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Old 11-16-2015, 12:45 PM   #21
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My husband is an Architect. We had one house built by a contractor. Keep in mind the fact that he is detail oriented, we supplied all the plumbing fixtures and actually did the tile work. [He is an over-educated construction worker.] Only the best contractor in the area was willing to build the house - all the others begged off claiming that Architects were too tough to work with (keep that thought in mind when you read the earlier comments). That said he visited the site almost daily and caught mistakes that could have been costly.

That level of service from an Architect isn't cheap.

If the OP can find a great house in need of work that would be the route I suggest. Remodel in bite-sized chunks.

One of my concerns in 'hot' construction markets is the dearth of skilled craftsmen. Trade connections are very valuable.
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Old 11-16-2015, 02:03 PM   #22
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One of my concerns in 'hot' construction markets is the dearth of skilled craftsmen. Trade connections are very valuable.
You can say that again. DH and I aren't building, but we just went through doing work on one house before selling it and are still (4 months later) trying to wrap up projects on the new house. One of the two biggest trials were the guys who resurfaced the patio around our pool in the old house- left the pool uncovered for weeks in the winter, always had excuses about why no one showed up to work that day, and very nearly didn't finish before we put the house on the market even though they'd known 6 months before what their deadline was. The other- we brought in the company that would enclose our screened-in deck the week after we moved in (mid-July) and just last week the municipality approved the final work. We'd used them before and have no doubts about the end product, but for 2 weeks our second-floor deck had no windows or walls- just some yellow "caution" tape to remind us to stay away from the edge! We also had replacement windows installed but framing not completed in our kitchen and BR for 2 weeks- also a reputable company.

I think the laborers all went to work for those people on HGTV who manage to remodel a house from top to bottom in 7 weeks.
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Old 11-16-2015, 05:14 PM   #23
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If the OP can find a great house in need of work that would be the route I suggest. Remodel in bite-sized chunks.
I bought a lot and was going to build...then a good fixer in a great location became available and I bought that instead and sold the lot. I don't regret it one bit.
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Old 11-16-2015, 05:31 PM   #24
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Built two additions myself and one house acting as GC but doing a LOT of the work myself. Also presided over hundreds of millions of municipal construction. The problems with acting as GC yourself is that you're a "one only" and trying to find subs responsive to you for reasonable price at coordinated time is really a challenge (why I did a lot of the work myself). Cost plus? My municipal experience pretty much didn't allow it. Had one horrid case where we sued contractor for $16 million (and actually WON!) but had a clause where we could hire replacement contractor (usually bonding company has that right). We had an interim completion mandate that we turned a good contractor loose on cost plus. He did great work but left us scratching our heads how what we thought would cost $5 million ended up 9....and this was with a very competent consulting engineer scanning every line item. It's just not a good way to insure your successful value priced project imo. Good luck, lot of good posts above....
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Old 11-17-2015, 10:42 AM   #25
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I remember the carpenter who built our interior staircase. He was royalty and his employer knew it!
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Old 11-17-2015, 11:47 AM   #26
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I would be very interested to know what sorts of improvements people got in their custom-built homes, that they could not get by the regular route. Builders are usually willing to do a little customizing as a house is going up.

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Old 11-17-2015, 11:56 AM   #27
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I bet even with all of this advice not to do it, the OP still goes ahead with his plan.
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Old 11-17-2015, 01:53 PM   #28
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I'm the OP and we decided not to pursue building the house (at least in this subdivision). Thank you for all the good posts. It helped DH and I think it through more. Now we are trying to decide between a villa that has some issues (we told the real estate agent it had to be re-sided with Hardie board like the rest of the subdivision -- doubt if owner will do it), remodel our house (we always come to the conclusion we should move) or just remain with the status quo and do some traveling.

If I had to guess, it's going to be option #3 at least for now.
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Old 11-17-2015, 02:28 PM   #29
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Make you best guess at cost, double and add 30%. Works every time! :-)
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Old 11-18-2015, 12:42 PM   #30
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... Now we are trying to decide between a villa that has some issues (we told the real estate agent it had to be re-sided with Hardie board like the rest of the subdivision -- doubt if owner will do it), ...
I doubt that the seller will reside the house prior to closing. Why don't you ask a contractor to give you an estimate of the cost then factor that into your offer? You should contact a siding contractor with an excellent reputation for workmanship (flashing, underlayment).
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Old 11-27-2015, 05:38 PM   #31
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All good comments here. Couple comments from my experience. Unless you have the ability to go over budget by 25%, I wouldn't even think about it. As people have said, unless you think of every detail (very hard to do), you will have changes that will cost a lot.

Also, one comment above captured our experience. You think of materials in a much different way than the contractor does. Unless you're detailed down to the precise material you want, expect to pay more when you figure out that you'd rather have the better (more expensive material). The tile was a good example. Ours was the windows.

