Home Builder Spotlight
Things To Consider When Building a Home
Unless you have extensive experience in home building and a lot of cash, you’ll be hiring a builder to construct your new home and you’ll need to obtain a construction loan. Identify a professional contractor and a reputable construction lender, both agreeing to your project details, your time line and all home specifications and you’ll have the home of your dreams.
Formulate a plan and execute it
If you’ve never contracted with a builder before, the prospect of working through the process can be very intimidating. Custom homes require you to work through many details and make many decisions. If you’ve done your homework, building your custom home is very satisfying. From landscaping to rooftop, the work of art and labor of love will be yours.
Pulling your team together
Make sure your home builder and lender are reputable. Ask for references, check to make sure they are properly licensed and review their ratings online with sites like the BBB and state division of professional registration. A good rule of thumb is ensuring your builder and lender have been in business for a minimum of 5 years. Better Business Bureau: www.bbb.org
Verify proper insurance and bonding
Make sure your builder has sufficient worker’s compensation and general liability insurance. If not, you may be liable for any construction-related accidents on your premises. Most builders are bonded. Before work commences on your site, verify their coverage, or get permission to obtain verification of coverage directly from the builder’s insurance agent.
Review your contract and warranty and seek advice
Make sure your builder provides a complete and clearly written contract. The contract will benefit both of you. Ask in advance to review your home warranty to verify all warranty coverage you’ll have upon completion. Consider hiring a real estate attorney to review your contract, and an engineer/project manager to oversee your construction project. An experienced representative can spot and deal with problems as the home is built.
Schedule a final walk-through before final payment
Make sure your builder and lender agree that the final disbursement to the builder will occur when the home is 100% complete, is move-in ready and you’ve conducted a satisfactory walk-thru. All components of the home must be working correctly. A “punch-list” to correct deficiencies must be in writing. Work should be completed within 30 days of the walk-thru.
Home Ideas Gallery
The New Kitchen Counter: Looks Like Marble but Acts Like Porcelain
Anyone who spends time perusing "shelter" magazines like House Beautiful or Architectural Digest or who drools over glamorous house photos on Houzz or Pinterest has probably daydreamed about marble. Marble kitchen counters, marble backsplashes, marble bathrooms… while marble has been the ultimate luxury material for centuries, a moment of practical thought sometimes brings those daydreams to a screeching halt. This is particularly true if you’re thinking of using marble for a kitchen counter where your guests could splash a bit of red wine, a hot pot could leave a burn mark, your husband’s belt buckle could scratch the edge and simply slicing a lemon could do lasting damage.
Thankfully, stone and tile companies like Walker Zanger are using technology to develop porcelain slabs that replicate the look of marble – or cement or wood if you prefer – while providing the resilience of porcelain.
"Porcelain has significant advantages over quartz countertops, such as being nonporous and stain-proof, making it impervious to red wine, lemon juice and other acids that are common culprits of staining natural stone," said Jared Becker, Walker Zanger’s Vice President of Design and Marketing. "Additionally, porcelain has the strength and durability for a home chef to cut food directly on the surface or even place hot cookware on the counter without damaging the material."
If you’re renovating your kitchen or building a new home, it’s always a good idea to compare the pros and cons of various kitchen materials in the context of how you cook. If your kitchen gets light use, marble could be just fine. But for those who cook and entertain regularly, a different surface could be preferable.
New technology mimics marble
Walker Zanger recently introduced their Secolo Porcelain Slabs, which replicate authentic marble veining with Italian glazing technology. Porcelain is thinner than natural stone and has traditionally been offered in slabs between three and six millimeters thick, which can be too fragile to use for counters. The company now is able to increase the thickness up to 12 millimeters, allowing them to fabricate counter slabs as large as 126 inches by 36 inches.
The slabs can be used for all interior surfaces including flooring and fireplace surrounds and backsplashes as well as for exterior walls and water features such as in swimming pools and fountains. The porcelain slabs come in 12 color schemes such as Calacata Classic, Calacata Gold, Calacata Premio, Calacata Regent, Marron Glace (a beige and brown marble replica), Statuary Pieta (a white marble replica), Basque Black (a polished black marble replica) and Petit Bleu (a grey marble replica with a velvet finish).
For more information, visit www.walkerzanger.com
Opportunities in Home Finance
Renovation & Construction Loans, Among Options from
Finance of America Mortgage
While the majority of mortgage loans today are standard 30-year fixed-rate loans, there are still plenty of financing choices that buyers and homeowners can make to custom-design a mortgage for their specific needs.
