Building a custom house

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Building a custom house

Postby cheesepep » Sun Dec 30, 2012 3:55 pm

This would be my dream and I am just in the imaginary state here.

Any one have any ideas especially regarding to the costs involved relative to a pre-built house?

For example, if I find a plot of land in a residential neighborhood, and want to build a house on that plot of land, then what are the costs? What if the plot of land is not vacant and I need to buy the existing house on top of it, raze it, and then building mine on top?

In the second case, if the pre-existing house costs about $300,000, then can anyone guesstimate (extreme ballpark figure wanted here), how much to build a custom designed house on the same plot of land (assume same sized house and other similar features)?

Custom designed meaning my own exterior and interior design, but nothing crazy.

How about would I start making my dream a reality?
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby midareff » Sun Dec 30, 2012 4:02 pm

Only U can run the numbers and see if it works inside your income, desires and budget. About a decade ago I found ... can't even descibe it, it was being used as a construction office insde a condo conversion building ..... they redid everything, and I mean everything, the way I wanted. Best decision I ever made except for currrent wife. If you can do a custom build, and have everything the way you, or you and spouse want.... tough to put a price on that but it definately has a value, and not insignificant.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby Flashes1 » Sun Dec 30, 2012 5:00 pm

We just closed on our new custom built house two weeks ago.

A few observations/points:

1. Do it because you want the perfect house that fits your needs and tastes. In other words, buying an existing is much cheaper.

2. Number 1 advise: if possible, choose a builder only after speaking to several people whose homes he built. My dad gave me this bit of advise: "if you're on speaking terms with your builder at close, he's a good builder."

3. Choose a builder who you personally like. You'll understand once your home is complete, but you'll talk to your builder more times during the day than you talk to your wife and kids.

4. Number 2 advise: hire a decorator who's built homes before.....they'll help pick everything down to the most minute thing. We paid ours $4k.....and it was probably the best money we spent during the construction process.

5. Negotiate the allowances------not the final purchase price------this would have been VERY helpful to know------$12k for electrical might sound like a lot-----but it might not be grounded in reality-----and unless you're very keen on such things you'll have no idea if this is a reasonable amount. This is where a skilled decorator pays for herself. She also gave the advise that you need to be careful about negotiating too hard on allowances because then the builder might nickel and dime you very little change you make down the road.

6. Go with 9' ceilings on first floor and basement.

7. Get Sonos player with speakers thruout the house (you'll thank me later).

8. Don't custom build unless you want to play an active role in the construction process-----you need to walk thru the house 4-5 days a week for 7 months-----you'll catch things along the way that you'll want to change.

9. Have deep pockets and most of all HAVE FUN. The quality of my family's life has dramatically increased........very serious about this------we built a 12 ft center island at counter height-----family congregates around it which leads to less TV watching--------3rd car garage makes my life incredibly better------big finished basement with air hockey table that kids love------gym-quality exercise room-------high-end home theater (see avsforums.com)--------and I can't wait for the summer to use the screened-in-porch-----(Sonos player----oh yeah).-----Woods in backyard for kids to play in-----and I love bird feeders.

10. Life is good. America is great.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby rustymutt » Sun Dec 30, 2012 7:41 pm

I recommend that you hire a top architecture design engineer, he'll have all the specs on the hardware, electric, water/sewer, and many more areas that can improve the quality, and livability of your new home. As I look back at my second home purchase mistake I made.
At the Very Least, Work Hard, Do Your Best, Know the Truth and the Facts and Always Be Honest!
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby user5027 » Sun Dec 30, 2012 8:01 pm

We hired an architect to design our house in 1988.

You also need to consider navigating the local zoning/land development/building codes/permit process.

I'm an engineer and did our plot plan to get the zoning permit.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby EagertoLearnMore » Sun Dec 30, 2012 8:06 pm

Congratulations on building your dream house. We have built in the country and in the suburbs. If you build in a development, you may have to use one of the "approved" builders as opposed to building in the country. In the suburbs you have the advantage of city water and city sewer (definitely my preference). Take a look at houses that are finished and look at the amenities. We prefer central vacuum and have found it to be worth the expense as no pulling the vacuum throughout the house. There are so many things you can add, but look at finished houses and make a list. Make sure the infrastructure is quality - good windows, doors, and plenty of insulation. When signing a contract with a builder make sure you itemize everything, no detail is too small. That will make the process much smoother and fewer problems.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby cheesepep » Sun Dec 30, 2012 8:36 pm

I appreciate the replies and the tips, but can anyone please tell me the approximate costs for even doing so? Like is it 1.5X, 2X, or 3X the price of a "normal home" in the same neighborhood?

