It’s Closing Time…

Alright, cue the Semisonic anthem because we close today on our construction loan!

After providing some last minute documentation to the bank at the beginning of last week, we got the news that everything was approved to move forward mid week, but because of the need for time to prepare all the documents as well as federal regulations requiring that we acknowledge the final paperwork 3 business days before the actual closing, we couldn’t close until this week.

Of course, most of the time a real estate closing happens and then the new owners get the keys and take possession of the property.  In this case, we are basically just getting possession of a line of credit.  No keys for us yet.

So, today will actually be a bit anticlimactic but it’s one of the last hurdles before we can finally see something happen on our lot other than weeds growing.  We are expecting groundbreaking to occur in the next 2 weeks and then I’ll try to share frequent pictures.

Almost there! (to starting anyway)

We are finally getting very close to starting!

Yes, this blog has seemed dormant for a while and there has been no physical progress on the house, just lots of behind the scenes work.

After months and months of design and all the decisions about layout and exterior, the last 6 weeks or so has been dependent on paperwork and decisions that are out of our hands.

First, we had to get HOA approval for our design.  Our neighborhood has pretty strong design requirements to maintain the feel and property values.  Not just dictating that you can’t paint the house bright pink, but down to the point of defining how much stone is needed on each exterior wall, square footage requirements, the pitch of the roof and the list goes on.  It sounds pretty constrictive, but in reality, we probably would have wanted nearly all the things they dictated even if they weren’t required.  So, we had no trouble meeting those requirements with the exception of the roof over our screened porch which had to be more shallow than “required” so that it wouldn’t end up blocking upstairs windows.  In the end, we obtained our approval with no concerns from the review committee.

Concurrently with HOA review, our builder started the permitting process.   There are apparently multiple different types of permits– zoning, building, septic– and each has their own process and requirements.  I’m just glad they are handling all that for us.  The last we have heard is that the zoning and building permits have been issued and there is just some additional work to approve our septic plan.  Septic is a completely new beast for me that deserves its own post some day.

The biggest question mark recently has been the financing.  We had received preliminary approval for the amount we wanted to borrow for the project months ago, but now we had to do the formal application process where the bank’s fine tooth combs were put to good use.  Seriously, I think I could have delivered my entire filing cabinet and forwarded them every financial email I’ve ever received and they still would have found something else they wanted.

As soon as we knew that the design didn’t need to be altered in any way, we entered a contract with our builder that lays out as many details as we already know with allowances for all the things we don’t know yet.  I actually went through and increased our allowances in nearly every category knowing that we will want nicer things at many steps and because we’d rather plan higher and get pleasantly surprised rather than the other way around.  (Even with that, I’ve already realized that we will definitely go over our cabinet allowance, possibly by $5-10K!).  With the increased allowances as well as the general scope of the project, we ended up with a contract price that is about 25% higher than the budget we had thrown out to the builder in our initial meetings.  I was pretty sure that type of thing would happen… I just hope there aren’t a lot of additional increases coming.

So, with a contract in hand as well as final plans, we finalized our loan application and have been waiting for that for the past 3 weeks.  We were pretty sure our finances would be okay, but the concern was the appraisal.  A bank doesn’t really care how much you spent to build a house, just what it ends up being worth.  Well, actually they’ll loan based on the lower of the appraisal or the cost, but in our case the cost had potential to be significantly higher than the appraisal.  If that happened, then not only would we be responsible for our 20% down payment toward the project, but everything above and beyond the appraisal.  That’s why you have to be careful to not overbuild for the neighborhood.  Like any real estate transaction, the value of a new build is based on surrounding similar houses.  So, if every house in the neighborhood is about the size of the one you are planning to build and sell around $400K, but you decide to put travertine floors everywhere, a Tesla solar roof and all the bathroom fixtures are made of gold, it doesn’t matter that you spent $1 million to build that house, the bank is gonna say it’s only worth $400K, maybe a bit more, and you’re gonna be left with a ton of out of pocket cost.