YourHome1Source recently talked with Steven Reich, senior vice president of production and branch support at Finance of America Mortgage, to find out what this fast-growing lender is seeing in the loan landscape, particularly for first-time buyers.
"One of the biggest misconceptions that consumers have is that they need to come up with a down payment of 20 percent before they can become homeowners," says Reich. "Some consumers just give up on applying for a loan without trying because even on an average $250,000 house, you would need a down payment of $50,000 if you are following that 20 percent rule."
Mortgage loans are available with zero percent down payment for veterans who qualify for VA loans, and for borrowers seeking homes in areas eligible for USDA Rural Development Loans. Loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) are available with down payments as low as 3.5 percent and conventional loan programs are available with down payments of three, five and 10 percent. In addition, numerous programs are available through local and state government programs that offer down payment assistance.
Reich points out that FHA loans allow the entire down payment to come from a gift, a big benefit for first-time buyers.
Finance of America Mortgage, which is licensed in all 50 states, has 390 physical offices with more than 1,700 mortgage advisors available to consult with homebuyers, or people seeking to finance a new home renovation or construction project.
Student loans and homebuying
Many lenders and financial experts are looking for ways to resolve the conundrum of how consumers with student loan debt can become homeowners.
Renovation and construction financing
After the damage inflicted by recent hurricanes, Reich says it’s more important than ever for borrowers to realize they can finance home renovation projects and build a home with the help of several loan programs. Finance of America Mortgage offers construction loans in nearly every state, a loan product that not every lender provides to borrowers.
"The best loan program for people who have damaged homes or want to buy a home that needs repairs is the FHA 203(k) loan, which allows you to wrap renovation and remodeling costs into your 30-year fixed-rate mortgage," says Reich.
Whether you’re a fan of HGTV shows about home flipping or just want to tackle a fixer-upper for profit, the right mortgage loan can help realize your investment strategy. During the second quarter of 2017, nearly six percent of all home sales were flips – meaning they had been purchased and sold within a year, according to ATTOM Data Solutions.
"Despite rising home prices, home flipping remains a popular real estate investment strategy and our Commercial channel’s fix-and-flip product has been very popular among investors," says Reich. "We require the home flipper to have experience, having renovated at least one house and have some down payment money. They may qualify for a larger line of credit if they have more experience and a higher net worth."
Virtually Visualizing Your Future Home
You’ve seen the Oculus headset and maybe even the cardboard Google glasses used to play around with virtual reality, but did you know virtual reality is increasingly important to homebuyers and builders? While the old-fashioned way of looking at homes, tramping from model home to model home or visiting numerous properties listed for sale, still has its merits, buyers are increasingly willing to preview and even buy homes sight unseen.
In fact, a May 2017 survey by Redfin real estate brokerage found that one-third of homebuyers purchased a home without seeing it in person, a big jump from the 19 percent of buyers who did so in 2016. Buyers are predicted to become more and more comfortable with purchasing a home without physically visiting it. Redfin’s survey found that 41 percent of millennials in the survey said they would be likely to make an offer on a house even if they hadn’t seen it in person.
High-end condos offer virtual reality experience
While only a small number of builders use virtual reality so far for buyers, increased use of the technology is anticipated as more consumers embrace it. Industry insiders think the primary use for virtual reality will be as an adjunct to a model home. For example, a builder may opt to build just one model home in an area and then offer virtual reality versions of additional models. That way consumers can see and touch at least one home to get a feel for the quality of the building while also being able to “walk-through” alternative floor plans via virtual reality.
The first developers to jump into virtual reality have been builders of expensive condos in New York City, Miami and Washington, D.C. Condos typically need to sell a certain percentage of units before the building is complete. A virtual reality tour of a unit and building amenities can entice buyers even before a model unit is available. In the past, buyers only had floor plans and renderings to view. Many people have difficulty picturing the space of rooms from a floor plan. Virtual reality lets viewers feel as if they are walking through a home or a community and get a better sense of the dimensions of the rooms and the layout of the home.
Using virtual reality to choose options
Another use for virtual reality anticipated to be used more frequently in the future is for buyers to choose their optional features. Toll Brothers recently announced a pilot program called Kitchen 360 that allows buyers to create millions of combinations when designing their kitchen. Buyers can start by personalizing features within their floor plan on a tablet and then put on an HT Vive headset to walk through their kitchen to see what their choices look like, including appliances, cabinets, finishes, flooring, counter tops and paint colors.
While your first experience with virtual reality may feel like a video game, using this technology can help you choose or design the home of your dreams.
