Eichler Custom or Southwestern Semi-Custom? (money is an object)

mayberry_moonFebruary 4, 2012

DH and I have fallen into home building accidentally, but for very good reason. We were searching for a second home close to DS and his wife and our new grand daughter when my daughter in law found two lots right next to each other in the perfect location and suggested we build next to each other. A dream come true! We now have an acre lot with river water for irrigation. We want to build a house next door to family, garden like mad, and eventually retire. But it is cheaper to buy than build so this is a stretch for our budget.

We are exploring two options and I would appreciate your thoughts!

Option one: Build a custom home with a design/build contractor who has done several remodels for friends. His style is modern - a bit more modern than our taste - but we love his design talent, indoor/outdoor sensibility, and the fact that we can arrange the house to suit the site. He would build us an Eichler style house for those of you familiar with mid century modern (simple shapes, floor to ceiling windows, post and beam ceilings).

Option two: Build a semi-custom home with a local developer who built a well regarded local development. We would use one of his pre-existing floor plans, which permits economies of scale in the price (a southwestern/spanish style). We were able to walk through one and liked it - in fact were surprised by how nice is was. This developer has more experience building homes in the area - both custom and "semi custom" - and already has had good advice for us about not building slab foundation (extreme temperature fluctuations in high desert) and incorporating anti-humidity fans into crawlspace to combat mold. He definitely is a quality builder although also did a couple of high end developments. He would provide a known product and predictable, reasonable pricing.

If money were no object I would hire an architect, interior designer and contractor, and have them draw up a completely custom home to our preferences. These two are both willing to consider cost. Eichler's were designed to be inexpensive to build post WWII because they are essentially simple shapes - ours would be three rectangles - with shed roofs. But it would be an unknown as this contractor cannot show us homes he has built from the ground up. He has done massive remodels, and these friends have recommended him highly. He also comes from a large family of multigeneration contractors.

The semi custom contractor is more experienced, also recommended by friends, and the home we saw is nice and we could modify finishes, windows, and some minor lay out changes. He will be transparent in his pricing (unlike some of these situations we've heard about where they jack up prices on "extras" like, oh, floors).

We are hoping to build a 2600-2700 sq foot single story home with an open great room, media room (for TV and musical equipment), a study, and a guestroom with bath, along with master bed/bath, powder room, laundry room.

I do love Spanish style homes that are very simple, with large windows and post and beam ceilings and wood floors and cabinets. More old world church or mission than ornate. I also love (for lack of a better term) modern rustic, which I see as natural materials with lots of light and open flow. I'm not sure I would get exactly what I want in either scenario. But cost is an object so am trying to combine practicality and preferences.

Thanks for your thoughts!

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Have you considered purchasing architectural plans? I think you can find a lot of them for a good price and then you can hire a building designer to modify them to suit your tastes. Another way is, if you are comfortable with design software, you can design your own house, then hire a designer to formalize them into real house plans. This is what I did and I found this was a much more economical route to go to get the house design we want.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2012 at 6:26PM
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That's impressive, michoumonster. Thank you for ypur reply. I've looked at many houseplans and so far most of them seem expensive to build (lots of pop outs and details) or I have concerns about how they'd fit the site. Our view is to the south but so is the considerable wind coming off the mountains. So we need a sheltered yard area to the north or east as well as south facing orientation. Apparently an unusual combination. But I'm still looking.

I'm impressed that you designed your own home then brought it into a designer. I think i need to consider this option. Was the designer involved in your construction?

    Bookmark   February 7, 2012 at 12:48AM
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Hi Mayberry,
Maybe you could do something with a central courtyard/atrium area?
It isn't too hard to design something yourself with the really nice software programs available these days. I spent a lot of time thinking through the layout and flow of the house, and drawing up various versions til DH and i were both happy before we bid it out.. If you can do this part, you have saved the architect a tremendous amount of time since so much time is spent listening and interpreting what the clients want, then doing changes when the clients change their minds. The architect we hired had a lag in business, so he actually was less expensive than some building designers. He helped us draw up the plans to code and coordinated with the mechanical and civil engineers to draw their portions to get the plans through the city approval process. The city did ask us for a few modifications which the architect took care of. The architect also makes himself available on a per hour basis should we need to consult him during the construction. So far, we have consulted him only once for a couple of hours to clarify some items, which he didn't charge us for. We still aren't finished building yet, hopefully this summer.. HTH!

    Bookmark   February 7, 2012 at 2:06AM
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Thank you for the info, that's very helpful. Did you get a fixed price contract with your builder? For us this route would hinge on a good builder who wouldn't surprise us with unexpected costs (beyond the truly unexpected).

I'd love to see pics of your build - couldn't find any on the forum. But am new so might not be able to find them :)

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   February 7, 2012 at 12:21PM
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Hi Mayberry, yes, we did a fixed price contract. Unfortunately, things are not going smoothly for us, but we are moving along at any rate.. definitely go with a builder you know well and can trust! I haven't really posted any pics of my build so far, except for some defective doors.. lol!

    Bookmark   February 7, 2012 at 2:48PM
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I think option 2 would be far less risky. Having a local contractor build essentially the same house he has built previously is unlikely get complicated once you are out of the ground. Also, you have the ability to see the house before it's built.

There are potential problems with a design-build though. There are no checks that the work is being done well since you don't have someone independent like an architect working for you. Second, you need to be sure you now what is actually included in the price and what is not. Be wary of low allowances. Quality fixtures and finishes are expensive.

Make sure there are no problems with the lot. I would start with a geotechnical firm and find out if there will be any issues siting the house or constraints with the foundation.

Modern houses are generally more costly, partly because it's hard to hide less than excellent workmanship. You may need a lot of custom windows. With traditional construction, things are more forgiving and you don't need special subcontractors. Finally, I wouldn't risk working with someone that hasn't built from the ground up before.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2012 at 7:09PM
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Thank you, max_w. Greatly appreciate your thoughts. It really does make sense to go with someone very experienced. Next week we're going to walk through the model the semi-custom builder recommends. Hopefully we love it and our dilemma is resolved!

Thank you again MM!

In the interim I will continue to research plans. Assuming I can find one we like that suits our lot and doesn't have a lot of bump outs, do you think the costs would be similar? Or are there really economies of scale for the more 'mass produced' semi custom houses?

    Bookmark   February 8, 2012 at 6:44AM
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