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BIG NEWS! We’re building a house!

BIG NEWS: Oh Joy! Builds A House!

BIG NEWS: Oh Joy! Builds A House!

I can't believe this is actually happening, but I am excited to FINALLY tell you that…we are building a HOUSE! Are we crazy for doing this? Yes! Is this process going to give me 267 ulcers and a head of grey hair? Probably. Is it going to be the project of a lifetime? Heck, yes! Here's how it all began…

We have been living in the same rental since we moved to Los Angeles 8 years ago (before kids, before my husband started his current job, before Oh Joy grew to being more than just me). We only had a few days to find an apartment when we decided to move to LA in 2010 and rented the top floor of a little duplex (with a great little balcony and view of the city) thinking we would eventually move into a real house with a backyard once we had kids. But Bob and I were both building our careers, and we had a really great deal on our rental so we took the time to save money for a house. We had no real rush to buy anything and no desire take on all the responsibilities that come with home ownership. Our place felt just fine with one child. However, once we got pregnant with Coco in 2014, we felt ready to make the leap and do what grown-ups think they should do…buy a house with more space for their growing family.

Four years ago, I wrote this post how we were looking to buy our first house in Los Angeles and how not easy the process was. Los Angeles isn't a cheap place to live, and the prices of homes here are pretty insane. We spent a good year looking while I was pregnant with Coco as that balcony with a great view didn't seem as amazing anymore when all I wanted was a backyard for my kids to run around and play in. As I had mentioned in that blog post, our first house offer got outbid by someone who had ALL CASH (how do you compete with that?). Then, we decided to up our budget a little bit and found another house we liked even more…thinking, "THIS is why that other house didn't work out. We were meant to get this one!" We put an offer on that 2nd house, only to get outbid WAAAAY over our budget. We started looking at fixer uppers that would be in a comfortable budget, but then we'd still need to spend a ton of money on renovations after the fact to make them livable. Feeling deflated, we kept looking and realized to get the moderate-sized house with a flat yard in the neighborhoods we wanted, we would need to increase our budget more than we could afford. No one wants to be house poor, so we were ready to stop the hunt and keep saving so that we could come back with a bigger down payment in another year or two.

THEN, during one of our drives around the neighborhood looking for open houses, we ran into a friend who had just finished building their house. They invited us in to see it, and we were floored. The value of their house when finished was double what it cost them to build it. The thoughts running through our minds as we talked to them were…

"Yes, of course this house is amazing because it's brand new and custom-designed."

"It's always been my dream to build a house!"

"We could never afford to do that now."

"Wait, what? It costs you HALF the price to build a house in Los Angeles then to buy one?"

Our friends, Cleo and McShane from Project M+, who happened to have also designed their own home, set the path for convincing us that if we had the patience, we should build a house instead of buying one. At the same time, a childhood friend of mine, Melissa, had just moved to Los Angeles. She was an architect as well and told me how she was about to begin designing and building her own family's house, too. And I was like…"Wait, what is happening here? How are these people who are still building their careers, like us, able to do this?" Yes, they were both architects and knew what they were doing. But, it turns out that in Los Angeles (unlike most of the country), the real estate prices here are so ridiculously high that it actually cheaper to build a house from scratch then to buy one. Who knew? Now, that does NOT mean it's quicker to build a house because if that was the case, this post would have been posted a lot sooner than today.

So, that was 2014…how it took until now for me to tell you this story and announce that we are actually doing this is….to be continued. We started construction on the house about six months ago, and it will take another year or so until it's done. I'm excited to share details about this ENTIRE process from start to finish and share snippets with you in real time as we go. I'm also so excited that we will be partnering with Architectural Digest's Clever to tell the story on their channels as well over the next year to completion. We'll be providing additional tips and takeaways over there so you'll get a lot of great information. I have learned so much, and it's really so fascinating (both the fun and not-so-fun parts about it). Here's a little peek!

If there is anything in particular you want me to share, please (please!) leave a comment below. Do you want to see photographed posts or video posts? Do you want to see things in a Pinterest board, Instagram, Instagram Stories…all of it? Do tell! This project has been my second job for the last couple years, and I can't wait to tell you everything I've learned. 

BIG NEWS: Oh Joy! Builds A House!

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I will talk about how we found land to build on, and how went about buying it!

{Photos by Lily Glass and video by Jenner Brown 

128 comments

  1. Yay!!! We are also about to start building a house and I can’t wait to watch along as you do! Congrats!!

  2. Congratulations! I live in weho and have given up all hopes of owning anything so I understand deeply how amazing this is.!!

  3. Oh man, I called this one! 😉 I would love to see Pinterest boards of where you’re headed design-wise! And CONGRATULATIONS!

