Design Homes, Inc.
Quality Factory-Direct Homes Since 1966
A Guide to getting a new home--from shopping to moving in.
The following information is meant to give potential home buyers a general overview of the entire process of getting a new home. Obviously, the information is slanted toward Design Homes in particular, but the process is fundamentally the same regardless of what type of home is eventually purchased--with the exception of existing homes, which will not be covered.
You may want to print this webpage for future reference.
How It All Works
The following topics are briefly discussed below:
Getting the Land
Shopping for a New Home
Designing Your Design Home Floorplan
The Process of Ordering and Getting a Design Home
Delivery, Set-up, and Finish
Permits, Foundations, & Plumbing
Hookups, Move-in, and Service
Getting the Land:
Once a decision is made to build a new home, the first step is to find a place for it. It will do you no good to look at house plans if you don't even know if a house will fit the lot or meet your needs. If you have land already--great! If you don't, read on. The very best source for leads on building sites and available land is...people--ask around. Somebody always knows somebody who used to have a lot for sale--or a neighbor might know of a farmer who might consider selling off a piece of the back forty--ask around--and don't give up asking around. While your at it, also ask people if they know how much a lot (or an acre) is going for these days. In no time, you will have a pretty good idea how much you are going to have to spend for your future piece of the earth--you'll also know how much is too much.
Check out the local real estate offices and the local papers. You never know if someone who has been trying to sell their acreage for two years is finally ready to come down on the price--make offers--you have nothing to lose if they turn you down.
Go over to the courthouse and get a plat book if you are looking for land in the country. Then go for a Sunday drive every once in a while looking for land that appeals to you. If you see something interesting, look it up in the plat book, find out who owns it, and contact them. Sometimes a farmer will have owned the land for many years and when he finds out he can get $2,000 an acre for land that he bought for $150 per acre--he'll sell some to you. It works.
Shopping for a New Home:
This is important--pay attention. There are essentially two kinds of homes: the ones built to the federal code (HUD), and the ones built to the state code (1 & 2 family). When shopping around ask this question: "Are these homes built to the state or federal code?" The answer to this question is the ONLY thing that will distinguish one from the other for you. Also keep in mind that some states (WI, IA, & MN) have something called a "pre-emptive code." In a nutshell, this is a law that says that the state code supercedes all local codes--this means that if a builder (us) builds a home (like ours) to the state code (WI, IA, MN), then that home can be placed anywhere in the state and local codes cannot keep them out. (Although you may encounter restrictive covenants in privately owned subdivisions.)
The ones built to the federal code have a new name--officially. What was once referred to as a mobile home, trailer, or double-wide is now legally called a "manufactured home." Although there are many factory-built homes out there, only the ones built according to the HUD code can be called "manufactured homes," and they may only meet the minimum requirements for a liveable dwelling. They are also usually considered to be personal property and may therefore depreciate in value with the passage of time--like a car. One indicator that a home is built to the HUD code is the metal frame that makes up the floor. Manufactured homes usually cost a bit less than other types of homes size-for-size, but generally you get what you pay for: less!
The homes that are built to state code fall into two general categories with unofficial names: "Site-built" (built by carpenters at the site), and "Factory-built" (Modular or Panelized). Site-built homes have generally been considered the highest quality home money can buy. Be careful though--times are changing--and with prices around $120 to $150 per sq. ft., site-builders have had to cut quality to be competitive. You often don't get a group of seasoned carpenters building your home anymore--it is often one seasoned professional and a few helpers or novices. Generally, though, in all honesty, they usually use well known brand names and make very good homes.
Factory-built homes (the ones built to state code) fall into two categories: Panelized and Modular. Panelized homes can be characterized as homes where the walls are built in a factory, stacked on a truck with the rafters and other materials, and then delivered to the site where the home is essentially built from the ground up. This type of home will have more floorplan flexibility because it doesn't have to conform to width and height requirements on the highway, however it is usually priced about the same as a "site-built" home due to its considerable on-site labor--which offsets the benefits of a factory-built home.
Factory-built homes that have less on-site labor (not panelized) offer the best value because they are assessed and appraised exactly like a comparable "site-built" home--even though they usually cost considerably less. The labor to build them is spread out over (perhaps) hundreds of homes, and the quantity purchasing of materials keeps the overall price-per-square-foot down. The homes are built in "halves" or "pieces" that are bolted to hefty undercarriages and delivered to the site where they are usually "set" on the foundation with a crane. Most "delivered" homes are sold through dealers who arrange for the delivery, setup, and finish of the home.
