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Oh Joy! Builds A House: The Design and Architecture of our Home!

Oh Joy! Builds A House: The Design and Architecture of our Home!

I'm so excited to finally start sharing the design process with you on our house! Let's start at the very beginning...and now queue the Sound of Music ;). Before I can show you every room we are designing and get into all that juicy interiors stuff, let's dive into the design of the physical structure of the house. This is the part of the process which you don't have to think about when buying a house because it's already there. But in our case, we're building from scratch and have the ability to customize and design our house based on my family's needs. It's been a long (but very fun!) process...

Oh Joy! Builds A House: The Design and Architecture of our Home!

Previously, I shared how I found an Architect and Contractor for our house. So, now let's go back 4 years in time when we first began the process with our architects, Project M+.

Here's what we knew we wanted and some inspiration images we pinned for them:
- 4 bedrooms plus 3-4 bathrooms
- At least 3000 square feet. We didn't need a HUGE house but wanted more space than our current 1500 square feet that we've lived in for the past 8 years. We wanted a size that was reasonable for our land but also not too small that we would eventually outgrow.
- A flat outdoor yard so our kids could play and we could entertain
- We did not need both a formal and non-formal dining room since we wanted an outdoor dining area, too.
- We also did not need a formal and non-formal living room as we didn't have endless space to be able to build and we're completely happy with just one main living room area.
- We wanted the flow to feel very indoor/outdoor with large doors and windows. We love mid-century and Danish modern styles so we wanted those as inspiration while still feeling warm and cozy

Here were a few of my inspiration images from our Pinterest Board:

Oh Joy! Builds A House: The Design and Architecture of our Home!

(Sources, left to right, top to bottom: Contemporist, Studio Ko, Ventanas, Blueprint Effect.)

Based on those images plus the information we provided our architect, here's a look at the evolution of the design process for the home's design...

Oh Joy! Builds A House: The Design and Architecture of our Home!

1. Looking at the levels of the house and how it fits into the hillside. The first step was for Project M+ to explore multi-levels and play with modern shapes to create a continuous space that would be built into the hillside. This is where they were also considering our hillside view from inside out and where you find refuge and cozy areas as well. While we were open to three floors because it felt unique, we didn't like how the levels felt too boxy with and didn't connect as fluidly to one another. We also preferred two levels vs. three after seeing this first rendering.

Oh Joy! Builds A House: The Design and Architecture of our Home!

2. Revising the general flow. Next, here was a two-story approach still working off modern lines but connecting them a bit more by having one large rectangle sitting on top of two smaller squares. We liked the large windows and the flow from inside to outside but wanted a mix of glass, wood, and some warmer materials.

Oh Joy! Builds A House: The Design and Architecture of our Home!

3. A 3-D Model! Then, the house became more finalized as a two-story house that had a bit of a U shape from the top. Real-life materials were added in for reference and Project M+ even made us a small version for ants (ha!) so that we could begin to visualize it in 3D. From there, we made some more tweaks but were overall happy with the layout and structure of the house.

Oh Joy! Builds A House: The Design and Architecture of our Home!

4. Renderings. Then, we got more detailed renderings to help visualize the scale, materials, and how each part looks in relation to one another. After this step, technical plans were finalized and we were ready to go into the permit process (which took TWO YEARS after that)! A few things have changed from here, but this gives you a good idea of where we're headed.

The design process from start to finish took less than a year. We could have finished sooner than that, but I had a baby mid-way through the process, so we took our time. Then, the permits took about two years, and then we went and found a contractor. Hence, why I have to go back in time to tell you all of this, but it's SO, SO fun to take this trip back and still be very happy with where we are headed.

Check out my post over at Architectural Digest's Clever for my tips on what to consider when beginning to design your home! And, if you have any questions or other parts you'd love to learn about in this process, please leave a comment below!

{Unless noted, all photos by Lily Glass. Architecture, renderings and models by Project M+

Oh Joy! Builds a House: Construction Loans!

Explaining Construction Loans / Oh Joy!

This might be the most exciting day of your life because I am holding a TON of piggy banks about to talk about LOANS! But seriously, I am VERY excited to discuss this topic with you because there are lots of misconceptions about how anyone can afford to build a house. The answer is...most people do it with loans! I was completely overwhelmed by this process when I started, but I have since learned SO much and want to share that with you...

