Don’t Make These Common Home-Building Mistakes

A while back, I was flipping through the channels and came across a Cary Grant marathon just as Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House started. [Something you may not know about me–I love Cary Grant and Arsenic and Old Lace is one of my all-time favorite movies.] The CliffsNotes version is Mr. Blandings (played by Cary) and his wife want to escaped cramped city living and decide to buy a fixer-upper in the country. When the fixer-upper can’t be fixed, they decide to tear it down and start fresh. Hilarity ensues as they make one mistake after another. Funny thing is, seventy years after the movie was released (and the book it was based on was written), people are still making those same mistakes.

Mistake #1: Over-Designing

Mr. and Mrs. Blandings start adding “must-haves” to the house plans. A game room for him, flower and sewing rooms for her, more closet space than even Kim Kardashian needs–the list goes on and on and the price goes up and up. The initial estimates after their additions are twice what their original budget was. Ouch!

Lesson: Take the time to really think through what you actually need in your home. A good designer can help you prioritize and make the most of your budget.

Mistake #2: Answering Questions They Don’t Understand

One of the subcontractors sees Mr. and Mrs. Blandings on the site one day and asks if they want the lintels between the lallies rabbetted.

Carpenter: The second-floor lintels between the lally columns, should we rabbet them?

Mr. Blandings: The second-floor lallies?

Carpenter: Second-floor lintels between the lallies.

Mr. Blandings: Oh, the lintels between the lallies.

Carpenter: Yeah, from the blueprints you can’t tell. You want they should be rabbeted?

Mr. Blandings: No, no, I guess not.

Carpenter: Okay, you’re the doctor. Hey, fellas! If you got any of them rabbeted lintels set, rip them up!

[Loud crashing and ripping sounds…]

Mr. Blandings: It sounded less expensive to say no…

Lesson: Make sure you have someone on hand who can translate build-speak into English. (They should also be able to explain the pros and cons of any decisions you need to make.)

Mistake # 3: Making Changes During Construction That Seem Small

Mrs. Blandings sees some extra flagstone at the construction site one day and asks for it to be added to the floor of her flower room. Nothing more is thought of it until the bill comes in (at nearly 10% of the overall budget!). It turns out that the initial floor choice had to be ripped out, the floor joists had to be cut down, extra lallies had to be added to support the heavier load (and weakened joists), electrical and plumbing had to be re-routed, walls had to be opened, the new floor had to be laid, and the walls had to be patched. Whoops.

Lesson: Once construction has started, every change is going to add time and cost (even if they don’t get quite as complicated as that flower room floor). If your design team is good, you’ll be able to figure out most of the changes you’d like to make before you break ground. They’ll also be able to talk you down from making unnecessary changes during construction.

[The Blandings family made plenty of other mistakes, too. Enough that the movie should be required watching for anyone wanting to renovate or build!]

If you’re building a new home and want to prevent mistakes like these, let’s chat. I can make sure your home is right for your needs (now and in the future), I can translate what the contractors are asking you, and I can help you avoid expensive changes. 

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  1. Wendy says:

    Great post! Having a designer involved from the ground up is invaluable!

  2. Dixie Willard says:

    Thanks, Wendy! And, yeah, a designer can save a TON of heartache.