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Joy's House

Most Asked Questions About Building a House

I’ve received lots of questions from all of you along the way so I wanted to compile them all together and answer them for you…

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing all my house reveals…those were a long time coming after working on this since 2014! I’ve received lots of questions from all of you along the way so I wanted to compile them all together here and answer them for you. If you have any others, feel free to ask in the comments!


Is it more expensive to build rather than remodel a house already built, factoring in your rent at the old place while you built the new one?
This answer really varies by where you live, your budget, and the amount of work that might need to be done to remodel. 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 is cheaper to build a house from scratch than to buy one. Who knew? Now, that does NOT mean it’s quicker to build a house. But you can get exactly what you want at a lower cost by building than finding it already existing. In most of the country that might not be the case, so there are lots of things to consider depending on your circumstances. If you’re contemplating building, here’s how we found land and how we got a construction loan.

What order would you contact the following people in: architect, builder, bank/lender, realtor?
If you’re building, you sort of have to contact most of those people around the same time because there are various parts you can’t do without the other. But here’s how I would go about it: I’d first find an architect you love and would want to work with. You would meet with them, get an idea of their cost to design your house and oversee the build or renovation. If you haven’t already found land, you could keep them in the loop on your hunt and then come back to them once you have secured land. As for a realtor, a land realtor can help you find land as not all traditional realtors will handle land sales (see how we found our land right here). You won’t really know what it’s going to cost to build until you show those finished plans from an architect to a contractor. So once you have land and have chosen an architect, it’s helpful to also be talking to a contractor to have an idea of their costs which they can help give you (but they won’t really be able to tell you exactly until your plans are close to finished). Now, unless you have a ton of cash in the bank and can pay everyone in cash, you’ll need to also talk to a lender for a construction loan, and you won’t know how much you need until you get an estimate from the contractor based on how construction loans are distributed (which I go into detail about right here).

Did you go over budget? If so, how much should you budget in for going over budget?
Yes, we went over. Are you surprised?! I don’t think there is any home renovation that doesn’t go over even if it’s a single room. And the larger the project, the more people tend to go over budget because there are more factors that change along the way, more materials where costs may increase, and more work that needs to be done that increases labor costs. For us, our budget went over mainly because of a few things: A) from the time it took for the project to actually start vs. when it was designed, labor and material costs went up and B) because we built on land that had never been touched, lots of unexpected things popped up that we wouldn’t have known until we started. For example, the soil expanded 3 times more than was planned, so we had to pay more for the trucks to remove and haul away the additional soil/ground that was needed to prepare the land for the build.

How did you deal with the overwhelming process of the planning/design stages? How did you deal with decision fatigue?
First, I must say I had an incredible team on my side. Bob and I were working on this project for over six years while having full-time jobs and kids and we needed a great team to keep things moving for us. I worked closely with our contractor (Boswell Construction) and architect/designer (Project M+). And while I needed to work on the project in some way everyday, they were the ones focusing on each area of their expertise.

When it came to interiors (which is the fun part!), I worked closely with Cleo from Project M+ who was able to take a lot of my ideas and reimagine them and bring them back to me until we got to a place that felt great. She really pushed me in many ways, and I am so grateful we partnered together as I would not have been able to manage it all on my own. Since we were building rather than renovating, we had to look at the whole project at once vs. one room at a time. I really saw the whole house as a design project with each room needing to feel related to the others without them needing to all match. We had some consistent materials and colors throughout while each room could also have it’s own mood. The house is like a family and each room is like a different family member!

What areas/items did you decide to do more budget-conscious and which did you decide to splurge on?
I would say I focused mostly on the items that needed to be both decorative AND functional AND are pretty permanent and not easy to change…like countertops and tile. It was important for me to work with quality brands with an aesthetic I felt like I would like for a long time, but also not be so neutral that it felt too boring. I’d say we went more budget-friendly with items like our toilets and sinks that were common brands that you could find anywhere and more basic styles that checked the box for function.

