April 2019

From Lot to Home

Author: Laura Jacobi

It’s no secret the Lowcountry offers a dreamy lifestyle full of front-porch swinging, morning walks on the beach or afternoons on the river. When someone decides to make the Lowcountry home, exactly where to plant roots is the next question.

Choosing the community to fit your lifestyle
To help potential homebuyers navigate the Lowcountry’s real estate landscape, it’s best to work with a licensed Realtor who is trained and well-versed in the ins and outs of Bluffton and Hilton Head Island’s award-winning communities. This area is host to a variety of neighborhoods with resort-style amenities and breathtaking locations.

According to Steven Harmon, Realtor with Charter One Realty, it all starts with a conversation between the Realtor and the buyers to find out what their interests are. “Do they want to be on the beach, on a golf course, close to nightlife or more secluded? We can easily narrow down the perfect location once we understand exactly what the client’s needs are. Listening to and understanding our clients is the most important part of our job as Realtors,” Harmon said.

Building a life
When searching for a dream home, it can sometimes be hard for homebuyers to find exactly what they envision in an existing home. If a buyer is flexible with their time and budget, a custom-built home could make their Lowcountry-living dreams a reality. This is another instance where working with a Realtor is invaluable, Harmon said. The real estate agent can give clients access to neighborhoods’ POA covenants and Architectural Review Board requirements to ensure the style of home they want matches the look and feel of the community in which they’re searching.

During this process of searching for a lot or home site, Harmon suggests meeting with a few different builders and architects to find the ones they feel most comfortable with in terms of style and process. It’s the same as any other relationship … finding the professionals that best match the client’s needs and wants.
“It takes a village (to find or build the ideal home). But, in the end, the main goal for each professional is to have a happy client,” he said.

Lisa Cornelius, president of Simply Southern Homebuilders, agrees that it’s a “team effort.” Once the buyer and Realtor find the ideal community, it’s a good time to bring the builder into the conversation. “It’s important to engage the builder as soon as possible,” she said.

Cornelius says it’s a smart move for buyers to have their builder examine the lot they’re eyeing and review the tree and typography survey before they purchase the land. That way, the builder can tell them if the land is a good fit for the home they have in mind, because licensed builders are trained to see things the average eye can’t. “We understand construction and construction costs,” she said. It would be a shame for someone to buy a piece of land only to later learn they can’t build their dream home on it due to one issue or another.

Designing your dream home
Once clients know where they want to live, the “fun” part can begin—designing the custom home of their dreams. According to Cornelius, it can take three to four months (or more) from the moment the client chooses the lot to the time they have building permits in hand. “There are thousands of decisions that go into building a home,” she said. “And clients typically make 75 to 80 percent of selections before construction ever starts.”

The client’s team of builder and architect works with the community’s Architectural Review Board (ARB) to know the specific requirements in regard to style and building materials. The architect works with the client to design construction plans that best fit their needs and lifestyle, and then the builder determines how to bring those plans to fruition.

The builder can help the client determine the best site placement as well as what materials and choices can make their dollars go further. The “smallest details can have a huge variance on the cost” from colors to custom built-ins and finishes such as hardware, Cornelius added. “Your house should be custom to you, no matter what it is you want.”

She is happy to hold her clients’ hands through the many design steps, because it is such a vital part of the process. Once construction starts, it’s not nearly as easy to change plans, order new materials or move things around. There are also typically three meetings with the community’s ARB the builder must attend, including a conceptual, preliminary and final approval meeting.

Turning a house into a home
The plans are finalized, finishing touches chosen and all necessary parties approve. So now it’s time to see the plans on paper come to life. “A custom builder is someone who can carry out your vision,” Cornelius said.

It can typically take nine to 15 months for construction, which includes 15 inspections along the way, according to Cornelius. During that time, a lot is happening including preparing the construction site (leveling out the land or adding soil), pouring the foundation, framing the walls, installing the plumbing pipes, electrical wiring and HVAC ductwork. During this process, communication between clients and builder is key, especially if the client is living outside the Lowcountry during construction. “If you’ve saved your money to buy this dream home, I’m going to be your advocate,” Cornelius said.

Cornelius advises her clients to make a construction site visit before the insulation and drywall go up. This is the time when clients can truly visualize the space, how they would use it and determine if any electrical outlets need to be moved or added. Once drywall is up, the home starts to take shape, literally and figuratively. The builder starts tackling the exterior features, trim, flooring, cabinets, countertops, tile work, bathroom and kitchen fixtures, hardscaping such as driveway and walkway and landscaping.

“Clients must realize there has to be some flexibility in timelines. Simple things such as a spell of rainy weather can throw a timeline off by several days,” Cornelius said. “The construction process has to be done in the correct order to run smoothly.”

At the end of the construction process, Cornelius takes her clients through the home for a final tour to see how everyone’s hard work and vision has paid off. Even though the home is complete, that doesn’t mean the builder’s job is done. Most builders, like Simply Southern Homebuilders, provide a warranty on certain aspects of the home.

Even after the homeowners move in, “I never want my clients to think they can’t call on us,” Cornelius said.

“This relationship lasts a lifetime.” 

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