Today, I had my punch list walk through. Most of the issues were about switch placement.... the office light switch was behind the door, a walk in closet switch located OUTSIDE the closet, and the master bathroom switch was placed outside the bathroom. Also, even though I got in-ceiling lighting in every room, including the bed rooms, there were still switched outlets. I hate switch outlets, and specifically got recessed lighting though out in order to avoid switched outlets. Two of the outlets in the kitchen backsplash, by the sink, had gaps around the top of them, and there was one outlet on the very edge of the backsplash that hung OFF the backsplash. The representative pushed back, saying he couldn't move the outlets down a 3 inches so that above them can be finished properly, and moving the outlet to the left 3 inches so that it didn't hang off the side. We'll see what they end up doing.
I found a few other things, most of them minor, like paint scuffs, unlevel kitchen cabinet doors, no cover on the light switch in the pantry and two missing screens. One of the major things I found was that the middle burner on my cooktop didn't light at all, and the rear left burner lit unevenly. Overall though, I was pleased with the quality. I just think the electrician wasn't on his A-game when he did my house.
First, the good news; I finally got a closing date. Closing is set for 1:00pm Jan 18th. I have to call to set up an appointment for my final walk through. Really, that's just to choose a time, because the builder has said it should be on Jan 14.
I've also switched lenders. See the page on TBI mortgage to understand my experience with TBI Mortgage, but a long story made short is TBI would never quote me a correct rate (and they had two good faith estimates to do so), and it was difficult to get a hold of people in a timely manner, so last Friday I shopped. I went with Waterstone Mortgage and got a rate of 3.5%. I am extremely glad that Toll doesn't force you to use their lender, because otherwise I would have to say I'm having a negative experience, but since I was able to switch lenders, I'm able to rate the actual builder highly thus far.
My new lender has taken the time to fully optimize my scenario to use all of the builder's incentive money, AND my realtor's rebate fully. I will cap out on the amount of closing cost I can have, so the lender has told me to have the builder use 7k of the incentive money to lower the house price (which the builder has already agreed to do when I first told them this situation may happen). That 7k lower house cost will in turn lower my down payment and the portion of closing costs (taxes) that are a percentage of the house price. None of TBI's calculations maximized my 3rd party money.
Finally, a bit more good news. I purchased my homeowner's insurance, and it is significantly less than what either TBI or my new lender estimated, $498 a year as opposed to $1200. This reduces my closing costs by $1668 since I've already paid for the first year ($1200 in the estimates), and I have to put 8 months of insurance cost in escrow ($468). It also reduces my monthly payment by 58.50
I'm getting pretty excited. The house is practically done. In fact, Toll told my lender that the appraisal can take place on or after Dec 26. Kind of makes me wonder why the builder set closing for 23 days after that point... even why the final walk through isn't until 18 days later. Seems to me that nothing is being done during those 3 work weeks (5 day). At the very least you'd think they'd move up the date to make the final punch list so that they'd have more than 5 days to fix any outstanding issues. I'm probably just being impatient, and the house won't just be sitting there with nothing going on for 18 days, so we'll see.
I had my pre-drywall walk thru this morning. This was my last opportunity to ensure that all of my structural, electrical and plumbing customizations had been made because immediately afterwards they were going to start hanging drywall. (Literally, I met the dry walling foreman at the end of the meeting. He was onsite, ready to begin.). I signed off, saying that Toll has made all of the customizations that I requested to my satisfaction.
I have to admit that Toll has been extremely flexible. After seeing that I had "sprouted" a new window between the kitchen and the family room, I decided that I didn't want a wing wall separating the two rooms, and Toll removed the wall without hesitation, even though that meant removing it just this morning before my walk-thru. (There weren't any pipes or electrical running through the wall, so that made it an easy change). They also called the pest control. contractor back out to treat the framing in the basement that had been done after the pest control contractor was there the first time. (I noticed because everywhere the termite prevention treatment had been sprayed was turned to a bluish green color).
