Thursday, March 21, 2013

You picked your LOT and HOUSE, WHAT NOW?

Tips on picking OPTIONS and UPGRADES
(note: this is a multi-page post)

So you have decided on your dream house and picked out your land/lot, whats next?  Time to spend more money that's what, but you can do so wisely.  Many of the options and upgrades from the builder are priced by either crazy lunatics or very very greedy people ( I think it's both).

I can tell you now that you'll not be able to get everything you want unless you are super rich.  You will have to make hard decisions based on your family's needs vs wants.  The reason we went with a new construction home vs an existing built home is to be able to customize our home but RH makes it a little difficult.  Everything is at a high premium and you'll have to make a sacrifice or two at some point.

I think Options/Upgrades are  the biggest money maker for home builders.  They'll lure buyers in with great promotions; free this, free that, this much % off, etc.... Just remember nothing is FREE.  The GOOD thing about options/upgrades are just that, OPTIONAL.  The BAD thing is, some options/upgrades (structural) you have to get it now during construction.

Many of the tips here are from reading other peoples blogs, forums and some of my own.

Note about BUDGET
Plan your purchase with a soft budget so you are not stretched too thin but have room to up it a bit to accommodate surprises or must-have features that you didn't think of.  If your start with a firm hard budget then you have no room to expand and you will stress yourself out.

Lets start....

ELEVATION - The exterior characteristics of your house, the interior layout is the same.

The first option you MUST pick is an ELEVATION for your new house.  Elevation can be very expensive depending on the material (vinyl, brick, stone), coverage (front, sides, back, all) and porch (none, half, full).
This is the only option that will give you FREE extra sq. footage via bump-out (usually front bump-out). Most buyers will pick the elevation with the most sq. footage.  During your lot selection, it is important to ask your SR what house model and elevation is next to that lot (in all directions) because if the same house and elevation had been picked then yours can not be the same. 

Being a first time new built home buyer, I made this mistake and ended up with my 2nd choice Elevation. We like the lot location so we sacrificed our 1st choice elevation.  It is to your advantage if you are one of the earlier buyers to a new community or at least to that street.

What we picked: 
-Elevation C 
-Brick veneer front (anything veneer is not as good as the real brick +$12200) 
-Half porch w/ porch metal roof (metal roof is required!!! +$750!!!)
-Side loading garage (no choice) due to our lot location but had  to pay $6500 extra.  No happy about it but nothing we can do since we want that lot.  If we had a choice, I would save the $6500 and get the front loading garage.  I prefer front loading garage over side loading.  It's more convenient and the drive way can provide more parking space.

From the budget point of view, it's not looking good.  We are now already adding $20,000 to our base price and we have not even entered the house yet.

If your lot happens to be a true-corner (front and side facing street) then you are required to pay a premium ($7000+ ? )for the lot.  On top of that, you are also required to pay for brick siding  (an $18,000 option). Luckily our lot does not fall into that category.

There is really not much to it.   Only a few available selections for the exterior and they are further limited by what options buyers before you have already selected.  You have to be the 1st one to guaranteed your selection since it can not be the same as your neighbor's.

Next post, I'll talk about the kitchen and others.  BTW, we are still waiting on the building permit to start constructions.  It's been 78 days and counting since purchase agreement signed and 10% down.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Shakespeare home - How it came to be

There are 4 builders in our community. Ryan homes, NV (parent company of RH but larger, more expensive houses), Beezer and Craftmart.  Needless to say there are many models to choose from.  We went with RH for many reasons but the major ones are:

-They are Energy Star 3.0 Certified (pdf)- hopefully it means a more efficient home and not just a logo.
-They had the most selections in this communality and many of the models are available for viewing on-site.
-They are also the most prominent builder in this community (over 80% are built by RH). Could be good and bad (too many similar houses).
My thinking behind is that  they will have more experienced construction teams/workers to build the home.  We hope this does not backfire and the workers start to cut corners due to repetitive work, boredom or over-worked from all the homes they have lined up to build. 
-Most importantly, we found the model we liked and can picture us living in it for a long time. 

