The Terrible Truth About Building Beyond Your Means

Balancing Desires and Affordability 

Sometimes homeowners want to build a home that doesn’t seem to be affordable for them; it’s well beyond their means.

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A client budgeting for their dream home to avoid unnecessary surprises that could inflate the costs.

Builder’s Dilemma

That’s a tough situation for me because if I build the home the way they want, I know they’ll regret. On the other hand, if I don’t, they won’t be happy with me. In fact, I’ve sometimes lost building opportunities simply because I want to be straight with people when it appears they’re pushing the envelope of costs. Of course, I know I’m not my clients’ keeper regarding how they spend their money. But as a professional who values integrity, I believe I have a responsibility to share the cold, hard facts of the large investment they will be making in building a home. Some people begin the design process with a realistic budget that’s within their means, but as the process moves along, it can begin to get out of hand.


Budget Creep

If you’ve purchased a new car recently, you know what I mean. Say for example, you want to get a nice car and you decide your budget is $30,000. Once on the lot, you see the base price on a model you like is $34,000. Well, it’s only a few thousand more, you think. But then you start noticing some of the options. You really like the Bluetooth voice recognition controls (only another $1,000), and it’s just $19.80 a month more on your monthly payment. Of course, then you see other cool things like the GPS Navigation System, the backup camera, and the Premier Audio System— so you add another $6,000. You also decide to upgrade from the standard leather package to the heated and cooled, comfort leather seats. That adds $2,160, but it’s so incredible! Then you discover the Satellite Radio System, and add $486. Finally, you decide to add a sunroof, custom paint, and upgraded tires…

You get the picture.

In a matter of minutes, your $34,000 car became a $45,000 car. And remember, you started out looking for a car that would cost $30,000. That’s what it’s like for some homeowners who design and build a home. Construction hasn’t even started and already they’ve added options and selections to their home beyond the original plan. Sometimes people stretch and stretch financially to build their new home and by the time construction begins, they’re under so much stress that when we have an opportunity to add a nice feature to their home (something as simple a additional crown molding), they are completely stressed out because of a few hundred dollar decision. That’s often because they didn’t discipline themselves to stick to a reasonable budget.

Please don’t build a dream home that you will have to sell before you even move in because you can’t afford it. Be sure you have a builder who will help guide you through this process with honesty and professionalism. If I notice that costs are beginning to exceed the homeowner’s budget, I tell them that it’s my responsibility to communicate this to them. The final choice is up to the homeowner. Ultimately, I want them to be happy and financially healthy with their finished dream home.


Will I Go Over Budget?


If you’re like most people, yes, you will probably go over your budget. On the way home from work, I occasionally stop at the grocery store just to pick up a couple of quick items. As I get out of the car, I’m thinking

I’ll be in and out in five minutes.

Twenty minutes later, I’m standing in the checkout line, my arms filled with items I never intended to buy. The watermelon was on sale, the blueberries were a two-for-one special, there’s a new brand of chips that looks delicious, and on it goes.

Now I’m standing in line with my arms and fingers filled with items wondering what I came here for in the first place. Oh yes, a gallon of milk and bananas! I have to set the items down and run back to the dairy department because I forgot the milk! Does any of this sound familiar? Most likely you’ve been there before. The same thing can happen with the new homebuilding process if you’re not careful.

As you shop for the latest and greatest appliances, you may find it enticing to upgrade. After all, it’s only another $840. And the engineered wood floor is only $2.00 more per square foot than your budget planned. Then you decide that you really need nicer plumbing fixtures, upgraded light fixtures, and so on. I’ve found that it doesn’t matter how high the budget is we help establish for our homeowners. If you’re not careful, you will quickly exceed your budget. If you have an appropriate electrical fixture allowance of $10,000, for example, and I increase it to $20,000, it’s still easy to overspend.

Here’s what I know: Even if we bumped up every budget by 30 percent, most people would spend more than their budget allowed.



Build within your means so your dream home doesn’t become a financial nightmare. Hire the right builder, establish a realistic workable budget, then determine if you are or are not going to stay within that budget.


-Sean Sullivan


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