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Building Your Own Home

Although the majority of homebuyers will buy an already-built house, there is an increasing number of others who choose to embark on the task of building their own home.  Although this task is undoubtedly much more arduous and time-consuming, the benefits usually pay of. 

By building your own house, you will have the most influence in the design and construction of the house.  This means, you can build to your tastes and specifications – ideally creating your dream home.  Another big attraction in building your own home is the cost.  It is a common misconception that building your own home will cost much more that buying an already-built house, but this is far from the truth.  At the very worse, you’ll pay a bit more, but then again, you’ve invested in the house of your dreams.  Normally, the cost of building is usually around the same as the cost of a house of similar specifications. 

For many savvy people, who may have some construction know-how or have been diligent enough to hunt for bargain land and builders with low charges, building your own home can be a significantly cheaper option.  Generally, self-building should save you 25- to 40-percent off the cost of a similar ready-built home.  Consider this, a friend of mine purchased land in Northern California for $150,000.  They built a large custom-home for $300,000.  Although the prices may seem high, once their home was completed, their property is now values at around $700,000!  

One of the first things you should do when considering building your own home is to hire a general Contractor who can manage the entire project.  This by no means puts you out of the loop.  You will still have the largest say in how you want the house to turn out – it will be the contractor’s job to advise you as to how feasible it is.  An experienced Contractor can be highly beneficial since they are someone who knows the building codes well, and can coordinate all aspects of a project and supervise other subcontractors.  Some of the responsibilities of a General Contractor include:

- Obtaining competitive bids

- Telling the subcontractors when to come

- Telling the subcontractors how much to do on each visit

- Making sure that the work, which must be completed by one contractor before another

is able to do his work, is actually completed

- Overseeing the quality of the subcontractors' work

- Making sure that any warranty problems that occur after the job is done and after each subcontractor is paid are taken care of with no cost or problem to you. 

Be warned, despite the savings you may save, you should expect to do much more work compared to if you were just buying an already-built house.  This page will give a review of the appropriate steps that needs to be taken in the process of building your own home. 

1. Getting Money 

You will need a considerable sum of money if you’re planning on building your own home.  Things will definitely be much easier if you have savings of at least $20,000 to $100,000.  In the whole home building process, you will often find that there are a surprising number of things that seem to come out of nowhere that require a quick injection of cash.  The amount you need is dependant on the size of land you may need to purchase, and the style and size of your home.

Chances are, if you’re like most people, you won’t have that kind of money readily available.  But fear not, there are many avenues you can pursue to obtain a loan.  If you already own a home and have a fair bit of equity, you can use this to leverage other cash. Contact your Bank to get an Appraisal of your current home and see how much you can qualify for a Line of Credit.  Other options you can investigate are Builder's Loans, Personal Loans and other Line of Credit options.  Often, you’ll need the money from a combination of sources in order to get the whole home building project of the ground. 

2. Purchase Land

Obviously you’ll need some land to build on so you’ll have to do some hunting around.  With some patience, you may be able to find some real bargain deals on land, which are much more abundant as compared to finding a bargain home.  However, you may encounter some difficulties along the way.  Available land within a city may often belong exclusively to a Developer or Builder, which means that if you buy their land, you have to hire their Builders to build your house.  It’s always a good idea to contact the Builders to find out the cost of their services, to see if it is within your price range.  If the difference is less than $50,000, it's probably better to buy through a Builder, whether Independent or a large company. You may be able to do part of the work, provided your skill level is adequate, which will knock the price back even further.  It can also be an educational experience by having that builder construct the home.  This way you can really watch to see how it works and then try it yourself on your next house!  

If you are adamant about hiring your own builder or if the builder is charging too much, you will need to find a B.Y.O.B. Lot (Bring Your Own Builder) in order to build the house yourself, or to bring in an Independent Builder.  Some resources you can look to for finding such land are the internet, your local real estate papers, bargain papers, newspapers, etc.  Enlisting the services of a real estate agent may be beneficial in your search for a B.Y.O.B. lot since they may be able to tap into other resources that may not be necessarily available to you.   

In any case, buying land is always a good investment, particularly if the land is located in a high growth area.  Remember, Real Estate rarely goes down in value, so you'll have a nice place to live and when you sell it down the road, you'll make a bigger profit than most people make in the Stock Market. 

3. Designing the House

The land you buy will largely determine what you can build due to zoning restrictions.  If you've purchased land within a city, the neighborhood will be likely be pre-planned, and the Developer you bought the lot from will let you know what type of construction is allowed.  The size of land will also play a significant role in determining the size and style of your house.  If your land is an in-town lot, it may come with a survey.  If not, you will need to hire a local Surveyor if you have to do your own land.  Your will need this information in producing a house design as well as for completing some permit forms. 

