Must Haves for Your Custom home

When you’re purchasing a house there is normally a list of “must haves” and a list of “deal breakers”.  For our first apartment our “must haves” list was very short. We wanted 2 bedrooms, <$700/month, and in a safe part of town. I’m not sure if we ever discussed “deal breakers” but active roach infestations would’ve probably been the entire list.

For our starter home (which we still have as a rental) our “must haves” and “deal breakers” lists were only slightly longer.

Dream home must haves

But for our dream home, where we hope to spend the next 30 years making memories, our lists got a whole lot longer.  Below are our must haves – Let me know if they become yours too!

Five Bedrooms

We could survive with 4 but 5 gives us options and room to grow. We want our kids to be able to have their own rooms when they’re older. Nearly all of our family live out-of-state so a guest bedroom is a necessity. Technically the kids could always sleep on an air mattress in the office, but if we’re building our dream home – why not making it everything we want?!

When you’re designing your dream home. Be sure to identify the numbers of bedrooms you’ll need in the future. Consider if you think aging parents will move in, if you’ll add children to the mix, or how often you have out-of-town guests.

 A Basement

My husband has wanted a basement home for a really long time. He has totally gotten me on the band wagon. I could go on for days about the perks of a basement.

Arizona is hotter than a ghost pepper pie. Basements are extremely easy to cool in sweltering summers and stay perfectly peachy all year-long.  It only took us one $600 electric bill to know an above ground 2 story was a DEAL BREAKER. If we could build the whole house underground we would probably consider it!

Must have basement ideas

Via the wow doctor


Basements can be used for so many purposes. Crafting, playroom, theater, paintball arena – the list is endless! Some areas don’t allow for basements due to flooding or the type of ground. But if you can fit one into your dream home plans, I highly recommend one.

Custom Kitchen

There are many beautiful and practical kitchens out there. Unfortunately they’re usually not both at the same time.  We have so many “must haves” for the kitchen that our dream kitchen will have its own blog post in the future.

Must have kitchen ideas

Via Craftsman Kitchens


But for now here’s a short list: 2 large islands, a farmhouse sink, a pot-filler, tile floors (it’s amazing how many people have wood floors in the kitchen), enough space to walk around someone doing dishes or looking in the fridge, and tons of storage.

Walk-in Pantry

Speaking of storage… We absolutely must have a butler’s pantry. Including counter space for appliances, a deep freezer, and a ridiculous amount of dry food storage space.

I’ve never lived in a house with a real walk in pantry. I can’t wait to organize it! Do they make custom pantry organizers like they do closets? If this isn’t a thing yet, it should be. By next year so I can get some!

Must have walk-in pantry

Via better homes and garden


Having a walk-in pantry will clear up cabinet space for dishes, cookware, and the like. It can also help keep your kitchen neat and organized. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who regretted that their home had one.

Walk-in Master Closet

We want an entire room for our clothes.  Our current bedroom always has clothes lying about and drawers half-open. I would say having a walk-in closet will fix that but honestly I will settle with it being out of sight and laying in the closet floor instead.

Walk-in closet must have

Via houzz


Honestly though, with both of us working, plus our hobbies of camping, running (me), and traveling we need a lot of clothing options and it can be difficult to pair this down to a regular closet. Plus I love having a place to store off-season clothing or being able to hide Christmas presents on the upper shelves!

Master Suite

Alright this should really be on the “because we can” list but since that doesn’t exist I put it here. We want a space to call our own that we can sneak away to when we need a break.  A small little sitting area in our bedroom will be just right – We aren’t even making it a separate room, just a space large enough for a love seat.

Master bedroom must haves

Via better homes and garden


A separate sitting room typically doesn’t get used. But a reading nook or window seat is just the thing to have a little space of your own. What would that look like in your dream home?

A Pool

I. Have. To. Have. A. Pool. Seriously. Spend a summer in AZ and tell me you don’t need a pool. Especially with kids.  We don’t have a pool currently. We spend all weekend cooped up inside because it’s literally (literal use of the word literally, rare occurrence now-a-days) too hot to do anything outside. I was not joking about the ghost pepper pie earlier.

Kids need activities they can do outdoors. I grew up with a trampoline and a swing set. I loved those! But it’s too hot here to use them all summer when the kids are out of school. Backyards should be functional and FUN! Other ideas to consider may be a sandbox (our entire backyard in the desert!), jungle gym, built-in splash pads, or sport courts.

A Grotto

I want the pool – the hubs wants a grotto in the pool. He’s kind of like a vampire in that he hates being in the sun. But he enjoys being near the water and relaxing. A pool grotto is just the thing! We will also have a covered patio for shade as well. It’s important to have several functional spaces in your backyard.

Pool must haves grotto

Via blue haven


If you’re an avid Griller, you may consider a custom grill area that includes a gas burner for a skillet, a sink for clean up, or even a mini fridge!

