building advice/ideas

jsewa7October 30, 2012

My wife and I are in the beginning stages of the construction process. After months of searching thousands of plans, discussing options, etc. we have settled on the home we are going to build. It will be similar to the Don Gardner, Brentwood plan. We are making a few modifications to the design, but will basically be the same house. We are meeting with a builder next week to go over the changes we want to make and get blueprints drawn. From there, the fun begins. We plan to have a few builders give us turn key bids. I have already have a few give me 'ballpark' ideas based on the Brentwood plan and was a little surprised in what they through out. The lowest was $330K not including well, septic, driveway, etc. This is a 2400 sq ft house. I know it has alot of covered porch with garage, but just seemed a little on the high side especially considering we are not finishing the room above garage initially. We are also going to look at being our own GC and subbing it all out. I feel confident that i can save enough $$ to justify the headache that comes with this. Our bank will allow us to do this but they have reccomended if we do so, looking into the option of offering a contractor a % of our costs to be the 'superintendent' of the build. Finally, we are going to check with contractors on them building the 'shell' of the house, getting it all dried in and then us taking over and subbing the rest out.

My question to those reading is can you offer advice on any or all of the above options we are looking at. With my job, i have the flexibility to be at the build site pretty regularily and it is only a mile from my office. We would like to keep total costs including well septic etc. less than 300K. Based on this plan, do you think that is reasonable if we are the GC. What are some cost saving ideas that you all reccomend? My step dad is an electrician has agreed to handle all of the electrical needs with my only cost being material. I know that will help a good bit. I could ramble on and on, but for now, just looking for all of the advice i can get so i can be best informed when we have our blue prints and start pricing this thing out.


Here is a link that might be useful: Brentwood Plan

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It really depends on your area of the country and what finishes you choose.

Our house will be a little over 2400 square feet and our builder has really been working with us to save costs.

We splurged on the siding (we wanted hardi shingle- which came in at 22K). But we saved on other areas. We are doing an ikea kitchen we are installing ourselves (5K versus 17K for custom cabinets), we are buying- to avoid markup- and installing our own flooring (6K vs 9K through the interior place). We are buying and installing our own tile. My brother in law is painting. We had a bunch of trees so we are getting back close to 4K for those.

We paid for quite a few things out of pocket, like our drawings (3K), engineering ($850), building permit (5K), septic design (2K) because I did not want to include those in the loan and pay interest on them.

Our septic is 12K and our driveway was 10K (build and put in by the previous owner).

Our total cost to build will be roughly 308K (283K and then 24K for taxes). So you can do it, you just have to be willing to do some work and you have to have a builder and a bank who is willing to work with you.

I will say, just doing the few things we are doing has caused me MAJOR stress. I cannot imagine doing ALL the GC work. I would find a builder who will work with you.

Good luck! It is an exciting but stressful time!

    Bookmark   October 30, 2012 at 5:48PM
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It really depends on your area of the country and what finishes you choose.

Our house will be a little over 2400 square feet and our builder has really been working with us to save costs.

We splurged on the siding (we wanted hardi shingle- which came in at 22K). But we saved on other areas. We are doing an ikea kitchen we are installing ourselves (5K versus 17K for custom cabinets), we are buying- to avoid markup- and installing our own flooring (6K vs 9K through the interior place). We are buying and installing our own tile. My brother in law is painting. We had a bunch of trees so we are getting back close to 4K for those.

We paid for quite a few things out of pocket, like our drawings (3K), engineering ($850), building permit (5K), septic design (2K) because I did not want to include those in the loan and pay interest on them.

Our septic is 12K and our driveway was 10K (build and put in by the previous owner).

Our total cost to build will be roughly 308K (283K and then 24K for taxes). So you can do it, you just have to be willing to do some work and you have to have a builder and a bank who is willing to work with you.

