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Five Lessons Learned from Building Our Tract Home

Five Lessons Learned from Building Our Tract Home

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Howdy, folks!  Today I wanted to share with you my top five Lessons Learned from building with a “cookie-cutter” tract home builder.  If you’re unfamiliar with the differences between a custom home, spec home, and tract home, this article from the Chicago Tribune offers a pretty good explanation (even if it’s a bit dated).

After we arrived in Texas in the fall of 2013, it took us about a month to figure out that we would get more bang for our buck if we built a home than if we were to buy one (thanks to high property values in our town) so we built with a nationally-known tract home builder.  These types of builders are great because they’re affordable, have plenty of floorplans to choose from, and often have fantastic neighborhood amenities such as pools, playgrounds, basketball courts, etc.  However, with that type of builder, what you see is NOT always what you get.  When you tour the model homes you “ooh” and “ahh” over every little thing and of course the salesperson likely won’t mention that every.single.bit.of.it is an upgrade.  This brings me to my first Lesson Learned:

1) Know your budget and ask what is included in the base price of your home.  The final cost of your home will be the base price + xx amount in upgrades.  Determine what your overall budget for your home is then pick a floor plan that allows plenty of wiggle room for upgrades.  For example, if your budget is 175,000 and your base price is 125,000 then that leaves you roughly 50,000 for upgrades (less if you need to account for your closing costs in the total price of the home).  Once you know what your "upgrades budget" is, you make your selections, trying your best to stay within that budget.  This part can be tricky when literally everything is an upgrade (our home came stock with flat panel doors…pretty sure I haven’t seen those in a new home since the 1980’s), but it can be done! 

2) Ask about the plans for the neighborhood and roads.  This one is really important whether you’re building or buying.  If your home will back up to a main road in the neighborhood or if the neighborhood itself is on a major road through town, ask what the plans are for those roads over the next 3-5 years.  If your salesperson/realtor doesn’t know, take the time to go to the city planning office and ask.  Trust me, you don’t want to be surprised later by news that the lightly trafficked neighborhood road that your home backs up to will soon become a main thoroughfare for the city.

3) Ask if your air conditioning unit can be placed on the side of the house.  Most tract homes come with tiny lots so every bit of space counts.  Our salesperson actually recommended to us that we ask our project manager to relocate our air conditioning unit from the rear of the house to the side.  This ended up being one of those things we were repeatedly thankful for over the years that we lived there.  It gave us so much more flexibility with our backyard space, noise was greatly reduced, and it gave us the ability to gate off the unit so that it wasn’t accessible to the kids.

4) Don’t be afraid to ask for the “little extras”.  In building a tract home, you understand that there really isn’t much room for customization.  With that being said, don’t be afraid to ask for a few things that just make sense and won’t really cost the builder anything extra to do.  For example, we asked for the closet under our stairs to be opened up so that we not only had access to the full-height portion of it but also to the shorter, angled part.  Sure, we couldn’t stand up in that lower part, but it did provide some much needed additional storage space.   

5) Get involved with the construction process.  If something isn’t right, let your project manager know.  Just because it’s a tract home doesn’t mean that it’s okay for trim work to be sub-par, walls to be bowed, etc.  Visit your home regularly while it’s under construction and point these things out before it’s too late to be fixed.  On the flip side of that, if your project manager throws you an “extra”, thank them for it.  We did not elect for the columns on our back porch to be bricked (because you guessed it, that was an upgrade), but he had them bricked anyway.  A little bit of acknowledgement and gratitude goes a long way!

We started construction on our tract home in October 2013 and it was complete in February; that’s just four months!  We really did enjoy the process.  We had a great time choosing our finishings and upgrades and then putting our own touch on it after completion with new lighting, paint, wall treatments, etc.  

Built for functionality: the front door lets in much needed light, the bench provides a place to sit and take off muddy shoes, storage baskets underneath provide a home for umbrellas, bicycle helmets/pads, etc, and the hooks are invaluable for coats and bags.