A Luxurious Walk-in Shower

With 2 shower heads. There is definitely a theme of things you can walk into on this list.  My husband and I are not bathtub people.  Many homes have outlandish Jacuzzi tubs and efficient but boring showers.  We want just the opposite.

Shower must haves

Via faburous designs


I think more of us use our showers over our bathtubs regularly. Why not make your shower luxurious? You deserve it.

Open Floor Plan

I like to cook. My hubs generally keeps the kids occupied while I’m cooking but I miss out on their shenanigans because there is a wall separating me and the fun.  Also when we have friends over either they hangout uncomfortably in the hard wooden chairs to chat with me or I miss out on the action again.

An open floor plan will allow for everyone to connect no matter what part of the great room they’re residing in. It will also help us keep an eye on the backyard from several positions as well.

A Place for a Garden

We like fresh produce.  I wouldn’t be doing my job if we didn’t get our daily vegetables and fruits. (Seriously tho, I’m a dietitian, it’s actually my job to eat healthy!)

I’ve failed at a square foot garden twice.  I’ve decided to wait to try again until we have a permanent place to nurture the soil and really work at cultivating a thriving garden.

Must haves garden space

Via period living


Self sustaining homestead are also becoming very popular. Dooms day preppers need to be able to feed themselves. I fit in the previous category, my husband in the latter. But a garden fulfills both of our needs.

A Split Floor Plan

I love my mother-in-law. That doesn’t mean I want her to sleep right across the hall from me for 2-4 weeks when she comes to visit! (PS It’s okay if I say that, she reads my blog and still likes me) Having our master on one side of the house and our kids rooms/guest room on the other was definitely a top priority for our floor plan.

Many people enjoy a split floor plan for those exact reasons! I honestly don’t know why you would want all the bedrooms huddled together.  I can speak from experience that it can make hubby/wifey time a little trickier.

Well that’s our initial must haves list. As we go, I’m sure we will be adding details to it. I already can’t wait to move in!

What must haves would you add to this list? I want to make sure I don’t forget anything!


8 Vital Questions to Ask Before Buying Land

Buying land is one of the first steps in the dream home building process. This list will help you make wise decisions as you search for the perfect piece of property.  You may already own the land, but there are still things to consider when it’s time to start building.

Reviewing this list can help prevent you from ending up with land that doesn’t meet your needs or desires. Before we started our dream home building adventure I had never considered several of these!

8 land buying questions

Is it mostly flat or have a lot of large trees?  

Will they need to bring dirt in? Haul dirt out? This can raise the cost of your build. Are there a lot of trees, or if you live in the desert like us, saguaro cacti? Do you want to keep any of them? Check if there is a wash running through the property – if so this will have to be rerouted so heavy rains don’t cause problems for you. All of these things can add cost when it comes time to clear the land and prepare for building.

What direction will your house face?

Many people prefer to have north/south lots so their house doesn’t get direct sun light in the windows for the majority of the day.  Depending on your locale, this may be less important than it is here in the desert. This is also something to think about when you are planning your layout and where large windows or doors will go.

How much land do you need?

We wanted a full acre. This would give us enough space to have all the “wants” in our dream home. Our wants included a pool, a shop, a garden area, a mini farm, and a yard for the kids to play. Quite honestly a half-acre would accomplish that. However, due to the nature of my husband’s business we also needed room for work trucks and trailers to park and we prefer these aren’t cluttering up our driveway.

You may be searching for multiple acres to create a homestead or you may be more content with ¼ or ½ acre lot. Just keep in mind that many cities and counties have regulations on how close to the road and to neighboring houses you can build. Those restrictions could end up limiting the size of your house if you buy too small for your dreams. Do some research before deciding on lot size.

What’s your ideal location?

I grew up in Little Rock, AR. You could drive from 1 side of town to the other in 20 minutes or less.  If you drove 30 minutes any directions you would be in 1 or 2 different cities. The entire metropolitan area where I grew up is smaller than 1 of the suburbs of phoenix AZ.

Where we currently live it takes me over an hour to drive to work. When we move to our dream home location it will only take 40 minutes.  That will save me a minimum of 2 ½ hours a week in drive time! There is also only 1 main road in and out of our current suburb. Which means traffic gets backed up often. Although the city itself is wonderful, and if we worked locally it would be an ideal place to raise a family, it just doesn’t fit our needs well.

There are other important factors besides commute time. Things like: Is there an expected growth in the area they may increase the value of your home? Would that growth take away from your ideal spot? What type of school district will you be in? What types of resources and businesses are near?

Could city regulations affect your plans?

  We searched and searched for an already constructed home on county land. We want to have a garden, raise chickens, and even have goats. Many cities have regulations on having livestock in your backyard.  Some cities have noise regulations, building height codes, and other ordinances to familiarize yourself with. If you already have a builder picked out they can help you find this information. Otherwise, check with your city development department.

