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Getting Started

The way you start the process has a lot to do with you having an idea about the construction world or not.  If you are a builder, well, this article is certainly not for you, since you are already in all the tricks of the trade.


If you have any connection to the construction world, this is for you, but let me tell you, being in on it makes it harder because you are aware of a lot of things that can go wrong.  You'll also try to manage every little detail and that can turn on you.


If you have no insight on construction, the first thing you need to do is hire a good architect/engineer with experience on the subject and have him follow the construction from start to finish.

The Project/Technical Expertise

It is indispensable to have technical advice when you are building a house.  Forget what your neighbor or brother did, you want an independent person, with technical knowledge to do the project, but also to see you through the construction.  It's better to pay a little more and have this guidance.  Also, you need to tell everyone involved what you want, but leave the specifics to the technicians.  Have the technicians find the solutions.  What interests you is the finished product and that it must meet your expectations.  If you try to oversee every little detail, you will probably get very confused, very fast, and you'll also be putting into question the know-how of the architect/engineer.  If he is good, you shouldn't do this, because he knows what he is doing.


You might ask: How do I know the architect/engineer is any good?  How do I pick one?


First, it's a good thing if you have recommendations.  If you do, have a meeting with the person.  Talk about your expectations, your likes and dislikes.  Ask to see some of the projects the technician carried through and see if you like the design.


If you find yourself in a meeting and all you see is the absolute opposite of what you want, forget about it.  Just walk out the door because you will be clashing with the technican every step of the way.


Then you need to find out if the technician you choose has any experience in actual construction, start to finish.  It is very important he's used to actual building because otherwise, he will not know how to: balance the design with reality, how to balance the various engineering projects, the structure with the thermal insulation, with the acoustic, with the ventilation, and it goes on and on.


You see, strange at it may seem, a lot of times the different projects for a house clash, which shouldn't happen... but it does.  Imagine, to have good ventilation, you'll probably be lowering your acoustic insulation.  So it's very important to balance everything.  A technician who is only used to dealing with drawings and paperwork will not have the sense to balance the various specifications considering your requirements.


Once you choose a technician, you need to start thinking about the design and what is important for you.  If the architecture of the house is at the top of your list, other things like thermal insulation or acoustic, or even the solar panels you want, must follow.  It is of the utmost importance to think about your comfort, and the comfort has very little to do with architectural design.  You must consider, for instance: Are there neighbors around and will I hear their noise?  Do I mind the noise?  If silence is important to you, you must consider increasing acoustic insulation and special glass for your windows, as well as all of your requirements you must convey to the techician so that he takes your demands into consideration.

Balancing Your Budget With Your Needs

Building a house is not something you do every day, so it's best to spend a little more and have it your way than to spend two or three years after the construction thinking you should have done it another way.  It's much cheaper to do something during the construction than to undo it afterwards and do it again.  At the same time, you have to do a priority list because as soon as the constructions starts, if not before, you'll probably find out your original budget has gone off the roof.  It's only nautural you'll have to give some things up, at least for a little while, so it's good to know what's priority.  You must also consider that during construction you'll probably have to add things you never thought of or you may be dragged into that reasoning of "Oh, well, this cost just a bit more than what I thought, so why not?  I like this one better anyway..." - the problem is that all the little bits added make for quite a bit more.

The Contractor

Once you have all of the projects in place and a proper building permit, it's time to think about a builder.  Now this is hard work!  Have your architect/engineer help out.  He probably knows builders, as well as who does the work properly or not.


Always choose a certified builder, rather than the builder based only on who gave you the cheapest quote.  This is a frequent mistake: Going for the lowest quote.  It can have several possible outcomes:


  1. The builder does not have the technical expertise required, therefore the construction work will not have the quality you imagined.

  2. During the construction, the builder will often point out that this or that was not included in the quote, forcing you to pay extra.

  3. In the middle of the construction, the builder just disappears with whatever money he received from you and you'll have an unfinished house on your hands and probably much less money than you needed to find a proper builder to finish it.


At the end of the day, the chapest quote may end up being the most expensive one.  These are just the three possibilities I've encountered more often, but there are certainly many more.


Make sure you see some of the construction work the builder did, not just new houses where everything is still shiny, but 10 years of old houses.  Also, be sure to talk with some other owners to see if the builder is reliable and honest.


Be aware that some builders think the projects are not made to be followed and that they know better.  You must stress that it is imperative that all projects are followed and that you will not stand for it being otherwise.


Finally, when you read the various quotes, make sure that everything is written on it.  You need to have the price, but also a thorough description of what is being done - every step of the way.  The sort of quotes (and I've seen them) that mention something like "building a house of 300 sqm", "painting the house", "carpentry", "plumbing"... "that much...", are the sort of quotes you should run from.


And always: Always sign a contract, everything has to be in writing.

Finally Building...

Once all of the above are done, it's time to actually start building.  Here is when you need to take it easy!


You need to make sure your engineer/architect is there for the start and that he will oversee the construction.  When I say oversee, I'm not talking about going to the construction site once a month for five minutes.  I'm talking about at least once a week (in some stages more) and accompanying you.  Your engineer/architect needs to hear your doubts, to make sure your demands are being met, to make sure the projects are being followed, and to answer questions the builder's workers may have.


You will also need to go to the construction site, yourself, on a daily basis, if possible.  Sometimes it takes just a few hours to do a mistake that afterwards can be quite difficult to undo.  Sometimes it takes just misreading a part of a project or reading it differently from what was intended.  Different people, different views.


Don't choose all the materials in the beginning of the construction.  As the construction advances, you will have it clearer in your mind what you really want.  Sometimes people just want to get it over with and buy everything at once, the sooner the better.  It's much easier to imagine what the house will be after the walls are up and you have a better notion on the actual dimensions.  Visit the house and then go home and imagine how you think a certain bathroom will turn out and how you would like it to look.  After you thought about it and made up your mind, go to the store and choose the different materials you need.  If imagining is not for you, try and get some help at the store, show them the plans and ask for some opinions.  If it's a good store, they will help out a lot and even narrow down the extensive choice selection there is, based on your taste, budget and style of your house.  This can be a plus, especially since you can really get lost in the middle of all of the tilling, sanitary wear, and whatever else you need.


The builder knows his trade.  If you chose well, you shouldn't worry so much if everything is being done properly.  You should leave to the experts most of the decisions of how to do this or that or what kind of material to use.  If you try to check every detail, the house will probably be nightmare material before you are through.  Oversee, obviously, but let them do their job.  Also, this will save you time, worries, and you will only have to consider the finishing materials of the house - basically the aesthetics.


Make sure the builder is sticking to the calendar for the construction and that he is not falling behind.  Sometimes it's necessary to remind the building company the schedule in the contract.


It seems never ending.  Almost in the end, it will seem that everyday the house is the same, you start fidgeting because you want it done, you want to move in and it seems nothing is happening.  Pace yourself.  This is when you should try to relax.  The finishings of a house are very important, it's what you first notice when you look at it and it can only be done properly, if done with time.  It's important the tiles are not crooked and the paint work doesn't have any flaws.  Prepare yourself for this stage and let the experts do their work.


As soon as you get the final set of keys from the builder and write him his last check, it will seem that a weight was lifted off your shoulders: You saw the project through.  It's done!  It's time to enjoy all the little details and obviously show off the house.


It's time to move in!  After all you've been through, forget about doing the move yourself, just hire a moving company... and start dreaming about your next house, after all it is at the exact moment you finish the first one that you understand what you should have done differently, no matter the advices you had.

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