Author Topic: How to assure value when building a house?  (Read 3873 times)

MrsPete

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How to assure value when building a house?
« on: May 03, 2013, 11:39:54 AM »
We plan to build a small-but-nicely-appointed house for our retirement years.  This is a project we can well afford, but we don't want to be wasteful with our dollars in the process. 

THE GOAL: Build a 1700 SF farmhouse /Cape Cod /Southern house on land we've already purchased.  The land is rural and is not "ready to build", meaning we have to bring in water, electricity, even a driveway.  We want a house that's just right for us:  Open floorplan with a small kitchen and a large pantry, modest bedrooms with nice bathrooms, plenty of storage, and a pool.  It also must be designed with "age in place" concepts in mind because we hope to live in this house 'til the day we die.  We are currently caretakers for an elderly relative, and we see the struggles she goes through with simple tasks like bathing and cooking, so we've drawn a floorplan that'll be age-friendly. 

This (paid for) land is in a different county, so we do not want to move 'til our youngest is out of high school -- and that's three years.  We probably won't begin building immediately when she leaves, but it won't be any earlier than three years.  So we have plenty of time to plan and prepare for this major project. 

MY QUESTION:   What hints, methods, ideas do you have to build what we want without compromising quality? 

CURRENT IDEAS: 

- We farm the land now (by that, I mean we rent the land to a farmer), which allows us to pay an unbelievably low tax rate of approximately $425/year.  This is for a 44-acre property.  We will definitely have crops in our backyard.  Lower taxes are always better. 

- We have already picked "our spot", and this fall we're going to start planting trees so that when we actually build, we'll already have fruit trees and shade trees on their way to maturity. 

- We're building far enough into the land that we're not going to be right on the road, but not so far that we'll have to build /maintain a long, long driveway.  And no so far that we'll have to bring electrical and water faaar into the property. 

- We're thinking that we might start watching Craigslist, ebay, and clearance tables now to buy things for the house.  I'm thinking of ceiling fans, light fixtures and so forth.  Maybe appliances.  The idea would be to get these things at rock-bottom prices ahead of time rather than waiting 'til we actually need them and buying them at full price.  I'm thinking that the biggest danger would be in buying things like tile -- things with which we might buy too little or too much, and either one would be bad.  Smart or not? 

- We're looking at moderate materials:  Laminate flooring, not real hardwood.  A range rather than a cooktop and wall ovens.  However, we don't want to sacrafice quality, and we want items that'll be low maintenance. 

- We will be doing an all-cash build, so no interest costs. 

- We're working on our floorplan now, and we want to be SURE before we begin building.  We know that changes mid-way are expensive. 

- DIY, of course, for some things.  Painting, laying tile, perhaps laying laminate flooring, and definitely landscaping -- those things are all within our ability level . . . but I'm sure we need professional for most of the building. 


So, what are your ideas for building a house that's a good value?  I don't expect this to be a cheap project, and we're willing to spend -- we just want to cut corners in places where they won't matter. 

Welmoed

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Re: How to assure value when building a house?
« Reply #1 on: May 03, 2013, 12:40:51 PM »
The first step to take is making sure the property percs; I'm assuming you have to put in a well and septic? Without an approved septic plan and well, you won't be able to build anything anyway, so might as well get those out of the way. It might also have an impact on where you can build, which will have an impact on the design.
--Welmoed

MrsPete

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Re: How to assure value when building a house?
« Reply #2 on: May 03, 2013, 06:16:21 PM »
Good starting point.  I am quite ignorant about permits and county regulations, but that's why I'm starting now instead of three months before we want to break ground. 

City water and sewer do run by on the main road.  Though we have a large chunk of land, other houses and businesses are found within a reasonable distance.  We'll have to bring these services onto our land but we're not talking miles. 

Well vs city water.  I must investigate the pros and cons.

Also, I'm not overly concerned about the land perking.  The chunk of land contains two houses and used to contain two trailers as well. Of course, that doesn't mean every bit of the land is "good".

Thanks for the ideas.  Keep it coming, please!

Another Reader

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Re: How to assure value when building a house?
« Reply #3 on: May 03, 2013, 07:04:43 PM »
In your shoes, my first step would be to approach County/City planning to find out what would be allowed and where.  You may need a zoning or a general plan variance to build.  What used to be there may be irrelevant, unless the zoning/use is grandfathered.  Second would be to get contractor and permit costs to bring in the utilities required to build and of building whatever road/drive the permitting jurisdiction requires.  The cost of bringing in water, sewer, and electric is going to add a large percentage to the cost to build.  The project might not be feasible if these costs are really high. 

