"Construction Bargain Strategies for the Commando Shopper"
"Construction Bargain Strategies for the Commando Shopper"
by Mark A. Smith with Elaine M. Smith
This list is a continuation of "100 Construction Bargain Strategies" available in
the Third Edition of The Owner-Builder Book, copyright 2003, now available. The
first 100 strategies are printed in the book and in our Special Report number
25 (See Bookstore).
101. Don't Pay for the Same Thing Twice
When we built the Riverbottoms house, we had some misadventures with
slag. Slag, a byproduct of the smelting
process at the local steel mill, served in place of pea gravel as an
underlayment for concrete. Slag
was a bit better than pea gravel, however, because it compacted into a very
stable base and helped prevent and cracking of concrete drives, walks or
floors. We underestimated how much
slag we needed, and had partially full trucks come out three times at about
$100 a load.
The cost of the slag itself was minimal, it was the hauling that cost
money. By planning more carefully for each of
the needs for slag, we likely could have bought all three drops for a total of
we needed to move a quantity of slag to the back of the lot for use under the
back patio and porch pads. Our concrete man volunteered to move it with
his Bobcat loader. This time, he figured how much to move
and charged us $60 an hour to move the slag. It turned out he overestimated the quantity, and a big pile
of slag was left behind the house, which he charged us again to move back to
with the trenches dug for water, and sewer, telephone, and electrical
power. They were each dug on
different days for a much higher aggregate cost than if they had been dug at
people wind up paying twice for design work because they buy their plans off
the Internet and have to pay again to have them reworked to local codes by a
may have to pay a $25 or $50 charge per lumber delivery and wind up have 10 or
12 lumber deliveries when good coordination with the framer and lumber supplier
could get it done in one or two drops.
most common "double pay plan" is rework.
insufficient planning, some O-B's waste money on
rework. They are not happy with a part of the
construction and have it torn out and reworked for a twice or three times the
cost of getting it right the first time.
102. Storage Unit Sales
unit companies foreclose unpaid units and take all the stuff in them. They sell
or donate that stuff. A high percentage of it is construction
103. Buy in the Off-Season
noticed wide fluctuations in the costs of lumber over the years, sometimes
rising and falling 35% in the same year.
An industry veteran explained to me why lumber is cheap in the
off-season: "To maintain monthly
minimums with their suppliers, the lumberyards have to mark down the lumber
sharply in the off-season."
tip: because lumberyards have to pay taxes on standing inventory, buy during
inventory reduction times, just before their tax season, usually the end of the
104. Buy From a Freight Liquidator
With thousands of items going into your new house, it's possible you may
be able to get steep discounts on high value items from a freight
liquidator. A Google search turned up freight,
customs, and furniture liquidators. In some instances you can get on an email
list specifying the types of materials you are seeking and be advised of goods
as they become available. Search on the Web for "liquidator" or "liquidation",
or unclaimed freight.
105. Build Bigger
Owner-Builder Matt C. featured on our Ten Commandments of Owner-Builders DVD Series Number VI (see our Bookstore), says "Blow it out!"
Once you've paid for plumbing, baths, kitchen, electrical, appliances,
and the mechanical systems of your house, incremental space is a bargain.
Normally, costs per square foot fall when you have a bigger house because many
costs are fixed and amortize better over larger square foot number. Matt went
from 3,300 feet to 4,600 feet for only $25,000 - less than $25 a foot - in a
$100/sq. ft. house.
says additional bedrooms are "cheap."
Garage space is cheap, patios and porches are cheap, second stories are
cheap, and basements are cheap.
106. "Friend of a Friend"
Lynn H. of Tremonton, Utah said, "Had friends in every trade. They all let me
buy with their discounts at the supply house. Really all you need to know is
how to make phone calls. Ask: 'Will you give me contractor prices?' They say,
pal at the electrical supply house calls this the "Friend of a friend"
strategy. He says you can get much
better prices if you "know someone."
The someone can be a sub that you already know or someone you meet doing
pre-construction interviews. You could ask permission to buy under their
account, paying cash, or just mention their name without specific permission.
There's really no standard for how good a friend the subcontractor has to be.
