Contract Your Own Home and Save Thousands
I must admit I'm a person who likes challenges. So if you're not this type of person, don't try to contract your own home. It is not as difficult, though, as one might first imagine. I was a middle-aged mother of two almost-grown daughters when I first thought about doing this. Though I had always been somewhat of a do-it-yourself person, I had no building experience.
My dream at that time had long been to have some land in the country and build a house there. For years I read books about living in the country and planned my home. I finally found a plot of land near where I grew up. I already had my house plans, and one day I came across a book about contracting your own home. It did not sound so difficult to me.
I was fortunate at that time to have a friend who worked in the real estate business and lived near the area where I was going to build my house. She and her husband and son had been their own contractors when they had built their homes. Her husband was also a subcontractor himself. Having this resource made it less scary, especially when her son, who had already contracted two houses, agreed to be my co-contractor during the initial stage of building. Since I did not live in the area where I was going to build, and thus did not know subcontractors, having this resource was extremely helpful. Our agreement was that he would assist until the house was dried-in, and then I would take over.
Shortly after we began construction I met my husband, and he then became involved for the remainder of the building. So I was never alone in this endeavor.
Advantages of Contracting Your Home
So, why did I choose to do this? It would have been much easier to hire a contractor or, even easier, to buy a house already built and on the market.
One of my main reasons was financial. Contracting your own home saves thousands of dollars on the total price of a home. In addition to saving the thousands you would pay a contractor you can save even more if you do some of the work yourself.
My husband (when he joined me) and I had both recently retired from professional positions when we started this project, so neither of us were skilled craftsmen, but there were some jobs that we felt comfortable doing, such as painting and installing insulation.
Other skills we picked up as we went along. One of these was tiling. We attended a workshop on tiling at our local home improvement store, bought a small, inexpensive wet saw, and proceeded to tile our baths, foyer, hearth, and porch. We still have that wet saw and sometimes do tiling for friends and family. I'm the one who does the actual tiling, while my husband operates the wet saw since he has more problems with agility in back and knees than me. He likes to tell people in this rural area that I'm available for hire, offering to drop me off in the mornings, pick me up afternoons, and pick up the check on Friday. So acquiring these skills can be an enjoyable side benefit.
By contracting your own home you can also have more control over the construction process. Since you buy the materials, you'll have better control over what materials are used in your home. Also, you'll be there to supervise how the work is being done. You can “have it your way” during the building. For example, you can use more energy-efficient materials, thus saving even more money on energy costs in the long run. This is especially an advantage over buying a house that has already been built by a contractor. These houses, built on speculation, may use less expensive and/or built with inferior materials.
In addition to saving money and having more control over how the house you're going to be living in is built, another wonderful advantage is the emotional satisfaction of having done the job yourself. My husband and I still look back on that time when we were building the house with a great deal of satisfaction. It was an adventure, and adventures completed successfully provide lasting pleasant memories. As with any creative endeavor, we can now look back with pleasure and say, “We did that.”
Disadvantages of Contracting Your Home
We remember mostly the pleasant memories, but there were some hassles along the way. You really need to be temperamentally suited before attempting a project like this. If you are a perfectionist or easily discouraged, the job is not for you.
One of the disadvantages to building your own house is the time required. My husband and I were both retired, we so had adequate time to do this.
Another problem you may have to deal with are subcontractors who do not show up as scheduled. You should learn to remain flexible when dealing with subcontractors. They frequently do not show up as scheduled. At first, my husband and I were not living in the area where we were building the house. We would have an appointment to meet a subcontractor here, drive hours to get here, and then have them not show up. Subcontractors sometimes do that; one finally told us, because they want your business but know if they tell you how long it's really going to be before they can get to you, you'll find someone else to do the job. So they tell you they can get to the job before they actually can, which means they're often facing angry customers. Also, many of these subcontractors work regularly for contractors who have more work for them than you will, so you may get pushed to the back burner. But our drive to the land was always pleasant, and, even though our house was not completed, we could always camp out there, and those are some of our best memories.
Dealing with problems that come up, which were usually minor, is just part of the process. Not sweating the small stuff is a good motto to adopt.
What You'll Need to Get a Permit
- Recorded Warranty Deed to the Property. A Deed of Trust may not be acceptable. If you do not have this document, you can obtain a copy of a certified copy from your county Register of Deeds Office.
