Saturday, August 4, 2012

Decisions, decisions: Choosing the finishes

In my last post, I mentioned all the decisions there were to make. A lot of them come at the selections meetings - where we decided on all of the finishes in our house. First, we came in for a more informal look around the showroom, then we came for a second meeting to make preliminary decisions, followed by a third and final meeting where there's no turning back. We just had our final selections meeting last Wednesday, so now we are officially locked in to our choices. Here's everything we needed to decide at that meeting:
  • Roof shingle color: Moire black (the non-sparkly black option)
  • Porch roof color: Black (not that we have a porch, but the house has little 'eyebrows' that will be in this metal that we needed to pick out)
  • Siding color: Silver (actually more of a light gray - it matches the brick mortar)
  • Front door color: Black
  • Front door window pattern: Sunburst
  • Shutters or brick detail around windows: Brick detail
  • Brick color: Abington (I think the multi-tonal brick looks ugly in a small sample, but I really like it on full houses - hopefully it turns out well!)
Brick: Abington
  • Brick detail color: Santa Fe - this is for the quoins (down the corners of the house) and around the windows. It looks a lot more white out in the sun.
Brick detail: Santa Fe
  • Mortar color: Gray
  • Stoop: Concrete
  • Kitchen cabinets: Espresso maple
Kitchen & master bath cabinets: Espresso
  • Cabinet knobs: Yes
  • Kitchen counter tops: Uba tuba granite 
Kitchen granite: Uba Tuba
  • Kitchen/foyer/pantry/powder room floors: Cherry oak
  • Carpet: Birch paper (off-white)
  • Laundry room floor: River sand tile
Laundry floor & guest bath tile: River sand
  • Master bath tile: Oasis sands (one of our few upgrades, we're getting this little pattern in the shower tile)
Master bath tile: Oasis sands
  • Tile for other baths: River sand (same as laundry room floor)
  • Carpet pad: Standard
  • Powder room: Pedestal sink
  • Master bath cabinets: Espresso maple (same as the kitchen)
  • Other bath cabinets: Bordeaux oak
  • Master bath countertops: Santa cecilia granite
Master bath granite: Santa Cecilia
  • Other bath counter tops: White cultured marble
  • Kitchen appliances: Stainless steel
  • Hardware fixtures: Brushed nickel
  • Ceiling fan blades: Cherry
  • Stairs: Cherry oak
  • Stair pickets: White
  • Runner on stairs: Yes
  • Fireplace marble: Dark green (to match the kitchen counter tops)
Fireplace marble: Green (top)

  • Exterior lights: Standard brushed nickel
Standard exterior lights

  • Faucets: Standard brushed nickel
Standard faucet
  • Bathroom & door fixtures: Standard brushed nickel
Standard bathroom & door fixtures
It's a lot to figure out! Luckily, Bryan and I have pretty much the same taste and seemed to instantly agree on everything. I'm not sure if it's a factor of being together for 10 years or that I tend to gravitate toward darker, more masculine tones, but in any case, it made our decisions go surprisingly smoothly. The only thing we had trouble with was deciding on the exterior stuff. It's really hard to visualize a whole house from a 1x2 ft sample, and even harder to determine how two brick colors will work together. Bringing the samples out in the sunshine helped us make our decision though, since they looked a lot different in the natural light. I also wasn't too sure about the shutters - since our house is basically just a rectangle, I was worried that it would look too plain without shutters, although I'm not really a big fan of them (unless they're the old-timey ones that actually work). Since we decided on a strong contrast for our brick detail though, we decided that would look nicer than the shutters. Overall, I'm feeling pretty confident about our choices and am really excited to see how it all turns out!

Planning the future basement

There are so many decisions to make. As indecisive as I am, it's still really nice to have control over everything in your house. We just picked out our basement window, exit, and bathroom rough-in locations this weekend - which was sort of tough to figure out since we're not getting the basement finished right away. We decided on this layout - they initially had the exit on the right side, but that's directly under where the kitchen exit is, where we want to install a deck. We had 2 large and 3 small windows included as standard, so we put the large windows on the sides and small windows in the back since those will be by the patio. Eventually we want to put a bedroom in the space on the right and have a big rec room in the rest of the back side of the basement - but for now, all the space on the 2 main stories will be plenty for us!

We ended up switching to 3 large windows instead of the 2 large & 3 small. Either of those two window options was included as standard, but window wells weren't included. Due to the slope of our land (or lack of slope, actually), we need wells on all the windows (and they were surprisingly pricey!). We switched to the 3 total windows instead of 5 to avoid paying for the extra wells. As long as we're getting some natural light in the basement, that's really all I care about!