Once you know what you will be permitted to build and the approximate cost of bringing the site to the point of ysability, you will be in a better position to decide what to do.

Christiana

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Re: How to assure value when building a house?
« Reply #4 on: May 04, 2013, 09:23:37 AM »
Sarah Susanka's Not So Big House books have a lot of ideas for taking moderately-priced finishing materials (which you could just as well find through salvage and scrounging) and putting them together in a well-designed way, and also for making smaller spaces feel larger.  If you use some of her tricks--like creating diagonal views across the open plan space, and making smaller cosy spaces around specific areas of activity--you might not need as much as 1700 square feet (which is double what my family is currently living in, so it sounds enormous to me).  Another advantage of a smaller house is that it is easier to make good use of natural light--as houses built in the days before electric lighting tend to do.

She draws a lot on an older book called A Pattern Language, which is well worth getting through interlibrary loan if you're going to build.  It's about the design elements and patterns of good building (though mainly urban building), and you may find some ideas that you want to incorporate into your house.

A common building mistake is to ignore the seasonal solar and wind patterns of the site.  In my region, the winter sun is fairly low in the southern sky all day long, and there are very cold winds out of the north.  So I'd put most of the storage on the north side of my house, and put more windows on the south side, to take advantage of solar heat gain.  I'd also think about how to build in natural cooling via cross-ventilation and venting.  These things take more time and thought up front, but add a great deal to the long-term livability of the house.

Finally, you may want to break up the building process into phases:  start with the core of the house now, with the plan to add on some auxiliary spaces later, or save some of the more expensive finishing (such as extra bathrooms) for later.  This would make it easier to self-finance.

PGH

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Re: How to assure value when building a house?
« Reply #5 on: May 04, 2013, 02:04:16 PM »
We just signed the Purchase & Sale Agreement for land on which to build a house, so we're in a similar situation. You're fortunate, though, that you don't have to deal with septic, as the perc test(s) and tank installation aren't cheap!

A few thoughts:
Yes to the posters who suggested that you immediately talk to your local building inspector to find out what you can/can't do. We were originally planning to build a large detached shop with an in-law apartment above it, but that's a no no here. So now we can do the detached shop but the apartment has to be above the attached garage. We also have minimums for road frontage and distance between structures and property lines.

You didn't mention having hired a builder yet. Have you selected one yet? Regardless, you might want to pay for an initial site plan so that you know if you'll be dealing with drainage and grading issues. You'll also want to get an estimate for bringing those services onto your property, as the excavation for the pipes - and the pipes themselves - can be costly.

The Not so Big House books are great, although I was a little surprised to find homes as large as 3,000 SF among them. From what I understand, her idea is that you can usually live in less space than you think. I shudder to think what that 3,000 SF home would have been otherwise. She writes about combining living/dining/cooking spaces in order to reduce wall construction costs and to bring in natural light. You can get these books at the library or on ebay.

Christiana is absolutely correct about the house placement. We're very interested in a new-ish building movement called the Pretty Good House, which seeks to maximize energy efficiency while minimizing construction costs. It offers advice on roof construction, SF, house placement, etc. No fancy bump outs or dormers allowed...

Our situation is a big different in that we plan to build 80% of the home with our own hands, so our cost of construction will be radically reduced anyway, but we still want a highly energy-efficient home. I was just in a custom-built home the other night that had most of the windows on the north side; the renter hates it because it always seems dark and cold. We do plan to violate one rule of less expensive house instruction in that our house will be one story with a full basement; it's more expensive because the footprint is larger and the foundation costs greater, but we plan to grow old in this house and are putting in place as many universal design concepts as possible. We simply have no room for an elevator! :-) You should look up universal design too, as that offers tips for constructing houses where you plan to age in place.

I have mixed feelings about purchasing items for your new house when it's quite a few years in the future. On the one hand, I understand your desire to get a deal, but technology is changing so rapidly for various appliances that you might want to wait. I say that as a serious cook, but YMMV. I'm also tempted to pick up lighting fixtures and so on, but I also know that if we make any changes to the layout before we begin building next year, I may make the wrong choices. Plus, I'm not sure that you'd have to pay full price even when you're ready. Craigslist will still be around!