You're paying cash or with a credit card, and the distributor benefits from the
the friend also benefits from your purchase. There may be prizes or incentives for increased purchase
volume with the distributor, or lower prices on future purchases for the
friend. If you have problems, try another supply house, or another
107. Read a Lot
get a lot of calls from people asking what would be the best book to buy before
building a home. I am happy to
help but I have to smile, because all of the books out there have something to
offer, and it's not that hard to read a book. We think you could benefit from reading ten or twenty books
before you begin. Every one of
them has a few unique ideas that are valuable, perhaps translating to $1,000 in
savings or more per good idea. By
reading lots of books you get "immersed" and increase your fluency for the
process and your confidence.
You don't need to buy them - you can get them at many libraries. But if
you want to make notes in a book, refer to it later, or share with a
friend, use our Bookstore to buy at a discount,
and take advantage of group buying prices. The cost of these books is truly tiny in comparison with the
monetary benefit you'll derive from building smart.
108. Get Bids for Upgrades on the Fly
Eric and Ember M of St. George, Utah (featured in our Ten Commandments of Owner-Builders DVD Series DVD 1a) told me they got great bids from
people who were already on site doing aspects of their
construction. It makes sense because the sub who is
already working for you knows you are for real, and is already set up on-site
and saves start up and marketing costs by doing more for you.
R. of Derry, New Hampshire did it:
"Got the floor from a man. I bought the materials and paid
Usual price is $3,000 to $4,000
and he gave me a free 1,800 s.f. garage floor since the man needed to be
on-site anyway. I didn't have to pay extra for a concrete accelerator, because
they have to have the place heated anyway."
with the framers who agreed to do shingles for $12.50 a square. I have 60
squares and I pay $42 for materials. He charged me flat rate of $3,200 if I
bought materials. That makes $53 total cost per roofing square, versus $95
around here, because I had somebody who was already here who did this
Check people who are already on
the job against quoted prices you have for new subs to come out and do it.
extra work and upgrades from an
"in-place" contractor, through incrementalism. In other words, buy basic, and
add in upgrades at in-place prices rather than at in-advance bid prices. The
prices will be much lower.
109. Free upgrades from friendly subs
better is completely free upgrades from friendly subs already committed to your
job. By working closely with their
subs and asking for suggestions, Jeff and Judy L. of Provo, Utah(featured in our Ten Commandments of Owner-Builders DVD Series Number IV) got a $4,000
add-on for free from a drywall sub who was anxious to please and keep
competition out. The upgrades
often have very little real cost for the sub once they are set up and their
marketing has been done.
110. Stay on the Grapevine
on the grapevine. A developer selling exclusive golf course lots for $54,000 -
$168,000 decided to have a fire sale so he could move on to the next project.
Sold all for $34,000 - $68,000. He wasn't interested in spending to advertise
the closeout, so he simply put the word out to real estate
111. Talk to People, Express Your Needs
with a variety of people in and around the construction business. Share your
budget, tell what you are having trouble finding. Chase down their ideas and
suggestions and report back. If they are willing to talk to you keep them
on a phone friends list and occasionally run the latest entries on your question
list by them.
When building I got valuable tips on
bargains and know-how from my phone friends and several times picked up on free
items they were willing to share like a window well for my crawl space, and
tiles for two bathrooms.
112. Appeal Your Property Taxes
your house is intricately involved with your finances, it affects many of your
streams of ongoing expense each year you own it. One such substantial stream is what you must pay for
the mortgage company folds your property taxes into an escrow amount that is
added to your monthly payment. As
the taxes come due, the mortgage company pays them each year, and you may not
be consciously aware of them. But
it merits your attention, because people pay widely differing amounts of tax on
an owner-builder you are in a unique position to cut your property tax. Elaine
and I saved $1,000 a year on taxes, times forever, by appealing our taxes with
the local Board of Equalization.
We had two compelling arguments going for us. One was the actual cost to build our home; far less then
neighboring homes. Another was our
research on what other property owners around our city paid on similar
properties. Our Special Report #13
(See our Bookstore) lays out the steps we followed to appeal the taxes all the
way to our state.