Who takes care of all the permitting?
In our case, the architects and contractors handled all the permitting. We had to be involving with approving, signing, and paying for the permits, but thankfully that’s part of their job to handle the bulk of the permit process!

Do you recommend getting a lawyer for the meetings with the city to approve any permits?
Our contractor and architect handled all permits. We had to sign for things and pay for the permits, but they should be able to handle most of it for you as part of their job.

Tips for working with contractors?
Most people say they hate their contractor at the end of a project, and we loved ours the whole way through. They were organized, communicative, and I was always able to get in touch with someone on site. We worked with a bigger company than we had originally planned but it worked great for us because of the organizational structure they bring to the table which allowed us to trust them immensely while having weekly meetings for the 2+ years of our build so that we were always up-to-date on the progress. Our team at Boswell had a Site Supervisor and a Project Manager assigned to our project so there was always at least one person on-site full-time managing all of the subs. To me, the biggest thing I learned is to make sure your contractor can communicate with you in the ways that work best for you (do you prefer calls, emails, in-person meetings?) and that they specialize in the type of work you need. Our contractors focus on hillside homes which was so important because our project was more complicated from the start.

Is there anything you changed your mind on even though it cost you for the change?
Yes! They weren’t major, but the main bathroom had a few changes mid-way. I talked about it in detail here. I think those changes cost us around $2-2.5K to fix which wasn’t terrible in the grand scheme of things and we caught them at a point before it would be harder to undo. Regular meetings on-site help a lot with any changes mid-way because, if you have to undo too many things to make the changes you want, you’ll end up needing to pay more. While that may not be a lot in the grand scheme of things, the over-budget came from changes or conditions we could not control and were much higher every single time so we really picked our battles when it came to superficial changes.

Is there anything you would do differently if you had hindsight? 
Yes! Again, not major things but I talked about of handful of things I would have done differently right here.

How many square feet is the house?
Around 2900 sq ft. It’s 4 bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms.

In the middle of a home renovation on a 1954 home complete with pink and blue tiles in the main bathroom 😂 Please tell me my marriage will survive!
Ha! I love this question. A major renovation project will cause you to have lots of conversations and disagreements with your partner because you have to talk about things that may have never come up before: function of a space, aesthetics, and costs. Plus, anytime money is involved AND you go over budget, there are real conversations to be had there. I wrote a blog post about it all here, but the main thing is to decide who is going to be the point person and give that person permission to make most decisions. Decide what you both need to weigh in on and what the main point person can handle for both of you.

Now that you’ve lived with your drywall reveal for a bit, are you happy you went without floor molding throughout?
I love it, but my husband doesn’t. For those of you who may not know what this is, instead of having traditional baseboards where the wall meets the floor and there is a decorative trim at the bottom, we have a “reveal” where the wall looks a bit lifted before it meets the floor…almost like what they do in some galleries (example here). It’s a modern look which I think looks cool, but dust does collect underneath it which my husband thinks is annoying 😛

Now that you have lived in the house for a year, are there things/aspects that work differently than you expected? Better? Worse? And in hindsight, anything that you would have done differently?
Overall, we are SO happy. Getting to be in our house A LOT for the past year has really made me appreciate it even more. When you are walking through a construction site for years, you really can’t imagine how it will all come together and it’s so nice to see it as our home now and not just a site! Also now that we are starting to be able to have small groups of friends or family over post-vaccination, we’re really getting to see the house function as we intended it to. There are minor things we find that we would have changed how they function but anything else we would have changed (like adding a pool) would have cost too much, and there are reasons we made those decisions then that still make sense now.

Are you secretly itching to keep going and start a new dreamy project or are you SO relieved this is your forever home and never have to do this again?
I am SO relieved it’s over. I don’t plan on ever moving or building a house again even although I did learn SO much that would help in a future project. As for itching to do another project, stay tuned… 🙂

P.S. See all house posts right here!

All photos by Lily Glass

4 comments

  1. I had to go back and look at your old posts to see the reveal. Now I have to go look up how it’s done!

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