At first glance, hiring a home designer first make sense. It feels comfortable to know exactly what house you want to build before you go after financing and a builder.
However, if you don't understand how designers work or know what to look for, you could wind up spending tens of thousands more than you planned on. Or you could end up frustrated and back at square one.
Look beyond the pretty picture
A lot of home designers have a book of plans, a portfolio that they'll start you off with. They want to sell you one of these plans because they've already done the hard work on them. This portfolio always includes a lot of beautiful pictures, and it's really easy to buy into the picture. But you need to buy into your budget.
That home in the picture could require any number of unique, non-standard items that will push your budget over the limit.
Every time you draw a line on paper, it costs money
If you start a design from scratch with a vision in mind, it's easy to get carried away. Many designers will be more than happy to add and add to a design, because of course that's how they make money.
Remember that every time you draw a line on paper it costs money. Sometimes a line costs a lot of money. Your design needs to be in line with your budget, and it's up to you to constrain a designer to that budget. It's not an easy task, especially when you start to fall in love with what you've come up with.
Don't get "under the gas" with a home design
The greatest risk that you face is falling in love with a design that you know you can't afford. Desperate to make that dream a reality, you go from builder to builder until you get the "yes" that you want. You're letting emotion get the best of you.
What often happens in this scenario is that you come across a cost-plus builder, perhaps one that's badly in need of work, who is more than ready to say yes to your design. That builder is telling you yes to your design, not to your budget. Construction starts, and suddenly there's not enough money for several parts of the design.
Before you know it, you're $20,000 over-budget and you're faced with a banker who has to decide whether or not you should be loaned the money needed to cover the extra work. That scenario sometimes ends with you staring at a half-built house that you can't afford to finish.
Don't let a beautiful design get the best of you.
Choose a home designer that cares about your budget
If you feel that you have to choose a home designer first, choose one that understands the cost of building. A designer like this will know when the budget is being stretched, and will be able to compromise in order to get you a look that you really want that you can actually afford.