We will be HIRING A 3RD PARTY INSPECTOR in all major milestones of the construction phase to ensure qualities are met.  I recommend everyone to do so as well.  It's a small investment to have a peace of mind.  I'm sure everyone have heard of all the horror stories about RH homes with issues (I don't need to tell you where to find them :).

We currently have a townhouse so our goal is to upgrade to a single family home (SFH).  That pretty much eliminates half of the models being offered in this community.  Ryan Homes organize their models into the following categories:

Classic Traditional:  FOX CHAPEL ($490s), OAKMONT ($510s), MARQUETTE ($520s)
My thoughts: Very wide but short, the front has steep stairs walking up to the front door and basement is a walk-up (house usually sits on a hill), house appears very big when looking from the front (can see all 3 levels from the front).

NeoTraditional: ERNEST HEMINGWAY ($440s), JOHN STINBECK ($450s), JAMES MICHENER ($470s), AGATHA CHRISTIE ($480s)
 My thoughts: Modern interior, efficient use of space, very open floor plans, love the full covered porch that stretch the full width of the house.  Lots are smaller, smaller yard space because the garage takes up most of the back yard.

Traditional:  CHANTILLY PLACE ($510s), YATES ($520s), JASMINE GROVE ($530s), TAYLOR ($550s), SHAKESPEARE ($560s)
My thoughts: My favorite category of the 3.  Large lots (large yard)  Interiors appears to have better architectural design.  The interior is very warm and inviting.  Each room has it's own character and individual space, yet still have the open space feel.  Larger kitchen and master bedroom.  2 story foyer and/or family room (The Shakespeare has both) which allows for a 2 story stone fireplace!!.  

Update: All prices have jumped $10k since this post (about 3 weeks ago).
Update: 5/15/13: All prices have jumped 40k since last update. The market is picking up fast.

Here is a picture of my favorite room in the "Shakespeare" (until I build my "MANCAVE" in the basement):  The double story family room with stacked stone fireplace from floor to ceiling.  That fan is not an option but looks really cool.

Unfortunately the prices in our area is among the highest in the country.  Same model a few hours away cost half the price.  My #1 complain with RH is how expensive their options/upgrades are.  They are extremely expensive even for small upgrades like changing to a darker color kitchen cabinet will cost about $1k in upgrade even if the material and design are the same.  I can provide many more ridiculous examples but I'm sure anyone who has purchased a home from RH knows that already.

So far I have posted some negative things about my experience and our house has yet to break ground (contract signed Dec 31, 2012!!!).
When I do have positive things to say I will definitely share them as well.
My opinion is purely based on my own experience.  Right now I'm still somewhat neutral.  Good luck and happy building your dream home.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The difference is in the options

Whats the difference between your house and the same one down the street?
The answer is ...... OPTIONS.

Options are what distinguish the same model from another.  Building a new house is all about the OPTIONS you picked to make it your own. The trouble is options are not cheap!!!

If you see an advertisement "blah blah blah starting low 300s" but after adding a few options, you're going to be in the high 300s or low 400s.  We ended up adding close to 100k more (even after discounts and promotions) to even get close to what we want in our new house.  $$$ will add up quickly.

Most options are very simple and easy to do but it's hard to do once the dry-walls are up so you ended up paying the premium to avoid destroying the walls later.

Here what we have experienced so far.........

- Elevation is consider an OPTION!!!! Yes and  you'll have to pay for it and it's not cheap. It's like buying a car without doors, a hotdog without the buns, ... well you get the idea.  It's tricky because without an elevation, your house is not a house.  It's probably the most expensive option that's REQUIRED.  Vinyl siding elevations are cheaper,  ours were over $12000 for veneer (hollow inside) brick front.  If you see new homes advertisement starting in the low $350ks but it does not include an elevation.  yes it's misleading IMHO. 

- Options will add up quickly and you'll wonder where all your money have disappeared to because you still have so much more you want to add.
tip!  best to do structural upgrades (extensions, rough-ins, wiring, et...) first before material upgrades (carpets, door knobs, facets, crown molding etc...).
On tight budget?  If it's inside the walls,  try to do it now.  If it's outside of the walls, you can do it later.

