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  • Writer's pictureLily Dittschlag & Dennis Dittschlag


Updated: Sep 13, 2020

Those who plan do better than those who do not plan even though they rarely stick to their plan.” ~ Winston Churchill
Defining requirements for new home

In choosing to build your own dream home, you are about to make the ideas and thoughts in your mind become a reality. But what does this dream look like? And why is it so important to express your dreams into specific requirements as early as possible? Let’s go and explore these questions a little further right now.

It will help having a #vision of what you want your future home to look and feel like. Chances are you have a rough image of that home in your head. Can you translate that image into a written description? Can you collect images from houses you like in your neighborhood or images you have seen online or in a magazine that collectively frame out what you are looking for? What style of home do you prefer (traditional, modern, colonial, Mediterranean, etc.)? These are some questions you can ask yourself to identify the overall vision. And this first image, collage or description marks an excellent starting point for the next step.

Aside from the location of the house, ask yourself: What are some of the main features I want? The idea here is to focus on your must-haves. If your must-have list includes an indoor and an outdoor pool, that’s great. If you’re anything like us, you will need to respect that you have a certain budget to keep in mind. So, for us a pool goes onto the nice-to-have wish list, maybe for a later project… the point here is to stay realistic while not ignoring your wishes. Another angle to approach the requirements definition is to think about issues in your current home, or things that have always bothered you, e.g. guests need to use the main family bathroom as opposed to having a powder room.

Ideally, the list you come up with includes all the mandatory features you want to have in your new home. It should include all the items you cannot do without, your deal breakers. Your requirements also include the features that in your mind bring the most value, whether that be from a lifestyle perspective, resale value or otherwise – it is your investment and you want to make it count for you!

The resale value may not be much a factor for some people who build their forever home and don’t plan to sell or move later. The rest of us need to respect that some features maybe off-putting to potential buyers when it comes time to move on. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. We want to stay in our new home for at least 10 years, so that’s what we are starting out with.

Now that you have your list of the main requirements, let’s talk about why it is so important to flush this out as early as possible…

You want to ensure:

  • Your dream home becomes a reality.

For this to happen, your dream needs to be communicated and understood by all parties involved in your home build, especially by your main partners. A clear list of documented requirements helps to communicate the wants and expectations and gets everyone on the same page from the outset. Detailed out, this requirements list becomes the scope of work.

  • Your cost doesn’t exceed your budget.

With the main requirements identified, all the project partners can give you a quote and sign up to a turnkey or fixed price solution. Having the main cost drivers addressed, mitigates the risk of major cost overruns. Of course, we want to think about contingencies, because there will always be changes and upgrades we cannot resist.

  • You are contractually secured.

By including as many specific requirements as possible from the outset, the project partners and you will have a clear picture of what they sign up for. Including these specifications in the contract documents ensures that people can be held accountable and commitments are met. A solid contract is the foundation to having a successful build and being able to manage what is in the scope of work and what is not.

Simply put, having your requirements identified and documented early, helps tremendously in getting you what you into your dream home at the end of the day.

And there is more… Think about your home build as a project!

In classic project management theory, the main constraints of the project quality or results (in this case our house) are time, cost and scope. The requirements we have defined earlier represent our scope. Having them clear at the beginning of the project gets us to the right expectations of cost and time.

Project Management Triangle
Adding requirements to the project as it goes on will require time or money, or both. As a customer, we all hate delays and even more so, we hate paying extra. You want to work to avoid these situations as much as possible.

There is further evidence when it comes to problems caused by the late introduction of changes. The later a change is made during a project, the harder it is to implement without serious consequences to our project constraints. And this comes true when you think about structural changes that require new architectural or engineering drawings, new permits, maybe taking down work already completed, etc. With today’s timelines of a new home build being as short as only five or six months (our builder is suggesting 7 months), going back to the drawing board for major changes can have significant impact to the construction progress, and to the cost. Some late changes may not even be possible to get implemented at all, because their consequences are prohibitive. There is an urgency of defining requirements from the get-go then.

Ultimately, the goal is to avoid changes, or at least get them made as early as we can. All of us want to move in at a certain expected date and we want to still be able to pay our regular mortgage bills.

People more familiar with #projectmanagement principles may argue that this view is outdated and newer project management principles like Agile allow for more flexibility and explicitly call for iterative processes. And this is correct. For example, we want to use iterative processes when it comes to layouts, floor plans and discussing actual samples before going into implementation. This comes in handy, because we want to validate that work is continuing to go in the right direction and expectations are met. So, when it comes to project management, we’re looking at applying the best techniques of all principles in combination to get us the best end results, which is getting us into our dream home.

Below are some links to articles published by the Project Management Institute that explain the importance of requirements definition and the cost of change management in more detail.

Now let’s look back where we started off: We have a vision of our #dreamhome and we have outlined the list of main feature requirements that are a must for us. Realistically though, can you define all requirements to fully finish your home at the very beginning? The answer is No! Today, do you know if your new powder room will have wallpaper or be painted? It’s impossible to define all those details. And that’s ok. The details can be resolved later with your builder, contractor or trades.

What we want to define in the beginning are all the requirements that could be main drivers of the construction cost.

What are the main drivers of the construction cost? We had to do some homework on this too and learn about what is important and what is not. After the location of the property that influences the cost of the land where your home will be built, the main drivers of the actual construction of the house are the size of the home, the style and the main fit and finishes. You want to think about everything that can influence structure, main architectural features and anything affecting mechanical or electrical systems first and foremost. Below is a link to a cool infographic we found that shows at a glance where the main cost of a home construction typically are.

Your builder or general contractor may already have a standard specification list that will cover some of the items on your list as well. Everything that is not on the builder’s standard specification sheet needs to find its way onto your requirements list.

Our tip: List out everything! It is better to include more items and be as specific as possible, rather than leaving out things that turn out to be important.

Where does this leave us now?

We want to encourage identifying requirements early on in the project! The goal is to define all major requirements as best as possible. Address your personal priority items and wish list and cover the main cost drivers of the construction process.

For thoughts and inspiration, here are some of the requirements we listed out:

  • Size: 2500 to 3000 square foot. We knew going in that most lots that go for sale in our desired area are around 25 foot street frontage and 125 foot deep, so our house would be on 3 levels, including basement, with a built in garage.

  • Passive House certification for sustainability and long-term energy cost savings.

  • 4 bedrooms on top level

  • Laundry on top floor near the bedrooms

  • Since we don’t need the full space right away, we want to be financially savvy and have a legal basement apartment, fully equipped with its own little kitchen, bedroom and stacked laundry

  • Tankless water heater

  • Radiant in floor heating on two upper levels

  • Sump pump with battery backup

  • Central vacuum system

  • All brick exterior walls

  • Metal roof

  • Door from the house into the garage. And a side door from the outside into the garage.

  • Open riser staircase with glass railings.

  • Main level with open concept living, dining and kitchen with large island and a powder room

  • Double bi-fold glass doors to main deck off the back of the house.

  • Modern design throughout

Other features are either covered in our builder’s standard specification (like hardwood flooring, LED lights, electric fireplace, wooden deck, skylight) or are simply not as important to us (e.g. full home automation system).

Some details that are left out are the selection of the exact tiles, backsplash, flooring, etc. which will naturally come later in the project.

You may wonder what our #PassiveHouse requirement is all about, and this we will cover in our next posts, so stay tuned…

Links and articles referenced earlier:

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