I will say, just doing the few things we are doing has caused me MAJOR stress. I cannot imagine doing ALL the GC work. I would find a builder who will work with you.

Good luck! It is an exciting but stressful time!

    Bookmark   October 30, 2012 at 5:49PM
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1) This is not a cheap plan.

No Don Gardner plans are cheap to build.

2) Take excel spreadsheet and put your own amounts.

Survey - $700
Hookup tap fees
Exterrior doors
Garage Doors
Finish carpentry
Dumpster - $1200

    Bookmark   October 30, 2012 at 7:45PM
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If you do choose to be your own GC expect to have the project drag out for a very long time. My DH and I are acting as our own GCs and the project is certainly taking a long time to complete. However, when you throw in two full time jobs and raising a large family, the work can only proceed so fast.

A compromise between partial GC built house and partially owner managed might be worth serious consideration. You will save some money and save many headaches.

Good luck


    Bookmark   October 30, 2012 at 8:11PM
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The banks do not really like working with owner builders. They will require much more money down, typically at least 40%. Most homes being built now cost more to build than they appraise for unless you are in a very hot area for real estate. Add the needed up front money, and the fact that that 40% or the cost of the build may only yield you 20% equity in the home because of the build cost, and you can see why many people choose to buy existing rather than build. Some states also require you to pass some educational courses to act as your own GC. It is VERY VERY time consuming. You cannot really do this and be on a typical time schedule if you are employed full time. And if you aren't employed full time, then no bank will really finance you.

You only have freedom to build the home that YOU want if you are doing an all cash build. Otherwise, every decision has to be weighed as to resale value and what it will bring to the appraisal. The appraiser and bank are the ones who need to be happy at the end of the build. If you've done all of your research, then hopefully, you are happy too!

    Bookmark   October 30, 2012 at 8:25PM
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Are you talking to builders that typically build homes in your price range? We started by talking to builders that targeted a higher end home than we wanted to build, and they gave us higher quotes. Then a friend referred us to a builder who builds homes in the size we're planning for the price we're planning, and he gave us a quote we can handle. Our builder has structured his business around building homes for our price point.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2012 at 9:39PM
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I agree with zone4newby as well. We got a quote from a high end builder and his quote for just the shell was 375K with us doing out of pocket finish work. I made a point that the rest of the builders we interviewed were used to working with people in our price range- it makes a big different.

The way our bank did it is our builder acting as our "supervisor" for the things we are doing on our own. My bank allows an owner to do 5 or 6 things themselves. But they are also a small, local bank that specializes in construction loans so every build is a case by case. Because we bought our land for cash, they were more flexible with us then a large national bank would be.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2012 at 10:33PM
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Thanks for all of the words. Fortunately we are also dealing with a local bank and they are extremely flexible. They actually will allow us to do everything on our own with a contractor that they approve acting as a supervisor/inspector for a fee in which we and the contractor negotiate. That said, if we do any of it with our own hands, it will stuff such as the hardwood, the tile, painting, etc. We still owe on the land, but have about $40K in equity in it which is helping with the bank process as well. I am in an extremely rural area of VA and currently contractors are at a slow almost frozen place with new construction. That said, i think my best case would be hire one of them as a supervisor for the build. I pick the subs, handle permits, inspections, paying subs, buying material etc. and the contractor will be there to help me manage this, watch over subs to keep them honest and not cutting corners, and more than anything, give me the piece of mind of having and experienced set of eyes helping me through it all. If we do end up being the GC and hiring a supervisor, the bank just requires us to use a spread sheet with basically all of the items shifrvb listed above and have bids on EVERYTHING or anticipated cost for things we will complete ourselves then they add in a 10% buffer and that is the "cost to build" they will use. The hardest thing for us is we know we are going to have to make comprimises in some areas to have what we want in others, but just trying figure out where to cut or not to cut is the challenging part for us.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 9:02AM
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We're also looking at building a Don Gardner home,and I'm in the same stage: Planning.
We will probably stay in this stage for two years or more, and that's fine: We will be moving across the county line, and we prefer our almost 16-year old to finish high school where we are now.