  4. OK obviously you’re not going to reveal where you are building exactly but it would be fun to know a little bit as to where this is.
    The only reason I’m even asking is because when you think of LA, you think lots of houses and lots of buildings and not much land unless you’re in the valley. And I’m pretty sure you’re not in.. well, at least not in the Santa Clarita or Antelope Valleys.
    Where on earth did you find land to build on?!

  5. This is so exciting! I am so interested in this process as it’s something we want to maybe do a few years in the future. So yes to Pinterest, Instagram, insta stories, all of it! Can’t wait to see more!

  6. Congratulations ! It’s a great adventure and knowing you, your house is going to be a dream !
    My husband builds houses here in France, he might want your girls to advertise for his company, they make house building much more fun ! Lol

  7. SO happy for you! My questions were the first ones you teased as part 2, so I can’t wait to hear. I’m excited to save all your amazing information in case we’re ever in the position to do the same thing!

  8. this is amazing. so inspiring and so exciting! definitely a dream of ours to live in california and this is such an interesting concept! will be sure to share with bill. i will 100% be following along with you guys through all the channels you mentioned. congratulations on building your dream house! you guys deserve it!!!!!!!!!

  9. I’m interested in Pinterest boards for sure. I’m decorating my home so I’m always looking for ideas and you have shared so many amazing brands over the years that I just love.

  10. Ahhh! I’m so excited for y’all! We’re in the process of building too and I never really understood how many MILLIONS of decisions there are to be made!?! Can’t wait to follow all your progross! Congrats to you and your sweet family! ?

  11. Please share everywhere and everything! I’m really excited to see floor-plans and what furniture/design elements you choose to make it your own- I’m sure they will be so colorful and unique. I love your style and I’m so excited for you, your family, and that we all get to follow along! 🙂

  12. Congrats! I have so many questions! I’m shocked that it’s cheaper to build. What’s the approval process like with permits? I’ve heard it takes forever. And how do you choose an architect? You said two friends were architects but how do you shop around for one & how much do they cost? And can you go into them with your Pinterest boards and binders that you’ve been collecting for your dream house for ever? And speaking of dream houses, are you building a house to live in forever? Or did you have a different concept for X years? Did you have to knock down a house to build it? (That always makes me feel weird) And how do you budget for a house like that when everyone says you double that cost and the time? I’m so excited for you and to follow along!

  13. Very exciting! I would love long photographed posts about this. I have no doubt your house will be incredible. Ooh I’m in a similar situation and this might really push me over the edge to build!

  14. Hi Sarah,
    You’re right, we won’t be sharing the location but I will be sharing tips on how we found land in the next post! 😉
    Joy

  15. That was my guess! Congrats! I’d love to follow along on insta and the blog! We’re renovation our 118 year old home so sometimes it feels like a new build! 😉 I can’t wait to see your process!

  16. Congratulations, Joy! This is so exciting. I’d love to hear your thought process behind design choices, e.g. types of materials or the way you laid out a space.
    Thank you so much and am excited to follow along your journey.

  17. Congrats! I live in DC and thinking to do the same with my family of four. I have a lot of logistical questions like how did you find the land ( did you have to demo an old home or move further out)? How did you find a builder? Customer home or a “template home”? I just finished listening to Young House Love podcast that talked about custom building a house, I feel like it is a sign for us to start soon ?

  18. This is amazing! Can’t wait to follow along! I would love insta stories, blog and insta posts (I prefer photos to video content, personally!). And would love to hear more “behind the scenes” info. Joy is a visually person with a background in design – but would love to hear how you came to make certain decisions, and what other people helped contribute to the process – like your architect, contractor, husband and kids!

  19. Congratulations!! Excited for you and your sweet family. Thank you for being willing to share about this process. I feel like your post was in my head or something, because my husband and I have been renting for the last 8 years due to moving to different cities, building careers, etc. Now we’re ready to buy a house, but we’ve had the same dilemmas that you discussed. We’ve talked about building, but I keep saying, “if it’s cheaper to build, why isn’t everyone doing it?!” I’d love to hear about the scarier or the more gnarly parts of the process. What’s been the most difficult, expensive, or hair pulling steps?

  20. Congratulations!!
    I’d love to see more on Instagram stories and at the end, VERY interested in a budget breakdown (not real number of course, but percentages spent).

  21. Great news!!!!!! CONGRATULATIONS!!! Can’t wait to see the whole adventure on the blog, instagram, etc! I am interested in photos AND videos!!! ? can’t wait to see it all!???? yes, yes, yes!!!?