- You WILL have 5 or more CHANGE-ORDERs to your selection.  We had 9 but not really our fault.  Most of the appointments were cut short  because our SR was too busy with new potential buyers.  Once you signed the purchase agreement, you are no longer the priority because you are locked in or lose your deposit money.

- Before you sign anything, make sure whatever the SR tells you is in writing.  The SR is there to sell, sell, sell, that's their goal.  Sometimes they will tell you what you want to hear and they WILL make mistakes (like ours did).  Verify everything before signing,  e.g.We were told we have a wall-up basement (I wanted) and a month after we signed the contract, our SR told us we do not.  Verify everything on the blueprint.

- Don't expect your house will look like the model home.  Model homes have every OPTIONS/UPGRADE built-in and plus other things they don't even offer to make the house look like a celebrity home.   They are professionally decorated, painted, expensive furniture, and all kinds of other techniques used.

- Overall I think our SR was nice and friendly but she still is just a sales person who is looking after the interests of her employer.  Mistakes were made but everything turned out just OK.  She wasn't pushy to up-sell anything but wished we were told about all the options available.  It would've cut down the number of order changes.  Many of the upgrades I found out by reading blogs here and that is why I'm writing this blog to share our experience.

If you are unsure of something, you need to ask.  Ask even the smallest of details.
If you don't know if something is included, ASK and ASK again and again. 

Still waiting on building permits

TIC... TOC... TIC... TOC...

It's been about 75 days since we signed our purchase agreement with RH ($10k good faith down-payment paid - to show we are serious buyers).  Additional 10% down-payment paid in full yet still no news on the building permit.  Does anyone know when they start the permit process?  If you live in Montgomery County (MD), you can check your permits status here.  Looks like all our neighboring lots have permits issued except for ours.  What are they waiting for?  At this rate, my house will not complete until next year!

Here is a picture of our lot (where the orange stake outs are).  It's only about 6800 sq ft corner lot and it's about 9' between the neighbor to the right.  I think it's a little too close.  I think 20' between houses would be much preferred.  It's a corner lot facing 5 houses and share the green in the middle.  The 2 outer houses are RH Traditional and middle 3 are the Neo-Traditional.

The end-unit homes have side garage entrances (which requires a silly $6500 option) since the front of the houses have a large green area which is shared the surrounding houses facing each other (5 on each side).

 closer look


This is what our house will look like when completed.  Our house will have side entrance garage and the front windows will be closer together making it look like a single window instead of 2 separate smaller windows.  I actually prefer front entrance garage.  The drive way will be longer and more convenient accessing from the front door.(elevation B shown below, ours is elevation C)  Elevation B was our first choice but was not available because neighbor across the street is building the same house and B Elevation. The rule in our community is no adjacent units can be the same model and elevation.  This rule goes for exterior materials as well such as brick color, sidings, door color, etc...)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Purchase Agreement signed

Purchase Agreement signed
 We signed our contract over 2 months ago but just now started to blog about it. As of today, We don't known when construction will start but was now told completion date around July (was June when we signed the contract).  All options/selections are finalized and the 10% down-payment paid.

I've been reading other blogs and want to make sure I have something to blog about before starting one.  We signed our purchase agreement right at the end of 2012 (Dec 31).  It was the last day for end of year promotion which includes "finished basement" and "morning room".  
Looking back at it now, we didn't need to rush it because the current promotion (as of Feb, 2013) is similar which includes "Finished basement" and 10k toward options.  I think the final price will be about the same with either promotion.  

My advice is don't try to rush making a decision based on builder's highly marketed promotions.  This is the biggest purchase of your life so take your time.  All options and upgrades can be negotiated, depending on the current market in the area and how bad they need to sell you a home.  
On the other hand, you also don't want to wait to long because the base price (house without options/upgrades) will go up over time. I've read on another blog that they usually increase the base price after a certain number of sales have been reached. 

If you find a lot you like then don't hesitate because chances are someone else will want that lot as well.  Lot location is more important because once its gone, it's GONE.