A Design Home is a custom-built home which is delivered with most of the work already done in the factory. The "Custom-built" part is very important here. Unlike most factory homes, Design Homes are sold factory direct--no dealer is involved. That means that there is no "middleman" making several thousand dollars. The money that a dealer would have made is put back into the home which enables us to include many things that are usually not included like the furnace--installed within 350 miles of the factory, and the premium brand name components throughout--like a site-builder. We also include the delivery & setup in many areas, and tax in the base price--and it doesn't stop there. We also use 7" walls with special compressed fiberglass insulation batts (R-20). The ceiling insulation is R-55, and the floors are 2x10 joists with 3/4" plywood decking--not particle board which even the site-builders are using. As a sideline benefit, we are also able to customize floorplans at no charge--this means customers can design their own homes for free. The size determines the price--not the floorplan. And one last thing: Since we do not have dealers, we deliver our homes with our own trucks and drivers who we expect to care about you and your home. We set our houses with our own cranes and crane operators that are Design Homes employees. Our "Finish Crews" are our people, and our service dept. sends out Design Homes servicemen to help with warranty issues. In short: The Buck Stops Here.
So...since most factory-built homes are fairly close in price--size for size--you need to pay attention to what you get for the price in order to see where your money is best spent. This is where Design Homes shines--no dealer means you get more for your money. Its as simple as that. You should also realize that your land is unique--and in order to get a home that matches the characteristics of the site, you want to be able to customize your plan. That means you may want your livingroom to face the front, and perhaps the family room should have south facing windows--or maybe you like the master bedroom on the back side of the home. If you have neighbors, you don't want a big window looking out at the end of their house--that kind of thing. Remember, at Design Homes you can design your floorplan at no charge--the size determines the price.
Visit one of our Design Homes locations so that you can see some examples of popular floorplans--but with the understanding that you can change them to suit you. Take home a brochure and read the first few pages--they explain what is included and what isn't. They also detail the construction quality and list our brand-name suppliers. You will also find garage information. All of this will be useful when you go shopping elsewhere (which we know you are going to do anyway). If you know what the best is like, you can easily compare specs and features. Remember, the total price is important--but see what you get for the price too. You won't regret it.
Designing Your Design Home Floorplan:
Many people come in to our sales locations asking this question: "How much is a basement for these houses?" The honest answer is, "I don't know. What size is the house going to be?" Usually they don't know yet--and that's understandable, but it is important to understand that you can't put the cart before the horse. You have to choose a house before you can get prices from your other contractors (foundation & plumbing). They (we) simply don't know what to tell you at this point.
Some people are able to visualize their floorplan needs easier than others. If you know what you want, let us know and we will sit down with you and "fine tune" your plan--and then price it for you right to the penny. No estimates here--we write Proposals (actual quotes). If you are not sure how to go about designing a plan, make an appointment to come in to any of our locations to work on one. We will ask you questions like, "Which way is south?"; "Which side will the driveway be on?"; or "Is there a view that you want to take advantage of?". We will also discuss room sizes and kitchen layouts. Eventually, all of the information that comes out results in a floorplan that is unique to your needs--and within your budget. None of this will cost you anything.
A few important things about floorplans: We are not limited to 2-pieces--check out our page about additions. You don't have to buy a "square box"--although we certainly offer them. Remember that the center wall--or marriage wall--is a load bearing wall. It has to be there and you shouldn't plan a room to cross the centerline of the home--we'll help with that. Archways in the centerwall can be up to 15 1/2' wide--this means you can get the "openness" that you want. Remember too, that all cars are not created equal--neither are all factory homes. If uncle Rosco tells you that you can't do something in a factory home, check with us--maybe we can. If he says all factory homes are "junk," get a new uncle.
Be sure to take advantage of our free services. Any of our salespeople at any of our locations will be happy to help you design a floorplan--and price it. And we will do it as a friend--not a high powered, fast talking, telemarketer. Visit us.
The Process of Ordering and Getting a Design Home:
Ordering a Design Home is fairly painless. It involves only a few things. First of all (assuming you have already gotten familiar with us and know what you want for the most part), make an appointment. Ordering a home takes at least a couple of hours, so let us know you are coming--so someone is waiting for you and not tied up with someone else--or simply not here. We ask that you arrange an appointment with the salesperson you talked to during a previous visit if possible. We have found that by not "hopping around" to different people, we can keep mistakes to a minimum--it just makes sense. You will need two things on the day you order: a floorplan and a deposit (5% of the Base Price of the home)--this is "earnest money" so that we are not drawing blueprints for someone we'll never see again. The downpayment is nonrefundable and pays for the work our people have done for you. It also ensures that the serious work we do is for serious people. Also, try to schedule your appointment for a weekday if at all possible. Although we will write orders on weekends--and often do, it is much harder to dedicate quality time to you and your project when there is a considerable number of people coming in with questions on a weekend. After all, they deserve to be helped too.
