The waiting is over

The eager anticipation of moving into your new home can make builder delays very frustrating

Here are some suggestions on how to make the wait fun and productive, writes Shelly Sanders Greer

When David and Natalie Kaplan signed a contract for a new home at Bathurst and Highway 7 in April 2004, they planned on a November move-in date.  Construction has been delayed,  but they’re now hoping to move, with their two year-old daughter Naomi, in mid-March, almost a year after they signed the contract.

Waiting for a home to be built, with the sometimes inevitable builder delays,  can seem like an eternity. But the Kaplans, along with two other families, have come up with 10 tips on how to make waiting fun and productive.

1. Take photos of the home as it’s being constructed and put them in a scrapbook as a keepsake.  But make sure you get permission before you arrive on site.

“There’s a safety issue,” says Suzanna  Cohen, director of communications for the Greater Toronto Home Builder’s Association. “These are construction sites. If anything happens to a homebuyer, the builder is responsible. Talk to a salesperson who will find out when it’s safe to visit the site.”

A key time to take photos, with permission, is before the house is drywalled.

“This way you have the opportunity to see where the piping is and where the studs in the wall are,” says Natalie Kaplan.

“Label each photo and file it carefully. Once the house is built, if you want to do some electrical work and need to fish wires, you can use the photos as a reference. In the townhouse we’re in right now, which we bought new, my husband wanted to make it internet friendly, which was easy to do with our photos.”

2. Visit model homes regularly for décor inspirations.

“We visited every single model home from Hamilton to Mississauga ,” says Lori Royle, who waited 14 months with her husband and son to move into their new home in north Oakville in December.

She found it helpful to take photos of things they liked, such as a wood stain they adopted for their new staircase.

3. Drive by your home and, if anything concerns you, ask for an inspection to ensure problems are quickly detected and fixed.

The Homebuyer Friendly web site, www.homebuyingtip.com, recommends buyers check their homes at the footing stage (to make sure it corresponds with the layout you’re chosen), just prior to drywalling  (to see framing, insulation, mechanical and electrical work), and just before you take possession.

During onesuch  visit, Royle noticed that a vent was in the wrong spot.

“If we had not noticed this during construction, we would have had to live with it,” she says.

Although there is only one mandatory inspection (just before closing) required by Ontario law, some builders will accommodate extra inspections.

“We are looking at more homebuyer inspections, to see how to make it happen as a better service for our customers,” says Richard Luciani, sales manager for Aspen Ridge Homes. “It is very difficult, logistically, to do this for everyone, and there is always a liability and safety aspect. But if you do want to see the home during construction, contact the sales person.”

4. Start a New Home file, with magazine photos, paint chips, and brochures from companies that provide services you’ll need.

“I’m looking at ways of dressing up rooms with window coverings, lights and new paint colours,” says Natalie Kaplan. “We’ve made an effort to go to New Home shows and I’m keeping a New Home file with brochures from closet organizers and reupholsterers.”

Royle measured windows and walls to determine the size of furniture needed. Her two and a half year-old son, Adam, chose the colour for his room and Lori had fun thinking about nursery colours for the baby she’s expecting soon.

5. De-clutter before you move to avoid the cost and hassle of moving junk.

The Kaplans are undergoing a huge de-cluttering process, which has allowed them to reorganize and see their stuff in a new way.

“My husband has a habit of dumping magazines on the dining room table which has become cluttered with paper,” says Natalie. “I don’t want to repeat this pattern in our new house so we’re thinking of a way to add a work area like a desk in the kitchen where he can plunk his magazines out of sight.”

6. Visit new homeowners who used your builder.

“Ask people if you can walk through their new house,” says Luciani. “This is really helpful if the model you’ve chosen doesn’t have a model home, and gives you a better idea of colours and decorating tips.”

If you’re uncomfortable approaching strangers, ask to see houses in the framing stage.

“Some things look good on paper, but in real life, they’re not as good,” says Suzanne Loechert, who moved into her new home in 2002 with her husband and daughter. “We saw homes in the framing stage and picked one of these. It was also a big help when we decided to make structural changes.”

7. Save up for the down payment, furniture, appliances or upgrades.

“We saved up to buy new appliances and for upgrades that we didn’t have to pay for until closing,” says Royle. “I bought a refrigerator with the freezer on the bottom, a self-cleaning oven, and a front-loading washing machine, which I love!”

The Loecherts wanted to make sure they had more than enough saved to cover the closing costs. As a former mortgage broker, Suzanne remembers seeing foreclosures from people who didn’t save enough for the lawyer’s fees, closing costs, increased taxes, and the transfer of the deed.

8. Shop around for the lowest mortgage rate.

“We encourage people to talk to the financial representative the builder is dealing with,” says Cohen. “This may decrease a buyer’s mortgage rate because the builder has negotiated a rate for 500 homes which is better than the rate you can get on your own.”

Cohen also warns people to be aware of the common 90-day time period  for locking in rates.

“In an environment where interest rates are increasing, you want the lowest rate possible for the longest period. Ninety days won’t work for a new home.”

Both the Loecherts and Royle spent time looking for the best rates, but ended up staying with their own banks.

“It’s important to be comfortable with your lender,” says Loechert. “We found our bank was pretty good competitively and matched the builder’s rates.”

9. Visit home stores like Home Depot and Rona to get an idea of prices for flooring and lighting.

“Some of the upgrades we saw at the décor centre were more expensive than if we did them ourselves,” says Suzanne.

“It’s really nice to get hardwood floors, but we decided to do structural changes, like a built-in gas fireplace, as upgrades instead, things that couldn’t be done once the house was built.”

The Kaplans have electricians in the family so they’re installing their own light fixtures.

“We’re bridging our mortgage for two weeks so we have time to do the lighting and other things before we move in,” says Natalie.

10. Browse through the builder’s décor centre

“We went to our décor centre five times,” says Royle.

“We knew we would have a three hour appointment to choose everything and felt that would be overwhelming unless we were prepared and knew what we wanted to spend.”

She also suggests taking samples to the window of the décor centre to see them in natural light.

“They have heavy fluorescent lighting in the showroom. The samples look really different in natural light.”

Luciani recommends people start with their kitchen cupboards and flooring and work from there.

About Shelly Sanders

Shelly (represented by Amy Tipton, Signature Literary Agency) is the author of THE RACHEL TRILOGY--Rachel's Secret, Rachel's Promise & Rachel's Hope (Second Story Press).Rachel's Secret received a Starred Review in Booklist and was named a Notable Read from the Association of Jewish Libraries. Rachel's Hope was shortlisted for the Vine Awards for Canadian Literature in 2016. Before turning to fiction, Shelly was a freelance journalist for the Toronto Star, National Post, Maclean's, and Canadian Living.
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