The project manager told me that my porch will be poured this week, and they were outside installing the porch roof and garage extension roof as we had the meeting. There was a minor snag with the siding, but it should start being installed this week too. Apparently the color choices that I was offered were for vinyl siding, which is what Toll normally uses, but the developer (which is different from the builder) of my neighborhood requires Toll to use fiber cement, and Hardi Plank doesn't come in the color I had selected. So, I had to choose another siding color, although, I told the project manager that I wouldn't have cared what he chose, as long as it wasn't puke green. I ended up going with his recommendation as it was the closest to what I had originally picked out, which was slate. So we'll see by the end of the week how far the siding has progressed, and I'll try to get some more inside pictures since he said that the drywall should be hung by then too.
As long as all of my design center selections were ordered correctly, there's really nothing more for me to do except to watch. It's going to be exciting to see the inside of my house take shape. I know I'm getting close now.
On Wednesday, Oct 24, I had a follow up meeting with the structured wiring guys to discuss where my surround sound pre-wire would go. They didn't want to have me decide before the basement was completely framed bacuase there is a bulkhead that could interfere with my plans. Now that it's frammed, I have a better idea of what the finished dimensions for that space will be. I also confirmed that htey fixied the location of the ethernet drop in the office (they had it on the opposite wall of where it should be).
The project manager was also present, so we discussed a few side issues, such as the dual showerhead placement in the master shower. I thought they were too close together, so he agreed to move one so that they are better spaced. He also told me that the floor outlet in the loft was there to satisfy code - apparently you are required to have an outlet every so many feet, and since there would normally be a wall there if I hadn't removed it, I had to have a floor outlet. He also informed me that the bluish-green stuff I saw coating the wood in the basement and first floor from the ground up to about 2 feet was termite prevention.
I had my first structured wiring walk through this past Friday. Actually, they left me a message at 7:50AM and an email at 6:35AM on Wednesday, wanting to know if I could come do the walk through that very same day. Fortunately, the electrician was still doing his work, so they were able to postpone until Friday. Otherwise, the tone of this post and how I feel about CSS (The subcontractor responsible for the structured wiring) would be completely different.
Most of the stuff they had done up until that point was right on track. I did have them move the cat5 drop in the office to a different wall, and the electrician needs to come back and center his outlet box in the family room for the tv. Right now, it's off to one side, which even the CSS guy said didn't make sense. He ran the structured wiring centered. They hadn't run the wiring for my two security keypads yet, but confirmed where they would go was where I would want them to be. The monitored smoke alarm is upstair (Yes, I added the monitored smoke alarm after my first meeting with CSS because I found out it reduces homeowner's insurance.)
The big question is regarding the 5.1 surround sound wiring and the projector in-ceiling wiring. The basement has a rather large bulk head running down the center of it, where there are two steel I-beams, instead of having poles through out it. Thing is, it messes up my theater configuration. We agreed to wait until the bulk head has been framed around so that we can make accurate placements. Also, the only logical place left for the screen to go is right where there's a tiny window. Toll has agreed to fill that window in, since I don't legally need one. There won't be a light source at all on that wall, but the door is on the adjoining all, so it shouldn't be a major issue. So, that walk through is scheduled for this coming Wednesday, at noon, so stay tuned~!
Today I had my first walk-thru with the project managers to make sure that my customizations have been framed out correctly. They agreed that its much easier to correct something now, rather than further in the process. They even asked me about modifications that I hadn't thought of previously, and that I wouldn't complain if they weren't included. They bolstered my already high confidence in them when they said "We want to get it right and make you happy."
Here are the customizations that came up as a result of today's walk-thru:
Here are the customizations that were agreed to beforehand:
Here are some extra tid-b s that they told me during the meeting:
Getting to walk through the framed house was awesome. I would've taken pictures, but I didn't want to take up too much of the project managers time, so look for pictures in a few days. Pictures will probably slow down in frequency, since the outside work of installing windows, brick and siding (the front and kitchen/patio doors have already been installed) will probably go slower than the framing did and because I won't go into the house too often before there is drywall - though, now that I know it's structurally safe, I'll probably go in once a week.
So, I had my "pre-construction meeting' on Friday, in preparation for my ground breaking, which took place today. I met with the project manager, one on one. (I've met with him before. I think it's great that he's so accessible.) The first thing we went over was the plot drawing, which shows how my house is situated on my lot, and the building restriction lines, property lines, landscape easements and driveway position among other things. I could tell the houses are built close together, so I wasn't shocked to see that I have about 15 feet between my house and my neighbor's houses on either side of me, at least at the front of the lot This distance increases towards the back of my house and I have a reasonable size back yard (approximately 60 x 30) since my lot is shaped like a pie wedge.