Once you've got a basic idea of the size and shape of your house in mind, sit down with some graph paper and start playing around with what you want in the house.  This can be fun, planning how many bedrooms and bathrooms you want and where you’ll put them.  Other important considerations include careful planning of the kitchen, family/living room, and garage.  There is a ton of online information available, so that’s a good spot to acquire some inspiration.  There are some excellent resources on-line and in magazines where you can purchase full sets of blueprints for a fraction of the cost of having them drawn up from scratch. 

If you've had a great idea for a house in your head, by all means spend the money and have them drawn up properly by an Architect or Draftsman.  The general cost of having your own house design professionally drawn up is anywhere from $2,500.00 and up, depending on the house and the Architect.  Even if you made designed the home independently, it is strongly recommended that you have an Architect or Draftsman draw up the final blueprints.  A skilled and experienced eye is required to see any potential mistakes, or to offer suggestions for how you can maximize your space. 

3. Permits

Permits are the keys to open the project.  After you have purchased your land, you must make sure that you’re allowed to build there.  Check with the local authorities to make sure that you are allowed to build your house the way you want, as there may be rules that you weren't aware of.  In light of this, you or your Architect may have to present your design plans to a council before you can get started.  This will definitely be the case if you are building in an historical district. 

If the technical details of permits are bogging you down, meet with the Permitting Officer to attain a better understanding of exactly what is required in completing the forms. 

Give yourself two to six weeks for processing for a regular house.  Permits aren't cheap, so be prepared to shell out clams!  A good online resource for obtaining more information in regards to permits is www.PermitPlace.com.

4. Utilities

Gas and Power – Most acreage lots, particularly in-town, will have gas and power services to the property line.  If you’re planning to build a home in a more remote, usually rural, area, the land may not be serviced.  In both cases, you will have to estimate costs in getting these services available.  Obviously, you should expect to incur larger costs if the latter scenario is applied to your situation.  In any case, you should contact the relevant gas and power companies for a more accurate estimation.   

Septic &/or Well – Most in-town lots will have septic and water services that can easily be tapped into.  This is a different story for land in remote areas where they these services are usually not available.  You will have to provide information of the amount of water (gallons/minute) in order to get a mortgage, and to see how comfortable your life will be. Water can be trucked in, but that's quite a large ongoing expense if your well is dry.  Most properties have already been drilled so the seller can prove that there is enough water to sustain the house.  Often the Excavator will handle the Septic System, too, so it's worth checking into this.

5. Excavation & Foundation

After clearing your land you will need to excavate a hole for the foundation of your future home.  Excavation work is also required for connecting your home to underground town water and sewer lines and for installing a private septic system, since trenches must be dug.  Trenches are also required for underground utilities, including electrical, telephone, and television wires. 

The cost of excavation varies from lot to lot more than any other building cost.  The difference is largely dependant on whether the land has ledge, big boulders, hardpan, and/or clay.  Extensive deposits of ledge require blasting, and large boulders and hardpan may require more powerful, and hence more expensive, excavation equipment.  Clay is very difficult to work with because it is an unstable material that is particularly difficult when wet.  An additional, related cost is the amount of fill (if any) that must be brought to the site to deal with these conditions.  You should always go with a local Excavator since you’ll save on 'traveling costs'.  Also, a local Excavator will be more familiar with the area - type and density of soil, lay of the land, local codes, etc. 

The cost of putting in a foundation is primarily determined by the size of your home and therefore can be determined before you purchase your land.  The most important factor that may change the foundation cost is for installing the drainage system to keep the foundation dry.  The type of system will be determined by the amount of water that is anticipated to surround the foundation during the wettest months of the year.  The more water that is expected, the more expensive the system required in order to keep the foundation dry.  This may require bringing additional fill to the site, since this will allow the contractor to raise the foundation above the water table.  For people wanting to build a walkout basement with full size windows and sliders, expect to pay more for foundation.  But this may be a wise investment that will significantly raise the resale value of the house. 

6. Building Materials

This is where you can save a considerable amount of money with some diligent investigation to see where you can get the greatest value.  You can always take your blueprints to building suppliers (i.e. Home Depot, Building Box) and they can estimate the amount and price of building materials required.  You will likely have to pay a small charge since, but its usually nominal, and well worth it to see how much your house will cost.

