Is Being an Owner-Builder Possible?

KateInOhioFebruary 7, 2013

Hello everyone.

We recently met with a custom home builder here in our area. The price they quoted us was approximately $365k. That is about $100k over our budget. I have read online that you can save 15% to 25% by building the house "yourself." Has anyone found that to be true? Are there any good books out there that I can read that will list specifically what I would need to price to compare costs of building it ourselves? I know the big ticket items for the inside of a house, but I'm not sure what I need to think about before even getting to that point (i.e. pouring the basement, framing, etc.). We have a home and garden show coming up in a few weeks and I was thinking of attending to get costs from companies.

Any advice/feedback would be appreciated!

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Without knowledge and experience acting as your own contractor is unlikely to save much and it will definitely take longer.

If you take the time needed to document the design of the house thoroughly, you can bid it competitively. If you take that approach, a good designer or architect will more than make up for his/her cost.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2013 at 1:15PM
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See this GW thread.

Just because you can Google up the cheapest on-line prices for a sink and a fridge doesn't mean you'll save time or money. On the other hand, if you're a genuine handyman/woman type who is willing to work at it full-time, it may suit you. But if you were to factor in your sweat equity and the extra build time, there won't be an economic advantage.

(I once changed the motor mounts on my '61 Buick. Darned if I were going to pay a mechanic for that! It only took me eight hours lying on my back and a set of skinned knuckles.)

    Bookmark   February 7, 2013 at 2:34PM
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The question, "is being an owner-builder possible?" should be: is being an owner-builder reasonable, prudent or a good idea?

There are a ton of threads discussing this.

Good luck with your project.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2013 at 3:53PM
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is it possible? of course it is. I am doing it right now. The only thing I am paying someone to do is electrical, plumbing, mechanical, drywall (I hate doing it), and shingles (again, hate doing it). I have done everything else. But then again, I have experience in the field. Both phyisically building and design/project management. My findings are not typical of a normal DIY since its probably not fair to group it into that category since its basically my professional day job.
But in a nut shell, you NEED to know something about it. Subs wont take you serious. Googling and watching youtube is a start, but you need to know far far more than that. Being handy is different from building a house. Now its not to say you cant do it. Me or anyone else here does not know the skill sets you both have, however based purely on assumptions forms from reading your wording of your question....its way over your head, sorry to say.

Another issue you can run into is financing. It can be hard to find financing that will do it without a GC they can trust to get things done on time and correctly.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2013 at 4:17PM
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In my experience, it won't save money unless you are very dedicated and skilled. It certainly won't save time. Think of it from the perspective that you are hiring trades for one job. Those trades know you are not a long term customer (like a builder would be). Therefore, you get put on the back burner when they need to keep a regular customer happy.

My DH does have the skills and resources but not the time to devote and it did make our build more difficult. DH would NOT do it again if given the chance. Lots of cons but not too many pros in the end.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2013 at 11:26AM
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Ditto the issue of financing. Unless this is a self financed build you will have a very hard time finding a bank willing to lend you money. Not to mention, I seriously doubt you can save a third of the cost of building doing it.

Now if you were going to do lots of the work yourself, rather than subcontract it out, perhaps . . .

    Bookmark   February 9, 2013 at 12:21PM
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Many years ago, when DH and I were in the initial stages of thinking about our first custom or semi-custom home build, I took a class at our community college that was aimed at those that wanted to be their own GC. I learned that the GC job is about more than ordering stuff. It's about scheduling subs; it's about oversight; it's about problem-solving; and 100's more things. Being a GC was not for us. Too much money was at stake to risk a mistake. We needed a professional.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2013 at 12:48PM
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I am doing my house as an owner-builder. We are contracting through a company called Built Green Custom Homes which serves as an advisor and also Builder of Record. We pay them a flat fee based on square footage. They handle the initial details, permitting, soil analysis, lot clearing and some other details.

We do expect to save significant money on our build, and I'll be acting as GC. The good thing about going with an established OB service company is that they have relationships with the subcontractors and -- in theory -- you receive the same level of commitment from the subs as if they were working for a large builder.

BGCH helps owner-builders build about 125 houses per year in the Houston area. I'm very pleased with the service so far. I'm sure there are similar companies all over the US.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2013 at 1:10PM
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I would not do it. Here is an example. My builder made a rude comment as he watched my neighbors basement being backfilled before the first floor was laid. I asked him why and he explained it to me. I still wonder if they will have foundation issues.

A good builder is watching out for your interest and will make sure your home is well built.

Do you know how to flash windows? There are hundreds of things you better know how to do if you plan to be your own GC. And you have to be able to juggle subs like a conductor.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2013 at 9:55AM
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