How Not To Lose Half A Million Dollars Building Your New House
Suppose you had the plans for your dream home drawn up by a home designer - one who has listened to your requirements, followed your directions to the letter, and delivered exactly what you asked for - a nice enough home design. It doesn't look outrageous; in fact, it's pretty tame. Big windows to the ocean, big garage, and a second floor interior balcony that overlooks a spacious living area. It ticks all the boxes, but a thought nags at the corner of your mind. Is it what you were hoping for? It must be, right?
Let's say you ask for my opinion. Is there anything that I would suggest to improve the design? My first answer will be: how do YOU feel about it? How you FEEL about what will be your home for the next several decades? The truth is that you're not sure. What do I think though? I admit it looks a little underwhelming - a plain thing that doesn't look really any different from what a commodity house builder might put together, just bigger.
What would I do to make your design more interesting?
Why not ask your friends? The reason why you wouldn't ask your friend or family for design advice is because they don't have the 25 years of experience, training, and countless hours working late to become the architect I am now. Consider this: how much money did you pay for that prime waterfront property? Maybe $2M? How much do you think that house will cost to build? Perhaps $2M based on what I see. Now imagine that the house gets built as it's drawn. The contractor hands over the keys, and you move in. Walk through the home. Live in it for a few weeks. On a scale of 0% to 100%, how satisfied and content do you think you'll be? How much of your mental checklist is ticked? Do you find after a while that there are some things you wish you'd asked the designer for? Maybe there's glare from the big windows, it's a little dark in the rooms in the back, or you want to change the siding around the entrance to make it more interesting. It's okay; nothing really *bugs* you about the house - at least not yet. You'll make it work of course. So from 0 to 100, maybe you're 95% satisfied. That means you're 5% dissatisfied. If the house cost $2M to build, you've lost 5% x $2M = $100,000, and the house is worth only $1.9M to you. That's $50,000 of design fees.
Be Blown Away
Your home should WOW you and everyone who sees it.
Now put away the design you have, imagine your home instead designed as exquisitely as it could be, and just imagine that you've walked into that house. It's AMAZING. It's better than you could have dreamed of. You're overjoyed at how happy you feel with how well it turned out. The spaces interact with the cathedral ceilings in ways you never thought of. Every week, you notice how well the spaces work together. It feels really spacious, but you never have to walk too far to get to another part of the house nor to find the privacy you need. The small, additional storage spaces tucked here and there are just where you need them.
You wake up in the morning to see the shoreline frozen and the yard covered in snow, but you feel as warm and comfortable standing there right up at the window, barefoot in pyjamas as you did in bed. You feel like emailing the designer to point out how the morning light makes the ensuite glow. Downstairs, natural light floods the kitchen and makes breakfast a great experience.
Chatting away with some friends who are over for your housewarming party, you note how you can still hear each other because the acoustics are great. From the sofa, you see a winter storm roaring but don't hear a thing inside. Coming home after work later in the season as the sun is setting, you never realized how amazing the house looks as the setting sunlight paints the facade gold. Every day it feels kind of like you're renting a villa at a resort. You almost want to keep everything tidy because it looks so good. You got way more than you actually asked for, but clever design means the construction cost wasn't any higher. Believe it or not, there's a lot of unnecessary cost baked into typical house construction. You can more about that in my other article "HEALTHY HOME DESIGN: Top 10 Ways to Reduce the Cost of Building A House".
What is your "Return On Design"?
Compared to 100% - being completely satisfied with what you had asked for, all of the items that you wanted in that house - what percentage would you rank the super-impressed state of mind I described? 120%? 150%? Let's say a conservative 130% satisfied. 100% satisfied would mean that you got the full $2M return from that house. This is just the value to you; we're not talking about selling anything. 130% means you've now got a house that's worth $2.6M to you. You paid only $2 million dollars for the house, but it's worth more because of how amazing it makes you feel and how much it improves your whole living experience. You've gained an extra $600,000. Why? Because you hired the right architect.
The architect charged you perhaps $200,000 and achieved a 130% return. The $50,000 designer achieved a 95% return. You paid $150,000 more for the design service, but the additional value to you was $100,000 (5% satisfaction) + $600,000 (+30% satisfaction). That increase is SEVERAL TIMES the additional fee that you paid for the right architect. Are you going to leave half a million dollars on the table?
Now don't get me wrong; I know some great home designers and homebuilders who do stunning work. I also know some architects whose works are lackluster at best. However, you'll generally find that the less you pay, the less you get. The flip side of that is: if you're looking for less, then you don't have to pay as much. Usually people are trying to save money up front. The result though is a loss of far more than what you save.
Put aside the discussion of money for a moment, though. This is your HOME we're discussing - the place where you will live, eat, sleep, entertain basically every day for (presumably) DECADES. Which would you prefer: spending years becoming increasingly frustrated with the house's failings and wondering how to renovate your home to get back that lost 5%, or coming home every day and marveling at how amazing it is? Oh - additional note here: a typical house starts falling apart a little bit at a time after about 25-30 years whereas an ultra high-performance home will still be in great shape when your kids take over way down the road.
Key To Success
Hire the right architect to get the right house.
Let's walk back to where I said you hired the RIGHT architect. That is key. Not all architects are created equal, not all architects design houses, and most importantly not every architect will GET you. In an upcoming article, I'll discuss how you find the right architect to design YOUR home. In my article "Your Architect Needs To Do These FOUR Things Before Drawing ANYTHING", you'll see some of things that the right architect will do at the very beginning of the project to ensure the design heads off in exactly the right direction to suit you and your needs.
I help BC residents planning a new ultra high-performance, Passive House, or net zero house or major renovation to get to that level of comfort and resilience in their legacy home. It starts with my Pre-Design Diagnostic Study™. If you feel ready to discuss your needs with an architect for your new house or major renovation and establish a direction for it, please book a free Diagnostic Session™ using the button below.
If you're still in the research stage, you can instead download my Project Planning Pack or SAPPHR Strategy™ Guide that will help you organize and plan for ultra high-performance.