Framing Package - Sometimes it's cheaper to get your Frame, Floor System, and Trusses separately.  However, unlike getting all these materials at one place, the materials might not show up on the job site at the same time.  Shop around and talk to various lumber companies to see if you get a package deal.  Also, talk to their on-site engineers and salespeople since they may be able to offer some useful advice. 

Windows and Doors – The price for windows and doors can be quite variable, so really shop around for these.  If you’re lucky, you may be able to obtain them at wholesale prices, although that is usually only available to contractors.  If you don't have access to wholesale prices, you can take your blueprints to a hardware store or a supply company, and they will be able to provide a quote.  Most of the companies will be happy to give you a quote, which should be free.  It is important to choose the right type of windows.  'Builder's Grade' windows is cheaper than adding the proper Air Conditioning or Heating requirements for the house – talk to your contractor about this option.  Also, window sills are now available in vinyl, instead of wood, at no additional expense.  This saves a lot of labor, painting, and upkeep.  A nice door can really affect the total look of the house.  For areas of the house that may benefit from more light, check into French doors.  They have an appeal of their own, and there's a huge selection to choose from. 

Roof - There's a huge difference in cost in Denver Roofing materials so be sure to check into them to see what fits your budget.  Be sure to check with your contractor to make sure that your choice is within the limits of your Architectural Controls. 

Siding - Stucco, Vinyl Siding, Wooden Siding, Stone work or Brick.  Once again the choice is yours and you’ll most likely be limited by your budget.  Also, check to see if your choice is within limits of your Architectural Controls.  

Trusses - Check around for the best price.  Having them pre-made is often easier but may be a little bit more expensive.  Hire a Crane to lift these to the roof - you'll save the money in labor and time.  Also, trusses can sometimes be part of the complete Framing Package.

7. Electrical & Pumbling  

There are vast arrays of Electricians out there with varying abilities.  So be sure you to do your research in contacting an experienced electrician for an accurate quote of electrical costs.  Supply them with a blueprint for a more accurate quote.  Although many Electricians will wait until they can do a walk though of your house before giving a quote.  The Electrician will then find the most optimal electrical system for the house to distribute power safely to all of the different rooms and appliances.

The same principle also holds true for Plumbers.  Denver Plumbing work involves installing all of the water lines, sewer lines, sinks and bathtubs.  Be sure to shop around for sinks, tubs, and showers – your contractor or plumber may have some contacts where you can obtain reasonable prices.  You can also make your search easier by shopping online to see what will suit your home and budget.  Another good tip is to visit designer showrooms to get an idea of designs and new and improved equipment.  

8. Heating & Air Conditioning

Your contractor will be valuable in evaluating your heating and air conditioning needs.  Be sure that your blueprints place the furnace room in an adequate and effective location.  It is not uncommon to change the blueprint designs to account for the furnace room - a crazy design with no thought to the heating can cost you a bundle – so ensure that any design changes occur earlier than later.  A relatively new type of heating is In-Floor Radiant Heat.  It's a very effective method of heating a lower level and any tiled areas.  Keep in mind if you are putting in Radiant Heat and Hard Wood Floors that you will also need a Humidifier, or you run the risk of your floors getting too dry.

9. Drywall & Insulation

On the outside, the house may look complete; but inside, it won't look like a house until the drywall goes up.  Drywall (also known as "plaster board" and by the trade name "Sheetrock") is a half-inch layer of plaster or gypsum sandwiched between two thick sheets of paper.  It is remarkably solid, and also remarkably heavy.  The purpose of insulation is to lower the heating and cooling costs for the house by limiting heat transfer through the walls and the ceiling.  Insulation will involve installing foam channels and vapor barriers. 

The costs of drywalling and insulation can vary considerably, although the work could be done by yourself if you possess the know-how.  Weigh the costs and benefits – is it worth it to do this painstaking work?  It is recommended that a qualified and experienced professional do the job, particularly if the work is extensive.  You can always do the relatively simple task of drywalling but you may want to hire a appropriately skilled professional for the taping and sanding aspect of the drywalling process since these steps are the key in getting a really good finish.

10. Ceilings

There is an amazing variety of ceiling options out there.  Most homes these days have stippled ceilings but don’t feel limited to this.  A good tip is to check out different Show Homes in the area to see the variety of textured ceilings they have – you’ll be surprised at the different types of decorative ceilings.  Check your budget since ceiling prices can be quite varied depending on how elaborate you want your ceiling to be. 

