Do you have questions? Of course you do.
Most potential clients have no idea where to begin. Here are some tips that will help make the process as painless as possible, and hopefully even fun.
Do your homework.
Before you get your heart set on paying someone to design the addition or custom home of your dreams, make sure you're actually allowed to build it where you've been imagining it. Obtain a copy of your site plan as a first step. This drawing is often in the paperwork you received when you closed on your property; if not, it's available to you at your county courthouse. The site plan (also sometimes called a Plat, Plot Plan, or House Location Plan) will show your property lines with length and direction of each boundary, existing house size and location on the lot, your well, septic field, etc. It also shows your building restriction lines (which are sometimes called "setbacks"). This is some critical info! You can't build over your building restriction lines, nor can you build within 30' of your well or 10' of your septic tank or septic field, generally (check your county's requirements as this distance may vary).
Get out your scissors - or set up a Houzz account.
If you haven't already done so, pull together a collection of pictures from magazines, the Internet, or just drive around and take pictures of architectural elements on houses that you like. Each client has their own ideas about what's beautiful and what's, well, let's just say not desirable. I need to be able to gauge your tastes and expectations in order to come up with something that will get you excited. Your pictures are my starting point.
And once you've got a stack, go through them all together as if you're seeing them for the first time. Are you overwhelmed by the number of clippings? Then you should toss a few; because I'm going to be overwhelmed too.
If you don't know about Houzz.com yet, check it out. They have a wonderful feature, the Ideabook, which is an easy way to assemble collections of photos you like without cutting up issues of Fine Homebuilding or Dwell. And hey, Fine Line Home Design is on Houzz as well! *
The goal of this exercise is to convey to me the sorts of exterior finishes and architectural styles you like, rooflines you like and dislike, maybe a kitchen island configuration you've always envisioned for yourself, or a uniquely shaped staircase. I can't guarantee I can give you everything your heart desires, but I'll do my best to make as much of it a reality as practical.
FYI: Keep in mind that lots of cool buildings you'll find pictures of on the Internet might be (A) commercial, not residential construction; (B) from another country and not compliant with our building codes; (C) very expensive; or (D) all of the above. As an example, even though it's just gorgeous, the staircase to the right is in violation of the 2015 International Residential Code for at least three reasons that I notice immediately.
* Are you a past client? If so, why not take a moment to leave me a review on Houzz? Positive reviews keep me upbeat and motivated!
Make a wish list.
I'm going to ask you a lot of questions and take a ton of notes at our initial meeting, so don't stress out over how all-inclusive your wish list is. But there are a few basic things I'll need to know about any project, so it's helpful if you write down your thoughts on the following issues:
- Approximately how much square footage are you hoping for?
- What are the particular rooms that you need? How many bedrooms? How many bathrooms? Separate dining room and breakfast area? Etc.
- Are there certain rooms that need to be on the first floor and certain ones that need to be on the second? Maybe you need particular spaces to be in close proximity to each other.
- How will you be using the various spaces? Is Mom an avid baker and therefore needs lots of counterspace at various heights? Do you regularly host large groups of people in your home? Is there a particularly inviting group of trees in your back yard that merit a nearby window seat for bird-watching? These things are important to you, so they're important to me.
- What are your future plans for this home? Are you hoping to live there indefinitely? If so, we should plan on making it handicapped-accessible, or easily renovated in the future for that purpose. Are you planning on flipping it in a few years? If that's the case, it should be designed with less personalization and more appeal to the general population, with the hot buttons that make a house sell quickly. Are you just about to start a family? Then let's plan a small bedroom next to yours for a convenient nursery.
Another helpful exercise is to write down four or five things you like about your existing house, and four or five things that you don't like. So much about residential design is subjective, and the more I can understand your pet peeves and your favorite things, the happier you'll be with your design. Don’t worry about the details. This process starts with generalities, and the specifics come into play as the design solidifies.
Speaking of favorite things, if you have a particular piece of furniture -- grandfather clock, armoire, or giant stuffed grizzly -- that you wish to prominently showcase in your home or addition, let me know its size and we can plan a special spot for it. Your guests will be consistently impressed (or maybe startled) at the sight of your prized possession when they come around for dinner.
No graph paper necessary!
Many people believe that they need to figure out their floor plans on their own before they even call me. Sometimes they'll draw something on graph paper and other times it'll be on an inexpensive home design software with limited capabilities. While I welcome this information, it's really not necessary. In fact, sometimes it can be a deterrent to the creative process, especially if the client who drew it didn't allow enough room for the staircase, for example, or only allowed the thickness of a pencil lead where 3-1/2" interior stud walls were needed. If you've been sketching, by all means show me your handiwork, but please be open to my suggestions to modify and improve the layout as needed for a pleasing room flow, as well as a sensible roof geometry, code compliance, and a balanced exterior.