  22. Hi Katy,
    Thank you and yes will share all that! The short answer is that most people don’t do it because it’s stressful and requires a lot of patience even if you are spending less money.
    Joy

  23. Congratulations!!! We are currently rebuilding from our home flooding during Hurricane Harvey. While my design loving heart has loved some aspects of it, others have been hard and disheartening. I hope this is a fun experience for your family and that your home dreams come true!

  24. Reading your post gave me hope. Like you, I also live in LA and have been on the hunt to purchase a home for my family for over 4 years, only to be disappointed time and time again. We’ve been outbidded by all cash or just priced out of the neighborhoods we want. Each open house/viewing gets me more and more discouraged. I am so excited for you and your family and can’t wait to follow along on the journey. I’m definitely interested in hearing about how you found your property and any tips you can offer. I will definitely share this post with my husband. Thank you!

  25. Cindy,
    I have been there and I think that’s why so many people move away so they can get something more tangible. I hope our process gives you more information and hope that your house is out there for you!
    Joy

  26. We just bought a 112-year-old house in Seattle last year, but it’s always been my absolute dream to build a just-right home for our family, and I’m hoping that in a decade we can make that happen. Congratulations! I’m so excited to follow along 🙂

  27. EEEK! I’m so excited to follow along in the process. I think your design has an element of whimsical that I LOVE.

  28. Congrats, how exciting! I too live in LA, and we’ve outgrown our home with our two kids. We couldn’t afford a home that our family could live comfortably in, so we’ve decided to renovate and add about 500 sq ft to our current home. Did you have to purchase and tear down a home? I think it’s fantastic that you were able to find property and build your dream home. Swoon.

  29. Congratulations to you and your beautiful family!!! This is so exciting. I’d love to see the entire process from how you bid for the open lot (price range) to getting permits and drawing up the blueprint for the house, etc. That sounds like a ton of work, but so worthwhile if you can custom design your our home for HALF the price. What?!?

  30. Yay!
    I love all of your posts, and am super excited about your new house. Please share anything, and everything. I am curious about how you designed a blueprint of your house, so the layout and the thought process behind it.

  31. congrats, Joy, and what exciting news!!! I cannot wait to peek into and learn from your journey. we would love to build a house in San Diego someday and my husband is a city planner (so he knows the ins and outs of much of what would be required).

  32. So excited for you, and can’t wait to read/see more. We are doing a full remodel (in LA) and it has taken us more than a year to get our permits. This is the part that HGTV and my favorite online designers never shared about, so I’m hoping you’ll talk about that process too. I’m hoping we get to begin our own construction in the next month or two, and learn from your experiences too.

  33. Congrats on this awesome news, Joy! I do recall that post you wrote about how difficult the house buying process was in L.A. I’m looking forward to hearing all about this journey into building your very own house. Must be great to customize everything to your liking! Good luck with everything! Xo

  34. Congrats to the entire Cho family! Yes, please share any of the details that you are comfortable sharing (especially the Pinterest boards!). I do remember your post about buying a house. The real estate market is so crazy! Best of luck and can’t wait to follow along on this journey.

  35. Wow that’s an insanely sloped site-I imagine a huge budget is about foundation/retaining walls/earth moving! I hope it all ends up at a 45 degree or less angle of repose! Congrats! Exciting! Former architect here-not surprised at timeline. In Berkeley it’s “the people” that delay your project ;). For a progressive city it’s very resistant to home building. Now I’m a therapist to help remodel people’s minds.

  36. Hi Deb!
    Ha! Only an architect or contractor would know all those terms 😉 And yes, there have been lots of challenges with the land…all things which I have learned a LOT from 😉
    Joy

  37. I’m so happy for you! And extra cheers for you to being one of the original design bloggers that’s still down to earth and replies to comments! You go girl! You inspire me!

  38. How exciting!!! Looking forward to following along on your journey and design processs. I’m sure it will be amaaaaazing! Congrats!! ??

  39. This is SO exciting!! I would really like to know your process for how you decide what style house to build. This is such an amazing way to get exactly what you want out of a house, but how do you decide what you actually want? So looking forward to watching your progress!

  40. congratulations! the family would like to know how you plan on decorating the guest/pool room? will there be a sign saying hotel del cho? we’re so excited for you guys and can’t wait to see it from start to finish! 🙂 xoxo.

  41. Congratulations to you and your family! I’m also in an unaffordable area of California and have found it very difficult to buy a place. My understanding is that when you build a house, you need to do it with all cash vs. getting a mortgage that you can pay off over several decades. This would require much more savings, even though it might cost less overall. Could you explain how it was more affordable for your family?

