Author Topic: Might Build a House - What would you do yourself to save money ?  (Read 7121 times)

stashing_it

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Might Build a House - What would you do yourself to save money ?
« on: February 23, 2014, 11:57:50 AM »
Background - My wife & I are planning on getting a house with her parents.    A large reason for that is to allow my wife & I to both work and save significant money on childcare.    We live in a fairly expensive part of the country, on the west coast.

My wife's mom has mobility challenges, and we have had very little luck finding a house with a reasonable bedroom/ bathroom on the main level.

I want to keep looking for a while, the wife is pushing to build a house.    The wife has various grandiose visions for the house for towers and such, that I will attempt to tone down as best I can should we build.


I am an engineer, spending all of my work time on the computer.   I have done home repairs on the last house, put in a water heater, fixed a water line to the house, put in a new floor in some rooms etc, but not done any major home improvements or renovations.    So I don't have a ton of experience, nor a ton of open time, but I do have the interest in doing some of it, and you can learn anything on Youtube


Now to the question,  Did you build a house ?    How much did it cost you for how many square feet, excluding the land ?   Which parts did you do yourself to save  money ?   i.e. what are the high impact items.   MMM seems to recommend plumbing in that category.   Anything else ?

Any general recommendations or resources on how to save money or avoid problems on the build ?


Thanks!


stashing_it

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Re: Might Build a House - What would you do yourself to save money ?
« Reply #1 on: February 23, 2014, 12:41:09 PM »
These are some things I have already considered

-  Look for a south-facing lot, that is not shaded by large trees  (rare in the northwest) and have south facing windows for solar gain
-  Double housewrap & good insulation to save heating costs

-  No garage, perhaps a carport instead.    I suspect the garage space costs nearly as much as house space, and that money should go into people living space, not car living space

-  Make use of outdoor space, perhaps some covered or screened outdoor space as much cheaper than indoor space.   For instance, plan on putting weights / exercise equipment on some covered outdoor space

Spork

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Re: Might Build a House - What would you do yourself to save money ?
« Reply #2 on: February 23, 2014, 12:59:48 PM »
We did build.  I'll warn you: it's probably cheaper to buy existing.  (Some folks around here have proved this wrong.)

It is a pretty constant struggle to not go apeshit crazy when building.  You get in the mindset of "it's only another $20 a month on my mortgage."  Those handful of $20 a month's start adding up.

What we did to try to stem this was pay for it outright.  Yes, that may be an extreme measure.  Yes, you might be able to leverage your money cheaper.... but I found that for us, it kept our feet firmly planted on the ground and made us extremely conscious about every dollar we spent.

As for what we did ourselves:

* cleanup costs.  The bid had 2 different cleanup costs -- one for ongoing (like before painting, flooring, etc) and one for managing the site (hauling off trash).  We did both of these.  I think this was about $1500.
* interior paint.  We let the pros do the exterior to get it done fast.  We did the inside.
* all trim work.  Hung doors, baseboard and trim, closet shelving,
* tile
* kitchen stove was a 1950s stove that we dismantled, cleaned and restored
* all the low voltage wiring: ethernet, coax, etc.  Also ran conduit everywhere to handle future wiring
* final lot grading (but we let the pro do the initial grading, which was significant)

In addition to that, we designed the house to be half built.  By that I mean the upstairs was stubbed out for plumbing, electrical, etc and left unfinished.  Part of the drywall was done... part not done.   The result was we could move in even with my slow labor.  The bad side of that is I am still finishing the upstairs 2 years later.

For cost/sqft... I think once we're done it will be a little under $100/sqft.  It skewed way high with the unfinished upstairs -- since the materials and labor went into building it, but it wasn't part of the square footage.

For me, the biggest thing was finding the right builder.  The guy we found was awesome.  He had never attempted to let a homeowner do the work and he was VERY nervous about it.  (He hid that for a while and finally admitted it when things were starting to turn out okay.)  Many builders won't want to let you do this stuff.  And if you are getting a loan: banks are not going to let you close on an unfinished house.  Insurance companies were also very hard to work with on the half-house.

lysistrata

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Re: Might Build a House - What would you do yourself to save money ?
« Reply #3 on: February 23, 2014, 01:06:02 PM »
Hi stashing_it,

Good to hear you're thinking about building! We are in New Zealand, and built an eco-home on a rural block, so our situation is different and costs aren't equal, as building is expensive in New Zealand.