You don't need to know the codes because I do, and so will the contractor that you hire. The code book I keep near and dear to me is the 2015 International Residential Code for One- and Two-Family Dwellings. New code books come out every three years, and there are more codes and more complexity with each new release. Part of my job is to design your house or addition to meet code so that your county's Plan Review department will approve my drawings and issue the building permit to your builder.
If you're curious about building codes or are just looking for some good bedtime reading, click here for an online link to the IRC. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Get to know a builder or two.
Talk to your friends, relatives, and/or coworkers to get the names of a few builders and call them for an initial consultation. Explain to them what sort of project you have in mind, and also tell them what your budget is for this. I know, I know. "But if I tell the builder I want to do it for $100,000 and he knows it's only a $40,000 job, he's still going to charge me $100,000!", you might say. There are disreputable businesspeople in every profession; however, if you call a builder recommended to you, chances are high that you will receive a fair price. It's in his or her best interest as a small business that relies on good word-of-mouth, and lives in fear of the unjust Internet review. By telling the builder how much you have socked away for this job you are showing serious intent to do business, and the builder will give your potential job the consideration it so deserves. From a builder's point of view, nothing is worse than going through the time and effort of calculating a $200,000 construction price for a homeowner, only to find out that the homeowner only has $85,000 to spend.
Again, I can't emphasize enough how much happier everybody involved is going to be if you simply have a candid conversation with a builder early on about what you want to do and what your construction budget is. I can't tell you how much your house or addition is going to cost; that's why I provide "Pricing Drawings" after the "Preliminary Drawings" -- they're not ready for construction, but they do have enough information on them for the builder to give you a pretty accurate estimate. Builders' prices will vary from state to state and even county to county, and there are other factors (site conditions, time of year, utilities, your level of finishes, etc.) that make it a dicey proposition to rely on average per square foot prices.
I've gotten to know and work with many wonderful contractors over the past 21 years. Some excel at old home renovations, while others only build high-end new homes, and a few of them specialize in smaller decks and sunrooms. Their personalities are as varied as their portfolios. If you don't have any leads on potential good builders, after we meet and I get a feel for your personality and the type of job you've got, I would be glad to provide you with a name or two that may be a good fit. Check out "Links" for some suggestions. While I can't promise that my matchmaking will be successful, it works more often than not, and I would never refer you to anyone that I didn't think would do a good job. (Disclaimer: I neither receive nor give any compensation for referrals. I only want the builder/homeowner relationship to be a positive one.)
Managing your time frame and expectations.
Potential clients, sometimes you underestimate the amount of time from your initial call to me to the day you move into your new space. I understand; most people haven't done this sort of thing before and have no concept of the time and effort involved in my putting to paper what exists in your brain. (Reality TV shows on HGTV don't help either.) Aside from the actual time I need to create the drawings, there is also the time you'll spend waiting for your potential builder to work up a price for construction, the time it takes for a Structural Engineer to review and certify my plans*, the time it takes for your county's permitting department to issue the permit, the construction process itself, and periods of waiting here and there for things like cabinetry, flooring, and other custom materials to be received by the builder once construction starts.
Call Fine Line Home Design at least a season before you wish to break ground on an addition, and at least two seasons before breaking ground on a custom home, and you should have enough time to make design decisions without feeling too rushed. You'll be amazed at how many aspects of a home or addition design you'll need to consider and approve as we develop your project together. It can be quite overwhelming for you. Keep in mind also that because you'll be dealing with a small business, there will be times throughout the year where I may not be able to get started on your project right away due to backlog. In general the workload is the lightest mid- to late summer, and mid winter. If I feel that my prior commitments are too substantial to provide you with drawings that meet your time frame, I will be honest with you about that and may suggest another company, rather than attempt to fit you in and disappoint you.
* Note: not every project is complex enough to require a Structural Engineer's involvement.
Miscellaneous other pointers
To be on the safe side, please figure on about 2 hours for an initial consultation with me. We will have a LOT to discuss even at the general getting-to-know-you stage. This applies for new custom homes and new additions.
For addition/renovation meetings at your home: at the risk of stating the obvious, please have the area you're hoping to add on to or renovate actually accessible for me to see it so we can actually discuss it. I've met with clients who want to add to their home but I wasn't even able to walk into the area, it was solidly filled with stuff. You don't have to clean it or empty it out -- I just need to be able to walk into it (so much to ask, I know!)
