Where To Begin When Building a House

 Building a home is one of the most exciting and rewarding things that we can do.  It can also be the most stressful and financially painful.

If you’re lucky, you’ll only build one or two homes in a lifetime.  So it stands to reason that, as a homeowner you’ll never be an expert in building because you’ll never have the experience to get there.  No matter how many blogs you read, nothing can truly prepare you for how many decisions you’ll be asked to make over the build process.  (Hint:  There are about 3,100 of them!)

So, I thought it would be helpful to outline where to begin.  Once you know where to start, it becomes a whole lot easier to lean on your trusted experts to guide you through the process so that you and your family can focus on enjoying the process, rather than stressing over it. 

Step 1:  Get In Sync With Your Priorities

This may sound obvious, but after working with so many families who are in the middle of their home building process it’s surprising how many of them try to figure out priorities as they go.  Or worse, assume they’re on the same page and wind up fighting which stalls the build and ends up costing them thousands in penalties and change orders.

Sit down with everyone who will be living in the house.

Make a list of every room in the home and then for each room, have each person list out the things they want in that room.

Next, go through each list and number each item in priority sequence before sharing it with your spouse and others living in the home.

This helps make it easier to break down where you’ll spend and where you’ll save.

It also helps to tie break fights.

If quartz countertops was #1 on your kitchen list, but your spouse wanted granite and listed it as #5, you win your quartz because that piece of the puzzle was a higher priority than it was to them.  But you may be giving up white cabinetry for wood if that’s their #1.

The entire home building process will be about compromise.  Getting clear on what the top priorities are that you aren’t willing to budge on will really help keep the process smooth as you begin.

Step 2:  Set Your Budgets

It’s a BIG mistake to just consider the average cost per square foot and lot cost when budgeting your home build.

There are quite a few large expenses that your construction mortgage may not cover, including (but not limited to):
– Your downpayment
– Landscaping
– Fencing
– Decking
– Window Coverings
– Internet and Media Wiring
– Driveways
– Furnishings
– Expensive upgrades deemed in excess of what’s needed to finish the home by the construction loan inspector.

The best thing to do at this phase is to get pre-approved for your construction mortgage with a Mortgage Specialist and gather together how much you have in savings that you’re willing to put towards the project.

Then, you’ll need to put together 3 budgets:

1.  Your build budget – this one is the easiest as it’ll be how much you’re comfortable taking as your construction mortgage + your land costs + your down payment.

The average cost per square foot ranges from $150 to $300 depending on the level of customization.  A very custom home could be higher.  The low end of that range won’t get you much more than very builder basic (read: cheap) finishes.

If you’re looking for at least semi-custom then estimate at least $200-$250 per square foot at this stage.  Be honest with yourself — do you want more expensive upgrades like hardwood flooring and stone countertops?

2.  Your furnishing budget – Yes, you probably have some furniture you’re looing to bring with you.  But you’ll likely need more.  And, after spending so much money to create a beautiful home we find that most people get to the end and don’t want to put a lot of their old stuff in the new home since it doesn’t fit the style they’re going for.

We have a handy Budget Guide that lays out the average cost for low-quality, good quality and designer furnishings.  It goes through the typical items in a home like sofas, lamps, lighting, art, cabinetry, etc. so that you can work with realistic numbers.  You can download that guide here.

Even if you buy no furniture, at the very least you’ll need window coverings.  They can really add up so it’s important to budget for these at the beginning of your project.

3.  Your finishings budget – When you’re done with your builder, you’ll have a beautiful home on a dirt lot.  Once the build is complete you’ll need to turn your attention to the outside of the home to do the driveway, decking, fencing, and landscaping.

Homewyse.com is a fantastic tool for figuring out what things will cost.  Keep in mind that’s it’s priced for $USD, so you’ll want to add about 25-30% to the totals you find there.  But it can be a real eye-opener for many homeowners thinking of building or remodelling.

Are you moving, building, renovating or redecorating?  Let us help you make your home stylish, comfortable, and a reflection of who you are.

Check out our full range of interior decorating and design services here.

Step 3:  Assemble Your Dream Team

Once you have your basic budgets in place, it’s time to assemble your Dream Team.  Here are the people you’ll need to hire at this stage:

1.  Your Architect – If you’re building a custom home from scratch, you’ll work with an Artchitect to prepare the home plans.  If you’re planning on buying plans then your builder will often help find plans previously designed by an Architect.

2.  Your Designer – Even if you have a keen design sense and know what you want in your home, a Designer or Decorator who is skilled at planning and rendering is a wise financial decision.