11. Painting & Trim 

The safest option for painting is to go with neutral colors.  This is the best option if you’re considering selling your house in the future, after all, the next buyer may not be as big of a fan as hot pink as you are.  You’ll be able to get a better sense of colors when you survey your house, and you can always paint your color to see how you like it.  Paint costs are relatively cheap compared to other housing costs; so don’t be afraid to ‘experiment’.  But you may not even have to proceed this far.  With the advancement of digital technology, is it now possible to take pictures of the various rooms in your house and take them to a paint store.  They may be able to run those pictures through a special computer program, where you can see what your rooms would really look like with a particular color in advance.

Trim includes all your baseboards, interior doors, floor vents, etc.  The size of your trim should be in proportion with the size of the rooms in your house (i.e. for small rooms go with small trim).  If you're not sure, buy a couple of different pieces and take them to the house to see how they look.  Also, there are some cool corner pieces that will allow you to do straight cuts when you're installing the baseboard.  This can save you a lot of time and are also aesthetically appealing. 

12. Cabinets, Cupboards, & Countertops

You'll find no shortage of beautiful cabinets, cupboards, and countertops.  Your choice may be largely dictated by your budget – but be sure to compare prices and availability before you make your final choice.  You may get a lower or comparable price from an independent company, but delivery times may be longer that you expected.  If you have to wait for ages for the cabinetry, the rest of the work in the kitchen and bathrooms will be put on hold while you wait.  Than in itself can be costly particularly if you’ve hired workers to install them.  There are many types of countertops available from granite to marble.  You may also want to consider using a tile of the same material to create your unique countertops.  You can experiment with this by using three-quarter plywood as a base then tile the area.  Again, take a lot at showrooms for some ideas – you will be surprised by the amazing variety of cabinets, cupboards, and countertops. 

13. Lighting  

The type of lighting you get will have a profound effect on the look and feel of you house.  There is a large variety of lighting options, so take your time to mix and match to get the best look for your home.  If you’ve got Victorian-style house, then it may not look all that stunning with a modernist light right in the middle - but it'll be your house, so get whatever you like!  Recessed pot lights and track lighting are popular options are are relatively inexpensive, if you have a large area to light.  Once again, be sure to shop around for the best prices.  Surprisingly, some of the best prices can be found from local home hardware stores. 

If you're thinking of adding in a fireplace, ask your Contractor or Architect to determine where a suitable location would be.  Sometimes the cost will exceed the need to have it in a specific location, when you could install it for much less in a different location.  Most new homes are built with Gas Fireplaces, as opposed to Wood Burning Fireplaces.  It's a personal choice but keep in mind the dangers of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning from the combustion burning process, and the cost of wood (not to mention the space and work involved in stacking the lumber).  Shop around the many specialty stores to check for fireplace style and price.  There are many types of mantels and fireplace surrounds to choose from - you can create a unique mantel by visiting your local lumber store and choosing the crown molding that matches your kitchen, or you can buy one ready-made.

14. Driveway & Garage  

During the building process you will initially have a gravel driveway however that can easily be changed.  Driveways can be concrete, brick, stone, or asphalt – you may have to check with the local permitting authorities to see if what surface you can or must have.  Cost will undoubtedly be a huge factor in your choice, so see what you're allowed to have and check out your options. 

If you have the room on your property and the space in your budget, give some serious thought towards constructing a triple car garage.  While you may not need the added space, it will greatly add to the resale value of your home, and it may not add that much of a difference in the cost at the initial building stage.  Your garage can be attached to the front, back, or side of the house, depending on the size of the lot and the Architectural Controls.  When you are looking at the design of the home, having the entry door from the garage as close to the kitchen as possible will make bringing in the groceries much easier.  You can also consider drywalling and heating your garage too if its within your budget – once again this will improve resale value. 

15. Landscaping 

Most aspects of landscaping are decided by personal taste and budget, although the land itself will influence the extent of landscaping work that is required.  Some land lends itself to inexpensive landscaping while other land requires more work.  For example, if the lot is flat and contains few trees or shrubs it might require an extensive lawn.  Or if the land has poor soil for growing grass, it might require loam to be trucked in.

Carefully plan your landscaping duties on paper first – the type, size, and location of garden beds, grass, irrigation, etc.  You may want to drive around to look at other people’s gardens – take photos if needed.  Magazines and the internet resources can also spark some ideas.  Enjoy planning what type of garden you want – you can go wild!  A band of decorative rocks or tile around the Islands in your garden will make it easier to mow the lawn.  As for grass, hiring out for the sod is a good idea, since there’s such an enormous amount of work in preparing the ground before you can even begin laying the sod.  If you’re adding an irrigation system to the lawn, consult with your Contractor at the beginning of the planning stages of the house to see where it should go.  A great tip is to put a perimeter rim of landscaping rocks around the house since it will help to keep rodents from entering the house, something that will be very important if you are building in the country.