Here's what most people think about paying for a huge home project (a custom build or major renovation):

A. You need all cash to build a house. (NOT TRUE. I don't have cash just lying around, and here I am doing this crazy project!)
B. You need to have saved up a lot of money. (SORT OF TRUE. You do need to have some savings to be able to qualify and provide a down payment to close a loan. The amount of the down payment will vary, but could be up to 20-25% of your loan amount. However, things like owned land can be used as equity towards this down payment.)
C. You can use a credit card to pay for a home renovation. (NOT A GOOD IDEA. Credit card interest rates are much higher than a loan and unless you are using a credit card to help your overall credit, get points on your credit card, and then pay off each month in full, then don't do it.)

Mortgages vs. Construction Loans
You may already be familiar with mortgages if you've ever bought a home or are in the market for a home. A mortgage is a loan you can get to buy an existing house that you pay back over time (10, 15, 30 years, etc.). The amount of the mortgage you are given is based on your financial credit, cash flow, income, and the value of the home you want to buy. Construction loans are similar but also different. If you do Google search for "Construction Loans", you will get a ton of information about it. All of that information can be overwhelming and confusing, so I wanted to explain how they work from my experience over the last couple years.

Essentially, Construction Loans can be used to build a house from scratch or to do major renovations on an existing house.

Explaining Construction Loans / Oh Joy!

Here's how a Construction Loan works:

1. In order to qualify for a Construction Loan, you need to first be approved for a Mortgage. The Construction Loan that you could get will eventually turn into a Mortgage when your renovation work or your new home is finished. So if you don't already have a mortgage, a bank needs to work backwards and first approve you for the Mortgage that you will eventually be paying off over time. This process is the same as applying for a Mortage, except that even if you are approved for the mortgage, it's not guaranteed you will be approved for a construction loan. You still need to go through additional steps to qualify.

2. A bank will usually lend you 70-80% of the value of your finished home. So, hypothetically (with made-up numbers here), if your finished home will be valued at $100,000, the bank can approve you for $70-80K in a construction loan. In some cases, that amount could completely cover the cost to build or renovate your home. But, let's say your work will cost $85K and the bank can only lend you $80K, you will need to come up with the difference of $5K to get approved for the Construction Loan (in additional to standard financial paperwork). Now, if you already own a home with a mortgage and looking for a Construction Loan for major renovations, your current mortgage will get factored into how much a bank can lend you for construction.

3. In a Construction Loan, the bank pays the contractor — not you. So, let's say you do in fact get this hypothetical $80K from the bank to cover the cost of your construction. Once the work starts, your contractor would request draws from the bank regularly (usually monthly) by providing a record of what work was done and what funds are being requested to be paid for. The contractor sends a "draw request" to you, you sign off on it, and then the bank pays that amount to the contractor. Sometimes the bank will send someone out to your project to make sure that work has, in fact, been completed before paying that amount. This process happens monthly until the project is completed. This is when a qualified and organized contractor comes into play because their ability to stay on schedule and complete the work that they are asking to be paid for will be reviewed by the bank regularly in order to get each phase of the project paid for.

4. Once building is complete, home construction loans are either converted to permanent mortgages or paid in full. Depending on your type of construction loan, you have either decided you will pay off the cost of your construction by the time the project is done. Otherwise, the money that you borrowed from the bank to pay the contractors now turns into a mortgage which you will pay off over time just like any other mortgage.

Now, keep in mind, I am not a bank nor am I a finance person. This explantation is a "101 of Construction Loans" and how I would explain it to a friend or family member asking me about it. But, if you have any other questions...please feel free to ask in the comments below and I will do my best to answer!

You can see more over at my post on Architectural Digest's Clever to see the details on what a Construction Loan can cover.

{Photos by Lily Glass. Styling by Wilmarose Orlanes, styling assistance by Jess Hong.

Oh Joy! Builds A House: Choosing an Architect and Contractor

How to Choose an Architect and Contractor / Oh Joy!

After finding land, our next step in building our forever home was to find an architect and contractor to make this dream come to life. The process in which this happens can vary depending on what type of home you're building. There are some developers and builders you can hire to design and build a custom home with both parts built into their process. In these cases, they may have specific types of land to build on or have a set style they build and design to. But you know by now, our land is on a hill and not the easiest to build on, so we chose each partner (Architect and Contractor) separately based on who was the best fit for our project.