Having a Designer on your team will
– Pull together a far more detailled plan that just a blueprint.  Your Designer should prepare renderings of your home that allow you to walk the space and choose what level of finishings you want before you get your build quotes.  This will ensure your build quotes are more accurate and that you aren’t being asked for money late in the project that you simply don’t have.

– Help you avoid expensive change orders and paying build penalties.  Only 20% of a Designer’s job is making things pretty.  Your Designer will also help you think of the things you may never think of.  Like the fact that your plans are missing a linen closet.  Or the fact that you want your stove centered on the back wall of the kitchen, but the framing plan doesn’t make that possible.

Even though a good designer will be expensive (expect about $6-$10 per square foot in a smaller market and $10-$15 in a large market) they will easily save you their fees and more over the course of your build.

– Speed up the decision process.  You’ll be asked to make over 3,100 decisions during your build.  And, because you don’t do this every day, most of those will require you to research options. 

It’s not your builder’s job to make decisions for you.  It’s their job to focus on the project itself so that nothing falls through the cracks and you end up with a sturdy, beautiful home.

So, your Designer is who you’ll turn to for help with this long list of decisions.  They do this every single day and can help speed along your decision-making process saving you hours every week.

3.  Your Builder – We highly recommend having your renderings in-hand from your Desigenr before getting a detailed build quote as it’ll be much more accurate and you’ll have fewer surprises.  But hiring your Builder early means they’ll be able to liase with your Architect and Designer to ensure every angle of the plan is considered before ground is broken.

You’ll want to consider a few things when hiring a builder like their reputation, their work, and their price.

The cheapest quote — even when detailed — often will wind up with a lot of extra expenses at the end of the project.  You’ll be expected to cover those out-of-pocket and it can sometimes be a $30-$50,000 bill!  

This is because the way some builders operate their quotes is to give smaller allowances for finishes and have you choose from their small selection of product they’ve purchased in bulk.  These finishes are rarely what you’d choose on your own, so when you add in the finishes you want, they run over budget.

Instead of looking for the cheapest, look for someone who is patient and detailed right from the very beginning.  This is someone you’ll be spending a LOT of time with over the next 6-12 months (longer if you’re building a sizeable custom home).

Although most blogs will tell you to check references from homeowners, I always say to ask experienced Realtors for references instead.  

Think about it.  Is a Builder going to give a Homeowner reference from someone whose home started crumbling just after their warranty expired?  

There’s a reason most companies don’t call references when hiring anymore — it’s been proven not to work time and time again.

Instead, look for an experienced Realtor who understands the area and ask them which Builders they’d recommend. 

Realtors are the ones who sell these homes 5 or 10 years after they’re built.  They’re present at Home Inspections.  And they know which homes are a pleasure to sell because they’re solid and which ones are a nightmare of issues.

As a caveat, don’t make the mistake of asking a Realtor who works for a builder.  Clearly their opinion will be biased.

4.  Your Realtor – Speaking of Realtors, you’ll need one for your land purchase and for the sale of your current home.  Can you handle it youself?  Maybe.  Should you?  Not unless you like throwing money out the window.

Many people who skip using a Real Estate Agents do so because they think they’ll be saving thousands of dollars.  In reality, they’re usually losing tens of thousands instead.

Let me give you an example.  One of our neighbours from down the road listed their home on one of those flat-fee for sale by owner sites.  Right now as I’m writing this it’s a hot market.  Like really hot.  And the home sat for 3 weeks selling for just under what they listed it for.

Sounds okay, right?  The house sold for $340,000 which means they saved nearly $20,000 in commissions!  

The problem was, the home should have been listed for $100,000 more than what the homeowner thought.  In fact, a Realtor called them with a buyer willing to compete up to $450,000 but the homeowner had already sold it.

There are dozens of stories like this and we always think we’re smarter than our Agents.  But nothing beats the experience of someone working in the field every day.  Trust me, I work with clients just after they’ve bought and sold homes every day and I can’t tell you the number of times a for-sale-by-owner has thought they got a great deal but they’ve actually left tens of thousands of dollars on the table.  That money goes a long way in this process.  Just hire an Agent.

5.  Your Structural Engineer – Most often your Builder will have someone they work with and I typically recommend trusting their judgement when it comes to engineering because they’ll be the ones dealing with the Engineer most frequently.

6.  Other Trades – Same goes for other trades.  Yes, you may have an uncle who is an electrician.  But if that person is doing it at cost for you, you’ll be at the bottom of their list (which could cause expensive delays).  Before bringing in family members or friends ask your Builder how they feel about it.  Some will be okay with it.  Others will prefer to use their trades.  We recommend trusting your Builder’s process as this will save you money in delays, overages, and build penalties.

7.  Your Landscaper – You won’t need your landscaper until the very end of the project.  However it can be great to have them involved right from the start as the Architectural plans are being drawn up so that they can begin planning their design and help you set an accurate budget to set aside.