I won't even branch further if the price is too pricey. I'm looking for very general prices here considering the many factors involved.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby kenschmidt » Sun Dec 30, 2012 8:55 pm

One good general guideline you can use is cost per square foot. A little google work found the following article from the National Association of Homebuilders:

http://www.nahb.org/generic.aspx?sectio ... nnelID=311

Average cost is around $80 per square foot. So if you build a 2000 square foot house, $180,000 plus cost of the lot. I would say this number is likely for a typical two story home with basic (not high end) materials. Costs could go up to $100 or $125 for single story plans, high end materials (stone exteriors, all brick, corian or granite countertops, volume ceilings, etc.).

I think $100/sq. ft. might be a good starting point for a ballpark figure.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby Sherman » Sun Dec 30, 2012 9:05 pm

I am also very interested in this topic. I do not want to take over this thread but these questions may help the OP also. cheesepep, if you would prefer, I will start another thread.

I am thinking about demolishing my house in an expensive suburb here on the West Coast and replacing it with a similar sized but updated one. I am looking for very basic information for someone just starting out. Here are some questions:

I think I need to assemble a team so who should be on the team? Some mentioned include builders and decorators but I would appreciate more precise definitions about what these people do and where I would shop for such a person's services. Here are some roles that I have read about. Are my ideas realistic?
    architect -- overall design and then creates detailed drawings and specifications including a bill of materials for the house.

    general contractor: takes the detailed design then is responsible for hiring and supervising and paying subcontractors to do the work. Also is responsible for buying and paying for materials per the bill of materials from the architect.

    inspector: help me to check on the work of other people on the team.

What is a decorator and how does this function differ from architect?

Cost. My house is about 1200 square feet and I estimate approximately $200 a square foot for a total cost of about $250K. I realize that will depend on features that I want and the components I choose but like the OP I need a rough number to decide feasibility.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby cheesepep » Sun Dec 30, 2012 9:23 pm

Please post here as I am also interested or feel free to make your own thread.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby user5027 » Sun Dec 30, 2012 9:37 pm

cheesepep wrote:I appreciate the replies and the tips, but can anyone please tell me the approximate costs for even doing so? Like is it 1.5X, 2X, or 3X the price of a "normal home" in the same neighborhood?

I won't even branch further if the price is too pricey. I'm looking for very general prices here considering the many factors involved.


I'd talk to local architects and builders.

Everyone's situation is different. Our's was not a normal home. The wife and I bought a riverside bungalow when we married for $70k. Four years and two children later, we needed more room and did not want to move. We sketched a plan that more than doubled the square footage, got the zoning permit, talked to some friends about architects (hired one working on the side) to do the building plans, talked to friends about builders, interviewed and got proposals from three and went with the one that remodeled my wife's brother-in-law's brother's house. Spent another $70k.

My brother built a "normal" home, but his situation is again unique. He was an estimator for a site work contractor that worked for many land developers. He had the building plans. He bought 10 acres of land, did his own site work (grading, driveway, basement excavation/backfill and septic) and then hired all of the other subcontractors (mason, carpenter. roofer. plumber, electrician, hvac, flooring, etc.) that worked for the land developer. My brother was his own GC. It was a matter of calling the subs up and asking their price for ABC Land Developers Tara model. I'm sure he got good prices since subcontractors are always doing alot of back scratching.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby scone » Sun Dec 30, 2012 9:59 pm

cheesepep wrote:I appreciate the replies and the tips, but can anyone please tell me the approximate costs for even doing so? Like is it 1.5X, 2X, or 3X the price of a "normal home" in the same neighborhood?

I won't even branch further if the price is too pricey. I'm looking for very general prices here considering the many factors involved.