Does your land fall under a HOA?  

Home owners associations bring their own unique considerations to the table. Due to the nature of my husband’s business we needed an HOA free place to call home.  Most HOAs don’t allow things like having work-trailers parked in your driveway or have specific rules on work vehicles. Others don’t allow livestock (we want chickens and goats!). HOAs can determine how often you cut your grass, what type of decorations you can add, or even dictate the color you paint your front door! So you may want to review the HOA before signing the dotted line for a new plot of land.

Are utilities already setup and which ones are available?

If you have your heart set on a gas stove in your dream kitchen you’ll need access to the natural gas lines. Not all property or homes have this as an option.  Can you easily hook up to city water or will the land require digging a well? Have you factored in these costs to your budget? We found it can cost several thousand dollars to connect to city water services if your land isn’t already set up for it.

A previous lot we had considered did not have access to an internet connection. I found this baffling that it’s 2017 and there are still very populated areas that I wouldn’t be able to get internet in my house! Cell data doesn’t suffice for running a business out of the home.

A good tip here is asking your real estate agent to let you know the average utility cost in the area of similar sized homes to your dream home. When we were still searching for houses we found one where the water bill averaged $400 a month! That’s more than 4 times the amount we currently pay. The high cost of property taxes and utilities in that area is one of the reason we chose not to offer on that house and why we purchased land instead.

How long will it take to get your permits? 

Ask your builder or contractor how long you’ll have to wait before you can break ground. Many cities or counties are quick but some can take months to approve your permits. Don’t be caught off guard! We had to add 3 months to our timeline just for permit approvals.

Hopefully asking yourself these questions prevents future headaches. What other things should you consider when buying land? If you’re looking for ideas for your dream home you can check out our first set of revisions to see what ideas you might not have thought about yet.

How to Find Awesome Ideas for Your Dream Home

How to Find Amazing Ideas to Start Designing Your Dream Home

                So you’ve decided to build your dream home – congratulations! Now its time to design your floor plan, room sizes, kitchen needs, and well – EVERYTHING!  Maybe you already have the perfect kitchen in mind or know that you just can’t live without an office for your home business. But do you really know what you want it to look like? Have you seen any of your ideas in person? Do you need to bring your abstract ideas into real world realities?  If so, then I’m here to help!

*This post contains affiliate links*

dream home design ideas

It can feel a bit overwhelming when you get started on building your dream home. There are a lot of questions to answer and decisions to make. Part of the process is to make sure you have a system of finding ideas and then a way to organize them once you’ve began gathering your thoughts. Below are some tips for getting ideas and then options for organizing them.

Visit Open Houses

Search Zillow, Trulia, Realtor, etc. for open houses. Ask your realtor to notify you of available ones in your area. Drive neighborhoods you’ve noticed have lots of houses for sale on Saturdays and Sundays; they will often have signs out directing you to the open houses. Visiting these homes will give you and your partner (if you have one) a chance to discuss details you both like or don’t like. This is a great step to finding ideas and must haves you can implement in your new home.  Same philosophy applies when you are buying a house: you should look at several options before deciding.  You never know what idea you might be surprised by!


Model Home Viewing

Head to neighborhoods that are still in the building stage. Often times they contain model homes that you can browse through at your own pace. Take pictures or write down ideas you find that you want to be sure to include in your dream. It doesn’t hurt to have a list of things you don’t want either. Be wary of trends that may or may not fit your style in these models homes. Take note of how big or small rooms are and if you think your furniture will fit or not. Many times these homes are staged so you can determine what type and size of furniture may be ideal. Check out these revisions we decided on for our dream home for additional ideas.


Utilize Search Websites

Zillow, Trulia, Realtor, etc. are great options to view pictures for houses in all sorts of price ranges; this will help you gather 100s of ideas. We found a couple of ideas in houses that were above our price range that can easily be implemented in a lower cost build. Houzz is another website worth taking a look at for ideas. When you find ideas you like, save them to your dream home board on Pinterest.



Speaking of Pinterest; It’s a great idea generator! Search for ideas from floor plans to color schemes to home hacks and more. You can find ideas for themes, decor, furniture arrangements, and pretty much any other idea that’s been thought of for home design. It’s also a great place to find blogs on home design and decor. Pinterest has definitely been my favorite way to find ideas and organize them for future reference.

Once you’ve gotten your ideas, you’ll need a way to organize them. Keep reading for tips on organizing your dream home on paper and online.


Essential Tips to Organize Your Dream Home Ideas

Take pictures

Then take more. I wish I had taken more pictures in homes we visited before we decided to build. It’s hard to remember everything after you’ve seen 20+ homes. This is a great tip whether you are building or buying (or still deciding). It will help you remember what you enjoyed most and keep track of your dream home must-haves.  After taking the pics save them to folders on your computer or to Pinterest boards. What’s that saying about pictures speaking a thousand words? When it’s time to share your ideas with your architect those pictures are really going to come in handy.