Step 4:  Find Your Land 

Many people will tell you to do this first, but if you try to find your land before doing steps 1-3 it’ll be more difficult.

Finding land can be challenging because most every plot of land will have obstacles to build upon.

Also, you’ll be competing with developers with deep pockets on the best lots available.

This is why assembling your Dream Team is so important.  Your Builder and Architect will help you navigate which plots of land may expose you to additional costly expenses a seemingly innocent piece of land may present.  They will also help you understand things like water tables and clay types which can impact the settling and foundation of your home in the years to come.

Your Realtor is also key as a good Agent will know of great plots as soon as they hit the market (or even before).  They also have been through thousands of homes in different areas of the market so understand which areas hold their values best, which have topical concerns that could damage your home long-term, and will help ensure that you don’t overpay for land during high markets.


Are you moving, building, renovating or redecorating?  Let us help you make your home stylish, comfortable, and a reflection of who you are.

Check out our full range of interior decorating and design services here.

Step 5:  Work With Your Architect to Create Your Plans, Or Pick Your Plans with Your Builder

When building a home, you need to understand whether you want a custom home, semi-custom home, or a spec home.

Custom Homes are one-of-a-kind from the initial plans to the final finishes.  They are the most expensive to build, but also can hold their value the best.  There are exceptions to this when finishes are highly custom and individualized to the point where they wouldn’t appeal to the most buyers.

I was recently in a home that had urinals in every single bathroom.  It was obviously built by a man!  Beautiful piece of property and great layout, but those urinals are a huge turn-off for any woman or family buyer in the future.

When building a custom home you’ll be asked to choose every last detail.  And there are a ton of them!  This makes custom homes perfect for those who are not willing to compromise on their vision.

If you’re planning on building a fully custom home you’ll need an Architect to draw up the plans and you’ll want to work with your Designer to complete the interior specs before passing them off to a Builder for a detailed quote.  Otherwise, you’ll get back “allowances” which will make it difficult to balance your budget and choices that you ultimately want.

Custom homes take the longest to build because the planning process alone can take about 6 months.  Expect a custom home to take about 12 months to build from start to finish.  For a large custom home, it could take up to 3 years.

Semi-Custom Homes involve selecting a set of plans from your Builder’s library and then customizing all of the finishes inside to make a home that’s uniquely yours.  

Semi-Custom homes are less expensive than custom as you won’t need to work with an Architect to design your plans from scratch.  They also go up a lot faster then fully custom as you’re able to bypass a good chunk of the planning process and skip right to working with your designer to choose finishes.

These homes are also more limiting because you’ll often be presented with a small list of options when it comes to finishes to choose from your Builder.  Instead of having hundreds of flooring choices as you would with custom, you may have 10.  This makes the process a lot easier for the homeowner, however you may need to compromise on some of the finishes you wanted.  

That said, if you’re working with a Designer who is willing to source materials, many Builders are willing to substitute choices for a semi-custom home.  If this is the route you’re taking, be sure to ask them during your initial conversation whether you have to choose from their materials or whether they’re okay having your Designer source them.  

Some builders are perfectly happy to let your Designer take the reigns here.  Others prefer you to select from their materials as they’ve been able to secure discounted costs so, they’ll either charge a surplus on materials brought in elsewhere or advise against it completely.

Most Builders doing Semi-Custom prefer that Homeowners do not shop outside of their most popular finishes selections because Homeowners often do not understand how different choices may impact the build timeline and final budget.  Though many others have preferred vendors and, as long as you’re buying from those stores, they’re perfectly happy to let you choose whatever you want to.

If timeframe is a concern, Semi-Custom is a great option as you can skip much of the initial planning process.  Semi-Custom homes take about 6 months to build on average.

Spec Homes are homes that are brand new and ready to move into.  Many Builders will build spec homes using popular finishes that appeal to the masses. 

Buying a spec home means skipping the customization process entirely.  It’s quick, easy, and you can move in right away!  In fact, you can skip the expense of an Architect, Builder, Structural Engineer and go right to your Realtor in order to purchase.

Sometimes spec homes will still require landscaping, driveways, and other things not typically included in a home build.  Other times the builder will have done this for resale purposes already.

These homes are typically cookie cutter as they’re made from the most popular materials.  For many, that’s the perfect fit!  However, if you love the idea of a Spec Home but want something that feels more custom, you may consider hiring a Designer to help you with furnishings and some special touches that will elevate the look of a Spec Home.

An example of a photo-realistic rendering that allows you to see what your customer or semi-custom home will look like when finished, furnished and styled.

Step 6:  Work With Your Designer to Render Your Plans and Work Through the Fine Details before getting a build quote.

