lot for your dream home.

Step Four: Design your dream home.

After choosing a lot, work with your builder to design your dream home for that particular lot. Your builder may already have existing plans you love, or you can work hand-in-hand with your builder and a CAD designer or draftsman to come up with the floor plan that best fits your needs and fits your lot.

When you’re designing your floor plan and making your interior selections, Kramer suggests asking yourself, “What are the top five features I really cannot live without?” Doing so will help you stay focused on what you really want in your new home, rather than being distracted by high-priced items and ideas. “You have to relate your budget to your dreams,” advises Kramer.

Consider, for example, the fact that your cost will go up for every foot of square footage that you add. “I hear a lot of people talk about needing a guest bedroom for when guests come, but is it really worth spending $5,000 or $10,000 more for a room [when] guests visit once or twice a year?” asks Kramer. “You would be better off economically getting them a hotel [room] for a few nights.

“Don’t let your dreams cloud your judgment financially. Be prompt with all of your selections [and] don’t get carried away looking online,” advises Kramer.

To help you stay on budget, she suggests making sure you have the essentials in the home and then have a five year plan for future upgrades. For example, have the laundry sink installed in the laundry room so the plumbing is there, but add additional laundry cabinets later. Or, if you have budget constraints, install carpet now and upgrade to hardwood later. Likewise, have your porch built, but screen it in when your budget allows.

“If needed, have a plan with different phases and a priority list for after you move in,” suggests Kramer.

Before the building begins, try to determine exactly what you want and resolve to stick to your plan. While every builder does change orders, you will have to pay in advance for each change order, and every change will cause delays. “The best projects are when the client really knows what they want early on,” says Kramer.

Step Five: Build your dream home… but be realistic!

When your dream home finally begins construction, it can be very exciting.

You watch as the foun- dation is laid and walls are constructed. But then you drive by the project one day and no one is there and nothing is being built.

“This is one of the biggest over,” says Kramer, “but it is a things I see people get upset normal part of the building process.”

Gaps in construction will occur when one subcontractor completes their task early and another isn’t scheduled to begin for several days, or when waiting on the building inspector before any “Go into the process with further construction can be done.

realistic expectations,” advises Kramer. “You have to remember that new construction doesn’t equate to perfect. It’s built with human hands. New construction doesn’t mean perfect, it means new. Be patient, don’t be emotional and keep moving forward.” Be realistic with your expectations, have a workable budget, choose a builder with whom you have a good rapport and stick to your plan, and you can have the home of your dreams.