This is a post I’ve been dreading to write, but the truth will set you free. 😉 Earlier this fall, I blogged about buying out first home. It was a risky roll of the dice because my husband didn’t have a signed work contract for residency after medical school. So when we signed our contract with the builder on September 6th, we negotiated a contingency clause into the contract that said we would only lose 50% of our deposit if we had to move for his residency location. We were set to find out where he placed on March 20th, with his job starting July 1st. It took a lot of faith to go ahead with the process; we risked losing five figures of cash if his placement didn’t come through. Why on earth would we do that? A couple reasons. 1) The builder we selected only had one lot that met our criteria so we didn’t like our odds of that lot sticking around and waiting for us until March at the rate they were selling 2) The builder would start work on our house, which meant we’d get to move into our new home in May/June instead of START our new home at that time. The agreement was to have our house framed by March 20th when we found out about our contract. This was mutually beneficial because we’d be further along in our build which meant moving in sooner, but the builder would still be able to sell the home as a market home if our job contract fell through and the new owner’s would be able to customize it.
Well… I’m happy to report that my husband’s contract DID come through! He starts his plastic surgery residency this summer at his #1 pick. Hooray! That was a huge weight off our shoulders and an answer to many of my prayers. That means we get to move into our beautiful new house next month and live happily ever after, right? Wrong. We had to cancel our builder contract. It feels a little bit like a break up and a lot like air whooshing out of a balloon. The hopes, the dreams, the plans, the little kids I could picture running around in that yard. All gone and it wasn’t an easy decision. So what happened? Lots of not-so-little little things along the way. But there were three major sticking points that ultimately caused us to cancel.
First of all, let me say that we’re building a fairly expensive house for our area. Like more than 3 times the average price in the area. Along with the price tag comes a certain amount of expectation about quality, finishes, etc. That’s where things started to go wrong.
When you work with a builder, you pick out your cabinet, countertops, flooring, tile, etc. from their design center. It’s basically a smaller selection of products that they know they can get in stock all of the time. We ran into trouble there immediately. After our first visit, I wanted to throw up because I didn’t like any of the bathroom tile options and hated every single countertop. I blamed myself for being a home decor newbie and scoured Pinterest to see if what I pictured in my head actually existed. Turns out, it does! Just not at the design center. No problem, they say, and sent me to the actual tile company and the actual countertop company. This would send us down the path of “custom pricing” but allow us to pick out anything we wanted. Well, it turns out that “custom pricing” means mark everything up 3 times as much as it costs at the store. Seriously. Our quartz counter went from $5,000 directly installed from the store to $15,000 installed from the builder. Are you kidding me?! Same thing for the bathroom tile we picked, huge markups. I know the middle man gets a cut, but that’s crazy y’all. We talked to our sales rep and he told us we had picked out a really expensive quartz and that’s just how much it would cost. No wiggle room. So what did we do? Decided to put in laminate counters. Seriously. Build big, fancy house. Put in laminate counters. Rip them out after closing. Redo counters. The kitchen and all the bathrooms. That’s exactly what you want to do when you build a new house, right? Start projects before you can even move in. In hindsight, that probably should have been a deal breaker, but we forged ahead because we really did love the floor plan and location. Plus by this time, we were already several months into the process.
Then came an ever bigger problem. We specifically picked this house for its curb appeal. In fact, the day we found it we weren’t even planning to look at this builder. But as soon as we drove by on our way to another builder, the house pulled me right in. It’s a great mix of brick and stone with the most interesting character on the front. The brick sections bump out a bit and then stonework sections nestle in behind them. Swoon! It’s also nice and “flat” which is hard to find because so many garages around here bump out in front of the house. The model we saw was a two car garage, but we wanted a three car. Our sales rep said no problem, ran it through custom pricing, and we were approved for that back in November. Yay! But then in January we were told our garages would need to be three single doors instead of the double door and a single door we had asked for. Nothing personal, but not the look I was going for. So we did a little cut/paste job with the model house pictures and showed them what we wanted. Expect they said they couldn’t do the double/single because of the weight of the house, blah, blah and it would need a support beam. After some back and forth, we were approved to do a double/single but we lost the nested brick/stone look that made us pick this house in the first place. Just couldn’t be done with a three car garage. That would have been a nice thing to know in the first place, right? I remember looking at the two sketches of options with my husband in our office and him asking me which one I liked. My reply? “Neither.” And yet we still moved ahead because by now we are four months into the process, the winter is going to be over soon, and we really need to keep moving if we ever want to live in this house.
Then “it’ happens. You know, the final straw. We met with our sales rep to sign off on our options so the builder could prepare the blueprints needed to get permits. At this point, we find out we are now behind schedule and looking at August/September to move. I knew we were behind because obviously we didn’t have a foundation and frame, but I didn’t realize we were THAT far behind. Part of the beauty of going with this builder was moving in sooner. So now we don’t have the counters, the curb appeal we want, and we’re not moving in any sooner either. Awesome. Full steam ahead! Our sales rep tells us we’ll have blueprints in two weeks and then we’ll be able to apply for permits once we sign off on them. Two weeks pass and we don’t hear anything. So a few days after that, we shoot him an email to check. We get a response back within hours– there’s a problem with our prints. Is anyone shocked at this point? Turns out the third car garage is causing problems again. We lose our big master bathroom window because the garage roof is in the way. At this point, I think absolutely not. No way. Ain’t gonna happen. I’m getting that window. And I’m also annoyed no one tells us there’s problem until we ask. So my husband emails back with some questions and suggests bumping the garage forward a few feet to leave room for the window, and also asks if the builder has any other creative ideas. Our reply back from our sales rep? “I don’t know, I’d have to go back and ask the engineer.” Um, okay… so maybe you should do that then? But he didn’t.
At this point, it’s days before our March 20th deadline and we realize this house just isn’t happening. I joked about maybe my husband wouldn’t get the job, be transferred out of state, and we wouldn’t have to deal with this house anymore. Except you know we did get that darn job. 😉 So now we have to break up with our builder. We spent the weekend looking at open houses again… hoping, praying there would be something similar we could just buy because there was NO WAY I was going to build again after this. But there just wasn’t. Then I swore we’d just live in our little rented townhouse forever and we broke up with our builder anyway. Two days of my stomach in knots, lots of prayer, and patience later we mutually agreed to cancel our contract. They’ll be able to sell the lot again, build a house, and make their money. We’ll be able to get the majority of our deposit back, find a new place, and move on.
So what’s the moral of this little story? Listen to your gut. We ignored the little things along the way in good faith that they would work out. We tried to be flexible and agreeable, realizing you don’t get EVERYTHING you want in your first home. But you also should be totally comfortable with what you’re purchasing. We weren’t. You also need to have confidence in your sales rep and feel like they will get stuff done for you, but we still were waiting on custom pricing and he didn’t even try to check with the engineer on our window issue. Those were deal breakers for us. Know your limits and stick to them. There’s something better around the bend. Can’t wait to show you what’s around ours!