When you close your eyes, you can see it—the walls, the windows, the décor. Or perhaps you can’t picture it at all, but you know how you’d feel in the space. Despite all the fantasizing, if the opportunity to create your dream home ever arose, would you know what to do?
Three parts of the process are indisputably necessary: a location, a professional and finances—but not necessarily in that order. If you’re starting from scratch, Chris Vatterott of Enclave Bellerive says that there can be problems in dealing with vacant lots or tear-down homes. “You have to make sure [a lot] is fully developed,” Vatterott says. “Codes that are required by each city will significantly affect the value of the developed lot. Some municipalities require copper-only waterlines. Another thing that is a serious concern is how far away the waterline is away from your site.” Before a wall is even built, the expenses can easily add up—and it’s no different with pre-existing tear-down homes. He estimates tearing down a house and developing the lot at anywhere from $25,000 to $60,000, noting that older homes—often the type selected for demolition—may have outdated sewer and water lines, which can be an even bigger expense.
When finding the professional to help bring your dream alive, Dave Dunlap of Consolidated Design and Construction advises homeowners to ask friends and family for recommendations. He notes to ask not just about timeliness and budget, but whether the workers were respectful to you and those living around you. “I’ve heard and seen horror stories—you can create a real problem for a homeowner when their neighbors no longer think very nicely of them.”
Dunlap also recommends asking things such as Were questions answered with compassion and understanding of the client? and Did the design pay too much attention to fixtures, finishes and current trends? to help find the right professional for the job.
It's also important to note, the ideal professional will be working with the homeowner’s best interest at heart, as Emily Castle of Castle Design explains homeowners “need to know the designer wants this project to be successful as much as they do—most good designers will go in with that in mind. There needs to be good communication, mutual trust and respect between the clients and designer.”
Through the aforementioned communication, the specifics of the project can come to light. Professionals are there to create your vision whether or not you have a shoebox of ideas—but the pros agree to bring and share the ideas if you have them.
If you have major wants, prioritizing is key. “When I meet with people, often I find they want everything—and it’s not always feasible to have everything,” explains Tamsin Mascetti of Tamsin Design Group. She says it is important to not just have a priority list of your must-haves, but of the family’s must-haves. “You may have a master bathroom space that won’t fit this giant spa tub, and that’s the first thing on her list; but the first thing on his list is a giant shower. Coming up with a list together really helps a designer or architect. It’s a good guide to know what needs to be incorporated.” However, there isn’t a right way to know what favorites are worth keeping. “When you buy a car, is it more important that you have a red car or air conditioning? It’s all about priorities,” Mascetti adds.
During the time it takes to create the home, Castle advises owners to remain patient. “You shouldn’t try to plan this whole thing on a deadline; if you do, you’re going to set yourself up for disaster.” She notes that professionals can be realistic about the time they believe a project should take, but that only so much can be planned.
At the end of the process, the feeling of pure perfection may not be there immediately. “After you build the house, there are going to be things you would have done differently,” warns Vatterott. Some issues are not fixable, while some can be adjusted post-construction. To help keep the issues from appearing at all, he recommends homeowners “slow down at the framing stage; that’s the least expensive time to make corrections.” If something is overlooked, it doesn’t have to destroy the house in your eyes. “You cannot sweat that,” he adds. “It just happens.”