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We love building custom homes—it’s a unique and exciting construction project; probably the most rewarding that a homeowner will ever undertake. Many of our past clients have told us how amazing they find it to be able to wake up in a home they had built just for them, with everything they wanted it. We truly enjoy the entire process from start to finish, and when it’s all done, our clients do too.

Having said that, sometimes during the process, some people struggle with getting overwhelmed as they have to make the choices and decisions that are needed. We call these decisions “selections” and they’re basically just choices a client makes in regard to the way the home will look when it’s finished. This includes deciding what kind of flooring the home will have, the color of the paint, the style of the windows, etc. Since all the homes we build are completely custom, our clients decide exactly what will go on (and in) the home. We don’t have stock floor plans that we tell clients to pick from, and we don’t have “standard” finishes or fixtures either. Instead, we work with an architect to design the home’s layout and specifications, and let the client decide the actual level of finish for the home as we build it.

When we build a new home, our project manager will create a “construction schedule”—a Gantt chart that shows our best guess for how long it’s going to take to build your home, and it lists all the steps involved. What I do is take the data from that construction schedule and create a new document—the “decision schedule”—which helps me (and the client) know which selections need to be made, and at what point in the process. This is a very important tool that helps us keep the project on schedule.

The process of making selections during a home build can be either exciting and fun, or they can be daunting and intimidating, depending on your personality and whether your builder communicates well and sets proper expectations for you throughout the process. So here’s a list of ten things that I think you might find interesting if you’re building (or thinking about building) a new home anytime soon. I hope they’re helpful!

Hint #1: You (The Home Owner) Don’t Have To Know Everything Before We Start Building

A mistaken assumption we see sometimes is that people think they need to know everything about what they want for their home before they even contact us or think about building. The good news is that you don’t! When we start a new build, we ask a lot of questions to help draw that out and we’ll be able to figure out what you want over time.

A big part of what I do when working with clients is I’ll contact the vendor or supplier that we’ll be working with, and set up an appointment for all of us to meet and discuss the selection at hand (whether that’s flooring, windows, lighting, or other selections). Most of our suppliers have a showroom where we can look at different brands, colors, and finishes, and you can see a lot of options before having to make a decision.

Hint #2: You Have A TON Of Selections To Make, But You Have Plenty Of Time

Let’s imagine a hypothetical two-story home in Colorado Springs, with approximately 3,000 square feet. During the building process, the home owners are going to have to make a lot of selections. A LOT. Even with a simple 3,000 sq ft home, there might be 30 different categories of selections that need to be made, such as plumbing fixtures, lighting, cabinets, tile, door hardware, etc. 30 categories might not sound like so much, but each one of these various categories can have 20 to 50 choices within them, such as color, size, style, finish, layout, wattage, etc. So, in all, you’re looking at potentially up to 1,000 or more total selections that need to be made by the home owners.

1,000 decisions?!” you may say… “That’s overwhelming!” I understand. Making this many selections can be overwhelming. But the good news is, with our decision schedule, we make it so that you have sufficient time (and knowledge) to make all these selections, and you don’t need to make all the selections in the beginning.

Early on, there are a few decisions you’ll have to make right away, such as: exterior doors, roof color, garage door styles, and things of that nature. These first decisions are all about us being able to “dry in” the house so it becomes weatherproof. That way, we can get the structure built very quickly, then put a roof on it, which allows us to then bring in the wiring, plumbing, furnace, etc. So once you’ve made this first round of selections, we’ll get started building, and you have some time to get to the next round, which includes things like: plumbing fixtures, cabinets, appliances, lighting, shower doors, mirrors, and similar items for the home’s interior.

Hint #3: Keep A Paper Trail Of All Decisions And Selections You’ve Made

When you’re making the several hundred selections for your home, it can be very easy to lose track of the decisions you’ve made, the decisions you still need to make, and it can be hard to not confuse them with each other. The simple solution to this is to document everything.