Built for functionality: the front door lets in much needed light, the bench provides a place to sit and take off muddy shoes, storage baskets underneath provide a home for umbrellas, bicycle helmets/pads, etc, and the hooks are invaluable for coats and bags.

Looking from the front door toward the living area: This was a 42 foot hallway with no windows. So, we installed the bead board, and painted it white to brighten it up and keep the wall color (Benjamin Moore Stone Hearth) from feeling too heavy.  Four matching hallway runners polished off this awkward space and we staggered the decor (right, left, right, left, etc) so that no space felt too narrow to pass through.  We did eventually replace those rugs with these.  Three lamps provided the perfect amount of ambient lighting in the evening without having to rely on the overhead lights (ew!).

Looking from the front door toward the living area: This was a 42 foot hallway with no windows. So, we installed the bead board, and painted it white to brighten it up and keep the wall color (Benjamin Moore Stone Hearth) from feeling too heavy.  Four matching hallway runners polished off this awkward space and we staggered the decor (right, left, right, left, etc) so that no space felt too narrow to pass through.  We did eventually replace those rugs with these.  Three lamps provided the perfect amount of ambient lighting in the evening without having to rely on the overhead lights (ew!).

We ended up replacing that rug with this one and I just love it so much.  I also did eventually re-style the mantle, but of course never got pictures before we moved.  The window in this room was off-centered from the couch thanks to the addition of the fireplace (an upgrade), so we simply extended the curtain rod to make it appear wider and centered.  

We ended up replacing that rug with this one and I just love it so much.  I also did eventually re-style the mantle, but of course never got pictures before we moved.  The window in this room was off-centered from the couch thanks to the addition of the fireplace (an upgrade), so we simply extended the curtain rod to make it appear wider and centered.  

That amazing dining room nook was also an upgrade, but well worth it...so much storage!  We replaced the builder's dining room chandelier and pendants with something a bit less modern, with more of a cottage-feel.  We sold the builder-grade light fixtures through a Facebook yard sale page, which is a great way to get rid of any builder items you replace to make your home more your own.

That amazing dining room nook was also an upgrade, but well worth it...so much storage!  We replaced the builder's dining room chandelier and pendants with something a bit less modern, with more of a cottage-feel.  We sold the builder-grade light fixtures through a Facebook yard sale page, which is a great way to get rid of any builder items you replace to make your home more your own.

My favorite parts of this kitchen are the HUGE island (which was my favorite place to bake and craft) and the double ovens!  Also the large-scale subway tile that I realllllly had to fight for with our builder (yes, you can try to do that!). I believe we were the first to be allowed to use it. :-)

My favorite parts of this kitchen are the HUGE island (which was my favorite place to bake and craft) and the double ovens!  Also the large-scale subway tile that I realllllly had to fight for with our builder (yes, you can try to do that!). I believe we were the first to be allowed to use it. :-)

The kids domain.  The two small windows and single overhead light fixture made this giant space entirely too dark so we brightened it up in zones: a "kitchen" light in the play kitchen area and a "reading lamp" in the reading nook.

The kids domain.  The two small windows and single overhead light fixture made this giant space entirely too dark so we brightened it up in zones: a "kitchen" light in the play kitchen area and a "reading lamp" in the reading nook.

This room changed some over the years...we ended up with a twin daybed with trundle in place of those colorful rugs.  It still made for a great reading nook, but also provided two additional guest beds when we needed it.  There is a full bathroom on this level so it worked out great!

This room changed some over the years...we ended up with a twin daybed with trundle in place of those colorful rugs.  It still made for a great reading nook, but also provided two additional guest beds when we needed it.  There is a full bathroom on this level so it worked out great!

This house will always hold a special place in my heart (tract home or not) seeing as how it was our very first home in Texas and we brought both of our boys home from the hospital to it.  For us, it was a great solution that got us into the town we wanted to be in and provided a lovely place to live until we were in a position to move on…we wouldn’t have done it any other way.

Have you built a tract home?  Was your experience similar to ours?  Do you have any additional Lessons Learned or tips for others considering building one?  Tell me your story in the comments!

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