WHY are Don Gardner homes expensive to build?
I'm asking, not beginning a train of thought.
My gut reaction is that it's because they're complicated plans with lots of dormers, jogs in the outside, etc. Anyone verify that?

Looking at your specific plan, I see that you're building 3.5 baths. That one thing is very expensive, and yours are even more expensive because your plumbing runs from one side of the house to the other -- that also gives you more plumbing to maintain in the future. I read in the Not So Big House series that a bathroom costs about as much as a car (small, plain bath = economy car; big fancy bath = Escalade perhaps). So, if that is true (and I can only assume the book is right), you could save a great deal of money by cutting out one of the upstairs baths. I don't think eliminating the half bath would be a good idea because otherwise you'd be left with all downstairs-traffic using your master bath.

Your foyer is huge -- it could almost be a secondary bedroom -- and your master bath is quite generous. Other than that, your rooms aren't over-sized. I think the great room is even a bit "cozy", given the overall square footage.

A curved staircase requires more square footage than a straight one. Also, a curved staircase costs more to build: More labor is involved You can't change a staircase easily -- it affects too many other things -- but it is an expensive item.

Your roof is going to be very expensive -- very expensive. You have three gables in the front and a table plus two "round tops" over the two bay windows in the back. Google the cost of a dormer -- I was shocked to see that one dormer costs about what I earn in a month. If you could simplify the roof, you would save money. The houseplan we're considering has three dormers on the front and two on the back. We are cutting off the back dormers (we're not all that crazy about the idea of dormers as part of the cathedral ceiling over the great room anyway -- we think they "compete" with the beautiful windows below -- so that was an easy cut for us). And we're considering consolidating the three small dormers down into one larger gable -- I kind of prefer that one-gable look to the three smaller dormers anyway, and, in our case, these don't open up into a room.

You have two large bay windows at the back of the house. Corners cost. If you square off the master bedroom and the breakfast area, you will save big. Our floorplan shows a bay eating area, and we are squaring it off: One, because we intend to have a custom banquette bench built for that spot, and a bay-shaped banquette will be outrageously expensive. Two because it'll make the build less expensive, yet we will still have the same number of windows.

This is a general comment on the plan rather than a cost-cutting measure, but I'd consider cutting out that central door in your great room. I think it's going to impede your furniture placement. Instead, plan a smaller, less obtrusive door at the back of the great room near the breakfast area.

You have lots of "jogs" in the perimeter of your house. This adds to "the look" and I like them, but they do add significantly to the build. Instead of starting a wall and running with it, the workers have to cut (which means some waste), indent, then do it all again.

The porch is a realtively inexpensive item, but if this were going to be my house, I would consider chopping off the left portion /having the porch stop by the front door. I'd do this beause I wouldn't like people on the porch to be able to look into my bathroom. This porch is really just for show. It isn't deep enough to be a real sitting porch, but it is lovely.

It's a relatively small thing, but if you eliminate the angled countertop in the kitchen, you'll save. Personally, I'd be inclined to keep it "as is" because it looks more functional.

Use standard-sized appliances, doors and windows. This will not only save you huge amounts of money now, but in the future -- when they will need replacing -- you won't have to pay again for oddball sizes.

When it comes to finishes, consider the difference between buying quality and buying a prestige item. Quality is absolutely worth the cost: Solid-surface countertops, for example, are going to look good much longer than laminate. However, it's hard to justify the price differences between inexpensive granite and quartz or marble. Both will last the rest of your life -- unless you grow tired of the color. And Corian is less expensive than both and will cost even less. Likewise, stainless steel appliances add to the cost of your kitchen, but plain black or white are just as functional. Also, on the subject of appliances, shop scratch-and-dent stores; for example, my mother purchased a stove that had a nasty scratch down one side -- probably made by a careless delivery man as he cut open the packaging box -- but that side is hidden by the cabinet, so who cares? Last time I needed a refrigrator, I purchased a no-longer-made floor model; it's 5-6 years old now and is still going strong. I guess the point here is, Spend with thought. Don't fall prey to the "but I have to have this level of item".