If you do the work yourself, you might be able to build for $50 a square foot. If you hire the work out, it will probably be doable for $100 - $150 per square foot, in a moderately expensive area, but it depends. Rural Oregon, where I used to live, was closer to the $100 p.s.f. mark. New Hampshire, where I live now, is far more expensive. It's not so much the materials costs, it's the labor. Get 3 bids on a complete set of plans and specifications. The specifications are everything, even if the builder pretends they are not important.

There are a lot of other factors that go into the cost, as well, such as:

-- Blasting costs, if you have to go through granite to build a basement.

-- Site development, such as drilling a well, digging septic, bringing power in, etc.

-- Nuisance fees, like "impact" costs. Get a list of these from planning before making an offer on any lot. Also look at local taxes.

-- "Corner and curve" costs: a simple rectangle is much cheaper than a plan with many corners turned. Anything curved, like a "flicked" roof line, tends to be tragically expensive.

-- Custom anything is very expensive. Design using standard catalog parts is much cheaper.

-- Short spans for joists and rafters will generally be cheaper than longer spans that need more expensive (bigger) lumber.

-- Salvaging old house fixtures, like doors, is not always a bargain unless you do the work yourself. Many carpenters these days don't know how to hang a door that's not part of a "pre-hung" package. The ones that do are expensive.

-- Kitchens and baths will kill your budget every time, but what sells a house is: location, kitchen, baths, closets, garage. It's a tradeoff. The safest thing for resale, in most parts of the country, is a 3-2-2. 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 2 car garage. One bath should be a master bath, accessible only to the master bedroom. The master bedroom should have 2 closets, or a walk-in.

-- Architects are very expensive, and not really necessary for basic plans, in my view. Most professional builders either draw their own plans, hire a "building designer," or use a plan service like Mascord. It's really not that difficult to learn the basics of drafting and design, and do it yourself. It's very difficult to do great design on a budget, however. Simplicity with timeless elegance is extremely difficult, even for an architect, no matter how large the budget might be.

-- A structural engineer is necessary if you are building on a difficult site, or if the local jurisdiction requires it, or you are planning something unusual. The last time I did this, I drew the plans and had a structural engineer look them over. He approved them and literally copied my details onto his sheets, with the computer doing his structural calculations. Then he put his seal on the thing and away we went. Doing some of his work for him saved me a lot of money.

There are a zillion other issues, but you need to study this stuff thoroughly-- google is your friend and the library has a lot of books on the subject. Good luck.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby FNK » Sun Dec 30, 2012 10:05 pm

Sherman wrote:I think I need to assemble a team so who should be on the team?

This is the most painful thing in the entire construction industry. Architects and contractors are at odds. The architect is not motivated to make a buildable design, just to impress you. The contractor is motivated to lowball first and then kill you with change orders. It ends up with everybody suing everybody.

Solution: go with a design-build practice.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby user5027 » Sun Dec 30, 2012 10:13 pm

Sherman wrote:I am also very interested in this topic. I do not want to take over this thread but these questions may help the OP also. cheesepep, if you would prefer, I will start another thread.

I am thinking about demolishing my house in an expensive suburb here on the West Coast and replacing it with a similar sized but updated one. I am looking for very basic information for someone just starting out. Here are some questions:

I think I need to assemble a team so who should be on the team? Some mentioned include builders and decorators but I would appreciate more precise definitions about what these people do and where I would shop for such a person's services. Here are some roles that I have read about. Are my ideas realistic?
    architect -- overall design and then creates detailed drawings and specifications including a bill of materials for the house.

    general contractor: takes the detailed design then is responsible for hiring and supervising and paying subcontractors to do the work. Also is responsible for buying and paying for materials per the bill of materials from the architect.

    inspector: help me to check on the work of other people on the team.

What is a decorator and how does this function differ from architect?

Cost. My house is about 1200 square feet and I estimate approximately $200 a square foot for a total cost of about $250K. I realize that will depend on features that I want and the components I choose but like the OP I need a rough number to decide feasibility.


Talk to a local architect and builder for their ball parks on fees/costs.

Call your local municipal office and talk to the codes department. Explain your plan and ask for their guidance. In our area you need a zoning permit. If your area is the same and you decide to proceed after exploring the ball parks above, do the bare minimum to apply for and obtain the zoning permit. You will probably need an engineer/surveyor to do a plot plan showing existing/proposed with calculations on lot size/impervious surface/set backs/etc.). Get the zoning ok in hand before having the architect do full plans and spend $$ on something that won't pass zoning.