Here's a video that shows at a glance of the process and how we went about it! We found an architect first and fully designed our house before finding a contractor that could execute it. Because the reality is...you can't get an estimate for the cost of construction until you have a design to show. And, both are crucial to my next post about getting construction loans for a home build. And, you can't get a construction loan until you know how much it's going to cost to build your home and you don't know how much it will cost until you have a design in place. There are so many interconnected parts to this process that heavily rely on one another.  

How to Choose an Architect and Contractor / Oh Joy!

The Architects. Cleo and McShane of Project M+ had recently finished building their own house around the time we were contemplating this crazy project. We had mutual friends in common so we chatted with them about their process. The next thing you know, we got to see their own home first hand which is a prime example from their own portfolio. Their style and aesthetic matched what we were looking for, and after a few phone calls to various past clients, we decided to hire them to design our home. They were really the first partners of ours for this project when we first found the land four years ago as we spent a good chunk of the first year with them designing and prepping for permits. We have had many in-person meetings as you do in the early stages of any design process. But once major designs are in place, we now communicate a lot by phone and email. In upcoming posts, we'll dive deeper into our actual home design and that whole process!
 
If you are looking for an architect and don't have any personal referrals, ask around as much as possible on Facebook, Instagram, and any social media channel you use. Chances are that friends, acquaintances, or even strangers who follow you or you may follow have similar tastes so those suggestions are a great start! You can also check out sites, like Houzz, where many architects feature their work!
 
How to Choose an Architect and Contractor / Oh Joy!

The Contractors. When it came to finding a contractor, I asked every architect I knew for a referral. Architects are a great place to start because they have to work with contractors on every job to make their designs come to life. Because both my husband and I work very busy full-time jobs, we needed a contractor who was very organized and had great communication skills. This is where Boswell Construction came in. While they were higher in price than another contractor we almost went with, their communication and organization skills are incredible so we felt they were worth the value they would bring to our project. We have weekly meetings on site (which is crucial for us on staying informed with our entire team), they respond to emails and texts quickly, and really make the process as seamless as possible for us. Most of your interaction with a contractor will happen after construction begins. Some people are very involved with their sub-contractors and want to be able to choose each sub-contractor for the job. We chose to let our contractor handle most of that. We do get to chose between some subs if there are varying price options, but for the most part, we do not interact with the sub-contractors.
 
In this process of choosing both an Architect and Contractor, you'll likely meet and interview several of each. After you decide who you're going with, I always like to close the conversation with those you have not chosen. While you don't necessarily owe them a "We've chosen someone else" email, I think it's good feedback for everyone to know why they didn't get chosen for a job. Whether it's due to their fees, you wanted a smaller or bigger company to work with, their style wasn't quite right, etc. That helps to inform them for their own knowledge and everyone can move on being in clear communication with one another of where you stand.
 
Check out my post over at Architectural Digest's Clever, for the specific criteria I suggest looking for in both an Architect and Contractor!

If you have any other questions about this process or anything else you want to see in my upcoming posts on this project, please leave a comment here so I can make sure to reply and cover it!
 
{Photos by Lily Glass, video by Jenner Brown}

my first major meltdown in the home build process...

Oh Joy Builds a House: My First Major Meltdown

I have something to admit. Building a house has given me a LOT of stress and anxiety lately. I have been hesitant to talk about it because I feel so very grateful to be able to even do this project and to be able to share it with all of you. But after cry sessions in front of my husband, kids, and life coach recently, I realized there are things here that I wanted to share. So, here's the deal...

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oh joy builds a house: how we found land to build on!

2018_07_03_Joy-House-8-blog

First of all, thank YOU for your super kind words and messages after our big announcement last month on our very big, new personal project of building a house! I'll be sharing the whole process from start to finish as we finish the house build in real time. For these first few months, I'm going to catch you up to how we got to this point in the first place. Then, as we get closer to the house being finished, we'll ramp up to more regular updates into the nitty gritty of design and so much more! Today's post is all about...how we found LAND to build on...! 

So let's go back to 2014 (OMG, it's crazy this process started FOUR years ago!). We were ready to take a big leap and felt that building instead of buying a house could be for us. But we needed to find land to actually build on. Los Angeles doesn't have a ton of open lots just sitting there. Typically people tear down old homes or whatever land is left is super small or tricky to build on (otherwise a developer would have already scooped it up). So here are the steps we went through to find land...