If you’re going the Spec Home route, you can skip right over to Step 8.

If you’re doing Semi-Custom or Custom, then the next step is to bring your plans to your Designer to do Renderings and to work through selections before asking your Builder for a quote so that you can get the most accurate quote possible.

Every Designer will work a little differently, but here’s what you can expect when working with me and my team during this step:

1.  We will begin with the Comfortable Dwelling Consultation.  During this session we will ask that all members of the family be present and ask you to review your priorities list, inspiration boards, and we will do some exercises to ensure we truly understand the look and style you’re going for in the home.  We will also review some of our work with you and go over a couple of ideas to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

2.  Once the Consultation is complete, we will send over the Agreement and Scope-of-Work for you to sign.  At this time we’ll also collect a Retainer that will be held against future work.

3.  We will take the plans from your Architect and Builder and complete a 3D Rendering of the entire home and prepare your Design Presentation.  At this presentation you can expect to see photorealistic images of what your home will look like when it’s fully complete and furnished.  You’ll also see material samples that you can choose from during that meeting to make your home complete.

4.  After the Design Presentation, we will prepare any revisions and do a second meeting to prepare your furniture and finishings budgets along with a detailed list of specs to send to your Builder for a detailed quote.  Builders love this because it helps avoid costly delays and allows them to clearly indicate costs, rather than giving you a budget allowance.  It also helps you understand the true cost of your home.

5.  Once your Build quote is prepared, we will review the budgets and priorities with you and work to make the necessary revisions to get the project within budget.  Unless your budget is unlimited you likely won’t get everything on your list.  But our software and deep knowledge of materials, wear, and design will allow us to guide you to make the decisions that are right for you and your family.


Are you moving, building, renovating or redecorating?  Let us help you make your home stylish, comfortable, and a reflection of who you are.

Check out our full range of interior decorating and design services here.

Step 7:  The Build Process

Now that you have your plans, build quote, and material selections it’s time to let your team do their magic!  You will want to followup with your Builder or Architect to ensure all permits are filed and in place before the project is scheduled to begin.

You’ll be asked to make a lot of decisions during this process.  And you’ll likely see a lot of things come up on Instagram and Pinterest which may make you feel a fear of missing out.  It’s important that you trust the initial plan and know that everything was designed to look amazing together.   If you do change your mind part-way through, you may be subject to delays or build penalties which will put your project over budget and will likely have to come from your savings.

This part feels long.  But you can rely on your Builder to manage the project and on your Designer to help guide you through the decisions that the Builder will ask you to make.

There will be many decisions that you’ve never even dreamed they’d be asking about.  But instead of going down a rabbit hole of (often inaccurate) internet research, rely on the Dream Team that you carefully built at the beginning of this process to help make your build process as simple as possible.

Step 8:  Order your furnishings

You’ll need to begin selecting and ordering furnishings about 12-weeks prior to your move in date.  This seems early, but it take time to make decisions and many furniture pieces can take 8-10 weeks to arrive. 

Because you don’t have a home to deliver to yet, the process can be tricky.  You may want to rent a storage unit.  Or use your current home.  Some stores will hold deliveries, but most won’t (or charge you a storage fee) since furniture takes up so much room.

Our Design clients benefit from the use of our Warehousing space located centrally in Tilbury, Ontario to store furnishings so that your movers can get them all in one shot. 

We handle the receiving, inspection, returns, and storage of all pieces that we source for you so that you can take that stress and added expense off your plate.

Trust me, at this stage in the build you’ll be sick of writing cheques and VERY happy for this service!

Step 9:  Turn Your Attention Outside

Once your Build is nearing completion and your Builder is done with any heavy machinery, it’s time to look outside and call your Landscaper.  Lucky for you, you’ve sent them the plans early so they should be prepared for a smooth job!

Step 10:  Final Inspections and Move In!

As your build nears completion you’ll be asked by your Builder to do a final walk through and punch list.  This is where you’ll make a list of all of the final details left to do before handing over the keys to ensure your final product is perfect.

Once you get your final move-in date it’s time to schedule your movers and your Designer Installation.

If you’re furnishing your home from scratch with your Designer, you’ll want to be clear on whether or not you’re on the hook for moving and installation costs.  When you work with us, we include those costs in all furnishings sourced and purchased through our retail store.  Most of our clients choose to purchase their items this way so that we can install everything and give you a move-in ready home that’s completed right down to the final toss pillow.

If you’re bringing things you already own, then you’ll need to have your furniture in the home and anything that will be stashed in cupboards, dressers, or closets to be unpacked before your Designer’s team does their final installations.  During this visit, your Designer will help style the space, place furniture and make everything beautiful.