Q: Would it be foolish to build far away? Should I wait until I can physically be there?
I’ll be retiring in a few years and would like to build a custom home far (2k miles) from my current location. Ideally, I’d initiate the process about a year before I retire, and the home would be completed by my retirement date. I would hire an architect for the full suite of services (from preliminary design to move-in).
While I’m confident the architect and I could work out ‘on paper’ design details via email/telephone, once construction begins I’ll be relying a lot on persons I don’t really know. I’m too far away for regular visits – only once every few months (let’s say only 4 visits total over 1 year).
Opinion, please: Would I be far better off waiting until I retire, moving into ‘temporary’ housing in my target location, and beginning the process then? Or am I being overly cautious? — John J.
A: Good question — there’s no simple yes or not answer, but it’s good that you are thinking through the pros and cons of building long-distance.
I’m assuming that you already own the land and have at least a rough idea of what type of house you want. If that’s the case, then getting the house designed and built at a distance is certainly doable, but adds a degree of difficulty to the project.
Designing and building a custom home is a stressful process for most people and this could add additional stress, especially if you want to be in direct control of the process. On the other hand, if you are comfortable delegating much of the responsibility to others and trust that they will get the job done to your satisfaction, then being 2,000 miles away could be workable.
Technology has made it a lot easier for architects and contractors to work with clients at a distance. The key to a successful project is good communication and, in construction, a lot of the communication is visual. If you and the people on your building team – architect and contractor – are comfortable with using the internet (Skype, FaceTime, Dropbox, etc.) to communicate and share photos and drawings, that can be a big help. If you are good at visualizing 3-D spaces, that would also be a big help.
If you are relying on the architect to manage the project from start to finish, it will be especially important that you find an architect that you fully trust and someone whose taste in building design and quality standards (based on his/her previous work) is similar to your own. Most likely, the architect will steer you towards a contractor that he has worked with successfully in the past.
All this will contribute to a relatively smooth project. At the end of the day, however, not every detail in the building will be exactly what you had in mind. Even if you lived in the area, this would be the case. But you will have less ability to monitor the project and make mid-course corrections from a distance. So there is a greater chance that you will find a few surprises on your occasional visits.
Hopefully, your response will be “Oh, that’s not not exactly what I had in mind, but it’s close enough” no “That’s not at all what I had in mind…we’ll have to tear that out and rebuild it.”
Bottom line: If you don’t have need or desire to micromanage the building process, are comfortable with technology, and can find an architect and contractor that you truly trust, then you should be good to go. If all these pieces are not in place, then you are probably better off waiting until you in the area and can spend more time on site during the design and construction process. — Steve Bliss, Editor, BuildingAdvisor.com