On the day of the order we will essentially perform three tasks: 1) We will discuss and "fine tune" your floorplan--since everything else hinges on it. 2) We will look at the paperwork, explaining all of it in detail, and then fill out the pertinent forms--while explaining the entire process. 3) We will work through the color selections and fill out a form listing your choices for colors & styles.
After ordering, your file goes to our drafting dept. where your prints are drawn up for you. In about a week (or so), you will receive at least three sets of prints which include a floorplan of the home, foundation print, elevations, and some informational sheets. Usually one set goes to the foundation contractor; one goes to the plumber; and one is for you. A letter accompanying the prints explains what they are, what to do with them, and what will happen next--our way of coaching you through the process. If you wish to make changes to the print, mark it up with red ink, send it in, and we will draw and send you a revised print (with a letter). You can make changes and get revisions as often, and as many times, as you like--keeping in mind that you are affecting the overall time frame all the while. At some point, you will be satisfied with the revised print--we ask (in all the letters) that you call your salesperson to let them know that you are finished making changes. We will then send you a "Production Print" for you to sign--this is considered a written approval to build the home and there can be no changes after this. Once we receive your signed production print, a form confirming that you have your money--or that your financing is approved, and a delivery directions sheet, we will add your home to our production schedule so it can be built.
It is important to know that there are many "variables" that can affect the delivery/set/finish date of a home. It is impossible to give you a firm date, or to guarantee one when we do have an idea of when it will be. Some of the things that affect delivery (and which we do not have control over) are: the amount of time you spend making print revisions, the number of other people on the production schedule when your house is added to it, backorders, the weather, breakdowns, holidays, deer hunting (yup), and site preparation.
Delivery, Set-up, and Finish:
Before Design Homes can deliver a home, we have to know if we can deliver it. On the day that you place your home order you will be given a check-off sheet that lists all of the things you need to do to get the site ready for us. You will also get a "delivery directions" sheet to fill out and return to us. When you get your first prints a week or so later, another sheet that deals with how much space we need at the site will be attached. These three forms will give you a very good idea of what we are looking for at a properly prepared site.
Once the home is built, inspected by our inspectors (to make sure you get what you signed for), and the 3rd-party inspector required by your state (to make sure the house is built to code--no shortcuts), the home is parked in a staging area (big field) until we get a phone call from you--telling us that the site is ready. We will furnish you with a check-off sheet so that you can properly prepare the site. Although it varies considerably, this is how the delivery, set, finish, and service usually goes: 1) We deliver the home one day--and our delivery trucks simply "unhook" and leave. 2) The "set crew" usually arrives a day or two later (weather permitting) to lift the home onto the foundation and close it in enough that it is protected from the weather. 3) The "finish crew" usually arrives a few days later to connect the home together, install the furnace in the basement (within 350 miles of the factory), put siding on the ends, install doors and trim at the marriage wall, and do the on-site wiring (if allowed by local codes). The home is now ready for you to do your "hookups" (power company, fuel lines, and basement plumbing) and move in. Keep in mind, though--there are always variables that can affect when the delivery, set-up, and finish happens. We cannot give, or guarantee, a firm date for these things due to unforseen variables such as breakdowns, weather, scheduling difficulties, illnesses, etc.
Permits, Foundations, and Plumbing
One thing we often hear at Design Homes is this, "We don't have any codes in our area."--WRONG! If you are building in a town or city, there are always local ordinances and/or codes. You may, or may not, have a building inspector, but you do have codes. In addition to city ordinances, there are also township, county, and state codes--everywhere. You do have codes. In nearly all instances, it will be necessary for you to get a building permit. Usually this is a minor event, and simply entails filling out an application and paying a small fee. Sometimes in larger cities it can be more complicated and involve hundreds of dollars. Check with your local building inspector or county clerk--they will let you know what you need to do.