What we did to save money:
- my dad is a builder. He came up and lived with us for four months and did the work for free. We worked as labourers on the weekends and husband took some days off to help. I project-managed.
- my husband dug and laid our driveway himself.
- We did a lot of jobs in a labour-intensive way to save money - for instance, our block walls are filled with concrete for insulation and to provide soundproofing (part of our house is a music studio). You would normally hire a concrete truck and a pump to do this, but we mixed the concrete by hand - several tons of it, and got a few friends to help us lift it and tip it into the walls with buckets. It took 3 -12+ hour days of intense work, but we did it. Saved us about $4000.
- We hired a draftsman instead of an architect, and did most of the design ourselves.
- Our rough costs were $215k for the land, $100k establishment costs, $149k for the house (approx. 100sqm). No garage, no landscaping. We're building another 100sqm extension in a year or so with a garage, etc.
- We built the kitchen ourselves for about $2500, including the oven. This to me is a big win as kichens can be expensive.
- paint walls (int and ext) yourself, and do your own tiling, are easy wins.
- We did a lot of cash work with our tradies - saved us a bit off normal prices through not paying the tax.
- outlet stores, specials, coupons, discount cards. We had a farm card that gives us rebates and discounts at a lot of stores. This saved us a serious amount of money. Also, we got trade-prices on most materials through Dad that wouldn't normally be available if you were self-building. We tried to pay for a lot of odd-and-ends out of our regular household budget - so they didn't come out of the mortgage.

What we did to make an awesome home:
- We hyper-insulated. It is amazing. Do not skimp on this. We wanted eco-friendly wool for insulation, but due to the budget we ended up with ordinary batts.
- double glazing. Not common in NZ, but so so so worth it.
- off-grid. We have solar power. Our neighbour designed and installed our system, so we got a $50k system for about 1/2 that price. No power bill ever again. Don't have to go off-grid but I do recommend designing for solar PV and hot water.
- The high-cost rooms are kitchen / bathroom and extra rooms with special needs like music studios. Focus on shaving costs off these rooms, rather than, say, cutting space out of bedrooms and living spaces.

Mistakes we made and things we learned:
- Our biggest mistake is that we didn't have a planned, itemised budget. We didn't get a quote from our builder because there was just no need. We didn't sit down and cost out EVERYTHING and figure out what the place was ACTUALLY going to cost. I had a figure that I wanted, and said "This is what we have, and so this is what the budget is," but, if you watch any amount of Grand Designs you'll know it doesn't work like that. I mean, we costed things out like the roof and the materials and the windows, but as you go there are 1000 little costs and extra bits you add and everything ads up. Shower doors, laundry tub, porch lights, spouting, 100 trips to the hardware store for bits and bobs. It all adds up. I am extremely frugal by nature and we got a lot of stuff secondhand or for cheap off TradeMe, but it was tough. We were $70k over the figure I wanted to spend.
- We started drawings in Sept. The draftsman said, "Oh, I'll draw these plans up in 2 weeks and council consent will take maybe 6 weeks. We think, "Yay! We can get started over Christmas and finish by May!" Instead, we submitted our drawings to the council in Jan and it took them till May to grant consent - the week before my dad left for his 4-month OE with my mum. So we finally moved in Christmas Eve of the following year - 8 or so months late. And all this time we were paying rent AND a mortgage on the build. So my second-biggest piece of advice to people considering building is that the schedule you set is not the schedule that anyone else will keep. And that council SUCKS.
- turns out digging and shaping a 200m driveway requires a lot more finesse than we had anticpated. So, after weekend after weekend of renting a digger, sourcing stone, digging and shaping and compacting the thing, including $2000 of repairs to a digger and a fence after my husband introduced them to each other, the driveway didn't really "work" and we had to pay another $6000 to get it re-shaped professionally. Expensive lesson learned.
- establishment costs (driveway, sewage, solar panels, trenching for internet cable, water tanks and pipes, etc) cost more than $100k.
- $10k of our budget went on soundproofing my husband's music studio. We could've spent a lot more. Some of what we did worked exceptionally well. Some of it maybe wasn't necessary, such as paying extra for sound-insulating batts. But it works and that was the important thing - it was a bit of an experiment.
- we would've made a lot more mistakes if we hadn't have had my Dad - a dude with 45+ years experience in the industry - there helping us.