The architect will work with you designing the house and preparing the plans/specs. You can also agree for the architect to monitor (for a fee) the construction.

With the plans you can get hard dollar prices from the builders.

Once you select the builder, building permits are needed for building, plumbing and electrical. Confirm if the builder has the permits in his price or if he excludes them. The permit fees cover plan review and inspections. Note during plan review, the reviewer may demand changes to the plans that increase the cost. The builder will want an extra for these. Hopefully there are not too many. The inspectors work for the municipality, not you, and although your interests should be the same, they are more concerned that the house is being built to code and not aesthetics (see architect monitoring above).

I think the earlier reference to decorator may have been meant to be architect.

All of this is not for everyone, which is why there are housing developments!

Good luck!
Last edited by user5027 on Mon Dec 31, 2012 11:47 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby donall » Sun Dec 30, 2012 10:29 pm

OP, not sure what you mean by prebuilt....a modern architect designed pre-fab:
http://www.dwell.com/house-tours/article/prefab-proven
an IKEA simplicity and price house:
http://designtaxi.com/news/351780/IKEA- ... Fab-Homes/
or an inexpensive and simple house:
http://www.claytonhomes.com/prefabricated_homes.cfm
http://www.houseinabox.com/pre-built-homes/
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby user5027 » Sun Dec 30, 2012 11:02 pm

I took the reference to prebuilt to be a tract house.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby Jay69 » Mon Dec 31, 2012 10:00 am

As many have noted hire and Architect and bid out your project to 2-3 of your favorite builders.

I would add this to the list, hire an MEP engineer as well, your Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing systems can run around 1/4, I have seen it close to 1/3 of the price of the home (not including land/civil work), its your biggest subs!
"Out of clutter, find simplicity” Albert Einstein
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby reggiesimpson » Mon Dec 31, 2012 10:44 am

I came very close to building a custom home a number of years ago. Be wary. Dreams can be very expensive. As an acquaintance of mine said after having his home built (regarding the contractor). "He shook my hand...........then he took my arm"
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby Grasshopper » Mon Dec 31, 2012 10:50 am

Are you married, building a custom home almost put me in divorce court, just saying.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby illcrx » Mon Dec 31, 2012 11:39 am

Well you have a number of quesions in your post and you do have to realize that you are asking for people that know nothing about your situation to give you numbers. Even approximations are going to be tough, if you live in certain parts of the US your costs are going to vary greatly just based on geography, also permits, zoning requirements and so on. So more specifics are needed.

You really should take a few factors into consideration.

1) Are you going to manage the project yourself or pay someone 30% of the project to do it?
2) What will your finishes be like in the home, framing costs what framing costs generally, but with counter tops are you going to use soapstone or granite, or tile? Costs really vary with the details.
3) Are you the architect or are you hiring one? This can save or spend $8k or more depending on who does it, how big the home, what kind of special things you want, how difficult is the land......
4) Financing of the project, if you have to finance you will have to get a construction loan which these days is impossible unless you have a lot of reserve cash laying around.

All that being said, I am a low voltage contractor, if I were to build my own home I would manage it myself, do maybe 15-20% of the trades myself and save about 30-50% depending on finishes. I would do the electrical, low voltage, hang drywall, hang cabinets, install doors and windows, I have a buddy that does HVAC, probably a lot of my own plumbing I would hire a guy to show me some of the big things but I would do all the interior stuff. I would paint maybe do baseboards, fixtures, HVAC grates and ticky tack stuff.

If you wanted to make this a reality, as I do one day, SAVE A TON OF CASH. Expect to pay 20-50% above market value of the home if you have another person manage it and whatever price they give you add 20% and have that sum ready. If you are going to manage it yourself you better know what you are doing and you can save 20-30% of market value. But again this depends on where you live, in Arizona prices are headed back up however a year ago you couldnt add a bathroom to a house and get your money back. Keep this in mind too, talk to a realtor about your market and if its worth it for you.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby reggiesimpson » Mon Dec 31, 2012 12:49 pm

Grasshopper wrote:Are you married, building a custom home almost put me in divorce court, just saying.

