Hiring professionals will save you money in the long run.Constructing your first home – and making it a success – requires a lot of planning, preparation and research before getting the project off the ground.

Having your dream home built to your own specifications is something many of us would love to do, but where do you start, how easy is it and what are the pitfalls?

“A good starting point is to decide on a budget,” Harri Mäkelä, the marketing manager at Kuusamo Log Houses, explains. “Decide how much you can afford and then look around to see what you can get for your money. It saves time and stress in the long run if you work out a budget first.”

“If you are making a budget, add 10 per cent to it to make sure that you can afford any extra costs that crop up,” says Ben Nel, a South African who built a house in Ruka with his Finnish wife, Anna. “With our house, there was quite a bit of groundwork that needed doing that we weren’t aware of at the beginning. Because of that, we couldn’t afford to build the garage we had planned.”

Planning your dream home

Once you have your budget, it is time to plan. “People usually choose what they want by looking through brochures or online pictures,” Mäkelä explains.

“When we designed our house we did it a little differently,” says Wilfred Malassagne, a Frenchman who built a house in Kuusamo with his Finnish wife, Anna-Liisa. “We contacted an architect to draw up some plans for us around what we wanted our house to be like.”

“We changed a couple of things inside – removed one wall and changed the position of the fireplace – but other than that our plan was exactly as it was in the brochure,” says Ben Nel.

“Contacting an architect, regardless of whether you are making large or small changes to the building, is highly recommended,” advises Mäkelä. “Often, house building companies don’t have their own in-house architect so that’s something you will need to organise and budget for yourselves.”

According to Mäkelä, planning is the most important part of the process and it is often a part that many people rush through. “You should spend a good two or three months thinking about the design. You need to really think about all of the details, how it will function around your family and what it will feel like to live in. It can save thousands of euros in the long run if you take the time to get it right at the start.”

“The whole process from beginning to end takes about a year on average,” Mäkelä concludes. “But it can vary greatly depending on things like how quickly planning permissions come through and how well the site manager organises all of the different tradesmen, such as builders, plumbers and electricians.”

Trust is important

“Building our house was a nightmare and we are far from happy with the result,” Ben Nel admits. “The company didn’t feel trustworthy or reliable from the start. In hindsight, we should have gone somewhere else, but at the time it was hard to know whether this doubt was simply because my Finnish wasn’t good enough or not. I had to rely on my Finnish wife for all communication with them.”

Generally speaking, the building companies are responsible for the construction and erection of the walls and roof but everything else needs to be organised by you. You will need to employ a site manager to oversee the build and various tradesmen – from builders and plasterers to plumbers and electricians – to carry it out. Many of the building firms will be able to recommend people to you but that can come with it’s own problems.

“The team of people that built our house were recommended by the company we bought our house from. In fact, they were all related,” Ben Nel reveals. “One brother sold us the house, one was the site manager, another the plumber and so on. We felt ripped-off and taken advantage of. The actual factory-made structure of our house is great, but the work that was done by the contractors is disappointing. They cut corners, used inferior materials and didn’t listen to what we wanted. Just getting the site manager to the house to come and look at the issues was a daily battle.”

Malassagne believes that the fact that her wife is a local has helped a lot. “We were able to get recommendations from friends and family and we chose our team of contractors ourselves. We were very happy with them and any problems we had were sorted out immediately.”

Tips for first-time builders

When asked if he would do it again, Ben is in no doubt: “No way.” But he has this advice for others: “Make sure you can communicate with the workers, don’t rely on other people to translate because things get lost or changed in translation. Add 10 per cent to your budget and don’t accept work that isn’t good enough.”

“My advice would be to find your own team of builders,” says Malassagne. “Ask for recommendations, know what standard you are looking for and don’t be afraid to tell them to change something if it isn’t good enough.”

“Use specialists and professionals,” advises Mäkelä. “For most people, building a home is a once in a lifetime experience and it is better to spend a little more getting it right than to live with something you don’t like. Talk to other home builders about their experiences and spend some time researching on the internet.”