One of the many sayings we have at Stauffer & Sons is: “‘Oh, but I thought’ are the four worst words in construction.” We want to avoid hearing that dreaded statement as much as we can. If we start building your home with a kind of material you didn’t ask for, or if our painter paints one of your walls the wrong color, that’s obviously a really bad thing. Fortunately, over time, we’ve found a system that works very well in documenting all the selections a client makes. We have an online client login section of our website where home owners can view a list of all the selections they need to make (and when they’re due), as well as all the selections they’ve made (and when they were made). With this documentation in hand, we are able to work with confidence, knowing that our team and the home owners are all on the same page, and we’ll never have to guess or try to remember which decisions were made, and when.

Hint #4: Your Selections Aren’t Set It Stone—You Can Change Your Mind (Within Reason)

We always try to build our decisions schedules with enough time to accommodate changes that a home owner might make. Sometimes we have clients who spend a few hours visiting a showroom, looking at the options, and then making a selection on what they want, then thinking about it for a day or two and changing their mind. This is fine with us!

The decision schedule is flexible enough to allow these changes (within reason), and that’s the way we like it, because we never want our clients to feel rushed into making a decision, especially if they end up picking something they don’t like! Most of our clients are building a home to live in for several decades, and we want them to be able to look around 15 years from now and still be comfortable with the selections they made.

While it’s too late to change your mind on the tile color after the tile’s been laid, you generally do have a window of at least a few days to make changes after making a selection. So relax! We don’t want you losing any sleep over this, and if it takes you two tries, that’s OK.

Hint #5: Most Of The Selections You Need To Make Can Be Researched Online

Since we’re a custom home builder, we don’t have a “show room.” We don’t have standard finishes, and we don’t keep samples in our office for you to choose from. Rather than show you, say, three choices for carpet, and telling you “pick one of these,” we instead work with vendors and suppliers who, (for the most part), have their own show rooms where they display samples of the hundreds or even thousands of products they carry.

Sometimes, home owners will find a picture of something they like online, and we can generally work with them to find a comparable item through one of our suppliers. So one of the best ways for you to start making selections is by browsing the Internet and saving photos of your ideas, then bringing them in for us to discuss. We’ll see if we can find what you’re looking for through our vendor relationships. Also, many of our vendors offer online catalogs for your to look at, and if they don’t, often times the manufacturers of products will, so you can browse their selections online and make a note of the ones you like… all from the comfort of your own home.

Hint #6: Your Builder Can Help You Narrow Down Your Selection Choices If You Want

Some people want lots of options: when looking at paint for their kitchen, some families want to see every hue, sheen and patina under the sun. Other families find this intimidating and don’t want to see every option but still want to make the right choice without feeling limited.

That’s where a good builder comes in handy. Andy (our company president) likes to tell clients “We’ve never built two homes alike; but at the same time, there’s nothing new under the sun.” What he means by that is: you might be able to find a tint of grout we’ve never seen before, or you may ask for a brand of flooring we haven’t installed in the past, but generally speaking, we’ve seen a lot of homes in the past 15 years, and there’s a good chance that we can help you narrow down your choices based on what we know about you and your taste. If you’d like us to make the process easier for you, we can narrow down your options for paint colors from 350 to the top 10 that we think you might like.

Some clients find this to be extremely helpful, because when there are so many options available, people can get a sort of “analysis paralysis” and it’s hard to pick something out of fear of picking the wrong one. So while we’ll never tell you what your selections should be, we can certainly help you make a selection by limiting the options available, based on what we know about your sense of style, the style of home we’re building you, our previous experiences with other families, and more. Let your builder be a resource to you!

Hint #7: Tell Your Builder How You Like To Work And Communicate, And How Much Time You Have

When we get a new client, I always immediately schedule what I call our “What To Expect” meeting. This is where I meet with the family and ask what their preference is for communication, their desired level of involvement, the time commitment they can make, their work schedule (if applicable), and more. I can work with just about anybody: I can work with a family that wants to be there for every single decision we make along the way, and they can be on the job site every day to see what’s happening; and I can also work with a family that wants to just come in every once in a while and discuss a few things, make a few selections, and leave. Either one is fine with me—I just want to know ahead of time what they prefer.

Every client we’ve worked with is slightly different, and they all make decisions in a slightly different way as well. Some clients want to meet with me at a showroom and touch and feel everything, and make decisions in person. Some clients are comfortable picking things out of a book of samples. Some make selections from an online catalog. Again, all of these are fine; I just like to know ahead of time so I can accommodate them.

