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Buying

7 Blunders to Avoid When Building a Home of Your Own

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You've been shopping for a home and none seems quite right. That one has a tiny kitchen, this one makes you go through a second bedroom to get to the hall bathroom, and the other one doesn't even have a bathroom connected to the master bedroom!

Sheesh. It's no wonder some people prefer building a home from scratch -- or more precisely, having someone else build it for them. Whether you're itching for a two-story foyer or fantasizing about a sperm whale -- size master bathroom (with subway tile!), you'll get the opportunity to create your dream house.

But building something from nothing can become a terrifyingly messy process if you aren't prepared. Massive construction projects come with a unique set of concerns. So keep an eye out for these project-ruining pitfalls.

1. Having insufficient -- or no -- contracts

Before breaking ground, hire a lawyer to review your contract (or create one, if your contractor doesn't provide his own agreement). Make sure that the deliverable dates and costs are specified, and determine what will happen if things go wrong.

"Most contractors seem to work on a simple handshake or written invoice that doesn't cover what happens if there are delays or added costs," says Jordan Brannon, who built a 4,600-square-foot home with his wife in 2010.

But this is your future home -- neither an invoice nor handshake provides you with security if something goes wrong. Don't expect too much pushback, though; Brannon says most contractors were more than willing to sign on the dotted line.

2. Thinking for only the short term

For most homeowners, a custom-built home is their dream -- and they're not planning on leaving until they go to the grave. Do you plan on sticking around through your senior years? Then build with reduced mobility in mind. (Your home's eventual next buyers might appreciate it, too.)

"Taking a long view at the construction phase can save all kinds of headaches down the line," says Michael Saunders, a home accessibility consultant. In short: Don't choose the cheapest and easiest construction methods without considering the long-term ramifications.

Potential problem areas include elevated front porches (those steps could be an issue down the line), or second-floor master bedrooms which might be unreachable after, say, a broken hip or a surgical procedure.

3. Not double-checking the windows

You may shell out a ton of cash for energy-efficient windows, but if they're not installed correctly, you're not going to see the savings on your monthly bills. Faulty installation can allow hot or cold air in or out, increasing your utility costs and putting your home at risk for mold, mildew, and water leaks.

"Many general contractors and building teams install windows incorrectly," says Brian Gow, the president of Scheel Window & Door in Ontario, Canada. "Many times homeowners are unaware until the problem has escalated."

Prevent this problem before it happens by asking in-depth questions about the installation process and double-checking the answers with local window professionals.

4. Letting bathrooms put your relationship in the pooper

Save the drama for your mama, not your bathroom. According to Long Beach, CA, architect Mark Grisafe, toilet compartments -- those closed-off little spaces within the bathroom that (you guessed it!) contain the toilet -- have become a huge point of conflict in relationships. Seriously.

"I assumed that everyone had the same feeling about toilet compartments in the master bathroom -- the more private, the better," he says. But as it turns out, not everyone agrees.

On one hand, more privacy when you're on the toilet is awesome. But others think the walled-in throne seems extravagant, Grisafe says. "They ask, 'Why does anyone need a separate room for a toilet?' Both opinions are usually held on to quite tightly, making it difficult to move forward with the bathroom design."

Make sure you and your partner are on the same page here before you get started. Trust us on this one.

5. Skipping the inspection

A warranty is no substitute for a proper home inspection. Choose an unbiased, third-party licensed home inspector to take a thorough look at your new space before moving in. Otherwise, you might quickly learn your new home is riddled with tiny problems (see No. 3 on windows).

"Recently, I had a buyer purchasing a brand-new home bring in an inspector who found vents not properly sealed, electrical not to code, and missing insulation," says Liane Jamason, a Realtor with Jamason Realty Group in St. Petersburg, FL. "Once we notified the builder of these items, they fixed them prior to closing and made everyone happy."

6. Ignoring the ductwork

Here's one thing to ask for before construction begins -- high-quality ductwork sealing and insulation. While it's not necessary to meet code requirements, energy-efficient ductwork can improve your HVAC systems by up to 20%, says Jeff Paquet, the owner of Gas Man in Ottawa.

"This is a common oversight in new builds," he says. "Doing this early in the process is much easier than trying to revisit the problem once all of the walls are closed up, and will save you a substantial amount of money on your energy costs."

7. Not anticipating delays

If your construction timeline falls over the chillier months (or you're in the north, land of perpetual frost), make room in your schedule for delays.

Brannon started building his home in early winter in the Pacific Northwest, when it's cold and wet. "That delays everything and makes scheduling contractors reliably nearly impossible," he says.

Other delays could be because of red tape, and you should anticipate those, too.

"Every builder and contractor I've talked to says that their country, city, or state is 'the worst' when it comes to permitting and bureaucracy," Brannon says. "They can't all be right, but universally the local bureaucracy will cost you money and delay you."

Be loose in your estimations. Buffering your timeline with room for delays means you -- and your wallet -- will be pleasantly surprised when things come in on time.