On the subject of finishes, keep in mind that when you're looking at tile or hardwood/laminate, it's easy to see that item as THE FOCUS of everything. When it's one item in an entire room, it fades into the background a bit. Don't think that you MUST HAVE the tip-top in every category. Look for close-outs, clearances, etc. and see if you can find enough of what you like to do, say, the half-bath. Enough small items saved will add up to larger amounts saved.

Again, this is small, but consider eliminating the pier glass sidepanels beside the front door. First, they're unsafe: How easy it it for a thief to break that glass and reach right into your doorknob? And how much wood is between the pier glass and the front door to secure that deadbolt? Not much. You probably want light in your entry, so consider a door with glass only in the top 1/3 -- far enough up that a thief cannot break the glass and put his hand in to your doorknob. Second, the cost is higher than you might expect.

A general contractor will charge you big bucks for building those built-ins by your fireplace, special shelving in your closet or laundry room, etc. Instead, have those items left out and pay a local handyman to come in and build them to your specifications. You'll get a better price, you don't have to do it immediately, and they won't be built into your mortgage.

Last thought I have on saving: Your floorplan doesn't include any tray ceilings or coffered ceilings -- if you're thinking of adding these on, just know that they are expensive, yet add no real liveability to your house.

Good luck in making your decisions.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 10:20AM
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One more thing . . . I would be very interested to hear about your experience in being your own general contractor, if you do go that route. We are doing, as someone else said, an all-cash build, so we do have the freedom to do exactly what we want, but I'd like to hear what's effective and what isn't.

In an general sense, I like the idea of being our own general contractor, and I have a friend who's done it successfully, but more stories are always helpful. I don't mind researching and supervising, but I want to be sure I don't get in over my head.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 10:25AM
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LOTS OF GOOD INFO MrsPete and thanks for the detailed thoughts. I really appreciate it and will keep posted with progress

    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 11:21AM
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I posted this elsewhere, but a friend is acting as their own GC and saving TONS of money buying things off craigslist. Appliances, lighting, even flooring, windows and cabinetry. They have had to turn down a couple deals when it was clear someone was stripping a foreclosure home, but a lot of people remove perfectly good stuff when they remodel.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 11:53AM
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I'll just caution and voice a differing opinion. While I might be able to remove one of my own aching teeth or defend myself in court, I'm not sure how successful either effort would be. This country was built, of course, on pioneering spirit and self-enterprise, so your desire to participate as much as possible in the building of your own home is understandable. My advice, however, is let the experts use their own hard-earned expertise on your behalf, and you participate by selecting the most experienced and reputable experts, to work on your behalf, as you possibly can. The experience of selecting all of the owner-decided materials, finishes and equipment will be daunting enough. Good luck on your project!

    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 12:07PM
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MrsPete: Thank you for taking the time to post all of that! I can imagine it will be so helpful to OP and to many others trying to cut costs!

    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 1:50PM
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I offer our experiences...we are at the drywall stage of our second owner builder custom home. It is not for everyone. For the most part it has been enjoyable. We have learned a lot and made a few tiny mistakes, thank goodness they are tiny. Number one reason to be our own GC would be to save money. We are huge DIY's and this enables us to do the parts of the project we want ourselves (basically take over after drywall). Secondly, I want to control all materials used, etc!