Positioning the house on the land

Once we had the land picked out and the house picked out, our site engineer started drawing up plans for how the two would fit together. Here's our grading plan. I'm really excited that we'll have a big backyard (Smokey-dog is going to love it!) and that we were able to squeeze in the side entry garage - I think that looks so much nicer than having the garage in the front. 

The guy we bought the lot from actually owns lot 10 too - he's just been holding on to these properties since the 80s. He hasn't listed lot 10 for sale, so I'm hoping he plans to keep it for at least another decade or so! It would be nice to just have the woods next door.

Our first grading plan got rejected, and we had to move the house back further on the lot.  Kind of a bummer, but we still have plenty of room in the backyard for a big fenced area and more space in the front now, so I don't think it's too big of a deal. Here's the new location (fingers crossed this one gets accepted!):


Finding land was difficult - we wanted at least a half acre and we only wanted to spend about $200K, and there were not a lot of options meeting those criteria in Fairfax County (or at least, there weren't a lot of options that met those criteria that didn't have major issues or were considered unbuildable). You can easily spend over $1M for less than an acre in places like McLean - it's kind of crazy to me that people spend that much and don't even get a house included! After a couple of months of searching, we found a spot we fell in love with that was right by the water. We signed a contract and started moving forward - then discovered that it had major soil problems. The cost to remediate the issue depended on what the county would require but could have been a huge amount of money, well over $100K. Luckily, this was discovered before we went to settlement, so we ended up backing down from that lot and starting over at square 1.

After another month or so, we found another lot. It's not overlooking the bay, but it's a five minute walk to a huge park with a big lake and lots of trails. It's also a much more convenient location for us, so we're happy with the way it worked out. The address number also happens to be our wedding date - 8.8.09 - so that's got to be good luck, right?

This is the path across the front yard:

 Looking back into the property:
 We went to settlement on July 24, so now we are officially landowners!

Friday, August 3, 2012

House decision #3: Selecting a layout

At this point, we had decided on the box our house would fit in. Then we got to decide on the layout of the inside. For each area of the house, there were several different options to choose from (and if you want anything outside of those options, all you need to do is ask). We went with a pretty basic layout.
Here's the first floor:
And here's the second floor:
I'm so excited about this layout - I love the huge kitchen, I love the 2-story family room, and I love my massive closet (and that my husband will have his own massive closet)! Remember we are coming from a one-bedroom condo, so our new house is going to feel like a mansion in comparison!

House decision #2: Selecting an elevation

Once we had our model, we knew we had a 56-foot wide, traditional elevation (translation: a basic rectangle shaped house). At this stage, you decide what you want the outside to look like - a big country front porch, a craftsman look, a southern-style double front porch, a small portico, etc. Again, this decision was easy for us - one option was free, all the others were thousands extra. While I would have loved to make the outside of the house look a little more interesting, I'd rather spend more money on the inside or the backyard where you'll be spending time instead of on the look of the front. So we decided on the standard traditional elevation...

House decision #1: Selecting a model

Ok, my title is lying a little bit. First,we had to select a builder. After doing some online research, we narrowed the builders down to those that build on your own lot, that have standard to models to pick from, and related to that - were in our price range. Based on our Realtor's recommendation, we selected our top three builders to meet with before choosing. We ended up deciding on ANV, mostly because they had so many nice standard features and a lot of great little details included in each of their homes.

Once we had the builder picked out, then we picked our model. Even though ANV has a huge list to choose from, this step was surprisingly easy for us. We wanted a two-story family room, 4 bedrooms, and a master on the 2nd floor. We looked for the cheapest model that met those criteria, and that one looked perfect for us. And the winner was.... the Virginia #278! 

(Although this pic isn't a good representation of what ours will look like. And remember the price is just for the house, not the land - there are no deals that good in the DC metro area!)

Thursday, August 2, 2012're building a house?

 “We’re building a house!” invokes a variety of different images - from picking out a spot in a new community; to designing a unique, fully custom home; to building a log cabin with your bare hands. So what are we actually doing? We bought a piece of land, found a builder, and picked out a standard floor plan that we can customize. We’re super excited, so I decided I’d document the process as we move along. Plus after the house is built, I already have a long list of projects I want to do, and it’s going to take a lot of effort to get the place actually looking like a home (especially considering we’re coming from a 1-bedroom condo!). 

And a little about our family - my name is Jess, and I live with my husband, Bryan; our dog, Smokey; and our kitty, Aria, in Northern Virginia.

(Center photo taken by: Theresa Choi Photography)