- Sewer or Septic Approval
- Site Plan, which may need to show the dimensions and size of the lot, size and location of the proposed building, distances from each property line, and the street the property is accessed from.
- Signed Copy of the Inspection Procedure notice. Keep these inspection procedures since you will be responsible for contacting the office during construction to get each inspection completed.
- Construction Plans, showing all exterior dimensions of the house.
- Property Address
Here's a Great Video to Help You Get Started Building Your Home
How to Do It
The most important thing to know when you begin building your home is what the steps are in the building process. I recommend purchasing a book that outlined the steps and discussed home building in detail. Once you understand what the steps are to building a house, you'll need to hire subcontractors for each step, order materials and have them delivered, and be there to supervise the whole process.
If you live in the area where your home is to be built, you may know some of these subcontractors already. If not, ask people who have been involved with subcontractors who they would recommend or check with your local building supply store. We relied on friends who had been involved in this process for part of the subcontracting and asked at our local building supply store for others.
Here is a brief outline of the steps for contracting your home:
- The first step in building your home is to select a house plan. You can choose from pre-drawn plans and use it as is or modify it to suit your needs or you can hire someone to custom draw a blueprint for you, which would be more expensive.
- Once the plan is selected, the next step is to obtain financing. It is best to select a lender that can provide both a construction loan and a mortgage. You will first need to be approved for a mortgage. Once that is completed, the construction loan process begins. When approved, the money stays with the lender and is drawn out as needed to pay the subcontractors after the work is completed.
- It may also be possible to pay for some of the construction out of your own funds without borrowing from a lender. This will save some of the money you would pay to the mortgage company for interest. In my case, I already owned a small home that was paid for and obtained a home equity loan to begin construction on the new house. This simplified the loan process. I was then able to use these funds and pay for other items out of savings and investments as the construction progressed.
- Once you have selected a plan and obtained financing, you will need to get a building permit and post it at the front of your lot. To obtain this permit visit your local municipal government office that oversees building projects. Contact this office by phone to ask them what you will need to bring with you. The personnel in these offices are very helpful as they issue these permits every day and have current information readily available.
- When you are ready to obtain your permit, contact your local municipality about any additional questions you may have. Rules and regulations change and vary with localities, so check with your office for current information. Once you obtain your permit you will be given information about the inspections that need to take place. At each step in the inspection process, it will be your responsibility to contact the office and arrange for the inspection.
- Before you begin construction you will need to obtain insurance. If you get a construction loan, the bank will require that you have construction and general liability insurance. If you were hiring a general contractor you would also need to have this insurance coverage. Check with an insurance company that provides homeowner insurance. Once your home is completed, you can contact the company to convert your construction policy into a regular homeowner's policy.
- Now you're ready to begin the construction process itself. The first step in this process is to survey the site and stake out the corners of the house. In this process, there will be easements, property lines, and septic fields to consider in the placement of the house.
- After the site is surveyed and staked, you're ready for the excavation. This is one of the most exciting times in the building process. Up until now, you've just been planning, but now you can see the building process begin. The driveway will be bulldozed, the site cleared and the foundation dug by the excavation crew. Be sure you're on hand for this process to protect any trees you want to leave. In my case, I wanted to destroy as few trees as possible, so I was sure to always be present for this part of the construction.
- Once the driveway has been bulldozed and the excavation completed, you can get your power company to install temporary electricity for use by the subcontractors as they work.
- The next step in building is to hire a masonry crew to pour the footing and lay the foundation.
- The next subcontractor you will hire will be the framer. It will be your job to order and have delivered the lumber they will need while framing. It is better to have the lumber delivered in smaller loads every few days. The framers will begin by installing sill plates, hanging the floor joists and laying subflooring. The walls will usually be framed on the subfloor and raised into place. Exterior walls are completed and sheathed first. Then the interior is framed. The framers can install doors and windows once the roof has been sheathed and felted. Do not install them before this because they might be damaged by water leaks.
- When the exterior framing has been completed and the roof sheathed, you will then hire a roofing subcontractor to install the roof.