I'm not putting down builders, contractors or licensed professioanls in anyway. In our experience, we have found that the GC role is mainly that of the project manager and organizer. I take pride in that and love that role! Yes, you do need to have information and knowledge of each trade; however, if you hire GOOD, Reputable subs they are the best in their area. IMOP the Electrician should know more about his field than the GC, it is his expertese. They should be able to do the job without the GC questioining everything. If you hire licensed, reputable, highly experience contractors there should not be a problem. You could, if you choose use all the same subs that the best builders in your area use. They will not do an inferior job for you if reputable.

We have not had any issues with owner builder construction loans. Our banks does not govern our finishes, etc. We told them what we would use and they appraised before our construction started, accordingly. We do a
have total "power" on our project. It seems that not all lenders work the same. We had 30% for down payment, taking into consideration the land was paid for in full.

We too, have heard stories about how long it takes. Our experience has been the opposite. We have been ahead of the builders as compared to our neighbors. I have been very proactive with communitcation and keeping the job moving. In the past we have had GC's that stalled on our job to catch up on another build or to slow down, so close homes can be worked on by crews at same/near times. Again, just sharing our experiences. I know there are experiences (ALWAYS) on both sides of the table.

With all this being is not for the faint at heart. I'm a SAHM with little ones at home and my husband has a flexible schedule. I make 2-3 trips out to the house daily and DH usually the same. We have a completely chaotic life at the current and have had and will have until we move. I'm beyond stressed and so is DH...sleeping pills have been required to stop thinking and start sleeping. It works for us, as we know we are saving TONS of money, but definitely not for everyone. You must be organized, willing to fire someone, be able to research and educate yourself, make quick decisions, etc. Not to mention it can be tough on your kids and your marriage. Also, like evrything much easier the second time around with the little details. There are so many things in the planning stage to get things in a custom home perfect. The littlest lighting detail and trim details that need to be worked out 6 months before breaking ground...those are the things that make a difference and I think a great GC can really oversee!

Best wishes to you on your decisions and your future build!

    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 3:11PM
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The reason your project add cost is:

Every corner cost near $2000.

1) Two bay rooms on the back with witch hats.

2) Windows, Esp front triple above porch, rear to the back of the house.

3) Excessive large porch. What exactly the point of having small narrow porch on the side of master bedroom? Additional stairs at MB and garage. I would extend garage forward and cut the deck.

4) rooms should really end on 2' or 4'. Saves on lumber, drywall, insulation.

5) Porch considered 0.30 of your building $. So if you build for $60 sq ft. porch $18/sq ft. Columns $200/each.

6) Garage space is slightly under 0.30 of your building $.

7) Siding hardy lap is $.80 sq ft, hardy plus $1.40 sq ft, hardy shingle $1.20 sq ft, hardy T11 $1.20 sq ft. Add $1 for install.

8) Roof Gables are not a big deal. Dormers have to be supported so added cost a bit. Hip is harder so some added cost as well.


    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 4:57PM
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Jswa7 -- I'm glad to be helpful, I sure don't know it all, but I'm glad to share what I know thus far.

Mommyto4boys -- you make being your own GC sound do-able. And it sounds like something that fits my skill set.

Can anyone recommend a book on the topic of being your own GC?

Shifrby-- several questions . . .

Do you mean an exterior corner costs $2000? What I call a jog?

Love the title witch hat. Okay, wasn't a question.

What makes the triple windows expensive? Is it just quantity?

    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 9:03PM
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Another opinion...If I were to hire a site supervisor or "sup.," I would do this on an hourly wage. I really doubt that you would require much of their expertise. More of a sounding board OR extra opinion if needed. I feel like yo.u would probably waste money that you are trying to save by GCing yourself. As you start getting bids, you will find out how helpful and informative the subs will be.

I read a paperback book about 7 years ago before our fist owner/builder project. I don't recall the title, but it was helpful and common sense if you will. Stressed so much about being organized, the project manager role, getting bids, handling problems, etc.

