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Posted by Alan in La Habra Heights, CA on 8/7/2007

It's been a little while since I last posted - a few things have happened, not nearly as much as I'd like, but what can you do? Here's a quick overview of the high points and what I've learned. As usual, this post will be stream of consciousness and won't make much sense to anyone other than the clinically insane.

1. Financing: not sure where I left off with this, but the loan has closed and funded. The fees, etc. are outrageous for a loan of this size, but to be expected I suppose since they were the same/higher for the other offers I got. Actually I should be happy that I closed when I did, given how much rates have gone up - and that I wouldn't even qualify for the loan with the new more strict rules they have in place. My recommendation for funding - start early, get all the paperwork ready so you can pull the trigger at any time then when rates take a little dip, you can move on it.

2. Permit: Finally got approved to pull my permit. I got the demo permit a couple months ago (see Demo below) and my final grading and construction permit are now ready to be pulled. I just need to pay the fees. For the school fees, you pay a set rate per square foot of livable space. Thus your goal is to minimize your livable space - make sure they don't include any balconies, entries, basements, garages, etc. Also - you get to reduce the sq footage by the sq footage of the house that you demoed - just bring in the demo permit sheet and they'll do the math for you. All in all, my school fees will work out to something like $18K - the first item on my budget that came in lower than my original estimate! The actual grading and building permits came in right at $30K.

3. Demo: Pulled the demo permit a couple months ago - it was cheap. Had a couple parties at the house with friends - drank lots of beer and destroyed the place (bricks through windows, spray painted everything, tore down walls) - it was the most fun I've had since we started this project. Then the bulldozer came (actually a small Bobcat) and tore the whole place down in a couple days and hauled it all off. Had to hook up the temporary electric pole ($1,400). They also ripped out a number of tree trunks, flatwork, etc. They still have some flatwork in the back and the old septic tank (oh yeah - had that pumped before removal). I'll post some pics of this tonight when I get home.

4. Grading: Had the surveyor come out and mark the corners of the basement and shoot some of the elevations. The guys started today moving some of the dirt so we can start putting in the retaining walls and the basement. The grading will take several weeks. The key is to make sure they are doing things in the right order - need to get stuff going so there can be multiple crews on site at the same time doing things (pouring basement, building retaining walls, etc) but also need to make sure that nobody is doing something that will get in someone else's way in the future.

5. Foundation: Bids are coming in on the foundation work. It's very complex stuff, apparently. The deck in the back looks to be about $100K. The basement (2,800 sq feet) with a 12" lid seems to be another $100K or so... the slab for the rest of the house - fairly cheap... the retaining walls all over the property another $150K or so... all in all, bids are looking to be about $450K - I'm pushing however and want to see if I can get it done for about $350K. I put together a little spreadsheet (attached) to try and get to the bottom of why the foundation costs so darn much.  I mean - really - it's just rebar, concrete and block when you get down to it - not that much magic. 

The key here is that I was able to pull out the full materials cost and the rental costs. If you want to change the cost of a yard of concrete, great, do it and the spreadsheet will automatically update. Once you agree on the materials costs (and the rental costs) the rest of the cost is labor. This too can be broken down - you can find out how long they expect to be on site, how many guys, etc. When you break it down like this, it's much easier to bargain than when they come in with a total cost of $450K to do "everything"... I fully plan on doing this breakout with a number of other trades as well - for example - you could do this for plumbing, electrical, drywall, framing, etc - really helps to bring out the hidden costs and overhead so you can bargain better.

6. Doors and windows. I have the framing lined up and the guy will install my doors and windows so long as they are on site when he is ready to put them in. Since there can be a pretty long lead time on these items, I figure to get them lined up now. I found a really cool door place at etodoors.com. I went and visited their warehouse - they have tons of doors in stock and do lots of their own work - very good stuff, but without the foo-foo overhead you'll find in other places. Most of their stuff is Brazilian mahogany, which is what I'm looking for. Even better - their 9 and 10' interior doors are a solid two and a quarter inch thick... now that's a door! The guy I spoke to seemed willing to bargain as well, so I'm sure I'll be able to work something out given the large number of doors I need. 

They also do the iron front doors - I've seen a few of these and I like them... I also like the wood doors, but I think the iron doors give a better look to the front. I need to come up with the design for the door so I bought a book that just shows hundreds of different types of wrought iron design. I figure the interior doors are about $1,000/each (after bargaining) and the front door is about $10-$15K. They also had some nice mahogany, iron and glass doors that would look nice for the other exterior doors... 

Windows are a bit of a pain. I've looked at tons of different types, styles, etc. The first thing I needed to do was go through the entire house, looking at both the floor plan and elevations and decide what type of window would fit best in each place - sliding, gliding, casement, awning, fixed, etc. The next step was figuring out the type. I knew I didn't want the vinyl because they look horrible, so it was a tossup between wood and wood clad. I think I'm going to end up going with the wood clad however, because the thought of staining the windows outside frame every few years is not appealing. The first bid I got for windows was from a top of the line store for their top of the line windows (Loewen's). It came in at $150K. I'll now take it to a few other places (Home Depot, Lowe's, local window stores) and get it priced out there as well. Make sure you tell the guys you want to have a few different options. Once they do the takeoff (exact size of each of the windows), getting quotes is as easy as pushing a button, so don't be shy asking for multiple quotes from one place. My goal for windows is $50K - we'll see how I do...

7. General: If you're just starting out and you try to put a budget or schedule together and it doesn't seem to make sense or come together right, don't worry - keep working on it and it will eventually all start to make sense. I use my budget sheet and schedule every day now - they are like guiding posts - they also remind me what's coming up and what I need to be preparing for.


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