Measuring day (for new additions or renovations): upon receipt of your signed contract, I'll return to your home and will be using a tape measure and/or laser measure to accurately document the existing dimensions. This crucial step takes much longer and is less accurate if the space is hard to access. At our initial meeting, if I foresee your basement/attic/whatever being too cluttered to document I'll let you know. If I'm measuring for an addition I'll need to get into more than just the exact area for the addition; I'll need to peek around in the attic space, measure the basement or crawlspace beneath, and will be figuring out things like wall thicknesses, floor thicknesses, and ceiling heights. I may need to poke around in the unfinished areas of your basement if that's the only place I can actually see the floor joists themselves (so I can tell how far apart they are, and in which direction they span). Basically it's not my intention to invade anyone's privacy but it's a necessity for me to stick my nose and measuring tape into all sorts of places. Finally, for additions I need to take exterior measurements as well, so figure on my needing to climb behind and around your landscaping including the spider webs.
Pick one person as the contact for the purpose of answering my questions as I'm developing the drawings for you. Everyone's input is valuable (including older kids and the mother-in-law) but group decisions discussed through multiple mass e-mails can get very confusing. Best to delegate one of you for me to call or e-mail with questions; then you can confer with each other (or with me) before replying. Who is easier to reach during the business day? I save up questions as I'm working, so as not to make you feel harassed, but you'll still hear from me regularly as I develop your design.
Do a little navel-gazing. Take a good hard honest look at yourself and your current state of emotional health. If you're half of a couple, how robust is your relationship? Can the two of you communicate clearly and honestly with each other in a non-argumentative way? If you can't agree on things, is one of you willing to defer to the other for the purpose of getting a home or an addition designed? Just like having a baby is a terrible idea for a rocky marriage, designing a custom home is not for people who aren't in a happy place with each other. I'm no marriage counselor; it feels incredibly awkward to meet with people who fight in front of me. I've learned to look for harmony and consideration between my couples clients at the initial consultation; if clients don't treat each other with mutual respect there's a nearly 100% chance I'll have a negative experience trying to satisfy them both.
Don't act as your own General Contractor unless you are a builder by trade.
Living in a home while it's being enlarged or renovated is VERY stressful. Not only will there be noise and dust, and strangers wandering in and out, but you may endure periods of time with no water or power. Depending on the size of the job, you may need to move out temporarily. Discuss logistics and time frame with your potential contractor. He or she will want to work with you and make it as painless as possible, but expect disruptions to your daily routine. Contractors typically start working early - say, 7:00 or so - and wrap up their day around 3:00. If you require a quiet home from 1:00 until 3:00 while your baby is napping, your addition project will not only take longer but will probably be more expensive because the builder can't complete the task as efficiently as if he could schedule full work days.
Expect construction delays. Obviously, no builder knows how much bad weather will affect your schedule. Subcontractors get sick. At least one building product - a sink, a cabinet, a box of floor tile, a window - will be broken in shipping or will be sent in error.
Be financially prepared for unanticipated extra expenses, particularly with renovations/ additions to older homes. Wiring upgrades, old plumbing issues, lead paint and/or asbestos removal, hidden mold or termite damage, undersized structural members in the home, special orders on moulding or doors to match existing, septic tank upgrades, even hidden bedrock that requires jackhammering -- these are but a few items that may crop up.
There’s no way you can have a house or addition designed & built without missing any work at all. This process takes a significant amount of time, coordination, and effort from many different businesses who have regular office hours. Not only will you need to figure on taking time out of a business day for meetings with me, but you’ll also be meeting with potential builders while you’re choosing somebody, and then once you’ve made your decision, that builder will be sending you to their kitchen fabricators, their flooring vendors, their plumbing suppliers, etc. Some of those businesses will have weekend hours; others may not. Needing to take an afternoon off of work here or there is virtually unavoidable. Save up that personal leave ahead of time and you won’t regret it.
While I can't tell you exactly how much your new house or your new addition will cost (that's what the contractor does after reviewing my Pricing Drawings), please share your construction budget with me at the beginning, so that I can at least be comfortable knowing that you're not asking me to design a house that will cost $600,000. to build when you only have a budget of $250,000. Cost-per-square-foot numbers can vary widely. Expect to pay at the very least $175./ sq. ft. for a simple custom home and $200./ sq. ft. for an addition, excluding land and site work. Kitchen and bathroom renovations are so pricey and variable, compared to the square footage, that I hesitate to even guess.