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A Guide to Building or Improving a Home in Bucks County

September 18th, 2018

With a great variety of rural, suburban, and small-town municipalities to choose from, Bucks County has something to offer every type of home construction plan. And as a reliably desirable place to live for families and young professionals, you can count on a home improvement project to increase the value of your home. The First is Bucks County’s oldest locally-owned bank, helping generations of residents realize their dreams of homeownership. If that includes building your own home or improving the house you live in, we can help with a home construction loan. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about building or renovating a home in Bucks County.

Learn what it takes to build or improve a home.

Benefits of Building and Living in Bucks County

As one of the most populous counties in Pennsylvania, Bucks is an attractive place to live and work. The county is unofficially divided into Lower Bucks, with towns near Philadelphia; Central Bucks, which is closer to towns like Trenton and Princeton in Central New Jersey; and Upper Bucks, which tends to have more rural areas. There are plenty of businesses within the county and residents also commute to jobs in Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York City. Bucks County also has a reputation for having great school districts, which makes it a popular choice among families.

When it comes to building or improving a home in Bucks County, there are a variety of locations to accommodate your lifestyle preferences. Choose between boroughs, which are usually small towns like Newtown, Doylestown, and Bristol, or the more suburban and rural townships in the county. Do you want to renovate a historic home? Bucks County has plenty of those in both its boroughs and townships. There are also plenty of new communities and farmland for those who prefer new construction. Do you want to be surrounded by acres of property around you, or would you like some walkability and neighbors you can see from your own house? Your answers to these questions, as well as your desired commute time and overall budget will determine the best Bucks County location for you. For more about living in specific Bucks locations, check out our relocation guide.

Wherever you decide to build or renovate a home in Bucks, you’ll have access to the best of both small town and country living, such as arts and entertainment, fine dining, nature preserves, and family-friendly farms and parks. And compared to living in similar communities in New Jersey or New York, Bucks County is more affordable while still having all of the same charms and urban proximity. For example, the approximate cost of new construction in Newtown (where The First is headquartered in Central Bucks) is $153.34 per square foot, according to the Home Construction website ProMatcher. That means a 2,000 square foot house would cost about $306,680 to build. Similarly, the median home price in the county is $316, 200, according to BestPlaces. As far as the cost of renovating or improving a home in Bucks County goes, Weiler’s Kitchen & Bath Design Center in Feasterville provides a nice breakdown of renovation costs for an average kitchen.

Bucks County offers rural and suburban communities

How to Find The Right Lot In Bucks County

You’ve chosen a Bucks County location in which to build your new home. Now you need to find the perfect lot to build it on. Here are the most important considerations for your land lot search:

  • Real Estate Agents: Work with someone who has proven experience in buying and selling lots. Despite what you may think, purchasing a lot for construction has its own set of considerations, many of which are different from buying a home.
  • Average Home Prices in the Area: In order to obtain a construction loan and avoid the mistake of building a house that is much more expensive than comparable homes in the neighborhood, you’ll want to equip yourself with knowledge of local home values. Make sure the lot price and estimated construction price don’t overly exceed existing home values.
  • Local Zoning Laws: You’ll need to know what the lot is zoned for before you buy. If it has nonresidential zoning you won’t be able to live there. You may also want to inquire about the borough or township’s future development plans. No one wants to build on bucolic farmland only to have a shopping center or subdivision spring up across the street. Before you buy, research local zoning laws, building codes, and ordinances. If the land is zoned for retail, agriculture, or anything nonresidential, you won’t be able to put a home there. Visit the website or physical office of the township or borough you have in mind to learn more about permits, zoning and building codes (for renovation projects).
  • Setbacks and view ordinances: You’ll want to know the minimum distance you can build from the property line (setback) as well as any restrictions on the placement or height of your home due to a neighbor’s view ordinance.
  • Environmental tests and natural hazard disclosure: The seller should provide a natural hazard disclosure and you should order your own environmental testing to make sure the soil isn’t contaminated.
  • Landscape concerns: Bucks County doesn’t have many hills or mountains but it does have rivers. If your land lot is on or near water, find out the land’s history and flood risks before you buy.
  • Professional surveyor: The only way to know your property boundaries for sure (and avoid future disputes with neighbors) is to hire a surveyor.
  • Easements and road access: Make sure you can connect your home to the closest road with a driveway. Do neighbors have any rights (easements) to your land?
  • Utilities: Completely raw land has no improvements like utilities. Some lots, such as those in a planned community, will have electric poles, a sewer system, and other utilities. Determine the situation with your lot so you know if there will be any additional costs related to installing or connecting utilities.
  • Mineral and Timber Rights: You’ll want to own these rights on your land so other people and companies can’t take minerals or trees from your property.
  • Appraisal: If you’re using a construction loan to finance your land lot purchase, the bank will do an appraisal. If you pay in cash you’ll want to get an independent appraisal done first to ensure the price is fair.

