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some things I’ve learned after building a house…

Oh Joy! Builds a House | Things I've Learned

Oh Joy! Builds a House | Things I've Learned

We finished our house right as quarantine was going into effect, so we feel so grateful we were able to be in our new home during this time. We have been spending our days safe at home unpacking, nesting, and settling in. It’s been a light among all the unknown happening in the world right now.

While we’re still finalizing the interiors, and I can’t reveal rooms to you just yet (I know…I promise it WILL happen!), I do want to share some things I’ve learned from the process now that we are a few weeks into actually living in this house that took us six years to finally be in.

Now listen…I will admit, I feel slightly weird talking about a new house when the world is in unknown place and the economy is a mess. I am so grateful we finished before things got really bad or we may not have been able to finish. But I decided that I would keep sharing stuff with you guys because a lot of you have asked for the inspiration while you’re home and getting more time to nest as well…and because you’ve been rooting for us along this journey to our first and forever home which truly means so much to me.

I know that now isn’t really a time that people are starting massive projects like this. My hope is that something I’ve shared is helpful for any type of home project you’re in the middle of or thinking about. Here are some questions you guys have asked. And, now that we’re in, I can truly answer them!

1. How long did the house build take? We bought the land in summer of 2014 and started construction in fall of 2017. It took 1 year to design it, 2 years to get permits in Los Angeles, and about 2.5 years to build. That’s on the longer side for most of the country, but Los Angeles is not an easy place to get permits quickly. Plus, our land was tricky to build on (which we didn’t expect since we didn’t really know what we were in for). While it took much longer than we expected, the plus side is that it allowed us to save more money before the build actually started. You can read why we decided to build in the first place right here.


2. How did you pay for the house? We paid for the land in actual money (it was our savings that we had for a down payment on a house) and then got a construction loan to pay for the actual build (which is the majority of the cost). You can read more about our construction loan process here.


3. Did you stick to your budget or your projected schedule? Nope! Every single person who starts a home project thinks they are going to be the one person to stay on budget and stay on schedule. It’s nearly impossible because so many things are out of your control, especially the bigger the project is. Our change in budget wasn’t because we wanted fancier things than we had originally planned. A lot of it was an increase in costs for materials and labor that happened to increase during the time our project spanned. Also, because our land is on a hill, there were unexpected issues that came up that caused additional unexpected costs.


4. What’s the most stressful part of building a house? The finances of it. If anyone wanted to do it, I would recommend saving up and having extra money on hand in addition to your loan because there are often costs that arise that your loan my not cover (fees for your architect, engineers, permits, etc). I was very good at keeping track of every dollar spent though, so that I could see what we stayed on budget with and what we didn’t.


5. If you were doing more of a home renovation and had the budget to update one area of a house, which one would be the ONE? The kitchen is one area that is totally worth prioritizing. Whether you need more storage, more space, better cabinets, better flow, more durability, etc. My cooking life and happiness with cooking has changed completely since having this new kitchen. Especially now that we are home and cooking three meals a day, it’s been a life-changer.


6. Is there anything you wish you hadn’t put in, installed, chosen? 


Pocket doors…we don’t love those. We have them mostly in rooms where there is a room inside another room (like our master closet or bathroom within our bedroom or our kids’ bathroom connected to their bedroom), and we have had all kinds of problems with them in just the few weeks we have lived here. The kids slam the doors by accident, the locks are tricky since they are not standard, and they’ve just been annoying. While they save space, we wish we would have used regular doors in most of these areas instead.

Also, some things that people told me were nice details to add when you can…a pot filler faucet (didn’t end up getting that), water filter at sink (got it), and a towel warmer (got it).They were things that I really didn’t think we needed but took those suggestions when we had the chance to install them, and we really didn’t need them at all. I regret spending money on those things that we never knew we needed, and we really didn’t need. You know you and your family best, and go with your gut on details like that.


7. Do you hate your contractors like most people do after a home project? Ha! If you can believe it…this is the number one question I get asked from those who have done some sort of renovation or build. And my answer is no….I LOVE our contractors! Our team at Boswell Construction has truly been amazing…so thorough and on top of things even whenever we had hiccups along the way. We also loved our architecture and interiors team at Project M+ and their ability to be flexible throughout the process. Getting referrals when you choose an architect or contractor is definitely huge since a portfolio alone can’t tell you what it’s like to work with someone.


8. Would you decide to build vs. buy again if you could do it all over again? My answer to this has changed over the course of this project. If you asked me 6-12 months ago, the stress of the last year was so bad that I would have said that I wish we would have just bought a house instead. When we starting looking at houses back in 2014, we couldn’t find anything in our budget that felt like a long-term home. But we could have waited 3-4 years more and had a better budget to get what we really wanted and would have still been in a house sooner than our now house would have been done.