1. Location, location, location. In the same way that people go about deciding on neighborhoods to look for a house, those are the same factors we kept in mind for land. We wanted a neighborhood we loved and could stay in for a very long time, somewhere near good schools for our kids, and land that was big enough that we could have a flat yard for our kids to play.

2. Search real estate sites like Redfin and Zillow. Next, we did a basic search on real estate websites. We had already been previously on all of these sites looking for a house, so we just had to change our search criteria to allow for land. Some of these sites even have a category you can check for land only. Now, those sites will show land IF someone chooses to list the land. But a lot of land simply isn't listed on a real estate sites.

oh joy builds a house: how we found land to build on!

3. Scour the earth and Google Earth (seriously!). Because not all plots of land are listed for sale, we then drove around looking for any area that looked empty. Since it's hard to aimlessly drive around all the time, we relied on Google Earth to really search and looked for open areas of land from the aerial view in our choice neighborhood. It was through Google Earth that we first spotted the land we now own today. Once you find land in this way, you can certainly grab the address, visit the site, and see if it happens to have a for sale sign. In our case, part of the land was owned by one owner and part was owned by someone else. If you feel comfortable knocking on strangers doors, you can ask neighbors if they know who the owners are. But if they don't know, you can find out from the city or county's assessor's office.

4. Visit or call the City or County Assessor's Office. One part of the land we found had a "FOR SALE" sign! Sweet! But the other had nothing, and it wasn't actually for sale. We needed both parts to make it worth even getting the land. For land that is unclear who the owner is, you can look up the address at the Assessor's Office of your city or county. That can involve a phone call or a physical visit to the office. From there, you can contact the owner to see if they are willing to sell the land. The same thing goes for a house that may be empty or in disrepair and no owner is present living in the house.

5. Contact Land Brokers. We ended up getting in touch with a land broker who was listed as the contact for one part of the land. He had helped us to broker the deal with his client, but then he also ended up helping us find out who the owner of the adjacent lot was and negotiate a price with them as well. Just like finding a house and working with a real estate agent, you can find a land broker to help you find land from the beginning. They do the same thing that a house broker does and can help you find, put in an offer, and negotiate for land.

Remember what I said about land that is usually available in Los Angeles is often small or tricky to build on? That's basically describes the land we got! We ended up combining two lots together that on their own would have been a bit too small for our house, but together would work. Also, because the land is on a hill, it's more challenging to build on and therefore a developer never wanted to put in the extra investment into something they needed to sell and make a quick profit. However for us, since this is our forever home that we are building to live in, we were okay with something that may not be the quickest or easiest to build. Hence, why so many years have passed since we found this land and more which I'll tell you in upcoming posts!

oh joy builds a house: how we found land to build on!

This is what our land looked like from street level. No one would have ever known there was land on top to build on if we hadn't found it from above! Also, I wanted to share some common questions you guys have asked...

What's the difference between building on Open Land VS. a Tear Down? Open land that has never been built on can be really hard to find, especially in large and densely populated cities. So often, people tear down old houses in order to build something new. The downside to tearing down a old house is that you're having to buy a house in order to just get rid of it, and a house costs more than empty land. We didn't even consider doing a tear down because we would not have been able to afford an existing house on top of the price of building a new one from scratch.

However, the benefits of a tear down versus empty land is that permitting tends to be easier on an existing house. Since the existing house has permits from whenever it was built in the first place, you can use those permits to help build your new house instead of starting from scratch if you keep some of the existing frames or walls of the house. It took us TWO YEARS to get permits for our project because of various reasons but mainly because we were starting from scratch with difficult land that has never been built on.

Are you building on flat land or on a hill? One thing you will learn about me through this journey is that for some reason, I never seem to be able to take the easy road :). We are building on a hill. We would have loved to build on flat land but that's even harder to find in Los Angeles. While we love having a view that a hillside home brings you, building on a hill also takes much more structural and foundation work to get a flat area to eventually build a house on.

oh joy builds a house: how we found land to build on!

Here's a flashback photo to right after we finally purchased our land in 2014! Ruby was just 2.5 years old, and my youngest, Coco, wasn't even born yet and happily growing in my belly at the time. This is a journey for sure, but it's fun to look and see that we've finally made it to the point of getting closer and closer to an actual house!

Check out my post over at Architectural Digest's Clever where I interviewed a few friends from other parts of the country about how they found land...it's cool to see how they approached it in different cities...