113. Get Your Insurance Valuation Down.
another stream of outgo that often goes overlooked: your homeowner's insurance
premiums. The premiums are set
each year according to a very conservative index of what similar homes to yours
cost. Your premiums are based on
an imputed valuation of similar homes, though they may be at very inflated
can get your valuation down. It won't cut the amount they have to pay if your
home is destroyed. They have to replace it. But they calculate the cost of a
home with all the trimmings, such as land, which doesn't have to be replaced if
the house is destroyed, and concrete work and landscaping, which are likewise
almost never replaced if your home is destroyed.
was able to get my insurance company to reduce the valuation of my home by a
third. They wanted an appraisal of the house, so I gave them the revised house
valuation from our county after I appealed my property taxes and succeeded in
reducing the county's valuation.
This cut my premiums by one third or
$200 a year.
See what evidence it will take
for your insurer to reduce your house valuation and gather it up for your
sure the fine print in your policy doesn't prevent you from getting full
replacement cost in the event of disaster, even if a contractor is used to
114. Increase deductible on homeowner's
Clark Howard's advice (consumer advocate at ClarkHoward.com), I raised my
deductible on homeowner's insurance from a typical $250 to my insurer's maximum
allowed deductible of $1,000.
Again, my insurance premiums dropped by a third, saving me another $200
a year. If we had an expensive
mishap that ate up my deductible, I would earn it back through premium savings
in 3 years. Clark's advice is to
save the premiums and invest the difference.
115. Get Bids from General Contractors
When you are planning to build,
get bids from contractors on the project.
Tell them they have to sharpen their
pencils because you are considering owner-building as an
option. Also tell them to provide you with line
item pricing and subcontractor names so you can compare to other general
contractor bids you are getting.
use the line item bids to improve your calculations as to your costs to
the line items also as comparison and leverage to produce competition by
category for subcontracted items.
If you see one general estimated footings at $3,000 and you have bids
over $4,000 for that item, challenge your bidders to beat the estimate you have
in hand, or go to the supplier the general contractor mentioned at
is fair, because the general may wind up supplying items he has bid on the
overall estimate. It is not a
major expense for general contractors to provide these estimates as they are
usually canned on computer and they produce a potential opportunity for the
116. Buy Early
general, costs are rising. They
must be, because Elaine's parents paid $600 for the home she was raised in,
which is worth more than $100,000 today.
Therefore, if you can anticipate and buy what you need early, you can
save in the long run.
applied very markedly to land that Elaine and I bought to build the
Riverbottoms house. The land was
going begging when we bought it at $28,500. But our local market began to saturate with housing, and
open land took a jump in price.
Two years later it was worth $50,000. Six years later it had passed $100,000 in value.
does not obviate the need to buy smart.
Occasionally we see
items like tools and construction supplies at a discounted price which are
heavily undercut a year or two later. Know your purchase, shop around and buy
117. Time things right
As general contractor on your project, you have the opportunity to create
savings by planning the timing on things that could drive up your
costs. Some examples are:
Complete Guide to Contracting Your Home (see our Bookstore) says: "If you get
your heating system approved early, normally by passing a quick test, you can
turn it on before the house is finished.
This will also save you some money when other
builders may have gone out and rented a space heater."
you need a concrete pumper to pour your floors, walks, drives, foundations, or
footers, get the cement delivered while your pumper is setting up and only pay
the minimum charge for concrete pumping.
Owner-builder John Norton managed to keep the $100 an hour pumper cost
to the minimum charge of $200 this way.
thing with crane charges, usually over $100 an hour. Make
sure the materials are ready and the needed lifting is clear-cut before the
clock starts ticking.
makes all the difference on land purchase, construction, appraisals for resale,
and resale itself.
118. Tile in Basement
119. Sell "By Owner"
On a $300,000 house, owner-builder Gary Ziser saved $18,000 in Realtor
commissions. If you've ever
sold through a Realtor, you know that one of the first conversations is an
effort to get you to reduce asking price to a "realistic"
number. Thus, sometimes owner-sellers also gain
from possible price improvement at sale.
Gary's case, he sold for maybe $15,000 over the expectation of a Realtor,
making his total savings for owner-selling more than
$30,000. His story is part of our Ten
Commandments of Owner-Builders DVD Series Number 10, (see our
120. Be an Owner-Agent
you don't want to go all the way and sell your property yourself, split real
estate commission as an owner-agent with a Realtor. Instead of paying a 6% commission to sell your house, you
might pay 3%. You will be listed
on the Multiple Listing Service and receive certain selling
assistance. You would need to sign an owner-agent
agreement with a real estate broker.