If you come across a great deal on gently used windows, though (and they can be matched with new ones), I'd buy those in a heartbeat and configure the walls to fit them! Energy efficient windows are costly.

Good luck and keep us posted. When we get further into our project, I plan to maintain a blog to keep all my far-away family abreast of our progress. I'll post it here when it's up and has something interesting to read.

Rural

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Re: How to assure value when building a house?
« Reply #6 on: May 04, 2013, 02:12:57 PM »
We are just now finishing our own self-financed build on rural land. Go ahead and talk to the county about permits, etc, and find out who you need to talk to about septic (if you need septic; you may be able to hook to the sewer you mentioned).

If you'll need a septic system, go ahead with the soil mapping (that's what's usually done now instead of a perk test). That's probably done by the health department and will likely be a few hundred dollars, but then you'll know. Then talk to the utilities. Gathering the knowledge you'll need is free and/or cheap. It's also necessary, and it lets you make real progress without spending much now. It will feel good to get started, and it will help you make better decisions.

I'll second Christiana's suggestion of considering orientation (do you need to stay warm or cool?) and window placement. Look into passive solar heating; it can be set up properly even in hot places without overheating and in cold places if you take the time to plan. That's your main luxury now: time.

Play with some of the online floor plan services if you don't feel up to doing the real design yourself. If you do, look at one of the "lite" versions of AutoCad or something similar. Either can give you something to play with to help you visualize. Even consider a physical mockup; we got a lot of work done using a scale model made of foamcore (helped us decide on the roof pitch, for one thing).

Research your materials online to see what's going to give you the best value, but also read some house design books.

Finally, if you want to go ahead and buy supplies on Craigslist, etc, think about storage. Where will you put them? For us, the answer was that we built a pole barn a year before starting the house.

Spork

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Re: How to assure value when building a house?
« Reply #7 on: May 04, 2013, 06:15:22 PM »
I also just built (about a year ago) a house on rural land, using cash.

At least in my area: permits aren't a problem.  The only one we needed was a septic permit.

If you're cash flowing, there will be a long (possibly painful) process of compromising what you want with what you can afford.  I'll argue that this process is better than the mortgage process -- as everyone can afford "a few hundred a month more" for cool features.  When doing it with cash, you know what you have and you know what you can afford.

My mistakes (in hopes they help you):
The plan probably is the biggest thing to save/spend money.  Less corners and simple roof lines make huge differences.  We started simple and added here/there (all on paper -- without bids) until we had what we wanted.   If there is any way you can work with BOTH a builder and a draftsman at the same time, you might figure out better ways of doing things.  (Now, I don't know how you get competitive bids that way.  That's another thing entirely.)

If you really are building for "the place you plan to die"... at some point, you just don't care about resale.  Yes, things do happen and plans do change... but the plan is that you don't care.  (That's not a license to build a McMansion... but a license to be okay if you spend 10% more than you could get on the market.)
« Last Edit: May 04, 2013, 06:18:11 PM by Spork »

MrsPete

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Re: How to assure value when building a house?
« Reply #8 on: May 04, 2013, 06:31:56 PM »
Lots of good advice here!  Thanks!

I think y'all are right to suggest that I visit the county to see what rules and regulations I may need to follow, as well as what permits and so forth will cost.  I am aware that this is a huge, gaping hole in my knowledge bank.  I have a month of school left, and that'll definitely be one of my summer projects.  That and learning about the costs of bringing in the driveway, septic and so forth.  I'm a whole lot more interested in floor plans and curtains . . . but I know a necessity when I see one. 

No, we're waiting 'til our youngest graduates to build, so we have not talked to builders yet -- nor will we for a while.  We're solidly in the planning stage.

Sarah Susanka's books -- I own them all!  Purchased used off ebay.  I completely buy into many of her idea for building what we actually need and will use on a daily basis instead of formal rooms.  I currently live in the least efficient house in America, which contains a formal living room and formal dining room.  My new house will have good-sized, comfortable rooms, but NO "nice rooms for company".  I also love many of her smaller concepts such as an "away room", a lighting plan, and . . . oh, I can't remember, but I really enjoyed her books.  I have been surprised, though, that her idea of a "small house" is actually quite large in my opinion! 

I am currently reading A Pattern Language, and I have read a bunch of other books.  When I need to understand something, I've always turned to books.  I've learned so much already, and I am sure I'm going to avoid many mistakes through preparedness.  And I totally agree with the person who pointed out that gathering knowledge is free.