+1
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby Watty » Mon Dec 31, 2012 12:58 pm

In your budget be sure to include money for a lawyer to go over the contracts. There are lots of unexpected things that can go wrong.

On another board I follow someone was in a mess a few years ago. They had found a good small builder and it was going well until the builder unexpectedly died of a heart attack. The house was half built and there were lots of problems; Where are the plans? permits? inspections? what had be ordered? all the subcontractors? etc. The biggest one was though was that none of the other contractors in the area wanted to take over a half built house and complete it. There was too much liability and unknown issues for a new contractor to easily take over the project.

The house was being built on land that the buyer owned and they had already paid a lot of money so there was no way they could just walk away from the project. I never did hear how that was resolved.

There are lots of things like this that need to be covered in the contract so don't skimp on the lawyer fees.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby Watty » Mon Dec 31, 2012 1:09 pm

Sherman wrote:I am thinking about demolishing my house in an expensive suburb here on the West Coast and replacing it with a similar sized but updated one. I am looking for very basic information for someone just starting out.


Just FYI, to do this remember that you will need to have the house paid off or special financing.

If there is a normal mortgage the lender will likely be notified when the demolition permit is issued and they will not be happy if they show up the day after the house is torn down.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby TomatoTomahto » Mon Dec 31, 2012 1:32 pm

donall wrote:OP, not sure what you mean by prebuilt....a modern architect designed pre-fab:
http://www.dwell.com/house-tours/article/prefab-proven
an IKEA simplicity and price house:
http://designtaxi.com/news/351780/IKEA- ... Fab-Homes/
or an inexpensive and simple house:
http://www.claytonhomes.com/prefabricated_homes.cfm
http://www.houseinabox.com/pre-built-homes/


Re prebuilt: my sister, who is a skilled carpenter in her own right, likens the "old fashioned" way to build vs pre-fab as being like a car purchase consisting of having a pile of parts dropped on your driveway and having a team of mechanics assemble it for a month. She is very happy with her pre-fab home.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby 1210sda » Mon Dec 31, 2012 3:58 pm

Our custom homebuilding experience was wonderful..

Be sure to take plenty of pictures/video. It could come in very handy later.

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Re: Building a custom house

Postby Allan » Mon Dec 31, 2012 4:32 pm

In general new houses are about 2-2.5 times the cost of the land, of course there are exceptions. As to price per ft, it depends on many factors, but for a true custom home I would budget $200/ft and up. I just completed one (I am a builder) that was $600/ft (not including land), obviously this is the exception. My average price is $300/sq ft for homes over 4,000 sq ft, much more per sq ft for smaller homes.

I would assemble a team before you start the design, and at a minimum team would include architect/building designer, builder, and interior designer. If needed you could add landscape architect, AV designer, lighting designer, kitchen designer, on and on and on. I recently built a house and we used a trophy room designer. When I am involved from he start, I create a budget for the client, work with architect to control costs, and of course consult with client on various options, fixtures, finishes, etc.

Most of my custom homes are "Cost Plus", I charge 16%-18% of costs where costs (excluding land) are $1,000,000 and up. By the way, “Flashes1” above gave some good advice.

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Re: Building a custom house

Postby texasdiver » Tue Jan 01, 2013 11:47 am

Having bought new and used houses over the years and having been a front-row spectator to two close friends who did the custom house thing my comments are the following.

Used houses: By FAR the best bargain. Especially nice late-model homes that need no improvement and that the original owners have finished out nicely.

New houses such as homes in a new subdivision: Substantially more expensive than the identical couple year old house in the same subdivision. We have bought 1 new house over the years and when I went back and looked at what I spent on it the first two years in terms of finishing out the landscaping and interior details (closet shelves, blinds, etc.) it was shocking.

Custom homes: Off the chart expensive compared to the other two options.

My own opinion is the following: Building a custom home in some ordinary subdivision surrounded by ordinary or even high end builder homes is probably a recipe for throwing away money. Especially in places like here in Texas where there are SO MANY new subdivisions everywhere that are basically all the same in terms of landscape, views, and amenities. I live in an ordinary Texas subdivision and the retired couple who lived next door to us had built custom 8 years ago. When they went to sell last year to move to closer to their kids they took a horrible bath because none of the custom nonsense they put into their dream home made the house worth a dime more than all the ordinary houses for sale in the same neighborhood with the same square footage. The poor woman was horribly distraught and in denial for months trying to list the place at 50-75 grand above comparable properties in the same subdivision until her realtor finally got her to see reality.