{Top photo by Lily Glass}

BIG NEWS! We're building a house!

BIG NEWS: Oh Joy! Builds A House!

I can't believe this is actually happening, but I am excited to FINALLY tell you that...we are building a HOUSE! Are we crazy for doing this? Yes! Is this process going to give me 267 ulcers and a head of grey hair? Probably. Is it going to be the project of a lifetime? Heck, yes! Here's how it all began...

We have been living in the same rental since we moved to Los Angeles 8 years ago (before kids, before my husband started his current job, before Oh Joy grew to being more than just me). We only had a few days to find an apartment when we decided to move to LA in 2010 and rented the top floor of a little duplex (with a great little balcony and view of the city) thinking we would eventually move into a real house with a backyard once we had kids. But Bob and I were both building our careers, and we had a really great deal on our rental so we took the time to save money for a house. We had no real rush to buy anything and no desire take on all the responsibilities that come with home ownership. Our place felt just fine with one child. However, once we got pregnant with Coco in 2014, we felt ready to make the leap and do what grown-ups think they should do...buy a house with more space for their growing family.

Four years ago, I wrote this post how we were looking to buy our first house in Los Angeles and how not easy the process was. Los Angeles isn't a cheap place to live, and the prices of homes here are pretty insane. We spent a good year looking while I was pregnant with Coco as that balcony with a great view didn't seem as amazing anymore when all I wanted was a backyard for my kids to run around and play in. As I had mentioned in that blog post, our first house offer got outbid by someone who had ALL CASH (how do you compete with that?). Then, we decided to up our budget a little bit and found another house we liked even more...thinking, "THIS is why that other house didn't work out. We were meant to get this one!" We put an offer on that 2nd house, only to get outbid WAAAAY over our budget. We started looking at fixer uppers that would be in a comfortable budget, but then we'd still need to spend a ton of money on renovations after the fact to make them livable. Feeling deflated, we kept looking and realized to get the moderate-sized house with a flat yard in the neighborhoods we wanted, we would need to increase our budget more than we could afford. No one wants to be house poor, so we were ready to stop the hunt and keep saving so that we could come back with a bigger down payment in another year or two.

THEN, during one of our drives around the neighborhood looking for open houses, we ran into a friend who had just finished building their house. They invited us in to see it, and we were floored. The value of their house when finished was double what it cost them to build it. The thoughts running through our minds as we talked to them were...

"Yes, of course this house is amazing because it's brand new and custom-designed."

"It's always been my dream to build a house!"

"We could never afford to do that now."

"Wait, what? It costs you HALF the price to build a house in Los Angeles then to buy one?"

Our friends, Cleo and McShane from Project M+, who happened to have also designed their own home, set the path for convincing us that if we had the patience, we should build a house instead of buying one. At the same time, a childhood friend of mine, Melissa, had just moved to Los Angeles. She was an architect as well and told me how she was about to begin designing and building her own family's house, too. And I was like..."Wait, what is happening here? How are these people who are still building their careers, like us, able to do this?" Yes, they were both architects and knew what they were doing. But, it turns out that in Los Angeles (unlike most of the country), the real estate prices here are so ridiculously high that it actually cheaper to build a house from scratch then to buy one. Who knew? Now, that does NOT mean it's quicker to build a house because if that was the case, this post would have been posted a lot sooner than today.

So, that was 2014...how it took until now for me to tell you this story and announce that we are actually doing this is....to be continued. We started construction on the house about six months ago, and it will take another year or so until it's done. I'm excited to share details about this ENTIRE process from start to finish and share snippets with you in real time as we go. I'm also so excited that we will be partnering with Architectural Digest's Clever to tell the story on their channels as well over the next year to completion. We'll be providing additional tips and takeaways over there so you'll get a lot of great information. I have learned so much, and it's really so fascinating (both the fun and not-so-fun parts about it). Here's a little peek!

If there is anything in particular you want me to share, please (please!) leave a comment below. Do you want to see photographed posts or video posts? Do you want to see things in a Pinterest board, Instagram, Instagram Stories...all of it? Do tell! This project has been my second job for the last couple years, and I can't wait to tell you everything I've learned. 

BIG NEWS: Oh Joy! Builds A House!

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I will talk about how we found land to build on, and how went about buying it!

{Photos by Lily Glass and video by Jenner Brown