I would suggest if you are interested in GCing this yourself...start getting organized...make a spread sheet for ALL expenses and start getting bids. Ask around for sub referrals, visit custom homes and take down names and numbers. Start making calls and get 3 bids for everything. If this process goes well and you are impressed by your numbers, perhaps you would choose to go this route. A huge part of the project for us was getting all the permits from our county and all the subs hired.

I wish you the best in your peoject!

    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 10:32PM
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1) GCing is not that bad

2) You need to know what to pay w/o overpaying. Over pay 15% on each job and it would be cheaper to hire GC.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 4:33AM
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WHY are Don Gardner homes expensive to build?
I'm asking, not beginning a train of thought.
My gut reaction is that it's because they're complicated plans with lots of dormers, jogs in the outside, etc. Anyone verify that?

Read this:

And this is the whole list of their articles on cost-effective design:

Gardner does almost everything that this builder says not to do ... the complex roof lines, the zigs and zags in the walls, the baths that don't stack, the angled interior walls, etc.

The further you get from a cube the more it will cost.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 7:06AM
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Good articles, LazyGardens. The first contains some terms I don't know, but I'll be investigating them. The second has so much that I don't have time to read it right now -- but I'll come back later.

I do understand your comment that "the further you get from a cute, the more it will cost". The first article, however, puts it well as it says that the goal isn't to eliminate all of these costly items, but to make good choices on the things that matter most to you.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 9:58AM
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I'm in the same boat as a couple of you. We want to build a very simple 1500 sqft with basement in rural NE Iowa. We may build on the family farm, and I will be acting as our GC. I have talked to a couple of builders in the neighboring "big city" and they wanted 250k and 325k. What? That is way out of our price range, and that was just the house and with us doing a lot of the finishing and not finishing the basement. We are also working with a small town bank that the family farm has done business with for 150 years.

Plus I didn't like the way they treated me on the phone. I also know I would be there everyday (I am also a SAHM of one toddler)and every question will go through me whether we have a GC or not. So why shouldn't I just do it? I am well educated and although I have no building experience I had tagged along to enough job sites with my dad and uncles to know when at least some things do not look right. I will also try to hire an inspector to come in and take an extra look at wiring and plumbing before anything gets finished. I will also have an energy audit paying particular attention to the windows.

I am well organized, and based on the advice of others and other owner/builder forums I have bought a couple of books.

What Your Contractor Can't Tell You: The Essential Guide to Building and Renovating by Amy Johnston

Be Your Own House Contractor: Save 25% without Lifting a Hammer by Carl Heldmann

I'm only a couple of chapters into the first book by Johnston, and it is very informative. Even if you hire a GC or someone to 'help' along the way it will help. She really explains every step, what to look out for, and what to ask.

I know there are going to be mistakes along the way, but I know we will get what we want with this house and am confident it will be relatively smooth at least. One of the things Johnston really stresses is planning everything before you even start to get bids. I'm not just talking about the plan itself but finishing materials so you can get prices. Plan right down to every little detail so you can whittle down the amount of surprises.

Good luck on your build.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 12:34PM
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Sophie Wheeler

Unless you actually know enough to be able to do quality control on a build, then you really have to rely on the honesty and integrity of your subs. That can bite you if you don't know enough to be able to judge them for the bid. Getting substandard work that you don't realize is substandard work is only one of the pitfalls of self GCing.

Hiring a "supervisor" can also be a mistake. They are the "substitute teachers" of the construction world. They don't get any respect from the trades or the homeowner. If they had the actual skills, they'd be actual GC's and wouldn't even consider such a role. They don't have the power over the trades that a GC will because they don't have economic control over the build or any real decision making power. He who holds the pursestrings is who has the power and who the subs will listen and respond to. And, if you give a "supervisor" enough power and incentive (and commensurate paycheck) to actually control the build, you might as well be hiring a GC.

Subs also typically do not give their best prices or scheduling priority to owner builders as they offer zero incentive to do so. They won't be hiring them again in the future, so no repeat business. Unlike a GC, who may use them regularly in the future.