Measure Square Footage

Write down the type of room and how large you think it should be for your needs. We kept a notebook when we were tracking this for our dream home. They make a handy device to measure square footage and I highly recommend getting one if you are building.  We change the size of our garage and Master bedroom several times before our final floor plan was finished. A space looks much larger when its empty but once a king-sized bed is in there all-of-a-sudden you need a larger room! You may also take note of how long of a bar/island you want in the kitchen or the size of that amazing walk-in closet you visited.


Write Things Down

Carry a notebook with you to keep all your ideas organized. You want shutters on the windows or beams above the kitchen? Take little notes. There were a few pictures I took and when sorting through them later I had to rack my brain on why I took them. You can jot down color schemes you love or hate or window treatments you want to add. Write down deal-breakers or things you really don’t want in your dream home. This will help you to be sure to avoid them when designing or purchasing your new home. Don’t fool yourself into believing you’ll remember what the kitchen looked like in the first house you visited after seeing 5 more houses that day. They all start to run together.


Organize Your Pinterest

Create boards for each main room or area in your home. If you just use one board for every idea it becomes cluttered and difficult to sort through.Visiting my pinterest profile for board ideas. Consider these board options or pick ones that work best for your family and style:

  1. Master bedroom
  2. Master bath
  3. Kitchen/pantry
  4. Dining
  5. Living room
  6. Great room
  7. Laundry
  8. Guest room
  9. Boys room
  10. Girls room
  11. Mudroom (Ultimate Guide)
  12. Nursery
  13. Playroom
  14. Music room
  15. Office
  16. Foyer
  17. Exterior view
  18. Backyard
  19. Decorating Ideas
  20. Home Organization (How to Organize it all)

I would love to hear any additional tips you have for finding ideas for your dream home, please comment them below!

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How Debt-to-Income Ratio Will Impact Your Dream Home

 Debt-to-Income Ratio

What is it and why you need to know about it

Whether you are buying or building your dream home you need to know about debt-to-income ratio. This number, in conjunction with the size of your down payment, will determine how big of a loan (mortgage) you can qualify for.

Debt-to-income ratio is usually reported as a percentage. It is calculated using your monthly recurring debt and your monthly gross income. The equation: monthly debt/gross income x100 = percentage of debt-to-income ratio. Example: $2500/$6000 = 42%

What counts as debt?

Do all your monthly bills get included? Just certain ones? I’m glad you asked! Debt in this equation includes the following:
– Mortgage payment
– Car payment
– Student loans
– Credit cards (unpaid balances)
– Any other loans/financed debts you’ve accrued

What if you already have 1, 2, or 10 debts you are paying every month? Consider paying down your debt using this advice or debt snowballing. Try these 11 strategies to save money while you pay down your debt. Reducing your debt will increase the amount of money the bank is willing to loan you for your dream home. If you have significant debt you may need to start the process of eliminating debt at least a year before you purchase or start building your dream home. Don’t wait until you are ready to start looking at house to take a look at your debt!
One reasons we try our best to pay cash for cars and live below our means is so when it’s time to qualify for our construction loan we will be approved for the largest amount possible under our income bracket. We have been consciously avoiding debt and saving for a down payment for 4 years. Planning for your future is crucial and never too early to start!

Debt-to-Income Ratio

Ideal debt-to-income ratio

What’s the goal debt-to-income ratio? To qualify for a conventional loan banks will want your debt-to-income ratio less than 36%. Some may have stricter levels or more lenient ones depending on the type of loans you can qualify for. Typically the highest percentage you will find approved is 41% for special FHA loans. Also, the amount of down payment you can provide and your credit score may affect approved loans for you. Talk to a lender to learn more about the special requirements in your area.

You can google to find a mortgage calculator to determine the monthly payment on a home in the price range you’re planning. A good mortgage calculator will include total home cost, minus the down payment, interest rates, and the option to choose 15 year or 30 year payback periods. Add the monthly payment to your other monthly debt (or replace your current mortgage payment to a larger one) to determine if it will fit in your debt-to-income ratio.

Planning for your dream home

Start planning ASAP! You will need to determine what your dream home looks like in vague terms: How big? Fancy editions? Track home or custom design? Lot size? These will effect the total price of your house. Once you have your initial dream home idea you can then determine the size down payment you will need and how much debt you will need to pay off to reach your dreams. You may also need to look at ways to increase your income. You can search Zillow or visit open houses in your area to get an idea of the housing market there.

Bottom line. When it comes to obtaining your dream home – debt is your enemy and planning is your friend!

What are your best tips for staying out of debt?

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