If you want to be very hands-on throughout the process, know that it might require up to 10 hours per week. So if your schedule is a little tighter than that and you can’t devote that much time to the project, that’s fine too—we are the builder after all, and we’ve done this before, so we can just check in with you from time to time without needing daily or weekly meetings. We can build your home with a minimal time investment on your end: maybe requiring 2-3 hours every once in a while.

Your communication preference is also important: with some clients, I’ll meet with them once per week here at our office in downtown Colorado Springs. With some clients, I talk with them over the phone. With some, we send text messages. All of these are great! …just remember that everything we do is going to be tracked, time stamped, and recorded in our online customer portal so that we can always go back in time and see who made which decision, and when.

Hint #8: Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff!

It’s amazing to me sometimes the way people go about making their selections: some people will spend $15,000 on appliances in less than five minutes by just looking at a kitchen set and saying “These are nice. I like stainless steel and LG is a good brand… I’ll take these,” and then they’ll spend three months agonizing over the shade of one $8 can of paint. It makes me chuckle because the huge, important decisions seem so easy, while the tiniest little details seem overwhelming. I tell people not to worry about the little things!

The best way to judge whether you’re over-thinking something is just to ask: “will I even notice this a month after I move in?” My guess is that if you’ve narrowed down your selection of stone to two options, and one has a slight orange hue and the other has a slight gray hue, I really don’t think you’ll notice this minor variation after you’ve moved into the house. Don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying that these don’t matter… but I am saying that it’s really not worth getting caught up in the minutiae of very tiny details at the expense of the bigger context of the entire home.

Please, don’t lose sleep over it. We have 21 different options for “white” paint in our color deck, and they’re all great choices. You aren’t going to regret any of them, so just pick one. This is where the unnecessary stress in building a home can start to creep in… don’t over-think things that don’t matter that much in the big picture.

Hint #9: Learn Your Sense Of Style And Taste — It Will Help You A Lot

The best thing you can do when thinking about building a custom home, or preparing to have one built, is to start thinking and planning, now, about what you want your home to look like. Start thinking about how you live your life now, and the needs you’ll have because of it. Do you have dogs or cats? Do you have grandchildren who stay with you from time to time? What kinds of things do you want to see in your home? Do you grill in the back yard often?

The clearer the picture in your mind of what you want your home to look and feel like, the faster we can help you get there. If you have a pretty good idea of the basic colors you like, and other choices that involve personal taste and style (such as: tile vs hardwood, one story vs two stories, brick vs stucco, contemporary vs craftsman, oil rubbed bronze vs brushed nickel, shiny vs matte, warm vs dark, etc), then it should be relatively easy for you to make your selections based on that. However, if you wait until you’re in the throes of building a home to look at wall coverings for the first time ever, you might find it’s more difficult—and time consuming—than it needs to be.

Hint #10: If You’re Prepared, Building A Home Can Be Fun!

When you look at a set of plans at the very beginning of your home building project, you might not feel an overwhelming sense of excitement. Mainly this is because plans are two-dimensional and it’s hard for most people to envision what the end product will look like. However, if you’re prepared, the process of making selections and then seeing those selections become a part of your home can be very fun!

Most people find it exciting when the walls start going up, and the roof is put on, and it’s even more exciting when the house is dried in and you can start to see something like the wood flooring being installed or the fireplace stone being set. There’s a great sense of ownership as the house nears completion, because the selections that were made for that home are your selections. That’s the whole beauty of building a custom home in the first place: it’s your home, so everyone that’s on it and in it was chosen by you!

If you’d like to have your own custom home built in Colorado, feel free to contact us and we’d be happy to talk more. We have a great system that tracks all your selections, and our goal at the end of the day is to build your home as quickly and painlessly as possible.

About Andy Stauffer

Andy Stauffer is the founder and President of Stauffer & Sons Construction, a custom home builder in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Andy has over twenty years of experience in residential and commercial construction and is a contributing writer for Builder Magazine, Builder & Developer, Options for Today's Fine Homes, and more, and has been featured in NBC News, US News & World Report, and more.