Yes, you'll pay slightly more if you use a GC over a site supervisor, but if you choose the right GC, you'll gain efficiency in the scheduling, and some better pricing overall. If it's a virtual wash as far as the money goes, you might as well err on the side of experience and responsibility.

Best case scenario for self GCing is that you have a nice nest egg saved up for the unexpected expenses, know enough to actually build your house with your own hands but are willing to pay for other hands to do it, and you are retired, and so are able to spend long days on site babysitting the trades and solving the blame game of who caused the problem that you now have to figure out how to fix. If you lack any of those components, you are going to have a really stressful time, and may end up financially strapped from the process.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 2:20PM
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You don't mention where you will be building but in some places you can actually hire a company to provide expert advice as well as give you lists of pre-vetted sub-contractors if you decide to be your own builder. In Texas where I live, there are at least three such companies that I know about.

Owner Builder Network


Texas HelpUBuild

Each of the above companies differs slightly in the exact services they offer but, in general, they act as guides/mentors/expert advisors to folks who choose to build their own homes and they help you to find/hire good subs who will treat your job as if you were a volume builder because the subs want to stay in good with the mentoring company. I'm not really sure what UBuiltIt or HelpUBuild charge for their services but Owner-Builder Network's bases their fee on the square footage of your house.

In my neighborhood which consists of about 135 two to ten acre lots with about 100 custom or semi-custom homes built over the past 12 years, 5 homes currently in the process of being built, and about 30 lots still vacant, there are 8 couples that I know of who used one or the other of the above companies and built their own homes. We have regular neighborhood parties to whom everyone who owns a lot in the neighborhood is invited. At these gatherings, homebuilding/remodeling is often a topic of conversation - especially whenever someone who just finished their build or who is still in the process of building attends. And I would say that ALL of the people who built their own homes with the help of one of the above companies seem to be quite happy with their building experience and they regularly say that they got their money's worth and would do it again. Meanwhile, among those of us who hired professional builders, I would say at least 50% now loudly curse our builder's name and feel that, one way or another, we got thoroughly ripped off.

I hired a builder and wound up having to fire him midway thru the build due to his shoddy workmanship coupled with suddenly finding myself having to pay off $60K in liens filed by subs that my builder hadn't paid even tho he had been given the money to pay them. He was broke because he'd spent our money to pay off subs he still owed from previous jobs. Classic "robbing Peter to pay Paul" and due to the imploding economy, we were his last suckers. After we found out about the liens, he admitted he was broke and then had the gall to ask us to advance him MORE money so that he could purchase the materials he needed to compete our house! Yeah right. Just how stupid do I look???

After firing him, and hiring a lawyer to try and get some of our money back and make him release a residual lien he still held against our property, we took over and finished the build ourselves. But by that point we were so broke we no longer felt we could afford even the very reasonable Owner-Builder Network fees... so we had to proceed without expert guidance. Fortunately neighbors who had built their own homes freely shared with us the knowledge they'd gained in the process and the names of the subs they had used. So in a way, I'll admit, I got a lot trickle-down benefit from all three of the above companies.

Even if you're not in Texas, you might check out the above websites and see if there are similar companies operating in your area. If I had it all to do over again, I'd definitely GC my own build with the assistance of one of the above companies.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 6:19PM
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hollysprings offers some very good advice to those who are considering being their own general contractor, as an owner-builder.

For a first-time home owner-builder, knowing what all the required trades are, finding subs to bid (and getting them to submit bids), evaluating what's a good and not-so-good bid (may have little to do with price), and getting subs to the site and completing the work according to drawings and code requires a lot of experience, time and energy.

Add the need to buy materials, schedule deliveries and make progress payments for various subs and the project management gets more complicated.

Subs, on the other hand, would often much rather work for a GC who may give them more work, rather than a one-time owner-builder. Very hard for a sub to stay in business on the one-time owner-builder market. Subs may have more than one job at a time, and getting them on site and completing the work may be a challenge for a one-time owner-builder.

