Why We Moved Off the Lake

I (Brett) have been thinking about different iterations of this project for nearly 10 years now.  That was way before I even met Stephanie, much less being in a spot to make such big plans together.

For some reason, I have wanted to build, rather than buy, a house for as long as I can remember.  Maybe it’s because, as an 8-year-old, I was fascinated with watching and helping out with the gut job and addition my parents did on my childhood home.  Maybe it’s because I can be very particular about what I do and don’t like.  Maybe I just like new things.

As a result, I’ve been looking through house plans since I was a medical resident.  Sometime during residency as well, I was driving home from Chicago after spending a few days with my family during which we did some boating/waterskiing and I decided that I really wanted to live on a lake.  I started picturing the houses I was seeing online combined with a lakefront lot and I was sold.

When I finished my residency, Stephanie and I were not yet engaged, so I was more or less acting as a bachelor when I decided to buy a small little cottage on a nice lake with ultimate plans to build a new house on that lot someday.

“Someday” in my mind meant 5 years or so and– since I was a bachelor– I could overlook the fact that there was no dishwasher and the kitchen was smaller than the one in my previous condo, the ceilings were no more than 7 feet high, and there was really only 1 bedroom that barely fit my bed.  Oh, and I’m not entirely convinced there was even any insulation in the walls.

The house itself wasn’t much, but I really purchased it for the location and lake.  I couldn’t get over these views:

lake-view-daytime sunrise-over-lake

Well, we had a lot of fun on that lake.  And I would like to think that a lake home will still be part of our future.  But, once we got married and then had a baby, 2 working parents in the healthcare field meant we didn’t have much time to enjoy the lake.  Plus, all the shortcomings of the house I previously mentioned were much tougher to ignore as our family expanded.

More importantly, though, that “someday” I had previously been estimating kept fading off toward the horizon.  I don’t know exactly what I was thinking when I had my original dreams for that lot, but I wasn’t fully understanding construction financing.  Or I was just choosing to ignore it.  No bank is going to let you knock down a house without paying off the mortgage first.  And the house wasn’t in any condition to allow a remodel, not even a total gut job: the ceilings would have to be raised and the foundation completely redone so it made no sense to keep any of it other than the detached garage.

What that meant in practicality was that we had to completely pay off a house we were going to demolish and then would be left with a pretty expensive piece of land to start over on.  Once that reality really sunk in, and our growing family made the house less and less functional, it became clear we needed to look elsewhere.

We briefly entertained the idea of buying another house but didn’t find anything that really fit what we wanted so the search for land began.  I’ll try to discuss that elsewhere.

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What’s in a name?

The name of this site, Dream Home Diary, might seem a bit plain, but I actually spent a good deal of time pondering what to call it.  I’ve had thoughts of blogging through this process for quite a while and my vision has evolved over time.  Instead of just being a time lapse of photographs of the building process, I’d like to see this site become much more.

Let me break it down word for word:

  • Diary- okay, let’s start with last word first.  The dictionary on my Mac defines diary as “a book in which one keeps a daily record of events and experiences.”  Seems pretty fair although I would hope a computer would allow a blog like this to serve as a diary rather than confining that definition to a physical book.  I doubt we’ll have daily updates and insights, and we will definitely be flashing back to the many steps we have taken before launching this site, but we will do our best to capture the whole process going forward.
  • Home- a home is definitely more than just a house.  A large house builder could put up daily pictures of building tract houses and it probably wouldn’t be very inspiring.  By the same token, someone could move into one of those houses, make it their own and transform it into a great home for their family and friends.  We plan to show the structure itself coming together, but also how we make it personal to us and how things like furniture and decor create the atmosphere we are seeking.
  • Dream (Home)- this home is meant to bring our dreams to life.  It certainly won’t be everyone’s dream.  Hopefully our journey and dedication can inspire you, but you might want something bigger or smaller, something more rustic or more modern.  You know, “different strokes for different folks.”  We won’t pretend to know what anyone else would want.  There may be times that we ask for feedback or opinions, but otherwise don’t try to tell us how we should build our dream.

Things that didn’t make it into the name (but are still important to us):

  • Forever- in planning and designing this home, we are looking to create a forever home.  This is going to be a huge project and will certainly entail a lot of stress, so we don’t want to have to do it again.  Plus, moving is probably the worst thing ever.  W-O-R-S-T.  Worst.  To that end, we are looking to this house for our growing, young family now, but also as a retirement house.  Don’t get me wrong… we aren’t going all out on wheelchair accessibility right now, but things that will be very tough to add later– like a first floor master– will be planned from the start.
  • Green- we’d like to consider ourselves environmentally friendly.  Plus creating a healthy indoor environment is important to us.  And, of course we want to minimize utility bills.  So it only makes sense that we would want a green house.  On the other hand, a lot of “green building” techniques are significantly more expensive than the standard.  A lot of our decisions will hinge on cost-benefit analyses of different green options and we hope to be able to share that thought process through this blog.

Well, that’s all I have for now on this topic.  Thanks for following along.

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Well, this should have been the first post on this site, but I hadn’t gotten around to finishing it before we received builder approval and, in the spirit of this being a diary, I thought that post should be published in real time as it happened.  I hope to provide mostly real time progress reports, but so much has happened over the past handful of years to get us to where we are right now that I will definitely be recounting some of that journey as well.

So, let’s take some steps back to quickly bring you up to speed.

As of the writing of this post, we are (hopefully) about 7 months away from breaking ground on our dream home.  We will be building a custom home in Southeast Michigan, not far from Ann Arbor.

Just about a year ago, we purchased our lot in a developed community.  I plan to recount the stressful process of picking the right location in a separate post, but suffice it to say that I had quite a number of days that I laid awake in bed trying to figure out the right decision.  I really think we ended up making the right decision, but it did require some compromise (I foresee much more of that in our future!)

That was actually a very big step for us, though, as we had previously been planning to knock down the house we had been living in and build on that lot.  Making the decision to leave the lake we had been living on– yeah, I know, how could we leave the lake?– was a huge surprise to everyone, including ourselves.  That decision deserves its own post for sure.

Anyway, thanks for joining us to follow this process.

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Builder Approved!

While a lot of new home construction is completed by big builders/developers within the confines of a community they own, our project does not fall into that category.  The lot that we purchased is within a development, but there is no default home builder.

That means we get to pick anyone we want… as long as they are approved by the community developer.  I will likely detail our journey of picking a builder at a later time, but suffice it to say that once we came to a decision, we really didn’t want to find out that they wouldn’t be approved.

I think the approval process was mostly a formality for the caliber of builders we considered–all of whom build multiple custom homes every year.  The developer just needs to make sure that we aren’t asking a complete rookie to complete this big project.

Nonetheless, it was a very nice relief to get notice today that our builder has been approved!  Now we can send in a deposit to secure a spot in their schedule for next year!

And, yes, we will certainly be sharing who we picked in the near future.

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