  42. Hi Lena,
    I’ll cover in an upcoming post. But we got a construction loan which eventually turns into a mortgage once the house is done. We would never be able to do it in all cash.
    More to come soon!
    Joy

  43. Congrats Joy! That sounds so exciting. I’m thinking of doing construction in the future as well, either for my personal home or an investment property. I’ve heard the permit process can be a major obstacle, unless your contractor/their subs are very experienced or connected. Please let us know your experience with that and which contractor you end up using. Thank you!

  44. Hi Genevieve,
    The permit process is NO JOKE. Especially here in LA. It took us almost 2 years to get permits. I’ll definitely go into that in upcoming posts!
    Joy

  45. Best news EVER! I will follow every detail and enjoy it immensely! I can’t think of anyone who is better equipped to design a house than YOU! Maybe this will turn out to be the next arm of OH JOY. As Oprah said, the universe may have bigger plans for you than you ever dreamed! SO happy for you and your family!

  46. Congratulations!!! What an amazing and exciting project. My husband and I were seriously thinking of trying to do this in the Bay Area, but it’s not in the cards for us for now. I’m incredibly excited to follow along with your progress and live vicariously through you. Best of luck and hope everything goes smoothly!

  47. I don’t read your blog often (I’m definitely not your target audience) but I always enjoy following along on this type of adventure. Congrats on finding a place to build – I cannot imagine how difficult that must have been.

  48. Congrats! It’s the dream to own a place in LA which my husband and I think about occasionally but it’s definitely out of reach at the moment. I’m excited to see your design choices and other decisions.
    I’m already feeling like we are getting priced out of our westside apartment… so when you guys are fully out of apartment and it’s safe to share let us all know! a good apartment is hard to find ;D

  49. Congrats! We’re in the design phase for a major reno and extension in the silicon valley (so expensive to move) and I’m so curious as to what your house will look like. I want to know all the details-layout, special considerations you’ve made for the kids and aging grandparents who visit, all the details and sources for your cabinets, flooring, furniture, lighting, countertops, bathroom shower and tub surrounds, etc. I want to know it all! I only wish we were doing our reno after you guys. I love your style! 🙂

  50. Congratulations, Joy!! I’m so happy for you and it’s nice to hear that patience pays off. I live in Chicago with two young children and it’s a similar struggle. While I love the before/after (or in this case the progression) is also like to hear the ‘real’ details-what did you struggle with, did you go over budget and why, what would you do differently? Can’t wait to hear more!!

  51. THIS. IS. AMAZING! I love reading about people designing and building their homes. The complex process is fascinating, and there is always something interesting to learn about and dive-in. What I really want to know how do you organize and prioritize your schedule with this, running a growing business, make time for friends and family, and go about your quality family life. Would love to see a screen shot of your weekly calendar. =)

  52. This is fantastic, and so timely! My husband and I have just started looking for land in the LA are to build on. Rather than just a single family residence though, we’re hoping to find 3-5 acres of land where we can start a small farm and also have build a few rental/vacation units. The hardest part so far is figuring out the zoning and the finances! If you don’t mind me asking, did you get a regular house loan or a construction loan? And more details on conquering the permitting process would be SO SO helpful!

  53. Joy, I respect your desire for privacy, which I’ll certainly honor. Having said this, I am a neighbor and pass your place from time-to-time, being a 78 year old who walks 3 miles every day throughout the neighborhood. Over the years, I’ve had a passion for home architecture, and I find your new home build fascinating, to say the least. The lots you have chosen are a real hill challenge, and were probably available because of the extreme challenge they presented. It’s not for the faint of heart. When I think of your business success, this home build, and your role as wife and mother of two adorable children, you are a terrific role model for younger women . Good luck and I look forward to seeing your home emerge, after all the topography and retainer wall work that has been required.

  54. Mike,
    Thank you SO much for your kind message. It has been a lot of hard work and tears, but someday it will be well worth it 😉
    Joy

  55. Very good article. I did a house construction gradually. Even though it will be built in stages, plan the final shape of your dream home from the start. It is important to know the optimal extent of the house that you can build on your land, and what building elements can be prepared from the beginning. biesterbosgroep.nl

  56. Very Cool Life Experience! I’m here a little late so I’m guessing you guys are living in your dream home now! Any follow up or additional tips for building a custom home?

  57. Hi Jon,
    We moved in April! Still lots more content to come! See the Joy’s House section of the blog for more posts!
    Thanks!
    Joy

  58. Let’s Put An End To Your “Accountants Near Me” Searches
    Every business could have access to an efficient accountant and/or bookkeeper if they outsource bookkeeping services. Bookkeeping is often delegated to ordinary office employees or taken on by the business owners themselves.

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