All of this to say that for the one-time owner-builder, their project is the only and most important project on the planet. For most of the rest of the world, their project is only one of many, even in slow times.

For those who want to be their own general contractor, do your best to understand how the construction trades have to think and operate, in order for them to stay in business.

The motivation for being one's own GC is to save money and to "control" the building of one's house. As described above, construction is full of pitfalls, so proceed with all due diligence!

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 10:59PM
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The people I know who are saving a ton of money as owner-builders are saving enough money through sweat equity and using used building materials that they could probably afford to not quite get the best rate from their subs and still save.

I have minimal experience with building (part of the reason our talk about being owner-builders lasted all of 10 minutes before we discarded the idea) but my parents are in retail, and relationships are incredibly important. People who buy in quantity regularly and pay their bills on time get better deals than anyone who doesn't do that, or who is unknown. Based on that, I would assume that an owner-builder who is planning on relying on the expertise of their subs will probably pay their subs more than an established builder. And I think that if you're looking for your plumber to do more for you than an experienced builder would ask them to do, it's appropriate to pay them more.

I think it would be very easy to pay a little too much for a couple subs, and have a few delays, and have that eat up a large percentage of the planned savings from being one's own GC. Add in things like the cost of eating out all the time because we don't have time to cook, extra gas for driving to and from the site, passing on over-time pay... and the payback for all the work of being our own GC starts looking less certain.

For us, I would be more comfortable getting a job for which I feel qualified and passing those earnings along to a carefully selected builder than deciding to act as our own GC.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 11:41AM
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One thing I wonder about with owner builder is that for all the things we are doing, the bank does not reimburse us until the item is installed. So we are buying things (in our case flooring/tile/kitchen cabs) with cash/credit card and paying ourselves back after item is installed and the bank inspects and reimburses us. How does that work with the an owner builder? You have to front all the costs? It seems impossible.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 12:13PM
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In our case all the BIG ticket items we are billed for, the bank checks to see if they are complete and cuts us a check that day. For, framing, HVAC, rough plumbing, rough electrical, dry-wall, etc. Our lender has had the money for these items in plenty of time to pay the contractors. We did not need to pay and get reimburssed for them. We have not had any problems with the BIG items, but the smallerish items it can get tricky.

The lights, fixtures, etc. if you are using the construction loan for would need to charge and get reimburssed. For the most part we are paying cash for these items, but flooring, etc. we will be putting in the loan. For appliances, we opted to do a 2 year, no interest at a local store. Our construction loan has been very easy to work with us, for example...our cabinet maker requested $10K to get started and the lender cut a check and didn't have any issues with this at all. For another item, I gave the quote/bid and said I expect their bill to come in a few weeks (and asked for the money in advance).

Our lender will be out next week to check our progress...dry-wall and exterior complete, yeah! A sub working on our exterior, surprised us and asked for payment yesterday. So, we had to pull together all of our pennies to pay him until we get reimbursed for that next week. So, a lot of it is timing and how your lender works.

Seems the "bigger" the sub/company, the safer you are with having a little wiggle room to pay them. However, the small, one man operations...will want paid the day they start and the day they finish (so you need to be prepared for that).

It is critical to remember to have important documents signed by all subs too. We have a lean waiver signed by each sub at the time they accept payment for the work. AND, so very important...we use a form before each sub starts that spells out we DO NOT provide workers comp. insurance and they are responsible to provide their own (they must sign).

    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 2:45PM
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You should take a look at this thread on the Kitchen Forum from "just" a remodeler who is GCing a kitchen project and who is really really stressed out. Multiply all of those issues by a whole house. Then decide if your health and relationship can stand it.

Here is a link that might be useful: i'm going to lose it (vent) - diy gcs should read this.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 7:38PM
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