- Your house is now “dried-in”, with sheathed walls, door, windows and roofing. The next step is to hire subcontractors for heating, plumbing, and electrical rough-ins. The heat and air subcontractor usually puts in ductwork first, then plumbers and electricians work around the ducts to run the wires and pipes before the interior walls are covered. After our house was “dried-in” and the rough-ins completed, we took over the remaining construction. Up until this point, a friend who had experience in contracting homes had assisted us. His help had been invaluable. Now we were on our own.
- Next comes the insulation of the walls. This is a job we tackled ourselves since it is relatively easy, but you can hire a subcontractor for this as well. Attic insulation comes later, and for this job we hired a subcontractor to install blown in insulation.
- Once the interior insulation is in place, it is time to hire a subcontractor to finish the interior walls. In our case, this involved hiring a drywall contractor. Since we had completed the insulation of the walls ourselves, this was the first subcontractor that we hired on our own. For all of the others, our friend who was helping with the contracting suggested someone whose work he was familiar with. Since we were not yet living in the area, this was a little difficult. But we had spent much time here while the house was being constructed. Since this is a rural area it was not difficult to get to know the people. We had shopped at two of the local building supply stores that were locally owned and went to both of those to get recommendations. At one of the stores one of the employees was also a drywall subcontractor, so that was the one we hired.
- Covering the walls is a big step in the construction process. When this is completed you will be able to see the dimensions of the rooms and more of what the interior of your home will look like. It's an exciting time.
- The next step in the building process is painting the interior. This was another job that we tackled ourselves to save money. Doing some of the jobs ourselves also meant we did not have to wait on the subcontractors to work us in, so we could move along faster.
- Now you are ready to finish the exterior of your home. In our case this was vinyl siding and stone veneer, so we hired subcontractors for each of these jobs and then moved back to the interior for the finishing jobs.
- The first interior finishing job for us was to install tile flooring. As I have mentioned before, we did this job ourselves. We installed tile in the bathrooms, foyer, and on the hearth. It was a great learning experience and a process we enjoyed.
- A trim carpenter, another subcontractor, installed the casings, baseboards, and interior doors.
- Next in finishing the interior is flooring. We had already completed the tiling, but also needed carpeting and laminate flooring. Like tiling, we decided to tackle the laminate flooring ourselves. We installed these after the kitchen cabinets were installed. Unlike tiling, that was not a process that we enjoyed. I would pay someone to do this again, but probably will not be using laminate again anyway since we are not pleased with its durability. The last flooring subcontractor to hire was the carpet layer.
- Kitchens and bathrooms are finished next. A subcontractor will install kitchen cabinets and countertops; then the plumber will return to install fixtures like sinks, faucets, showerheads and tub handles. Next comes the appliances. We purchased all of these and had them installed by the stores where we purchased them. We also purchased and had a remote-controlled garage door installed.
- At this point, we were ready for our final inspection. Keep in mind that there will be inspections by your local building inspectors several times during the construction. These will be outlined for you when you obtain your permit. For us this was usually a slightly tense time. Since this was our first experience in contracting a home, we were never sure where we stood. We were planning a trip out of the country when the time for the final inspection was near. As we drove away from our house for this trip, we checked the mail for the last time and found a notice from our building inspectors that our permit would expire while we were out of the country. On our way to the airport we sent a notice that we would be out of the country and needed an extension. As it turned out, this was just a matter of form and no big thing, and the extension was readily granted. (What else are they going to do?) We did not know, though, as we were leaving for this trip we knew that it would be so easy to obtain, so when the final day for our inspection was over and we got the certificate saying we could officially occupy our home, it was a big day. I still have that certificate, and think I may one day frame it.
Contracting a house is not an easy task and not for everyone. But, if you take it step-by-step, it is not as overwhelming as it might seem. Buy a good book; get advice from those who have experience, and consider whether you have the temperament for this type of endeavor before attempting it. I also think not all relationships are suited for this type of activity. Keep in mind that I met my husband to be after I had started this process. From the beginning, he knew he had met a woman who, after reading a book about contracting your own home, said “Yeah. I think I can do that.” He knew what he was getting in to. And I must say, I will be forever grateful that he joined in so readily. I could not have had a better partner. His assistance and that of the friend who assisted through the drying-in phase made this a much easier process for me. So don't neglect to get the assistance of family and friends.
We now remember our experience in building our home very fondly. Would we do it again? At our age, probably not, even though it would be much easier the second time around. I would enjoy, though, helping someone else through the process and using the expertise we acquired.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2011 Jo Miller