That’s why the appraisal is so important.  Luckily, our appraisal which came in yesterday was very good.  Not great, but very good.  Once we account for landscaping and the purchase of the land itself, the overall project cost is still significantly above what the appraisal says, but it does give us the option of financing more so that we can save some of the out of pocket costs for other things like window treatments, furniture, and pool.  Of course, that does mean the mortgage payment will end up noticeably higher.  Also, we hope the township assessor comes up with a significantly lower opinion of value when determining our property taxes.

Well, that’s it for now.  I’m hoping we’ll be able to announce a groundbreaking date very soon and I will try to share some of our design journey with you.

Hardwood Flooring Overload

Happy New Year!

I can’t believe I haven’t provided any updates in nearly a month, but with the holidays and work keeping us busy, not many decisions were made.  One of the things that we did try to make progress on is our hardwood flooring choice, but I’m honestly not sure we are any closer to making a decision than we were when we first started.

The problem is that there is a nearly endless supply of choices when it comes to hardwood flooring these days.  I almost wish we were just given a handful of options to choose from– the way most of the larger, less custom, builders would operate.  Instead, we can pick from the entire universe of options with their different construction, materials, finishes and sizes.  It can be overwhelming.

Here is a quick pic of samples of just some of the floors we are currently considering.

Traditional hardwood floors are laid in place and then sanded to be perfectly smooth before the finish is applied.  It’s been done that way forever.  A newer trend is to order the wood prefinished by the factory.  Almost every person we have talked with has been in favor of this method.  Apparently, because the finish can be applied under controlled conditions in the factory and a higher number of coats can be applied more easily, the finish of a prefinished floor ends up being more durable.  And durability is one of our big goals for the materials in our house.

I hadn’t been sold on the idea of prefinished floors initially– and they aren’t perfect– but we have come around and are pretty sure that is the direction we’ll be going.

Alright.  Decision made, right?  Just pick a color and be done…

Not so fast.

Beyond deciding what type of wood and how wide the planks should be and whether we want an engineered floor (a discussion for a different day), we also have to decide what type of finish.  But didn’t we just say we wanted it prefinished?  Yes, but there is more than one way to finish a floor (whether onsite or prefinished by the factory).

This decision is where a lot of recent effort has gone and I would greatly appreciate anyone’s insight about it.  From my research, the 2 main types of finishes are polyurethane or oil.  Most people are probably familiar with a polyurethane finish which typically give a more shiny appearance and sits on top of the wood.  An oil finish, by contrast, gives a bit more natural appearance because it soaks into the wood.

The shiny appearance of classic polyurethane finish is not the look we are hoping for and while there are apparently options to make it more “matte” that we need to investigate, the oil finishes that we have seen definitely seem to capture our style better.

Of course, no decision can be simple.  Oil finishes have a major drawback of increased regular maintenance.  (And they tend to be more expensive, but that’s a lesser factor right now.)  As I already said, low maintenance and durability are key features for every part of the house so hearing that we need to apply oil to the entire floor– which will end up being about 1000 sq ft– once a year or more for at least the first few years does not make me excited.

The sales pitch that we keep hearing, though, is that oiled floors are easier to repair damage or conceal wear.  Basically, all hardwood floors will get damaged by scratches and dings and general wear in high traffic areas.  In a polyurethane floor, there is no way to fully repair a scratch without completely sanding off the existing finish and refinishing it.  And we are told that you can’t just refinish one area… the whole thing would need to be done.  On the other hand, if a scratch or wear pattern happens in an oiled floor you apparently can just clean and then re-oil that area and it will end up blending pretty nicely.

Again, this is what I’m hearing from salespeople.  Does anyone have experience they can share about trying to keep up either type of hardwood finish?

We Started Appliance Shopping

Our builder is hoping to work on a first estimate during the month of January, so they have asked us to start working on selections, which is very exciting, but equally stressful.

We need to pick– or let someone else pick– everything about our house.  That’s the double-edged sword of building a custom home.  We have ultimate freedom to create whatever we want– within constraints of the budget, of course– but have hundreds of decisions to make.

I’m sure I’ll spend some time here discussing many of the bigger decisions for us that will keep me up late at night researching, but the prospect of all the little decisions– like trim shape or cabinet pulls– has me stressed enough.