Cost it out PROPERLY before you start, expect it to take longer and cost more than you expect, especially if you're doing it yourself. And TRY to have fun, because it is awesome, even though it is stressful beyond belief! I hope this helps!

MayDay

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Re: Might Build a House - What would you do yourself to save money ?
« Reply #4 on: February 23, 2014, 02:04:11 PM »
This isn't related to building from scratch, but maybe will be helpful. I recently had a friend looking for the exact same thing. They couldn't find it, and were in a pinch as their old house had already sold.

They found a house with a large den/office on the first floor, and put on a small addition of a large handicap accessible bathroom and closet, to turn it into a first floor master suite. Theymay have also put on a small sitting room. It worked well bc the in laws had their own wheelchair friendly first floor room, and my friend and her h got to have the upstairs master bedroom with master bathroom rather than jamming into a tiny 10x12 kids bedroom.

stashing_it

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Re: Might Build a House - What would you do yourself to save money ?
« Reply #5 on: February 23, 2014, 03:41:51 PM »
This isn't related to building from scratch, but maybe will be helpful. I recently had a friend looking for the exact same thing. They couldn't find it, and were in a pinch as their old house had already sold.

They found a house with a large den/office on the first floor, and put on a small addition of a large handicap accessible bathroom and closet, to turn it into a first floor master suite. Theymay have also put on a small sitting room. It worked well bc the in laws had their own wheelchair friendly first floor room, and my friend and her h got to have the upstairs master bedroom with master bathroom rather than jamming into a tiny 10x12 kids bedroom.

May,  This is definitely one of the things we have looked at doing.   We did find a house in this situation that we came close to making an offer on, and finally did not only because it was on well water that my wife could not stand the taste or smell of.   (Utility water has since come close to the house, however it turns out that would involve installing the water line under a fairly large salmon creek, which I think would be quite difficult to do and to permit)


my husband dug and laid our driveway himself.
- We did a lot of jobs in a labour-intensive way to save money - for instance, our block walls are filled with concrete for insulation and to provide soundproofing (part of our house is a music studio). You would normally hire a concrete truck and a pump to do this, but we mixed the concrete by hand - several tons of it, and got a few friends to help us lift it and tip it into the walls with buckets. It took 3 -12+ hour days of intense work, but we did it. Saved us about $4000.
- paint walls (int and ext) yourself, and do your own tiling, are easy wins.

What we did to make an awesome home:
- We hyper-insulated. It is amazing. Do not skimp on this. We wanted eco-friendly wool for insulation, but due to the budget we ended up with ordinary batts.
- double glazing. Not common in NZ, but so so so worth it.
- off-grid. We have solar power. Our neighbour designed and installed our system, so we got a $50k system for about 1/2 that price. No power bill ever again. Don't have to go off-grid but I do recommend designing for solar PV and hot water.
- The high-cost rooms are kitchen / bathroom and extra rooms with special needs like music studios. Focus on shaving costs off these rooms, rather than, say, cutting space out of bedrooms and living spaces.

I would be interested in what you learned about the driveway, because that is something I considered doing myself.

It sounds sound people agree that painting, tiling, and other interior work is worth doing.    Painting we would definitely do because my father-in-law did painting in college, and painted our previous house.    I will look into tiling.   I think I remember reading on a previous post multiple recommendations for "Tile your world" book

How well do the solar panels work in NZ ?   I live in Washington state U.S., which without doing any research what-so-ever I would assume has a similar climate.  i.e. quite a few rainy & cloudy days in the year

I agree on insulating.  At our previous house we had electric heat, and in winter months the heat bill was ~150-200 / month.  And that was with the interior temperature quite low  (66 degree fahrenheit in rooms that we were in, sometimes turned up to 69-70, when we were in them, 52 at night).      I want to control that cost as much as possible in the next house.      Does anyone in washington state have an opinion on the cost of gas heat vs. electric ?    Or perhaps an electric heat pump ?

We did build.  I'll warn you: it's probably cheaper to buy existing.  (Some folks around here have proved this wrong.)

It is a pretty constant struggle to not go apeshit crazy when building.  You get in the mindset of "it's only another $20 a month on my mortgage."  Those handful of $20 a month's start adding up.

