To ensure that a house is right for you, answer these 10 questions before purchasing a "stock" plan.
1. What does this home offer that you don't have now?
Easy answers might include better storage, more bedrooms and bathrooms, or space for entertaining friends. But look beyond the obvious to see how the home will fit -- and improve -- your lifestyle. Maybe the great-room will offer family-activities space that is lacking in your current home, and the home office will mean fewer late evenings at work, giving more time for family fun. The main-level master suite and laundry room will decrease stair climbing. A larger garage might accommodate that boat you've always wanted.
2. Will this home be big enough -- or too big -- in five or 10 years?
Regardless of your current stage of life, a home that is just the right size now won't necessarily be just right in the future. A flexible house plan allows you to convert spaces as needs change. A playroom can become a bedroom when another child is born. A child's bedroom can become a den or sewing room later. If a home office has an adjoining bath, it can be used as a suite for overnight guests, provide housing for an aging parent, or become your main-level master suite in later years.
3. Does the home's design coordinate with your proposed building site?
Home designers always recommend that you have a site before you select a plan. This allows you to compare the home with features of the lot and to envision how the home will sit. If the lot is narrow and deep, a wide, shallow home probably isn't the best choice. In some areas, zoning and regulations may limit the height of a house, or govern the minimum and maximum home size in terms of a percentage of the total lot size.
4. Are there windows where you want the best views, and which rooms will get morning and evening sun?
Having your lot before selecting a home plan also lets you examine where sunlight strikes the site. Compare this information to the placement of windows in the plan to ensure the design will take advantage of the best views, block views that are undesirable, put morning and evening light where it's most needed, and prevent excessive heat gain. Windows can usually be moved or resized if necessary, but care has to be taken to retain the appearance and structural integrity of the building.
5. Will this home fit in with surrounding homes?
Nobody wants to live in a home exactly like the one next door, but you should make sure the design of the plan you choose fits the neighborhood. This applies whether you're building in a new neighborhood or in an older area with established homes. Subdivisions may have covenants that establish acceptable home styles for the area, so check regulations before you purchase a plan. Also think about the size of the home relative to others in the neighborhood. A home that is out-of-scale with its neighbors -- whether too small or too large -- will look as out of place as a glass-walled contemporary house in an older neighborhood.
6. Will extensive changes be required to make the house you want, or might a custom design be better?
Every home plan goes through some changes to meet local building codes, to match the style of a particular neighborhood, or to suit individual needs and tastes. Changes such as modifying the fa¿ade or adding a garage stall are usually relatively easy, and most home plan companies can quote prices for making these changes. In theory, you can change dimensions of individual rooms or the whole house. Just be prepared to pay considerably more for a custom plan.
7. Are the rooms you'll use the most sized appropriately?
When reviewing a plan, don't just look at the room sizes. Think about rooms in terms of their total percentage of the home's square footage. Just multiply the length of a room by its width, and then divide by the home's total square footage. For example, a large master suite can take up 20 percent of the space in a home, which is fine if you use the space for more than sleeping, such as to house workout equipment or a reading area. But if you rarely spend time there, consider modifying the plan to convert some of that area into a more functional space, or look for a plan with a smaller master suite.
8. Are amenities more important than the size of the home?
Generally speaking, your home-building dollars buy either space or amenities. You have to decide which is more important. The temptation is to take your overall home-building budget and divide it by an average per-square-foot cost to yield the total square footage you can afford. But remember that an average cost will get you average amenities and finishes. If you want a higher level of either, you'll have to enlarge your budget or decrease the size of the house.
9. Will the home's level of openness work with your tastes in decorating?
Eclectic decorating styles can work in almost any floor plan, but not all styles are so forgiving. If your themes are consistent from room to room, an open floor plan will be fine. Varied furniture styles or a preference for using many colors may make a more traditional floor plan with separate rooms a better choice. At the very least, you should consider how your furniture and decorating preferences can blend into the plan you are evaluating.
10. Are there spaces for special-interest rooms, such as hobby areas or exercise rooms?
As you're figuring out the types and sizes of spaces within your home, remember the fun stuff. If you like to read, include a book nook. Add a third garage bay to house a workshop or potting bench. A trend in home design is to include a family activity center where everyone can pursue hobbies. If budgets are tight, consider having specialty spaces built but left unfinished for now. It's more economical than remodeling later.
You may never find a single plan that incorporates all of your needs. With thousands of plans to choose from, though, an organized search will help you get close. Then you can have changes made to create a home that is just right for you.