BUT, now that we are here and in it, I am glad we did it. It was one of the top two most stressful experiences I have ever been through, but I’m so happy with how it turned out. I truly cannot wait to build a life of memories with my family here and (eventually) have our friends and family over for lots of dinners and get-togethers.

You can catch up on the past two years of progress on our home build right here, see more peeks over on Instagram under #OhJoyBuildsAHouse and in my stories under (House 1, House 2, House 3, House 4). If you have any other questions, feel free to ask in the comments!

(Photo by Lily Glass)


  1. Thank you so much for sharing! I also really liked your honest opinion about what you would have NOT done in retrospect. Really interesting! So happy for you that the timing worked out. Even though the world is a mess, I’m one of those readers who has been really enjoying keeping up with your content. Can’t wait to see the reveal photos! 🙂 And slightly off topic-I also enjoyed your podcast interview recently. Thank you and CONGRATULATIONS on your home!

  2. Thanks so much for sharing! I’ve been following this whole project and am super excited to see the final reveal! Also, please don’t feel silly sharing this when the world is a dumpster fire; everyone still has real lives going on with exciting things that should be shared. Stuff like this is a nice distraction anyway.

  3. Hi Joy! Thanks so much for taking us on this journey with you. It’s very exciting and informative. I was wondering if you could go into more detail about costs. Land and build costs compared to if you just bought a house outright. I understand if you don’t want to provide actual figures but maybe percentages? Also, you mentioned that it ended up costing you more than you budgeted for. Could you tell us how much more (percentage wise)? Thank you and stay healthy!! 🙂

  4. Thank you so much for documenting your journey. I find myself circling back to your initial posts as I’m in the process of looking at various lots. Of course, the one I’m interested in is on a steep upslope hill (slim pickings in the Bay Area). I already anticipate excavation and retaining wall to be a major blow to the budget. Do you mind sharing what fraction was spent on just setting up the foundation? What other unexpected issues arose with building on a hill?

  5. I’m so excited for you and your new house, it kind of sounds like a dream to be in a new and shiny more spacey place ESPECIALLY during such sad and scary times.
    If you can’t remove the little add-ons, perhaps you could “learn” to enjoy them? I’ve always enjoyed towel warmers (then again it was cold climate places), Pot filler is def nice whenever I’ve needed to cook multiple things or for multiple people, and curious why you don’t like the built in water filter, the only thing I can think of replacing it being annoying?

  6. I was actually wondering what costs cane up with this as well! We have a lot we hope to build on and are in the process of saving money. I’d love to know what things may come up there in terms of spending! Thanks for putting all of this together, it’s such a valuable read!!

  7. Hi Ann!
    I think the hillside was a huge part of it. I think we could have spent 40-50% less if we had built on a flat lot. The options for flat lots are non-existent here, too, so we took that risk. Now that we are done, I am happy to also have the view. But I also know the headache and finances would have been much better if we had options for flat land. That’s probably the one thing I would have changed and still built would have been to hold out for flatter land.

  8. Hi Kristy!
    I love your tips and positive attitude!
    We didn’t get the pot filler after all (that was an example of something we didn’t get and I am OK with completely).
    The towel warmer gets warm but the towels do not. It’s like you feel like a tad of warmth…maybe I was expecting it to be super warm?
    And the water filter…we like cold water so if you use it, you still have to put ice in. So a Brita in the fridge still works better for us!

  9. Hi Joy, really appreciate your response. I’m just trying to brace myself for this potentially exciting yet financially nerve-racking prospect. Congrats with making it through to finally enjoy the fruits of your labor! Looking forward to seeing more photos of your beautiful home 🙂

  10. I’m so excited for you! And how awesome you have this time to really settle in. I, for one, am thrilled for any updates because we’re still working on our house and it keeps me going and believing one day we’ll actually move in. It’s a real light in my days. Congrats!!

  11. Thank you so much for sharing and for being so honest. So many people these days want to skim over the more difficult parts of things to make their life seem more desirable, but your words are relatable for ANYONE that builds or does a large home project. I hope your home is wonderful and you have years of beautiful memories with your family. Thank you for letting us be a part of the journey!

  12. Love the honesty and always, congrats again on the new place. I can’t wait to see the interiors & how you all are adjusting to this new lifestyle!!

  13. Tha k you so much for sharing! Makes me hopeful to going through the process in a few years as were currently saving up for it. I was wondering what system you used Yonkers track of the budget? Did you just use spreadsheets or any other system? Thanks!

  14. Hi Eliana,
    I used Google Spreadsheet so that I could share with my husband and we could both see it in real time.
    Good luck with your project! Let me know if you have any other questions!

  15. Hi Joy! Thanks for sharing us your experience in home building! Reading and learning from first-hand experiences is definitely a lot better. 🙂

  16. Congrats on the new place. I can’t wait to see the interiors you’ll be doing! Just looking on your photos it’s so lovely and homey!


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