Custom Home: Month 6 – Filling the Holes

Well… October was an eventful month on all fronts!

We started the month with a meeting with our exterior window and door supplier to make the selections for our home. With our Production Homes, we were lucky is we had a say on the color of our front door but, this time around, the decisions were endless. We were having to select window colours (exterior/interior), the sizes and layout of certain windows, which way they would open out, etc… After some careful consideration, we decided to change out our double French doors to a 12-foot sliding door in our great room because we didn’t want to give up the interior floor space required to leave room for the doors to open (we learned that, in our area anyway, you cannot have the doors open outwards which meant we would have to leave approximately 5 feet of space between the doors and our furniture in order to open them properly)…

When we were done selecting the windows and doors that would plug the (intentional) holes in our actual home, we then discovered that, due to water and organic matter on our land, we had to have a three to four foot engineered pad installed so as to prevent future water damage in our home. It didn’t sound like a big deal but it ended up coming with a big price tag! Disappointing to know that a good chunk of our upgrades budget has had to go towards compacting rocks into the ground (literally!) but the last thing any homeowner wants is water issues, so foregoing the pad was never an option. The hole in our land was filled by the end of October and is now sturdy enough for trucks to drive on!!!

Once the engineered pad was completed, our water well was dug (or drilled?). This will be our first time living on well water. We still need to do our research and do some upgrades with water softners, reverse osmosis, etc. but, from what we were told, they dug pretty deep and we should have some good water pressure!

The final missing “hole” to be filled this month??? Baby #2 of course!!! Our sweet BOY, Luca, made his appearance in a sudden (and a little traumatic) manner in mid-October. Our family of four is now complete! Theo has a new best bud, Paolo has another potential future golf buddy and I am officially likely to never have control of the television remote again!!!

Custom Home : Month 5 – Making Room for the House

September was a fun month for our future home!

During the entire summer, we would drive up to our lot and go for walks around the neighbourhood but we couldn’t actually walk the lot itself because it was overgrown with weeds, grass (and who knows what else…). So we had to admire it from afar…

The whole time, we thought that our builder was waiting on the building permits in order to start clearing the land. So, when we got the call to meet with the excavation people, we assumed that the permits had been issued – I even (prematurely) posted on my Instagram that we got our Building Permits! Turns out that you actually don’t need building permits to clear land and we have not yet received our building permits but… our land was cleared in September!!!

We started off by meeting with the representative of the excavation company and walking through the lot with him to see where the house could be placed (taking into consideration placement for well, septic, driveway, maybe a future pool, etc.). We selected a few trees along the perimeter that we were hoping to keep. Unfortunately, there was a whole section of trees that ran along the side of our property line that we really wanted to keep but couldn’t due to grading issues and, in any event, those particular trees were apparently not in the best of shape to begin with… Disappointing but we’ve already discussed the possibility of planting some trees along there later on.

After a few false starts which added some days to the job (the first machine broke down within less than 15 minutes of starting and then, once the second machine was delivered, it needed some repairs before they could get started), the land was cleared within about one day of actual tree clearing.

Next step is to begin digging and get ready to pour the foundation. We won’t know until they get started whether we will need a building pad (which is not included in our purchase price). Our neighbour, who built his house last year, had to get one so we expect that we will as well… fingers crossed we somehow miraculously don’t or, if we do, it’s a short one because I would hate for our “extras” budget to be eaten up before we even have the foundation poured!!!

Custom Home : Months 1 to 4 – Plan! Plan! Plan!

My first (not-to-scale) attempt at designing our home.

The first few months of designing a custom home are probably the most significant but, still, they felt so theoretical since it consisted of mainly “paperwork”.

At the end of April, we had already locked down the company that we had chosen to be our builder. Once the purchase of the land was finalized in May 2020, we started working with the architectural designer to design the house. Since we were in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, our exchanges were primarily via email. The designer reached out and asked us to send him as much information and pictures as possible of our “wish list” to give him an idea of what we were looking for.

Eight emails (and several attachments) later, I had basically described as much as possible of what we had been dreaming of for our custom home. I also provided the above drawing that was, of course, not to scale but that set out how we hoped the rooms could transition in our home.

