Mistakes To Avoid When Building a House

Building a home can be one of the most rewarding yet frustrating processes.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been called in towards the end of a build because the homeowner is exhausted, frustrated, way over budget, and feels paralyzed from making another decision.

The truth is, building a home will never be easy.  There will be mistakes made (100% of the time without exception).  There will be decisions that feel impossible and rushed.  And you will probably feel overwhelmed at some point (which, by the way, is completely natural.  After all, you may only build one house in an entire lifetime.  Maybe a couple.  You aren’t doing this everyday like we pros are!)

While there are many areas a build can go wrong, I’m going to outline the top 5 that are incredibly common.  If you can avoid these you’ll be in much better shape!

BIG Building Mistake #1:  Not hiring the right people

I just Googled “what to look for when hiring a builder” and the #1 piece of advice I found was a bit dangerous…

Want to know what it was?

Ask for at least 3 references..

Now,  who in their right mind is going to give you a name and number of someone who won’t give them a glowing review?

Most workplaces these days have abandoned reference checking because it’s too easy to fake.  If a builder serves 10 clients, one may be happy but the others might have been completely dissatisfied.

Instead of asking for references, try asking your Realtor who they would recommend.

Realtors are present at home inspections and see houses years (decades, even) after they’re built.  They’re aware of issues present in every home that sells and can often tell you which builders they trust implicitly (even if they’ve never done a deal with them directly) based on the condition of the hundreds of homes they see a year.

Of course, I’d avoid Agents who work directly with builders.  They’ll likely be biased.  But since you’ll need a Real Estate Agent to help you purchase land and to sell your current home, it’s well worth finding a busy agent who is experienced and versed in quality.

Your builder isn’t the only person you’ll need on your team. If you’re building a fully custom home you’ll also need an Architect, Designer, Realtor, Lawyer, Mortgage Specialist and a Structural Engineer.

If you’re building from plans or going semi-custom, you’ll need a designer, Realtor, Lawyer, and Mortgage Specialist that you trust.


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.

BIG Building Mistake #2:  Not understanding what you’re getting into

Most people who build homes don’t fully grasp the time, mental energy, and money involved in building.

You’ll be asked to make about 3,100 decisions during the build process.  And no, that’s not an exaggeration.  We have a spreadsheet for decisions made during a build project and it’s 3,100 lines long!

Typically the first phases won’t be overly painful while you work with the architect (or purchase plans) and get approvals and permits.

But once the ground is broken, be prepared for an overwhelming number of emails, messages, and requests for payment.

Most people know it’ll be time consuming, but rarely does anyone realize just how much of your time will be required.

For the 6-months during the build, consider it a decent part-time job.  You’ll need 15-20 hours a week to manage — more if you mull over decisions.

This is where many people regret not hiring a designer.

Erin over at the Sunny Side Up Blog writes about her experience with building here and, even though she knew exactly what she wanted her place to look like, she says the one thing she’d do over again is hire a designer.

Designers don’t just make things pretty…

… they’re your advocate to help you determine where one contractor’s responsibility ends and the next one begins (could save you thousands)

… they help you plan more effectively so that you get accurate build quotes

… they act as a project manager so that you don’t have to put aside your job and kids in order to manage your build

… they help you plan budgets for different phases of your project so that you aren’t left sacrificing things you definitely don’t want to

… they make smaller decisions around technical 

… in fact, only 20% of a designer’s job is making things pretty.

BIG Building Mistake #3:  Not planning early enough, and not planning in enough detail.

If you’re thinking of building soon you probably have Pinterest boards full of ideas.  You may know exactly what you want your home to look like.  But rarely have I met anyone who has planned as far as they need to in the beginning stages of their build.

Most people choose their finishes when the builder tells them they need to.  Typically you’ll an email that says “you need to have your tile chosen in 2 weeks” and then you try to figure out what tile will go in the bathrooms, kitchen, front entry, laundry, and anywhere else all in one foul swoop.

If you’re lucky, your builder will have an office with some choices you can pick within the budget they’ve allocated to you.  If you’re really lucky, you’ll actually like these choices.  

Your builder’s job isn’t to help you make design decisions.  They’ll help you choose quality finishes, but their main concern is getting your home finished and managing contractors so that they feel good about the final product.  And that’s exactly what you want from a builder!

If you don’t know which finishes you want in your home before getting quotes from builders, they can’t give you an accurate quote.

You don’t need to know what colour of granite countertops you want before hiring your builder… but if you don’t know whether you want granite or marble your builder will have to quote on an allowance which more often than not won’t cover all of the finishes you want.

It’s much better to understand if you want black hardware or chrome, oak floors or pine, white oak or wood cabinetry, and shower-kit or fully custom (amongst hundreds of other things) before obtaining a quote.

This will allow you to get a far more accurate build estimate which saves headaches like having to compromise on finishes that you really cared about.  Often things you would have taken off the list have already been installed when you realize you’re over budget.  Often builders have a process for how often they do their billing (for most it’s near the end of each build phase)– and you may feel pretty blind as to what bills are left along the way. 

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.

BIG Building Mistake #4:  Leaving cabinetry and furniture layouts too late

As a designer I’m often called into jobs far too late.  Many times it’s when a home is ready for cabinetry and millwork drawings (when the framing is going up) and sometimes it isn’t until the builder has given final move-in dates to have us begin doing furniture layouts.

Big mistake.

Too often when we begin laying out furniture plans and cabinetry the client discovers there actually isn’t room to put enough chairs at their island and the Principle Bedroom won’t fit those heirloom dressers they were planning on bringing.  If framing has already began, it’s probably too late (or too expensive) to make changes the changes required to ensure all of the furniture and cabinetry design you want actually fits.

BIG Building Mistake #5:  Communication and Assumptions

Mistakes will happen during your build process.  It’s inevitable.  

But how many mistakes (and whether it’ll come out of your pocket or not) really depends on communication and the realization that you should assume nothing.

Don’t assume that the countertop overhang will be just as you picture.  Unless specified clearly — in a drawing — the contractor in charge of that installation will likely install the way they usually do.  They’ll assume that’s what you want.  And you’ll assume that they’ll call to ask if they aren’t sure.  And, if you haven’t communicated that you wanted the tiles railroaded, a 2″ overhang on your countertops, or a bullnose edge on your drywall, you might be on the hook for the cost to change it.

Your designer can help as they act as your advocate along the build process.  You might only build one home in your life.  Even if you’ve done it 3 or 4 times, your designer lives in this world everyday and speak the same language as the contractors.

Your designer will provide drawings that protect you against paying for contractor mistakes (or your lack of knowledge that a decision even needed to be made) which often saves thousands over the build period.

Thinking of starting your build within the next 6 months?

Your Designer should be one of the first people you hire.  They’ll be your advocate for getting what you want with your Architect and Engineer during the planning phase.  Will help you plan for the finishes, layouts, and millwork so that you can get an accurate quote from builders.  And can even help you oversee the project right through placing the final toss pillow.

Is it expensive to hire a Designer?  Working with any professional over 6-24 months won’t be cheap, but Designers tend to help you save a lot more than they cost.  

Fill out our Getting Started Questionnaire to get a custom design quote for your build project.