However if you happen to have some ideal and unique piece of land someplace upon which you want to build that can't easily be duplicated with another existing property then perhaps a custom home is worth the effort. My two friends who went the custom home route both had absolutely beautiful hillside shoreline lots in Juneau Alaska with fabulous 180 degree views of water and mountains. There were zero homes on the market on equivalent lots that were anything remotely close to what they were looking for. So the only real alternative was building their own. They are happy and both have beautiful homes that they never plan to leave...and probably never will. But they did pay a fortune.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby 1210sda » Wed Jan 02, 2013 8:28 am

Cheesepep,

When we built our home, I used these two books as a reference.

"Your New House" Alan and Denise Fields

"The Brand New Home Bood" Katherine Salant

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Re: Building a custom house

Postby Valuethinker » Wed Jan 02, 2013 9:11 am

There is a British tv show (I could not find it in North America for DVDs) called 'Grand Designs' that has been running for 10 seasons (6-8 episodes a year). IF you could get hold of it (eg ordering from amazon.co.uk, buying a spare DVD drive and 'locking' it to Region 2 DVDs) then it is well worth watching.

The presenter Kevin McCloud tracks houses from inception to completion. In one case that was 6 years. Some are not finished when the season ends (each episode is a house). in another case, the guy died 6 months in and his wife built the home in memorial to him (on a much reduced budget, the architect stepped in). In other cases real DIY where people do most of the work themselves (taking years, and taking horrible risks with accidents).

They always run over budget. The architects pretty much always design things that can't be built. Contractors have to be fired. They always wind up eating their 20% contingency and having to make cutbacks and compromises to fit to budget.

The glazing, if purpose built, always causes an expensive nightmare-- windows that don't fit. It's nothing to see $50k of glazing on one of these homes.

To my eyes, the vast majority of the homes are ugly white rendered boxes-- look alikes. Give me a renovated Victorian any day. The big open plan spaces work well when you have young kids, but when you get older you want rooms you can stick your kids in and they *go away* and their noise doesn't get to you. Unless specially designed from the start, they are often impractical for retirement.

And they always leave the builders in more debt than anticipated, eating into their life's savings.

Changes along the way always kill the budget.

Having said all that:

- insulate insulate insulate - this is the moment to get this right. You don't need fancy solar gizmos, you only should use a heat pump if you are off the gas grid, but high levels of roof and wall insulation, and an insulated floor, will really pay off-- you cannot change that once built, so overspec on that (it means the wind cils etc. are deeper you have to plan for that.

Once you get to say R60 Walls, R100 ceiling (or at least R40 walls, and R60 attic) then it's going to be about airtightness. If you have hot summers or cold winters, don't skimp on roof insulation (you can also get roof tiles which reflect heat--useful in very hot climates).

- in a hot climate this is also the time to nail solar gain- -you can get for example eaves which overhang (the sun is higher in the summer) and give you vital shade-- if you have hot summers, you really want to try to get kew windows in shade at about 4.30pm in mid July. There is glass which really blocks out the heat-- it's a commercial product and it is worth paying out for that on the south or sunny sides of the house. It will pay off big time in a hot climate (thermal mass also counts, eg stone or concrete block wall, if your evenings are a lot cooler than your days-- remember that insulation cuts you off from thermal mass).

- airtight airtight airtight - once you get to a certain level of insulation, then it's airtightness that will make the difference (for heating and cooling). With heat exchangers you can still have the necessary and efficient air changes

Passivhaus is the German airtightness and insulation standard (no additional cooling or heating system in the house, just use the heat from people, appliances etc.). It is probably excessive to achieve that, but it's a good guide.

If you live in a water short area this is the time to think about that-- rainwater use etc.. There are varying degrees of complexity and sophistication, but the thing to keep in mind is that water is unlikely to get any less short in these places given changing rainfall patterns and rising populations and municipal ordinances.