All of these decisions will not only determine the look, feel, comfort and durability of our home, but they will significantly impact the bottom line.

We are getting good guidance from our builder and they have narrowed some of the massive options out there so we aren’t, for example, trying to research every single hardwood floor provider in the area.  As a result we’ve been pointed in the direction of trusted, local resources for specific things.

One of those recommendations is Big Georges Home Appliance Mart here in Ann Arbor.  It happens to be right down the street from my daughter’s swimming lessons, so we decided to stop by today after her class.

Appliances are definitely one of those items that could majorly swing a budget.  Big George’s has ranges listed on their website over $18,000 and I know there are ranges out there that easily exceed that price.  (No, we aren’t going to be spending that type of money.)  A nice kitchen appliance package could easily be $6000 and as soon as you start talking about a cooktop with separate wall ovens, vent hoods, built-in microwaves and a refrigerator and dishwasher with some of the latest bells and whistles, the price starts to soar.

I was hoping today’s visit would allow 3 main things:

  • Determine a general style/feel.  I know that Stephanie doesn’t care for pieces that have too much of an industrial appearance.  I do actually kind of like the look, but won’t be sad that we don’t select a pricey Wolf cooktop that really exemplifies that style.  I think we saw things that we both like that are industrial enough, but don’t look like Wolfgang Puck should be using them.
  • Figure out which pieces we want and sizes.  One of the other big things we need to figure out to make the estimate as helpful and accurate as possible is the kitchen cabinets and counters.  So, we need to meet with a kitchen designer to figure out what cabinets we need and how much counter space will be present  Knowing, for example, that we probably will go with a 36 inch cooktop with separate wall oven(s) vs an integrated range will affect those plans.
  • Try to start narrowing brands.  If we knew we needed/wanted to have a  specific brand, that could certainly have budget implications, but we really didn’t have enough time to get to that level of decision making today.  Lunch time snuck up on us quickly and our daughter got fussy.  That was probably just as well, though, because we won’t be actually purchasing the appliances for 8 or 9 months probably, so who knows what new features or designs could come out by then

What I wasn’t hoping for was to create new questions that need answering.

And that’s when the salesman mentioned induction heating.  I had always assumed that we would have gas burners since that’s what I’ve used for nearly my entire life (our rental house has electric burners, but otherwise, it’s always been gas).  But hearing about how induction heating is more efficient than gas, easier to clean up since it is just one smooth surface, faster to boil water (we love our pasta!), but still very responsive like gas has me very intrigued.

As one might expect, an induction cooktop is more expensive than the other options.  In fact, it appears to be double the price of a gas cooktop if not more in some cases.  Beyond that, I am concerned about durability.  I don’t want to always worry that I’m gonna put a pot down too hard or slide it across the surface and leave a scratch.

So, now I’ve got something else to research.  I’ll let you know what we decide.

Please share any thoughts you have that could help us out regarding induction vs gas or anything else about appliance selection.

Who Knows about Pools?

One of my motivations for starting this site is the hope that we’ll be able to get helpful feedback and advice about the many decisions we will have to be making during this process.  Whether that’s deciding between 2 paint color options or, in this case, a much bigger decision, I welcome others’ input.

When we decided to move off the lake, we knew that we would miss the water, so we pretty quickly decided that we needed to include a pool in our plans.

But neither of us has ever had a pool, so there is a ton to learn before jumping into what will be a very expensive project all its own.  Our community guidelines require an inground pool, which we would have done anyways, but before starting this research, I wasn’t familiar with the different types of pools.  Fiberglass, vinyl liner and concrete — plus some companies do hybrids of these techniques– all have their proponents.  And, of course, most people are very loyal to their preferred method and are quick to bash the others.



So, I’m hoping that people out there can provide some advice.

  • Do you have a pool or at least have you researched them?
  • What kind did you get and why?
  • Has there been anything about your pool that surprised or disappointed you?
  • If you were planning a new pool right now, what factors would push you to one pool type over another and why?
  • Any other advice?

Thanks in advance.

We will definitely keep you posted as we explore more and make some decisions.