Punch Home Design Architectural Series 3000

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Have you ever wanted to build the house of your dreams but had no idea where to begin? Here are 5 Tips to help you through the process.

1. Settle on your dream house.

The words "settle" and "dream house" may not seem to go together, but they're more related than you think.

When you envision your dream house, what do you see? While your vision of your dream house may include a state-of-the-art kitchen and lots of closet space, your partner may have a different vision...like a state-of-the-art entertainment system and extra garage space for a muscle car collection.

The first thing you'll have to do is settle on is what your dream house should be. How big should it be? How many bedrooms and baths? Is your style contemporary or traditional? Once you decide on the basics, you can start designing your dream house.

2. DIY (design it yourself).

You don't have to pay for an architect. There are plenty of Web sites and software packages available that can help you design your dream house yourself.

At www.eplans.com, you can customize your building plans by selecting the number of bedrooms, bathrooms you like as well as the home style and approximate square footage you want. The site will generate a variety of plans that meet your specifications.

Another one to try is www.dreamhomesource.com. This site can even tell you about how much it will cost to build your dream home in different areas of the country.

Punch Software offers a number of products to help you design the home of your dreams. Two recommended offerings are the Punch Home Design Pro Suite Platinum, which sells for about $99 and the Punch Home Design Architectural Series 3000, which sells for $199. The $99 product includes all the necessary tools for home design, 3-D viewing features, color application and landscape and deck planning tools. The $199 product includes all the features in the Platinum package plus expanded lighting capabilities, additional templates for room design and extra design tools. For more information on their software offerings, check out www.punchsoftware.com.

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CNNfn's Gerri Willis shares five tips on helping you through the process of building the house of your dreams.

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No matter what product you use to design your home, it's best to have the plans looked over by your builder, as they'll most likely know about local codes and building restrictions.

If you're not a do-it-yourselfer and you'd prefer to go a more traditional route, be selective choosing an architect or designer. For help, log on to the American Institute of Architects' Web site at www.aia.com.

3. Make it happen.

Unless you're an experienced builder, you'll need someone to execute your plans. Whether you choose an architect to head up the project or you look to a general contractor, you'll want to find someone with experience and a good reputation.

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For that reason, you'll want to get as many references as possible and follow through on most or all of them. Unless you're using a big homebuilding company, ask to see profiles and plans of past work. Most people in this field are proud of the work they've done and will be happy to show you pictures of past projects.

It's also important to make sure your builder and subcontractors are all insured. And don't let anyone tell you they need the money up front. That's a red flag this person may not be on strong financial ground.

A good way to pay is to ration out the money, paying 10 percent down and then 25 percent as each major system of the house is completed, such as plumbing and electrical, cabinets and windows and flooring and painting.

Hold back the last 15 percent until well after construction or at least until you're sure everything is working the way you expected. For more information on choosing and finding a builder, go to the National Association of Homebuilders' Web site, www.nahb.org.

4. Consider new materials.

Have you always loved the look of hardwood floors, granite countertops and Italian tile? Well, you don't have to spend a ton of money to get the look you want in your home. There are new, affordable and low maintenance materials that will allow you to get a luxe looking home for less.

Tom Kenney of the NAHB Research Center, says synthetic materials are both cost effective and durable.

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Can't afford hardwood floors? Head to your nearest home improvement store and check out the laminate flooring. There are different types of laminate. Some have a wood veneer on top but others are completely synthetic. You'll get the surface look and feel of the natural wood at a much lower cost and the installation is easier. Many of them are sold as modular, interlocking slabs that snap together.

Can't afford granite in the kitchen? Laminate countertops have come a long way since the 70s. Many of them have the look, feel and shiny finish of real granite. Check out the new color offerings from Wilsonart. (www.wilsonart.com)

Are you in love with the idea of an Italian tile floor in the kitchen? Cement (yes cement) can help you get the look you want for less. It can be treated to look like slate or tile or it can be treated to mimic marble or wood. For more information on new durable home technologies, check out www.toolbase.org.

5. Look it over.

Naturally, you'll want to have the builder in to fix items on his last minute punch list before he leaves the site. Have the contractor put together his own list first.

Experienced builders have a better eye for things that need to be corrected. Develop your own list as well. Before the builder leaves for the last time, you'll want to do a final walk through and make sure everything is as you wanted it to be.

You should also have an independent home inspector look over the project. Is the electrical work shoddy? Is there going be plumbing trouble? They can tell you if there's anything amiss.

Home inspectors typically charge about $200 to $300 for their services. To find a home inspector near you, check out the National Association of Home Inspectors Web site at www.NAHI.org.


Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News. Willis also hosts CNNfn's Open House, weekdays from Noon to 12:30 p.m. (ET). E-mail comments to 5tips@cnn.com.  Top of page>

Source : http://money.cnn.com/2004/11/08/pf/saving/willis_tips/

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