Building a new home? Don't miss these essential first steps.

Building a new home is an exciting process.

There are tons of websites you can peruse for layout inspiration, design ideas, and finding the perfect furniture, but homeowners often miss these essential first steps when it comes to building a home.


1. Set a Budget

Just like you would set a budget when you’re shopping for a home that is already built, you should set a total budget for your new build.

Meet with your mortgage broker or financial planner to determine how much you can afford and what lending options are available. The number you settle on will become your total budget.

The total budget should include: land cost, site work and utilities, construction cost, permit fees, design fees, engineering fees, and a 5% contingency. Got all that?

Now here’s an example of a total budget for a $400,000 project.

  • Land cost: $60,000
  • Utilities & driveway: $20,000
  • Permit fees: $8,000
  • Design fees: $15,000
  • Engineering fees: $2,500
  • Contingency: $20,000
  • Total available for construction: $275,000

Looking at the national average construction cost of $165 per square foot (sf), we know we can build a 1,666 sf home (275,000/165=1,666). Want to know what it costs to build in your area? Get in touch with a local builder. They will be able to give you an average cost based on your location.

You can use this budget outline to determine the total budget for your new home. With just a little bit of homework, you should be able to fill in the line items based on costs in your area.



Pro Tip: A reputable architect or builder can help you assemble a budget based on your local market. And that’s a perfect transition into tip 2!


2. Draft Your Team

Like the ultimate fantasy league, this is your chance to assemble the dream team for your project. And it isn’t as intimidating as you might think!

Referrals are often the best way to find a great team. is the perfect place to start when looking for architects, designers, and builders. You can browse portfolio images of projects they’ve worked on, read customer reviews, and even send them an initial message over the platform.

When it comes to home design, online house plans are a great resource if you have a limited budget, shorter timeline, or just want to hit the ground running with something you can make your own mark on. We highly recommend looking for a company run by architects who can work with you throughout the process from land selection through construction. It will save you even more time and money!

How, you ask? That brings us to our third essential consideration: where you’re going to build.


3. Location

If you don’t already have a property, you’ll need to start looking for a piece of land or an existing house to tear down in order to build your new home. Don’t know where to start? Try a website like There are tons of helpful filters to narrow down your exact neighborhood or even show properties that have been foreclosed on to get an awesome deal.

It might seem obvious to state, but the location of your home can never change, and it is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in the entire process! It’s also where a lot of people go wrong. So what can you do to ensure you’ve got the perfect site?

Work with an architect when you’re selecting a property. They can help you to determine the zoning requirements, local aesthetic rules (where applicable), applicable building codes, and also assess if the property will work for the type of home you have in mind.

The time and money spent in this phase will save you a lot more time, money, and heartache later in the process. You don’t want to fall in love with the perfect site, purchase it, and then learn that it won’t work for the home you have in mind after all!

Another reason to work with an architect before you purchase a property is if you’re considering building a green home or pursuing LEED certification, Passive House, or Net Zero. The way a home sits on the site dramatically affects how efficient it is and how effective on-site utilities like solar panels will be.

Now here’s the really fun part. You’ve got your budget, your team, and your site nailed down. Let's get deeper into the specifics about your dream home!


4. Size and Amenities

This is the final essential step before starting the plan selection, design, and building process.

Create a list of the rooms and amenities you want in your new home. Dream big, but keep your budget and target square footage in mind. Remember, every square foot = $! So start with just the essentials. The only way to reduce your overall budget is to keep the size of your home in check.

Let’s walk through a wish list to give you some areas of your home to think about. Based on our example budget worksheet from earlier, we know we have 1,666 sf to work with.


The home design worksheet is not an exhaustive list, but it is perfect for starting out and getting something on paper. Use it to help you think through the spaces you will want in your home and note the basic finishes you’re shooting for. This list will be a huge help in describing the home to the architect and builder.


Pro Tip: If your budget doesn’t allow for all of your wish list items to be built now, consider a master plan approach. Design for the items now, but wait on building them until a phase in the future. Things like finishing a basement, a workshop space, wine room, etc. are all great examples of projects that can be easily built later down the road. And if you plan for them up front, you’ll just be finishing them out rather than undergoing a major renovation in the future.


Go time!

You have your budget, your goals, and your plan in place. Now it’s time to get started!

Share photos of your process on social media using #porchlightplanning.

Happy building!


Katie Hoke is an entrepreneur and certified interior designer who has extensive experience in the high-end residential architecture world. She currently lives in Lawrence, KS with her family.