Landscaping Tips for New Homeowners
Planning your outdoor space
Start by assessing where you think you’ll want to spend the most time: in the front of your house, the side or the back yard. Think about what’s there now that you’d like to keep as is and what areas are problems or just need some enhancing. For instance, if you want to increase your privacy or reduce noise from a nearby street, you can decide if you want a tall screen of plants or perhaps to add a water feature.
Homeowners today are taking their outdoor spaces to new levels with fire pits and fireplaces, outdoor kitchens and covered living areas that can be used most of the year. While some of those items can be costly, you can also purchase a simple fire pit inexpensively and upgrade to something more elaborate in the future. If you plan to expand your patio or deck in the future, be sure to incorporate that plan into your initial design.
Planting with patience
Before you head to the nursery and spend a fortune on plants, think about how much you really like gardening. If it’s not your passion, be sure to ask about low-maintenance plants and about other solutions such as ground covers, decorative stones and even mulch to provide a clean look without daily weeding. Nurseries often suggest purchasing native plants for your area since they’re easier to grow.
Don’t forget the lights and accessories
Part of your planning should also include lighting for safety as well as the ability to use your outdoor space as much as possible. Solar-powered lighting along the ground level can be used to illuminate paths and to highlight plants. Be careful when choosing lighting that it won’t be too bright but offer enough visibility for evening entertaining.
Part of your landscape planning should also include the type of seating you want so that you can fit your hardscape and landscape around lounge chairs, a loveseat, a dining table or a hammock. Outdoor heaters can be a fun addition that lets you use your space even in cooler months.
Above all, plan for flexibility. Your preferences may change over the years.
Building a Home
Plan smartly from the ground up
What better way to satisfy the American dream than to build your own home. And in doing so you can meet the criteria for today’s fast-changing lifestyles, new definitions of family that fuel the desire for different floor plans, technological advancements that require special features, and a wish to save the planet by using new, more efficient energy sources and sustainable materials and systems.
Besides picking the best builder, developer, architect, or contractor, take time to be sure you cover these 3 steps that will help guarantee your top-notch results:
#1. Get a detailed contract that is specific to your needs, rather than a boiler-plate document culled from the internet. Many professional groups such as The American Institute of Architects have established contract forms that can be enhanced, says Chicago architect Allan J. Grant.
What belongs in most agreements? Everything (including the kitchen sink) from starting to estimated completion dates, materials, best practices such as daily time of arrival and departure, frequency of trash removal, a method to resolve problems, and payment schedule.
In fact, David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law in New York, says, "One of the most important contract provisions is the one that links your payments to the completion of different stages of the work: demolition; open wall work (plumbing, wiring. etc.); closed wall work (drywall, cabinetry, etc.); and finish work (painting, flooring, etc.)." You may be wise to have an attorney eyeball the contract before you sign.
#2. Learn to read a floor plan. Before the project gets too far underway, learn to read symbols on blueprint and elevation drawings that indicate what will be built. You can also check out a tutorial on YouTube. Many architectural glossaries online will also help you become better educated. "I don't expect clients to know how to read drawings, but it's a bonus if they show interest in learning," Grant says. "It's easier and less expensive to make changes in the drawing stage than during building--or rebuilding."
#3. Familiarize yourself with materials, appliances, and other options. So many choices abound. A builder may favor custom cabinets because of more detailed workmanship and better materials, but stock items may better fit your budget. An appliance salesman may recommend an induction cooktop when you've been happy with gas. And your friends may tell you that granite is so passé, and you must consider quartzite. "What's that?" you wonder. Understand differences in style, price, durability, and greenness. Grant likes to accompany clients to showrooms to weigh choices. "Appliance selections impact the layout; if we go with a 27" or 48" refrigerator, for example," he says.
Building a house means becoming part of a team. Put in your time, due diligence, and you'll reap the best results.
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Barbara Ballinger is a professional writer, author, blogger and speaker who has long focused on real estate, design, and personal finance. She has co-authored many books, including Successful Homebuilding and Remodeling, The Kitchen Bible: Designing the perfect culinary space, and The Garden Bible: Designing the perfect outdoor space. She regularly contributes to the National Association of Realtors® Website and magazine.
Margaret Crane is a nationally known freelance writer, blogger and journalist who has co-authored with Barbara Ballinger several books and articles on real estate, design and family business. Her byline has appeared in Realtor® magazine. With more than a half-dozen titles to her credit, Margaret’s latest design book is The Kitchen Bible: Designing the perfect culinary space.