Dealers who sell houses usually will "general contract" the project for you. This seems like a real benefit--but you do pay for it--and we at Design Homes don't feel that you need to. General contracting is simply the process of acquiring the various contractors that are needed to get the foundation, plumbing, wiring, etc.--oversee their work to make sure it gets done--and then pay them. General contractors do not work for free (and they shouldn't)--the foundation contractor (for example) will charge the "general" and then the general will add a little to it and build it all into your overall price--this means you are paying double markups for the foundation. It is not necessarily a bad thing--the dealer is providing a service to you and you are paying for it. We at Design Homes feel that you can do your own general contracting and save money--sometimes thousands--doing it. We provide the prints. You look in the yellow pages under concrete & plumbing to find a list of the local contractors. Ask around to find out who does good work, and who is reasonable. Send out some prints for quotes (not estimates), and let them know if you want to hire them to do your work. Show them where you want the work done, and pay them when they are finished. It's not hard, but by eliminating the dealers, we don't have to cheapen up the house in order to allow them to make money. That's what lets us build our homes so well and include the high efficiency furnace and the delivery & setup without adding to the cost. We think it is a very good way of doing things.
There are basically two plumbing scenarios: in town, and out of town. In town, you will need a plumber to bring the city water and sewer into the basement (or crawl space--no slabs), and then do the hookups after the home is set. In the country, you will need someone to dig a well for you (get quotes), someone to put in a septic system (quotes), and someone to do the hookups. Some plumbers are able to do all of it--this is usually the least expensive situation, but you may have to hire separate contractors--ask around.
A note about Design Homes. These are real homes--built to the same code as site-builders. There is plumbing and ductwork under the floor. You cannot put a Design Home on a slab--thats for double-wides (manufactured homes). You will have to contract for a crawl space foundation or a full basement. (Note that for only a few thousand dollars more than the cost of a crawlspace you can double your living area by putting in a full basement--if you can afford it, or if you think you will use it, it is the best investment.)
Hookups, Move-in, and Service:
When we say "hookups," we are generally talking about the connections to your utility companies (gas, water, electrical). But actually, the things you are responsible for vary from area to area and state to state. With regard to plumbing, Design Homes will do all of the plumbing within the home. We install the cabinets, sinks, faucets, toilets, tubs & showers, etc. on the main floor--and stub the pipes through the floor. We use rigid copper or PEX water supply lines, and pvc drains according to codes. But since the plumbing is not connected together under the floor yet, it cannot be pressure tested until your plumber does his work--be sure to let your plumber know that he must look over every connection--even ours. Ask your plumber about future plumbing needs in the basement, too. If you are planning a future bathroom down there, it is easier to plumb for it now.
Most electric companies will bring the power to the house--usually underground. But they do have limits--especially in the country. Call them before you start building and arrange to have their field representative meet you at the site to discuss what they do, and what you must do--and pay for. Design Homes includes a 200-amp breaker panel--but the meter socket and connection to the power company is the customer's responsibility. In Minnesota, and in some cities and counties in other areas, we are not allowed to do the on-site electrical work that we normally do.
Fuel lines are considered plumbing--and we are not allowed to do on-site plumbing. Therefore, it is up to you to have the fuel lines run to the furnace, range, water heater, etc. Although this is relatively minor, it is important to know that we are unable to start the furnace to check it because of this. Make sure your contractor does this initial furnace check.
Your last visitor from Design Homes is the "service crew." Since it is almost impossible to check the thousands of things that could be a problem in a new home, we leave it to the customer to "find" all of the things that need attention by the service dept. We ask that you start a list--give it some time--and when you are comfortable that everything needing attention is on your list, call it in to our service dept.--we will then schedule someone to come out to your home to perform the service. Note: we do not show up automatically to check things over--people lock their homes and go to work during the week--we must rely on you to schedule the service and arrange for us to get in.
Since Design Homes builds to the same code as site-builders, we also use the same materials, techniques, and suppliers as a site-builder. This is important because brand-name suppliers usually have the best warranties--and if they stand behind their products, we can stand behind ours. We don't make the windows--we buy them and install them in our homes. Each of our suppliers have their own separate warranties (ie: lifetime shingles, 20-year windows, lifetime siding, etc.), but we also have a warranty that covers everything not covered by our supplier's warranties. Your salesperson will give you information concerning all of the warranties in your "sale folder" on the day you order your home. It all boils down to this, though: Design Homes has been in business building quality homes in the upper midwest since 1966. This would not be the case if we did not stand behind them. The buck does stop here--we sell it, we build it, we deliver it, we set it, we finish it, and we service it. You don't have to "find" one guy for this and another for that. Just call us, and we will take care of you.