Building Our Home: Lessons Learned

It took 4 years to move into our new home.  That’s the time it took us from purchasing our lot to move-in.  It definitely doesn’t have to take that long, but we were more concerned with doing it well than doing it fast, so while it wasn’t our preference, we knew long-term, that it was the right thing for us. We learned many lessons from building our home.

The Process

We’d been scouring the local real estate websites for a while when my husband found a lot in a nearby town.  We drove past it in December and initially, I wasn’t all that impressed.  But, a few months later, we contacted a realtor and decided to walk the property.  And that’s when we fell in love with the site.  It had a wooded area in the back with a creek and was large enough to have the feeling of being in the country.  We spent the first year paying down the lot and then we started the process of planning. 

Designing the home was divided into a number of stages: schematic design, design development, and construction documents. It started very conceptual / big-picture and each phase added more detail. All in all, from start of design to receiving bids, designing our home took about 9 months. 

There was a lot about building a home that I needed to learn. We had never done it before and we didn’t plan to ever build one ever again. Despite planning and saving for a long time, there were still a lot of unknowns. We wanted to make good decisions that would be stewarding our gifts well.

The process of designing the home was really fun. I enjoyed that quite a bit (surprise!) but what was stressful was the process of getting prices and bringing on a contractor. We experienced a few bumps in the road and had to put the project on hold for about a year and a half. Ultimately, we were really happy with bringing on Vision Builders. We finally broke ground Spring of 2015 and moved in February of 2016.

Since it’s always easier to learn from others than to learn the “hard way”, I thought I’d share a few of the lessons we learned from the process of building our home.

Lessons Learned

Brand NEW is Expensive 

One of the biggest lessons we learned when building our home was this: Don’t look at local real-estate listings to determine the budget for your new home.  You’ll only be disappointed.  I’m sure a realtor & contractor could explain this better than me, but this makes sense in my mind: It’s kind of like looking at a used car and expecting to get roughly the same price for the brand new version of that car.  You will always pay a premium for something that’s brand new.

The Quality of your Team is Critical 

Find a team that has the time to help you work through problems.  This is so important.  There will always be challenges to overcome with any project.  How does your team of experts and trades react under stress?  Can they trouble shoot?  Does it feel like they’ll take responsibility and solve problems or will they try to shift blame?  Are they willing to deliver news you don’t want to hear in order to save you from further problems?  I will also add that your reactions, as a client, can also set the tone for how things go.  You want your team to be able to help resolve the challenges you face. We had a great experience working with Vision Builders. They were willing to work with us on the problems we ran into. We knew that our happiness with the process and the end result mattered to them.

Efficiency in Square Footage Matters

If you have too much square footage in your design, it’s extremely hard to reduce the price by just cheapening the finishes.  There’s not enough “give” to make a big enough difference.  If your home’s footprint is too big, there’s no way you’re going to be able to make that up by selecting less expensive finishes.  I had been incredibly diligent in sourcing finishes that were cost-effective throughout our project, so that wasn’t somewhere that I could save dollars.  This is why it’s important to have contractors advising you during the design phase to make sure that your budget is staying on-track.  That information needs to be accurate before you move forward.   Designing a home is very much a layered process. Each decision builds on the decision before it, so make sure you have good advice at each stage.

Privacy will be difficult to Maintain

I always try to prepare my clients for this when they’re building a home, especially if they live in a small town. Some people believe it’s their business to know your business. We had people enter and walk around our home during construction.  I had no idea this was something that people did because I’ve never done it without permission. We knew because we had deer cameras set up to capture the construction process. (I still have some people I’d like help identifying!) Construction sites are dangerous, so we were always nervous that someone was going to get hurt while helping themselves to a visit.  Thank goodness, our home is finally old news.  Let’s respect others’ privacy and stop doing this!   

Building a home is so exciting.
It should be an experience that you enjoy!

Major Stressors


Every project will be constrained by schedules and deadlines. That’s why preparation is key. I hate being under the gun with decisions. I’ve always worked on projects where the decisions are made ahead of time, not on-the-fly. I’m a big believer in getting decisions made well in advance so that I can make good choices. If I have to panic-pick something, that totally ruins the experience for me. It’s the antithesis of thoughtful design. Some time constraints are helpful because it helps prevent us from second-guessing decisions. However, it saved us so much stress to have a clear picture of what we wanted before we began. I can’t tell you how many times our contractor asked us a question and we just said “What do the drawings say”? The answers were almost always there because we had done so much planning. That was a huge relief and time-saver.


I’ve been in the shoes of a homeowner, so I understand very clearly what it’s like to be hyper-vigilant of the bottom line. It’s personal and it’s emotional…without a budget, there’s no real project. I care about budget because I care about my clients and what’s important to them. I think there’s this really sad misconception floating around that designers will always use up all your money or make you go over budget. Design services do add to the cost of the project, but interior designers can save you from making painful mistakes and help you make good long-term decisions. I don’t know about you, but I consult the professionals when I need a job done well!


I definitely felt the pressure as a designer to have a well-designed home. (If you aren’t a design professional, that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself!!!) I knew that the second you finalize your selections, they’re out-of-date, so I decided to trust what I liked. By focusing on making good foundational decisions, we have a home that can grow and evolve with our tastes and lifestyle. I talk about how to make selections that are going to last the test of time in my post about Timeless Design. I also didn’t allow too many people to give their opinion on my design selections. It was helpful for me to keep the blinders on a bit and stay true to my own design vision and my own design voice.

I’m thankful for the lessons we learned while building our home. I’m grateful that I know what it’s like to be in the shoes of my clients because it gives me better understanding and empathy for the fears that they have. Ultimately, the experience helps me serve my clients better. I’m able to help my clients learn from what we did right and avoid some of the mistakes we made, too!