What we did to try to stem this was pay for it outright.
As for what we did ourselves:

* cleanup costs.  The bid had 2 different cleanup costs -- one for ongoing (like before painting, flooring, etc) and one for managing the site (hauling off trash).  We did both of these.  I think this was about $1500.
* interior paint.  We let the pros do the exterior to get it done fast.  We did the inside.
* all trim work.  Hung doors, baseboard and trim, closet shelving,
* tile
* all the low voltage wiring: ethernet, coax, etc.  Also ran conduit everywhere to handle future wiring
* final lot grading (but we let the pro do the initial grading, which was significant)

In addition to that, we designed the house to be half built.  By that I mean the upstairs was stubbed out for plumbing, electrical, etc and left unfinished.  Part of the drywall was done... part not done.   The result was we could move in even with my slow labor.  The bad side of that is I am still finishing the upstairs 2 years later.

For me, the biggest thing was finding the right builder.  The guy we found was awesome.  He had never attempted to let a homeowner do the work and he was VERY nervous about it.  (He hid that for a while and finally admitted it when things were starting to turn out okay.)  Many builders won't want to let you do this stuff.  And if you are getting a loan: banks are not going to let you close on an unfinished house.  Insurance companies were also very hard to work with on the half-house.

Agree that it will be tough to get a design and stick to it.   Not add on extra.    For us, some financing will be necessary, but will try to control it.

Moving in to a partially completed house, that is finished as you go is a good recommendation

Can you elaborate on how much work the clean up was ?   Were you over there every day doing it ?   Or once a week ?

Any advice on how you found your builder ?    Internet searches, or a recommendation from a friend ?



Thanks!

Greg

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Re: Might Build a House - What would you do yourself to save money ?
« Reply #6 on: February 23, 2014, 03:45:11 PM »
We designed and built our own home.  While we didn't save a ton of money, we did build it to our specifications which included planning for aging-in-place.   

We created a lower level room that can become a bedroom in the future.  The lower level bath is designed to convert to barrier free, even though it's pretty barrier free now.  Between the toilet and shower is a wheelchair turn circle for instance, and we put blocking the walls for future grab bars.  The doors have 1/4" thresholds for easy roll-over.  Doors are 36" wide (ADA recommends 32" clear opening).

Doing it ourselves meant we could sweat the stuff we cared about without regard to cost, like the roof.  It's metal and if I hadn't done it myself we couldn't have afforded metal, which costs about 3X asphalt composition.

If you can't find a home that you can modify to your needs, you will be able to design something really great for your specific situation.  It will take time but could also be fun.  Be careful not to overbuild.

Spork

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Re: Might Build a House - What would you do yourself to save money ?
« Reply #7 on: February 23, 2014, 05:10:20 PM »

Agree that it will be tough to get a design and stick to it.   Not add on extra.    For us, some financing will be necessary, but will try to control it.

Moving in to a partially completed house, that is finished as you go is a good recommendation

You may want to research this if you are financing.  Most banks require a certificate of occupancy to close the loan.  I know it sounds stupid, but banks I talked (and most insurance companies) wanted nothing to do with it.

Can you elaborate on how much work the clean up was ?   Were you over there every day doing it ?   Or once a week ?

We lived on site.  (We owned the land already and were living in what is now a small outbuilding.)  So: I was there everyday.  The amount of cleanup varied.  I tended to try to hit it some every day with bigger cleanups on probably every other weekend.  I found that the cleaner you keep the site, the cleaner the crew keeps it.  If you leave crap everywhere, they just start dropping trash everywhere they go.  (And there is some of that no matter what.)

Every now and then, I'd get a call from the GC saying we needed a big clean up -- like for staining the concrete floors or before the drywall started (and a crew was covering the stained floors).  I'd spend an hour or two on those days getting it really clean.

Any advice on how you found your builder ?    Internet searches, or a recommendation from a friend ?



Thanks!

We started with a list of recommendations from many friends... we started bidding the plan out with a list of 3.  Along the way, we talked to the various suppliers.  One builder got eliminated because he wasn't paying his bills to his suppliers.  Mostly it was a feel-good feeling.  Some builders felt like used car salesmen.  One guy got flakey and just suddenly stopped returning our phone calls.  (He thought I was kidding about doing the work myself... when I asked him to rebid it with that -- I dropped off of his planet).  I believe the guy we got was one of the most honest guys I have ever met.  Yes, he made a percentage off of us, but it really felt like we were partners and he really was looking to build the house WE wanted and not the house HE wanted.

I actually wrote something up at the time (though I have not really kept up with updating this blog in recent history).  Part One. Part Two.

I wrote a part 3... and never posted it.