In case it might help someone else, one book I read recently is Better Houses, Better Living by a Mr. Ferguson.  He worked for years as a house inspector, and he points out design flaws that lessen the efficiency of houses.  I have many of them in my own house.  For example, walk in my front door and put your hand into the spot where the light switch ought to be.  It isn't there.  Nope, you must enter the room and walk around a corner to find the light switch.  Good luck.  Oddly enough, this NEVER BOTHERED ME 'til he pointed it out as a design flaw -- now it's driving me nuts, and I am determined to avoid this problem in my next house.  The book is full of small things like this that cost little to nothing to avoid, but that make a big difference in the live-ability of the house. 

Yes, I'm very aware of the need to orient the house appropriately for the setting.  Garage to the least-hospitable north, which for us also blocks an undesirable view.  Sunroom to the southeast.  Large covered porch shading the great room from the western sun. 

Someone mentioned a basement.  We're in the South, where no one has basements.  Up north, basements make more sense:  You have to dig deeper to get past the frost line when building your foundations; thus, a basement is only a few feet more . . . yet it can double your house size.  Here we aren't required to go as deep; thus, digging a basement isn't just a bit deeper -- it's a whole lot deeper.  Throw in the red clay, and it's just not a great idea.  And land is cheaper, so we can build "out" instead of "down" for the same price -- but "out" gives us natural light.  I personally know only one family who has a basement. 

I like the idea of doing a mock-up!  I'm a very visual person.  Another summer project for me. 

I totally agree that one of the negatives of buying items ahead is that technology will improve.  I think I'm interested in buying light fixtures and plumbing fixtures -- things that really do cost, but technology that isn't likely to improve.  It's too early to do this now, but I think I'll start when we're a year from breaking ground.  Yes, Craigslist and ebay will still be around, but you can't always find good deals TODAY on the items you want. 




nktokyo

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Re: How to assure value when building a house?
« Reply #9 on: May 05, 2013, 05:02:18 AM »
PGH is spot on in my opinion.

My take on this is that if you're going to live in it for the bulk of the rest of your life then don't cut corners, you'll still be there when anything you didn't do properly starts to unravel.

I buy and renovate problems for a business and have a couple of tricks that might be useful for you. ..
  • Firstly, talk to a few Real Estate firms about who they recommend for tradespeople. If you have a rent roll of 100+ homes, you wind up with a professional and reliable tradespeople on your books.
  • Secondly a property valuer will be able to talk you through what features of a property help it hold its value and what could be considered a "waste"

Rural

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Re: How to assure value when building a house?
« Reply #10 on: May 06, 2013, 05:53:05 PM »
MrsPete, check your messages.

smedleyb

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Re: How to assure value when building a house?
« Reply #11 on: May 08, 2013, 09:48:40 AM »
The single most important task in the process is finding a suitable builder with whom you can work with, trust and who is properly insured, experienced, etc.  Interior finishings can be cut here and there, but make sure the bones of the home are solid (basement/foundation, the skeleton of the home, plumbing, wiring, windows, roofing, siding, etc.)

Again, what you get depends on who you get.  And the earlier you begin the process of identifying the right man, the better.  Just my two cents.

Spork

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Re: How to assure value when building a house?
« Reply #12 on: May 08, 2013, 10:00:15 AM »
The single most important task in the process is finding a suitable builder with whom you can work with, trust and who is properly insured, experienced, etc.  Interior finishings can be cut here and there, but make sure the bones of the home are solid (basement/foundation, the skeleton of the home, plumbing, wiring, windows, roofing, siding, etc.)

Again, what you get depends on who you get.  And the earlier you begin the process of identifying the right man, the better.  Just my two cents.

Yeah, this is extremely important.  We talked to 5 of them... narrowed it down to 3... then had a subcontractor tell us "oh, no, do NOT use Mr. X.  He doesn't pay his bills."  Of the 2 remaining, we really liked one... and when we were almost ready to sign with him, he pretty much went bat-shit-crazy and stopped returning calls.  We went with our #2 choice and OHMYGOD was that the right choice.  This man was the most honest man I think I've ever met.  He accounted for costs to the penny.  He worked with us and did things he was seriously not comfortable with (like letting me do some of the work).   And if he said something was going to be done, it would be done -- at the price he said and when he said.