I had poured hours and hours over floor plans online of bungalow/one-story homes but I didn’t like the flow in any of them… I was really looking for spaces to be divided by hallways; instead, a lot of the homes we were seeing omitted the hallways (probably as a means to save square footage), so you would just step from one room into another, which I didn’t like.

The architectural designer took my scrawny pencil drawing (and numerous emails) and came back a few weeks later with our dream floor plan! We never met him, hadn’t even spoken to him on the phone at the point, and he just got it – he knew what we wanted. Of course, it wasn’t 100% done – we had a few back and forth exchanges over specific details and, ultimately, about 4 versions of the plans – but it was so close that we were finally able to start getting excited about the possibilities. (I won’t share the final floor plans since, technically, they are someone else’s work but my Instagram account is sure to provide a good idea of the design as I walk through the spaces, once things get started.)

After the plans were finalized, a lot of the work was done behind the scenes by our builder and his team. The floorplans turned into engineered drawings; drawings setting out the location of the house on our land, including slope percentages, etc., were made; and a whole package was put together and submitted to the City for building permits. The whole process – from start to finish – took about four months and then, in September, we got word that the land was ready to be cleared!

Finally – some tangible progress that we will be able to see and walk through!!!

Custom Home : The Very Beginning

Paolo is the one who discovered our land on a whim in the Fall of 2019. He found it vaguely advertised online and decided to call the number for the land developer listed on the website. The developer explained that the land had been bought a few years ago by a family who lived in Saudi Arabia and who had been planning on building in Ottawa. They had since changed their mind and asked the developer if he could list the land as available on his website.

Paolo drove over to see the land and instantly fell in love with the area – two acres, at the back of a cul-de-sac with only three other houses on the street. Location wise, it was only minutes from the main highway and less than 8 minutes from our current house.

He called me at work to tell me about it – I only somewhat listened to what he was saying… It’s not that I wasn’t interested (I was!) but I just didn’t want to get excited about the prospect of actually being able to design and build our own home on a lot located exactly where we’d always talked about wanting to live. I knew that if I let myself be open to the idea, I would become fully invested and, inevitably, disappointed since it just didn’t seem possible. We had been living in what we thought was our forever production home for less than three years and I knew that we had some equity in the house already but nothing that would allow us to consider making any kind of substantial profit to then fund our custom home build.

So, for the first three months or so, I held off on being involved. Paolo said he wanted to explore the option himself – just to see… He had a few telephone discussions with the land developers and met with several builders. He even had a number of potential builders meet him at our current home so that they could get a sense for our taste and style – I had made it clear to him that I wouldn’t build a house with finishes that were less than what we already had.

Meanwhile, we had agreed that if it was meant to be, then it would happen – we weren’t going to force the issue. We agreed that we would not rush into things simply because the land was available – if the sellers got another offer, we would walk away and not engage in a bidding war. We were very specific about style and must-haves for our custom design – so if the builders couldn’t provide us with a quote that met those requirements within our budget, we would forget about it and enjoy our perfectly good and beautiful current home. Finally, even if the land remained available and we found a good builder that could give us what we wanted within our budget, we still had to overcome the hurdle of selling our fairly new home for a profit that would, at a minimum, fund the purchase of the land – so, if we couldn’t do that then, again, we would walk away from the project.

We went back and forth on the idea for a solid six months. By February, the land was still available (mainly because it wasn’t being actively advertised, which worked in our favour), Paolo found a reputable builder that he knew I would like (although we hadn’t committed to any one builder just yet) and the Ottawa housing market was thriving. We conditionally accepted an offer on our house, subject to us securing the land. Those negotiations took a few days (mainly because the sellers were in Saudi Arabia and the time difference meant we had to wait for responses) but, eventually, by mid-February, our house had been purchased for above our asking price and we entered into an Agreement of Purchase and Sale for the land – aahhhh, this is really happening!!!

A few days after that… we found out we were expecting baby #2!

I really think everything happens for a reason. Our motto all along, in all of our life decisions, has been “If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen”. Everything had to line up just to get us to the starting point of building our own custom home. Had we found out that I was pregnant even a day before we signed off on the agreements, we likely would have walked away due to bad timing but, as luck would have it, the stars lined up and we get to build our own custom home and grow our family, all in the same year (which also happens to be the year that we find ourselves in the middle of a world pandemic known as COVID-19…). No worries, just another day in the life…