121. Free Trees
Nat'l Arbor Day Foundation
gives 10 seedlings when you become a member.
Preston Heiselt found a reforestation source and planted 6,000 free seedlings
on his ten-acre property.
Taylor Hurtt noticed that his city was widening a road and was able to get three
free mature trees that were slated for removal. Their value was over $1,000 each. He paid $45 apiece to have them cut out with a big root ball
and placed in his truck. The rest
was up to him.
122. Free Soil Amendments
we built the Riverbottoms house we got free composted manure from a
ranch. We had to arrange hauling,
and bartered with a nearby trucker to do so. Sometimes hauling is free for organic material that would
enhance your yard or garden.
Owner-builders have gotten dump truck loads of free wood chips, leaves
and ditch dirt from their municipalities who save space and hauling costs by
bringing it to local residents.
Phil Smith of Spencer, NY used municipal ditch dirt to establish gardens and
planting beds on his property:
"Let them haul it there the season before you
need it. It composts in place."
123. Free or Cheap Sod
Steve and Frances Orton got sod at a local college, which was planning to build
and had to remove the existing turf before building. They went in with some
others on the rental of a sod cutter and hauled off good grass for a nickel a
square foot. The story of their
low cost high quality house remodel is part of our Ten
Commandments of Owner-Builders DVD Series Number 2, (see our
124. Seed instead of Sod
The sod grass vendors in our region generally require payment for the
product on delivery.
You may not see problems for days or months after. One of our neighbors
spent $2,000 sodding his gorgeous riverfront property only to discover that the
sod was full of coarse orchard grass. Cost to remedy: an extra
We think the best thing to do for grassy areas is to seed
them. You have control over the soil
preparation and seed varieties that way.
We groomed our dirt and added topsoil and amendments (obtained for free)
and seeded with a five way Kentucky blue grass blend purchased on sale for a
thick lawn (it took a while) that is genuinely the envy of the
neighborhood. Cost was $45 or a
penny a square foot out of pocket.
Sod suppliers get twenty cents for product and 20 cents for installation
or more in our region.
Jeff Lewis had estimates of $2,000 to sod his lawn and seeded successfully for
$145 under a hot July sun. ("Keep plenty of water on it, he says.") Photos of
the process are included in the Lewis project album on the front page of our
site. The story of his $250,000
gain on a new home and video of the seeding operation are part of our Ten
Commandments of Owner-Builders DVD Series Number IV (see our
125. Freebies from Demolitions and Road
Keele talked his city into letting him haul off beautiful brick from demolished
homes when a street was widened in his neighborhood. Taylor Fitterer picked up free mature trees under the same
circumstance. They had to be opportunistic and assertive and chip in any
necessary dismantling and hauling.
126. Save on Land Commissions
buying land, make sure you aren't paying 100% broker fee to a sales agent. If
so, do as one pair of owner-builders did, and cut a deal with a friendly
independent agent to split that commission with you. They saved $3,000: "We
were looking for land and stopped at two developments before doing the
deal. The first one asked if we
had a real estate broker, and said they might be able to reduce the price by
the amount of the broker fees if there was no broker involved. But we wanted to
buy from the second so we asked them for a concession in lieu of broker
fees. They said that was not
went to Wendy's for lunch and talked it over and used the pay phone to call a
friendly Realtor that we know. We
asked him if he wanted to pick up a quick $3,000. He said sure, and he called
to the developer and brokered the sale for almost no work, splitting the real
estate commission with us that the developer would have otherwise
127. Buy Stock Plans from a Production
can shop for a plan you like by walking through model homes of production
builders. Rather than pay for a
custom design you may be able to buy the plans from that builder, all properly
adapted and annotated to local codes.
One reader paid $.38 a foot to buy the plans.
128. Buy Stock Plans from an Architect
Although costs for custom architect designs may range to 10% of a
residential construction budget, some readers have bought stock plans for around 1% of
construction cost from architectural firms. In seven or eight states of the U.S.,
where an architect's stamp is required to build, this is an
129. Buy Plans from the City
and Emily M. of Coppers Cove, Texas found their plans for an apartment project
at the city planning office at a huge savings: "The city will sell blueprints
for apartment complexes that have previously been built in our city. They sell
them to us for $3.25 a page at Planning and Zoning. And these are already
stamped and certified by them."
