One of the best things a homeowner can do is to thoughtfully consider the difference between needs and wants. It’s more difficult than it sounds. For example, something that is considered a need to one family member may not be viewed that way by another. Sorting between needs and wants can sometimes be contentious. Take Tim and Sherri for instance. They debated for 45 minutes on whether or not they wanted a formal living room. Sherri, who was raised in a home that frequently entertained guests, considered it a need. Tim, whose idea of entertaining guests was to take them to the game room, did not consider it a need. In fact, Tim felt a formal living room would be largely wasted space.

Discussions like these are far from unusual when building a custom home. They are normal—even essential. I encourage couples and families to have these discussions as soon as possible so that decisions can be made before a lot of design work is done. But how can you have those discussions and make them productive and even enjoyable? By using a simple tool called The Design Outline.

The Design Outline is an excellent tool to help you define your needs and wants in the home building process. This exercise takes less than 30 minutes to complete, but it can save you countless hours and thousands of dollars.

Here’s how it works:

  • You and your spouse, independently of each other, each take a blank sheet of paper and write down all of your dreams, wants, and needs for your new home, in no particular order.
  • Then rank your items in order of importance, starting with #1, #2, #3, etc. It’s not as important to agonize over whether item two goes before item three, or three before two; sometimes wants or needs can be equally important to you. What’s important here is that #3 and #28 are not reversed. Know what you want.
  • Once you and your spouse have independently ranked your items, the two of you meet together to share and compare your lists. Then create one combined list ranking your needs and wants in order. This will become your master list.

The combined needs/wants list will save time, energy, and money when you meet with your builder to determine the cost of your new dream home. At some point, your desired budget will need to line up with your desired wants.

Your builder can review this combined list and your budget and let you know what items your budget can afford. If you have items that are not included in the budget, your builder can estimate a cost so you can make an informed decision on whether or not you want to increase your original budget.

The Design Outline can be a tremendously effective tool to help you determine costs long before you spend money on design or construction of your new custom home. You can use The Design Outline with any builder, anywhere in the country. When you begin the process by using the outline, you’ll be way ahead of the game.

Design Outline Example

The bottom line

Take thirty minutes and complete the Design Outline. It’s fun, and can save you countless hours and thousands of dollars.