Author Topic: Career change advice: Building homes?  (Read 1789 times)


  • Stubble
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Career change advice: Building homes?
« on: October 30, 2018, 05:13:45 PM »
Since I've been 15 years old, my full time job has related to design and marketing, culminating with my current position as Creative Director (for the same company I started with 15 years ago). It was my dream job at 15 to work for this particular company, but I've reached the highest point I can go at this company (and the salary is nothing to get excited about), so I simply feel like I'm ready for the next chapter of my life. After several years of thinking about what that next chapter may look like, I'm strongly leaning towards a future of general contracting / building homes. On paper it sounds like a mid-life crisis, and a career that couldn't be much further from my current job. And both are probably true. But for a little context, here's some of my reasoning:

ē I love being outdoors and working with my hands. My wife and I live on a ranch where much of my time is spent constructing outbuildings, building fences, caring for animals, and doing so in all types of weather. I get a lot of gratification from building something from the ground up. My dad spent over 40 years in road construction running heavy equipment, so perhaps part of the construction desire stems from that as well.

ē I enjoy managing projects. I went to school for business and enjoy working with subcontractors. When friends have house projects beyond my own abilities, I eagerly begin calling up subs, collecting bids, and helping deal with the red tape of getting permits. I've established connections with quite a few subs in my area, which helps in getting them to answer calls and show up, and I've grown quite familiar with folks at the local building and zoning departments.

ē I'm far from an expert in any single trade, but I've spent the past 10 years gaining some experience in a handful of them. I've renovated bathrooms, built kitchens, replaced plumbing, ran wiring, replaced roofs, replaced windows, ran gas lines, installed fireplaces, drywalled rooms, built driveways, built retaining walls, built sheds, outbuildings, fences, decks, stairs, etc. I think I'd make a decent handyman, but my skills in any single trade pale in comparison to a professional framer, plumber, electrician, roofer, or anyone who has worked in a specific field for decades. I have all the respect in the world for tradesmen and I have no illusions in thinking that I could ever do any their jobs half as good as they can.

ē I love business, and own a few side businesses, including one that involves woodworking. I spend 8-10 hours a week running miter saws, circular saws, table saws, routers, scroll saws, nail guns, etc. Again, I'm no carpenter, but I know my way around tools.

ē I've held a lifelong dream of building my own home. We live on 43 acres which can, in theory, be subdivided into multiple lots, built on, and sold. Doing so could be a path to FIRE in the future. My ultimate goal is to gain the experience over the next several years in order to begin pulling this off.

Last year, I met a builder who builds spec and custom homes in our area--about 10-12 per year. He started out building one, living in it, selling it, taking the equity, and building another. Now he has millions in the bank and continues building because it's in his blood, he's old school, and he simply loves it. I felt like meeting this particular person was a sign that I needed to take advantage of the opportunity to learn. He seems eager to take me under his wing and show me the ropes of the business, which I'm extremely grateful for.

I know there are a lot of talented and experienced mustachians who may currently have (or had) related careers as tradesmen, general contractors, etc. I'm looking to hear any advice you may have in regards to entering this field. I have a degree in business management, but would a degree in construction management be worthwhile? Career diplomas in specific fields? Ashworth College has career diploma courses for $600. I'm not looking to build a resume (I know a degree from Ashworth isn't worth much), I'm just looking for knowledge. Would an apprenticeship with a framer, electrician, plumber, concrete worker, be advised? If so, which trades in particular would be most valuable as a general contractor / home builder? Any and all advice is much appreciated.


  • Handlebar Stache
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Re: Career change advice: Building homes?
« Reply #1 on: October 30, 2018, 05:28:14 PM »
I have a friend who went from being a VP at a large corporation to building custom homes, and he has a degree from the Wharton school, nothing to do with construction. He also started a fast food franchise, opened a bar, and had a realty office, all at the same time at one point.

He said building houses was fantastic, but his stress levels were through the roof, and his hours were insane. He said he had to be there all the time, watching everyone to make sure things got done. There were issues with banks, mortgage approvals, etc. Getting all the permits and approvals/inspections could be a nightmare, depending on the locality. And then there were the spotted owls...well, not really, but he said he lived in fear of someone discovering an endangered species on one of his sites and holding up construction for months.

He ended up starting yet another business that replaced the others after a few years. He still dabbles in real estate, and was his own GC when he built a large house a while back (big enough to be featured in a few magazines). He said that was really fun, because it was his house and he was paying cash for it, so no financing deadlines to worry about.

Like anything else, it has pros and cons. The money was great, but it was a lot of work.


  • Stubble
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Re: Career change advice: Building homes?
« Reply #2 on: November 02, 2018, 08:31:42 AM »
This is great input, thank you. The stress levels are one of my biggest reservations as Iím not looking to make my life more stressful or unhealthy. At the same time, I like to be challenged, and I donít feel like Iím getting that in my current role. Ideally after a couple homes, I could pay cash and avoid banks altogether, as it seems like most stress comes from timelines that are very expensive to fall behind on.

My stache isnít too big. We have about $200k in investments and cash. And another $300k in equity in our ranch. But we do have multiple businesses, and our eggs are never in one basket. Itís just a bit scary to leave the only job I have thatís consistent pay with benefits, even though it only makes up for 1/4 of our income.


  • Magnum Stache
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Re: Career change advice: Building homes?
« Reply #3 on: November 02, 2018, 10:41:15 AM »
Construction contracting can be a great career.  I did very well at it, started right out of HS, worked my way up, eventually owned the company and retired at 58.

We all like to build stuff and work with our hands, but it won't work if you are out there on the jobsite every day swinging a hammer.   To make any kind of significant money, you need to do a pretty large volume of business, run more than one project at the same time, subcontract lots of work and hire labor to do the things you choose your company to do in house.  You need to have trusted lead men on your jobsites that you can leave knowing that the work will get done to your satisfaction, and they won't come cheap.   If you don't want to deal with knuckleheads they will need top wages, a good benefit package and a truck or vehicle stipend.

Your job should be quoting work and lining up the next deal, acquiring materials to keep the crews busy, hiring subcontractors, billing and collection, managing tools and equipment needs, etc., etc.

There is a whole lot of opportunity out there right now in the building trades as the current workforce is aging rapidly and there are not enough new folks entering the trades.   If you can put together a good team that can knock out lots of work, and do what you say you are going to do on time, the future could be very bright.


  • Pencil Stache
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Re: Career change advice: Building homes?
« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2018, 03:22:34 PM »
I think this sounds great. If it were me, with my own risk profile, I would want to make sure I had a secure nest egg, and then I would just take the risk and build badass spec homes to sell to cool people. A bit more in the vein of what you're rich friend did. For inspiration check out the series on Youtube from the Essential Craftsman. He's doing that and having a good time. I don't like his home design, but to each their own. In my occasional efforts to make money from my interest in building things, it's fun until you have to answer to a client.


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