Also, don't forget the landscaping. It can cost a small fortune and is not something a builder typically handles.

Another comment said to do the general contracting yourself. Unless you're in the business, good luck finding quality craftsmen. The good ones are locked up by the good general contractors and appreciate the steady work that those general contractors offer them.

In the end, it's about money and your relationship. The more money you have relative to the cost of this house, the better off your relationship will be. When my wife and I moved into our home 20+ years ago, we had absolutely no cash left and even had to borrow money from family just to finish the house - which obviously had to be done before we could get a mortgage. It was very stressful.
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Old 11-28-2015, 07:47 AM   #32
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I think it's the rare customer who can out-maneuver a builder. The builder wants to bid the project cheap to get the job and then up the profit with change orders, knowing it's extremely likely some of these things will occur:

- The customer will not have thought through every single detail. Something not specified until mid-project costs more than the same thing factored into the initial plans.
- The customer will realize they want something changed in mid-stream.
- The builder will find a flaw in the plans that require something be changed.

Even if you go with a firm fixed price contract instead of cost-plus, you're going to still run into extra costs from change orders.

I think the smart thing is to plan for an extra 15% over your initial price and if you do better, pat yourself on the back.

We never had a custom home built, but I deal with a lot of contracts that end up having to be modified during execution.
Yep, that reminds me of a contractor who had a beautiful 60' Hatteras sport fishing boat named Change Order.
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Old 11-28-2015, 08:23 AM   #33
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I feel so blessed that I had an old high school friend who had a good reputation as a builder in our area when we rebuilt our home. This guy was very low key. Most materials came from a local lumberyard at his cost (generally 15% discount). He and his helper were $x per hour and there was a maximum amount that the labor would be for the project (which they hit about the time they were wrapping things up).

I played GC and selected and coordinated the subs for plumbing, electrical, air exchange system, spray foam insulation, masonry, etc. He suggested people for each and I got quotes from them and others I learned of through word of mouth. For the most part the subs all got along. I did have to cut the first mason loose because I wasn't happy with their workmanship and the way they worked.

Overall things went quite smoothly... I guess we were lucky. We demolished in late October, were weather tight between Thanksgiving and Christmas and moved in on May 1st of the following year... so about 6 months in total. It could have been quicker if we had pushed things but we didn't care to move before May so there was no need to push the schedule.

Ended up a bit over budget (5-10%) due to choices we made along the way for upgrades.
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Old 11-28-2015, 08:45 AM   #34
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We also had a wonderful experience building our dream home.

We used an architect to design the spaces that worked for our family but saved a bit of money by not having him design all of the trim and having him involved in the ongoing project.

We were incredibly lucky choosing our builder. They were excellent at communication so no surprises. All estimates were dead on except for two subs - painting and excavating. Excavating made sense since out lot involved lots of ledge blasting and grading the slope.

We broke ground in November and moved in he following August - right on schedule.

Things I learned

1) it takes lots of time to define everything you want but is critical to keeping on budget
2) you need to make trade offs. We traded extra Windows and porches for some of he things we wanted.
3) you need to make decisions quickly to avoid delays. We met with out team daily to make decisions so things could move forward
4) spend time anticipating needs as family ages. For example, We built an "away room" because the rest of the house is so open because we correctly anticipated our three boys would get loud and we would want to have a way to have some peace.
5) build only want you KNOW you will use. We thought it would be cool to have lofts above each bedroom. It was cool. It none really are used.
6) it is hard to not lose money when building custom. We are planning on selling our home when the twins head off to college in 2 years and I don't expect we will recoup our investment as we built at the high end of our area which hasn't appreciated much over the years. We've seen custom homes in other states go for less than their build cost (where land isn't scarce).

Overall would do it again in a heart beat if we could work with he same team.

Good luck


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Old 11-29-2015, 05:38 PM   #35
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We built our retirement home on waterfront/island property we had bought 15 years earlier. We looked at custom home builders, but too expensive (didn't want any residual debt and needed to stick to a strict budget). We opted to go with a program called UBuildIt and we helped design floor and DH acted as GC. It took almost a year, but we did as much work as we could ourselves on weekends. We have been using the house on weekends and live in it permanently next year when DH retires (I retired last year and spend about 70% of my time there). Overall we are happy with the outcome, but would change a few things after spending time there. We did all landscaping (still a WIP).
It was a good experience, but would not do it again. A lot of work!



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Old 11-29-2015, 06:08 PM   #36
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Yep, that reminds me of a contractor who had a beautiful 60' Hatteras sport fishing boat named Change Order.
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Old 11-29-2015, 08:51 PM   #37
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There is a terrific blog written by a guy in Seattle who detailed all the steps and costs involved with buying the lot and building a house.

A House by the Park

Read every sentence: this will be your life!

It's a fun and fascinating read.
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