Next, we went through the paperwork to make sure everything was in order. He noticed that I selected a canopy/hood for the cooktop, and because of that, he noticed that I had chosen to upgrade to a 5 burner cooktop, which requires a hood since it can't be a downdraft model Since I bought the basic appliance package, but chose to upgrade the cooktop, he said I should've been credited the cost of the cooktop that came with the original package. I love it when meetings result in finding me money!
Everything else was in order paperwork wise, so we proceeded to walk through the model house, which happens to be the model I purchased, in order to discuss details about customizations. I'm not having 7 columns put in through out the first floor, which also means that I can have the "drop ladder" removed. The floor plan was already pretty open, but this should open it up quite a bit more. We went to the basement and finalized details about the bar. I also marked out the position of the recessed lighting that comes with the basement. Then we upstairs to the second floor and discussed the loft. Since the wall where the light switches would normally be won't be there (instead, it'll be hand rail/stair balusters to make it more open and loft like) we discussed where to relocate the switches. We also discussed where the recessed lighting that I purchased at the time of signing would go in the loft area and master bedroom. The other three bedrooms won't have ceiling lighting right away because I figure that I have attic access, so adding recessed lighting after the fact to those rooms should be relatively easy. Finally, we discussed the design of the ultra shower in the master bath.
When we came back down to the office, he had me initial all of the various diagrams and notes that he had made. He then went over some cursory safety measures about me visiting the site, and told that they preferred that I make my visits towards the end of the day in order to be as least disruptive to the actual workers as possible. He also told me that if I saw anything wrong, or had any questions about what they were doing at any time, to speak up immediately. All in all, a very pleasant and informative meeting. I'm so excited!
So one of the things that has impressed me about this builder so far has been their pro-activeness to catch and correct their paperwork mistakes. After the initial signing of the purchase agreement, I realized that I needed to select the second level of security monitoring because I don't plan on having a land line installed, so I need the GSM monitoring. (The house includes a security package in the base price, if you do a 2 year monitoring agreement, so committing to $840 to get a $3k system. Plus, it should lower the cost of my home owners insurance). Toll realized that I didn't need to purchase the gourmet kitchen package since I was already getting the Palladian kitchen upgrade, which includes the gourmet kitchen package. I wouldn't have had any way of knowing that, so it makes me trust them a little more when they don't try to make me pay for things twice. Now, I had paid for 20% of the gourmet kitchen option in the check that I had already given them, but I hadn't paid for the custom fireplace option yet. The costs are close, but not exactly the same, but the project manager said he wasn't going to squabble over checks and just let one replace the other in terms of down payment..
In the weeks following the signing of the purchase agreement, I've gone back 3 times to sign corrected forms. All of them have been bureaucratic, and more for their benefit, but I'd rather it be correct in their system and done right in the end, even if it's just a formality. None of the changes amounted to any monetary difference. They needed to list the basement bathroom that they gave me for free as a charge on one form, and then as a credit on another, instead of just as a charge of $0 as it was in the original agreement. Another time, they needed me to sign a form that lists an additional garage door opener, which is included in the cost of the house, since I have two separate garage doors. They told me that their ordering department uses these forms to order the correct quantities of things. So when they asked me to come back and sign another form for the exhaust fans in the bathrooms, and the daylight window in the basement, both of which are also included in the cost of the house, I understood why and obliged.
I understand mistakes and omissions happen. I'm just really glad they're trying to catch as many as possible (hopefully they catch them all) now, rather than me bringing it up at one of the walk throughs. It gives me confidence that things will go smoother once they break ground, which they've told me will be on August 13.
