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Building a Home

There is no more exciting project for the homeowner than building a home to your own specifications. Whether you work with an architect to design from scratch, or customize a popular design, building a home is a very exciting project. The cost of building a home is a major deterrent for many would-be customer buyers. Many people are shocked at the cost of log home construction, for instance, but many other types of real estate construction are very expensive as well. For those on a budget, may I be the first to say that home improvement is the way to go, or to look for an existing home for sale. Building a home ain’t cheap! Building a home does not necessary mean better quality either.
As Paul Duffy, a professional builder of custom homes based in Tempe, AZ suggests, “just as in any other industry, you get honest builders, and you get unscrupulous folks. The trouble in my business is that you can’t tell by looking that you have a lemon … and the best of the unscrupulous folks are very, very good at hiding a lemon.” Checking your references, it does without saying, is extremely important. And be certain your building is building the same time of home – log home construction is very different than brick, and a stone masonry job is very different from a wood-frame home clad in vinyl siding. Everything is different – from the materials, to the construction equipment used, to the cost of building a home – and don’t assume that your potential home builder will inform you if he or she is less experienced with one rather than another. “I once built a log home for a customer in a lake district north of Toronto, Canada,” notes Paul Duffy, “the customer did his research, and knowing that log home construction is a specialty of our company, knew it was worth the extra cost to get the right talent to do the job.” “At the same time, if a customer asked me about building a home that required major stone work, I’d have to refer him someone else,” says Duffy, “just not what we do. I don’t have the expertise with the materials or the construction equipment. It’s a whole different sport.” Another important factor to consider is that real estate, of course, is an investment. And just as you’d look for certain factors in a home for sale, you must keep an eye to the potential resale when building a home.
Customization is one of the most rewarding aspects of building a home, but sometimes it is necessary to rein in your creative impulses. At some time, this house will be for sale, and the real estate market might not like your strange ideas of good design. It is also important to keep the real estate market in mind when you consider the cost of building a home. What kind of neighbourhood is it in? What is the economic status of potential buyers in future? A custom home for sale can fetch a premium on the real estate market if it is designed with a target market in mind, but if you over build in an area without many affluent buyers, you may find your home for sale languishes on the real estate market for a long time, or may have to be sold for less than you paid for it. Building a home can be a great investment, but like all investments, remember the bottom line is very important in the long run. In my years in the real estate business, one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen is people who decide to build their own home. Sounds great – all the customization, but you can reduce the cost of building your home, and have a great retirement project, all rolled into one. Nine times out of ten, such a venture ends in disaster. “I once had to tear down the entire structure an rebuild from the ground up,” explains Paul Duffy, “the home owner, a retired carpenter, thought he could get some buddies together and build a cottage from scratch. The wood work inside was indeed beautiful, and thankfully, we were able to salvage most of his cabinetry, but the foundation was so shoddy it had to be re-poured. Cracks, leaks … a complete mess. Next thing you know I’m building a home from scratch, but add to the cost all the demolition, and the costs he’d incurred in building the structure at first.” Handy men are better off considering home improvement projects, rather than building a home from scratch. For those really eager to try their hand at construction, however, there are some options that can let you flex your building muscles. Many structures, particularly those used in log home construction, can be purchased in ‘kits’ to be assembled by home-owner. In this case, building a home becomes much like assembling Ikea furniture, only obviously much more difficult and complicated. In these cases, you hire a contractor to pour your foundation, bring in plumbers and electricians and tilers and most of your tradespeople, but construct the frame and structure yourself. Log home construction is especially popular for this option, since log structures tend to be (of course many exceptions exist) less complicated than the myriad studs and drywall and interior walls of building a home in a typical way. Construction equipment can be very pricey, adding significantly to the cost of building a home, but thankfully much of it can be rented. While household tools are usually a worth while investment for home owners, you probably won’t pour concrete, or cut tiles, very often – rent these tools, and save yourself some money and hassle. “We own lots of construction equipment, obviously, but there is almost never a job I complete that does not have some rented gear on site,” explains Paul Duffy. “I built a house in Tempe last year, I think we were in the construction equipment rental shop every day for about two months. Lots of custom jobs, small pieces, that we just can’t justify owning the construction equipment ourselves.” And if a pro home builder doesn’t need to own all his construction equipment, do not let your pride (or a construction equipment dealer!) convince you otherwise. The cost of building a home is high enough without adding $900 to buy a wet saw to cut a handful of tiles for your new bathroom. You can rent construction equipment for a fraction of the cost, and have the added benefit of not having to store it. Storage, when building a home, is an oft overlooked dimension – without doors and windows, how secure is your building? Construction equipment has a habit of disappearing at night … particularly if you are listing your home for sale, it will be attracting a lot of attention. “I once had a job site lose $40,000 in construction equipment in one night,” explains Paul Duffy.
“It was in a great area of Tempe, and I guess we got a bit too cozy. Fortunately we were insured, but on that job, the cost of building the home – it was more of an addition, really – would barely have covered the cost of our construction equipment, let alone the materials and labour.” Another major factor to consider when building a home is your climate. This goes without saying, but there are a few big factors that need to be considered … first and foremost, log home construction is very popular for second homes, but this is a terrible idea in a desert climate, or in a really humid climate. “I once had a client who’s heart was set on log home construction … this is a specialty of ours, but he lived in the pacific northwest,” says Paul Duffy. “The humidity and constant rain can really do a number on all-wood homes, logs included. Logs can be tougher to seal than kiln-dried and treated numbers, and you’re just asking for rot problems. Log home construction is definitely not for that region.” Log home construction is also a bad idea in desert climates, because they tend to ventilate poorly, and absorb rather than reflect the hot rays of the sun. The sun can deteriorate the wood, and log home construction methods make air conditioning a very inefficient and awkward process. We do not recommend log home construction in these climates. Consider longevity, of course – the cost of building a home, and the hard work involved in building a home, mean you do not want to be having major repairs or having to rebuild in a few years. The cost of building a home is high, but using high quality and durable materials will be worth it in the long run. Check references for your builder very carefully, and if at all possible, be very involved with the materials planning for the home. Ask for a list, and do your research – they will be building your home, but you will have the piece of mind knowing that it will be done right!