How To Budget For Home Construction and Renovation

The two most common complaints about new construction and home renovation projects are time delays and cost overruns. While these are certainly frustrating dilemmas, knowing that they are likely to happen and planning for it can make the whole process easier. Here’s a sampling of different costs you’ll encounter and decisions you’ll need to make for any construction or renovation plan. Leave space in your budget so that cost overruns aren’t the end of the world.

Budgeting for construction and renovations

Floor Plans

Builders usually have their own standard set of floor plans. If you decide to use a floor plan from a different builder, or from a media source, you may need to pay a fee in order to use or alter the floor plan. Other floor plan factors that influence the overall construction price include:

  • Architectural Style: The most affordable floor plan is a two-story house with a square or rectangle shape. The more unique your home design, the pricier it becomes.
  • Design Features: Is a vaulted ceiling on your list of must-haves? Just keep in mind that this and any other extra features you add will raise the price.

Construction or Renovation Estimate

Before any work begins, your builder or contractor should give you an estimate of basic costs. Shop around for different estimates and recommendations before you choose a builder or contractor to work with.

Quality of Materials

This is a major factor in the overall construction or renovation price. From the brand of appliances you choose to the type of flooring, kitchen cabinets, and so on, your selection of materials and preferred quality can keep costs down or drive them up.

Site Preparation

The builder may charge for site preparation such as clearing away rocks and trees so construction can begin.

Permit Fees

These vary by municipality.

Season and Labor Market

In a place with a winter season like Bucks County, the warmer months are more popular for construction. Overall demand related to seasonality and the strength or weakness of the local construction labor market can also affect the cost of construction and renovation.

Detailed Contract

After you approve the estimate and hire a builder or contractor, ask for a detailed contract. This should include all ancillary costs such as liability insurance, the price of driveway installation, as well as the builder’s allowances. Make sure these are realistic in their outlines for the cost of kitchen and bathroom features according to your preferred materials.

Stages of Construction

Now that you have a cost in mind, you want to know how long it will take to complete your planned construction or renovation. Here are the stages most projects go through, though smaller renovations will skip the first steps. Ask your builder for a more exact timeline.

  • Excavation: Includes site clearing and other prep work as well as basement digging if that’s part of your plan.
  • Foundation: Slab foundations tend to be quicker. A partial basement or crawl space will take more time. However, you may need or desire a basement or other type of foundation.
  • Framing: Watch the subfloor, walls, and roof structure take shape. At this point, you can still change the layout.
  • Mechanics: Installation of heating, air conditioning, plumbing and electric.
  • Drywall: Interior rooms come into being.
  • Finishings: This is the fun part, as those kitchen cabinets you so lovingly chose to get installed along with other finishings.
  • Hardware: Now for the details as cabinet handles, faucets, and other hardware are put in place.
  • Final Touches and Inspection: The builder goes through the home to inspect its interior and exterior for any final touches that may be needed.

Construction workers building a home

Home Construction Loans

As you plan every last detail of your home construction or renovation, don’t forget to start the process of applying for a home construction loan. While there are plenty of lenders to choose from, we believe you’ll have the best experience with a community bank like The First. Generations of Bucks County residents have turned to us for help and support through the home construction or renovation process. In addition to the friendly and personalized service we offer, our loan officers have local expertise on the real estate market to ensure you take out a loan for the right value.

A home construction loan from The First can also finance your home expansion or renovation project. Many people think they want to move, only to realize it’s easier and more affordable to stay where they are and turn their current space into a dream home.

From start to finish, the home construction loan application and closing process consists of appraisals of both the floor plan and finished house, a credit check, and the verification of required insurance policies. A down payment on a home construction loan may be higher than that of a typical mortgage. Once the lender approves and closes on your construction loan, the builder will be paid in stages as the work progresses. When everything is finished and you’re ready to move in, you’ll need to obtain a regular home mortgage to replace the construction loan.

Ready to Build or Renovate? The First Can Help.

As Buck’s County’s oldest community bank, we’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge about the local communities we serve. Beyond helping you obtain home construction financing, The First can recommend experienced realtors, builders, and other professionals. If you’re new to the area we can also help you find a new dentist, doctor, and other essential services. That’s just one of many perks that come with community banking. Meet your neighbors at The First and learn how we can help with all of your banking needs. Contact us today to learn more about home construction and renovation loans or visit your nearest location.

Contact The First to learn more about construction loans.