The houses which 'work' are the factory built ones-- the Germans and Scandinavians do this (look at 'Huf Haus' for example). I know there are American equivalents. Where everything is built to factory specification and then shipped, and really quick assembly on site. You can get some really nice homes this way.

Other thoughts

- watch open tread staircases, in hard materials like wood (ie no stair carpet). In my view, they are a considerable safety hazard both for children (grandchildren) and as you get older.

Architects like 'modern' and it looks good on a plan, but to actually live and use it? A lot of the modern homes I have seen lack intimacty and coziness-- all those big, blank white spaces.

Be informed by the regional vernacular. You don't have to create a pseudo Cape Cod just because you live in New England, a pastiche can look awful, but it's worth understanding why the local builders did it that way. Doubtless if I lived in New Mexico I'd be looking at massive thick walls, for example, and Spanish colonial inspirations.

If there's a nation whose modern houses I like the look of, it's Scandinavian. Wood judiciously used on the exterior, etc. High energy efficiency. But they don't have the same cooling issues Americans do.
Last edited by Valuethinker on Wed Jan 02, 2013 10:37 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby Valuethinker » Wed Jan 02, 2013 9:13 am

texasdiver wrote:Having bought new and used houses over the years and having been a front-row spectator to two close friends who did the custom house thing my comments are the following.

Used houses: By FAR the best bargain. Especially nice late-model homes that need no improvement and that the original owners have finished out nicely.

New houses such as homes in a new subdivision: Substantially more expensive than the identical couple year old house in the same subdivision. We have bought 1 new house over the years and when I went back and looked at what I spent on it the first two years in terms of finishing out the landscaping and interior details (closet shelves, blinds, etc.) it was shocking.

Custom homes: Off the chart expensive compared to the other two options.

My own opinion is the following: Building a custom home in some ordinary subdivision surrounded by ordinary or even high end builder homes is probably a recipe for throwing away money. Especially in places like here in Texas where there are SO MANY new subdivisions everywhere that are basically all the same in terms of landscape, views, and amenities. I live in an ordinary Texas subdivision and the retired couple who lived next door to us had built custom 8 years ago. When they went to sell last year to move to closer to their kids they took a horrible bath because none of the custom nonsense they put into their dream home made the house worth a dime more than all the ordinary houses for sale in the same neighborhood with the same square footage. The poor woman was horribly distraught and in denial for months trying to list the place at 50-75 grand above comparable properties in the same subdivision until her realtor finally got her to see reality.

However if you happen to have some ideal and unique piece of land someplace upon which you want to build that can't easily be duplicated with another existing property then perhaps a custom home is worth the effort. My two friends who went the custom home route both had absolutely beautiful hillside shoreline lots in Juneau Alaska with fabulous 180 degree views of water and mountains. There were zero homes on the market on equivalent lots that were anything remotely close to what they were looking for. So the only real alternative was building their own. They are happy and both have beautiful homes that they never plan to leave...and probably never will. But they did pay a fortune.


+1

Very astute about a custom house and location. In a look a like suburb you won't get value for it.

If you also have a great location, then the right house which maximizes that location can add a lot of value.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby mikegerard » Wed Jan 02, 2013 10:11 am

Cost is going to depend on your design and what you put into the house (granite countertops, bathroom fixtures, etc). Our design was less to build per sq foot than most of the prebuilt homes around us....we spent a lot of time designing a house that fit our needs and did not have a lot of unused volume (2 story entry for example).

You need to find the right location, then the right architect and right builder. If you happen to be looking in LA or Rochester, NY I can give you some recommendations.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby Valuethinker » Wed Jan 02, 2013 10:22 am

mikegerard wrote:Cost is going to depend on your design and what you put into the house (granite countertops, bathroom fixtures, etc). Our design was less to build per sq foot than most of the prebuilt homes around us....we spent a lot of time designing a house that fit our needs and did not have a lot of unused volume (2 story entry for example).

You need to find the right location, then the right architect and right builder. If you happen to be looking in LA or Rochester, NY I can give you some recommendations.
Mike


Good advice.

Things like finish can cost a fortune-- big swing items on the cost. Our flooring (for an extension) cost something like $15/ square foot , installed (4mm oak, 10mm 'engineered' planking, rubber underlay, 'floating floor'). If you can specify say the whole floor area of the ground floor, and then shop for bargains-- a merchant will often do you a very good deal to shift a lot of product (but then you have to *store*- -another challenge).

