Anyone who has ideas about building a new house - instead of buying a standing one - had better start the ball rolling a year in advance. Don't wait until spring if you want to build in summer. Note:
If you want an architect, you'll have to find him and sign him a year in advance. Top architects are scarce, over-booked, and work on a long lead-time.
If you want a construction mortgage, you should get your commitment from the lender as soon as you find your architect - don't let time slide.
If you take a look at today's housing scene, you can shape this rule of thumb: Delay costs cash. For instance, if you let months go by before starting your new-house project, chances are that you'll face construction costs - and maybe material costs - that will be higher. For example, lumber costs have been soaring in the past three years.
If you do some early digging and find that custom construction in your town is a poor prospect (it is in some areas), you can get busy on a smart alternative. After all, you may want to take several months to locate what you want in a standing house.
When you undertake the project, remember the vital role of the architect. His primary job is to help you find the land and then put your design on paper. But he's also a very valuable bridge between you and the contractor. This can pay off. He can help you pick a reliable builder, then follow through and prevent the project from falling into needless and expensive construction delays (a tormenting problem lately for many people). He can also see that the contractor doesn't use cut-rate methods or grade-B materials.
Finally, if the architect has a reputation for quality design and execution, he'll help your construction financing go through a local lender's office with greater ease. This won't get you a lower mortgage rate, but it will mean quicker handling and more workable terms (perhaps a bigger building loan, if you want it, say 70% instead of 50%).
An architect's fee generally runs from 10% to 15% of house cost (excluding land), with the trend these days to the 15% side. Example: For high-quality custom design, construction cost is roughly £25 to £30 per sq. ft. of floor space. So, for an 8- to 10-room house of 3,500 sq. ft. - at the low £25 figure - you would pay £87,500, and the architect would get from £8,750 to £13,125..1n an affluent setting, you are safer to think in terms of £30 per sq. ft. - and possibly higher. The fee- is paid in instalments. A typical scale: 25% when you accept a rough sketch, 50% when the work begins, and 25% when you move in.
How do you pick an architect who will give you the maximum? This gets purely personal; it depends on what you want in a house. But, say the top pros in the field, there are really just two types to consider.
One does only contemporary, strictly modern houses - the kind that you see mostly on the West Coast, in the Southwest, in Florida and Hawaii.
The second is the traditionalist who does authentic copies of early established styles, like Georgian or colonial. This man is getting to be a rare bird, and if you find one you should cherish him.
What you want to avoid is the compromiser whose work is a weak blend of old and new. His product will be little more than a standard development house, plus frills. Here's where you waste money.
For a really good result, you need to develop rapport with the architect. He must know your mode of living, and this whole process of understanding takes time, patience, maybe a dozen or more visits - and a bit of arguing. If you and your wife aren't willing to hammer out this kind of relationship over a span of months, then buy a standing house, say the pros. In any case, before you pick your man, see some of his work. And while you're about it, ask two or three of his clients how well he managed to stay within the agreed budget for their houses. Some architects go overboard.
Aside from home prices and swinging mortgage money, the most painful part of a deal for many buyers is the business of relocation - a problem that plenty of executives have to face every few years. Sizing up a new bedroom community in a new metropolitan area takes more than simply checking in with the local mortgage banker and looking over the local school system.
Executives who have lived through lots of moves - and the professionals who advise them - give these prime suggestions:
First, visit three or four towns in the new area where you expect to live. Then narrow your choice down to one town before you start looking at houses. Reversing this can lead to troubles, they warn.