I should mention that incentives, as well as option prices, vary by community. Since my community was selling really well, they weren't really willing to throw in any "extra" incentives other than the stock incentive program being offered for my community. (By the way, if you're thinking that I fell for the ol' "we're selling really well" ploy, I'll say that I've gone by once a week, sometimes two, and the site map always indicates a new house as sold (yellow house) or on hold (red house)). The stock incentive program was 20k to use towards some combination of option costs and closing costs. I elected to use the entire 20k towards closing costs. If you're not aware, closing costs on new construction is much higher than on existing homes because the buyer is footing all of the transfer taxes and miscellaneous fees that would normally be split between seller and buyer. The Good Faith Estimate that I got from TBI mortgage showed that I would have closing costs of about 25k. Luckily, I'm using a realtor from Redin, and they give 1.5% of their commission to their client to use for closing costs, or as a tax free check about 10 days after closing. Even better for me, Toll Brothers pays realtors commission based on the total price, not the base price before options are selected like most builders, so that's more money for my realtor, and ultimately, for me. This pretty much means that I don't have to worry about closing costs, and all of my money can go towards the down payment and not be pissed into the wind (that's what I consider closing costs to be)
I also got the bathroom in the basement finished for free as part of a "private sale" for choosing to get a finished lower level. In my community, this option would cost $7,800. All told, I received a total of $27,800 in incentive money from the builder.
I should also let you know that the incentives were not tied to me using their lender. That's pretty unusual for a builder, and it's one of the things that made me decide to use Toll Brothers. I figured that that would make their lender be competitive since I could use someone else. I also figured that the builder wasn't going to try to re-coup the cost of incentives or options through his lender's fees or shadiness on the lender's part, again, since I could just not use their lender.
So, I've obviously decided to create this site after I've signed a purchase agreement. I figure I should tell you about the events that led up to the signing of the purchase agreement so that you have a complete story.
I had had my eye on this particular community for a few months, but I was also investigating other builders' communities. I decided this community was the most desirable location since it's close to work and shopping and had the amenities that I wanted, namely a pool and lawn care included.
Before I even went into the sales office, I filled out a pre-qualification application on line with Toll Brother's in-house lender, TBI. I wasn't too impressed when I didn't even get an email confirming that my application (with private information on it) had been received and hadn't falling into the ether. I was even less impressed when after 4 days I hadn't been contacted by anyone, and I had to start calling around myself. The number that I was calling is located in Horsham PA. Turns out, "the guy" who handles mortgages for my particular community had been out on paternity leave, and his backup person had dropped the ball. After another 4 days of no one returning my calls, I was finally contacted by someone who is local to me.
The local mortgage specialist was awesome. She answered all of my questions, and got my pre-approval as well as a Good Faith Estimate of closing costs in a timely manner. After seeing that they offered interest rates and terms comparable to other banks, and that their application fees were reasonable ($750), I felt comfortable that I could use their in-house lender. At that time, I did NOT know that Toll Brothers does NOT make any incentives that they will give you towards the house or closing costs contingent on using their lender.. This is probably why TBI is comparable; because they know I can go to an outside lender and not lose the build'er incentives if they were competitive with the market.
I first went in to the sales center with my realtor from Redfin around Memorial Day thinking they would have a promotion going on. They didn't. Turns out, I'm not the only one who has found the community and location desirable. The community was selling at a decent pace, and right away they made it clear that this would limit negotiation room.
After telling the representative that I was interested in their woodstock model, she told me that there was a quick delivery of that model available and it was in the framing stage. I gave the sales rep a check to put a hold on the quick delivery house while I thought about if I wanted to proceed with it or not. I briefly met with the PM who said he'd be willing to move the laundry room to the second floor for $1k extra, and I went to the design center to see the cabinets that were already ordered. While they were willing to let me order new cabinets, I ended up passing on the quick delivery. It had options that I didn't want (a dry bar in the master bedroom being one of them), and didn't have options that I did want (expanded garage, bar rough in in the basement, and other customization), and they weren't willing to negotiate on the price. They were going to charge me the same price as if I had chosen to build it with those options from the start. The most concession they were willing to make was to forego the $5k lot premium since I kept saying I wouldn't have chosen that lot.
With no real monetary incentive to accept a house that wasn't exactly what I wanted (at which point I might as well just buy an existing house), I decided to build from scratch on a lot that I did choose and that would have the customization that I wanted. I emailed the rep and asked her to move my red house from the quick delivery to the lot I specified. (They put different colored monopoly houses on the site plan to indicate the availability of the houses. Red means there's a hold on that house/lot.) On Sunday, June 17th, I signed the purchase agreement for my new home, and I got to replace my red monopoly house with a yellow one.