Living in a Victorian house I feel you don't need double height ceilings (and double height glazing can cost a fortune, besides giving you a heating/ cooling problem).

However the earlier suggestion of 9' ceilings, at least on the ground floor, is a very good one- -I think the standard is 8'?. Really gives a sense of space-- makes the rooms feel much larger, even if quite small. Also allows for spectacular chandeliers.

We really love having stuff like a formal dining room (although it is now opened out into the living room, just foldable glass doors between) NOT the open plan kitchen-living room which is now so popular (and would be great with young kids, but no so much so thereafter).

The Georgians and Victorians could not make large panes of glass, so they used small panes with dividers, and the effect can be quite good on quite large windows. A feature window in the living room, if there is a good view, can 'make' that room, and the whole house (particularly if a tall ceiling).

that would be consistent with your advice re 2 storey entry, although slightly contra re 'waste volume'. It's a good compromise to do the high ceiling thing on the ground floor, and not on the other floors.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby AdamFist » Wed Jan 02, 2013 2:20 pm

We chose a local builder over a national builder because the local builder was more flexible in consulting with floor plan and finishes. As part of our design phase, we looked at floorplan ideas from the Frank Betz (http://www.frankbetz.com/) website to see which house features we wanted but without the opportunity to experience a completed product in-person, we opted for one of the builders' standard plans. The total cost of our new house included a consulting engagement with the architect (external features) and interior designer (colors).

Out of curiosity, I wanted to know what the approximate cost would be and I performed a search and used the following website for informational purposes only:
http://www.building-cost.net/

FWIW, the values generated from this website overestimated costs compared to what we paid for our new house.

It was a lot of work to check in on the progress of the 6+ month project but overall we're satisfied.

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Re: Building a custom house

Postby ThatGuy » Wed Jan 02, 2013 6:23 pm

AdamFist wrote:Out of curiosity, I wanted to know what the approximate cost would be and I performed a search and used the following website for informational purposes only:
http://www.building-cost.net/

FWIW, the values generated from this website overestimated costs compared to what we paid for our new house.


Curious. The values that calculator generates for some Bay Area zips seems incredibly low.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby Bengineer » Thu Jan 03, 2013 12:40 pm

We all too often walk into a prospective house or design and look at the interior layout. That's important of course, but to add to everything Valuethinker & texasdiver said, think of the siting of the home on the lot. Ask yourself "how do sun, wind and water" flow around this home?

Our last 3 houses have all been on narrow North-South lots. This leaves less opportunity for solar exposure to the south where wanted and little control over the western exposure, where it isn't. *I swear* my next house is going to have it's long axis E-W, have room on the west for shade trees, solar exposure to the south, and good grade for water flow around it, in addition to being well-sealed and insulated.

I'd also add that having grown up in a house that was a bit "open" for a family with teen sons and having lived in some smaller houses, there is a fine balance between an open layout that is great for gatherings and one with private spaces for solo activities and guests. This balance becomes more important in smaller homes.
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Re: Building a custom house

Postby DaleMaley » Thu Jan 03, 2013 6:47 pm

I worked for a contractor during summer breaks at college. I learned how to do electrical, plumbing, and HVAC. I observed that building a new house was extremely stressful on some marriages......almost leading to divorce in a couple of cases.

The one factor that I saw that drove up the price of a new house was the amount of change orders that occurred. If the husband, or wife, changes their mind all the time........the dollar signs add up very quickly.

We bought existing homes for our first 3 houses in Illinois, South Carolina, and Georgia. For our 4th house, we decided to build a new home. My wife spent hours going through the house design magazines, and finally found one she liked. Our local builder bought the materials through a local lumberyard. The local lumberyard chose to make their own design drawings versus just purchasing the magazine plans. We made a few tweaks to the basic design to suit us. Our house was built in about 22 weeks starting at the time the basement hole was dug. I checked on progress every day. My wife flew in to town and selected all the stuff the new house needed (appliances, floor coatings, wall treatments, etc) in just 2 days. We made zero design changes once the building started. House came in at budget and have no complaints 14 years later.

I would estimate at least $110 per square foot, not including the lot, if our home was built today in Central Illinois.
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