130. Share trash trailer with subs
cost of hauling trash from your project is one of those overhead categories
that you may be able to manage. A
little creativity here can save you five hundred plus dollars in dumpster
rental and pull fees.
a dump trailer with your subs.
part of initial agreement.
The Complete Guide to Contracting Your Home
(See our Bookstore): "Burn or bury trash if you can. It is cheaper than
hauling off the material."
The Complete Guide to Contracting Your Home (See our Bookstore): You could
have excavator dig a quick trench for you. Two hours of excavator time are
The Complete Guide to Contracting Your Home (See our Bookstore): "If you
do not own a pickup truck and can't borrow one, try to buy an inexpensive
trailer that can be attached to your car. You can sell it later, after the
project is over."
up scrap boards from your framing phase on the sides of the trailer to increase
hauling capacity. Process your
waste to fill your trailer in an orderly way to cut down on dump trips and dump
131. Install a Temporary Toilet
manageable overhead expense is the cost of a temporary toilet at your job site.
in a temporary toilet to avoid portapotty rental. Your plumber may be amenable
to loaning you a fixture for your basement that will later be replaced with a
permanent one, but affords convenience from an early point in
construction. You can easily
hang a tarp around the area for
If you're building a whole house or large
addition, a little creativity here can save $500.
Stoutsenberger bought an old
portapotty for $100 and resold it (after processing) after finishing a
mountain cabin. He suggests keeping a deodorizer cake in the urinal.
some locations, bushes will do. Not to be indelicate, but a high percentage of
residential jobs go without the portapotty expense. The subs use the restroom before they arrive or on lunch
break. Bushes or trees around the
property are occasionally called into service.
132. Use a Build Your Own Pool Service
of our readers have saved money through owner-builder management of
pool construction. Matt Clifton
used a "build your own pool service" to cut his pool estimate from $25,000 to
$16,000. The story and video of his near half million dollar gain on a new home
are part of our Ten Commandments of Owner-Builders DVD Series Number VI,
(see our Bookstore)
O-B Gerry R. of Austin, TX did it with a consultant: "I can bypass the
pool general, use a consultant, hire directly, and save about $20,000 on a
$40,000 pool in our area. Foundation guy, gunnite guy, rebar guy, plastering guy, etc. I'll go
direct for all that."
133. Make the House Work for You
in mind that you house is intricately involved in the river of outgoing cash
that constitutes your cost of living.
In many ways a house can obviate the need for or replace costs that you
may currently fund:
house work for you by including such features as a pantry, home office, or home
gymnasium. A storage pantry can allow you to capture
savings in your grocery budget by buying in quantity and storing items you use
regularly when they come on sale. A home office can save you rent and
create tax deductions and conveniences that are profitable for many
people. A home gym can
save you time and club fees
you are now spending money on, or want to try in the future can be built
in. You can prewire for an alarm
system that calls the for you at need and spare you the cost of home security
monitoring by an outside service.
You can build in a TVantenna that may make it unnecessary to
a satellite or cable service. By
planning for information systems using the Internet and your in-home Ethernet,
you may eliminate your need for a daily newspaper subscription.
134. Carpet Remnants
whole house carpet is usually a special order of a single color in quantity,
carpet remnants are available for far less money. If you are breaking up your floor covering design with wood,
tile, stone, and varying carpet colors, you can take advantage of one of a kind
bargains at special prices.
more durable surfaces like tile in high traffic areas, you greatly increase the
life of your carpet, saving on life-cycle costs as well.
135. Be a Parade of Homes House
Ott saved $30,000 on his contractor-built house by acting as a Parade of Homes
showplace in the annual event in his community. Doug Nielson, who built a million dollar home with a
contractor, likewise saved $100,000.
Since the homes were visited by more than 20,000 people, the contractors
involved were able to get concessions from subs and suppliers who used the
showcase for marketing to the public.
you have to use a contractor to get this one.
136. Be a Demonstration House
we built the Riverbottoms house, somebody had the bright idea of calling the
cabinet manufacturer and asking if we could be a demonstration house for the
product line. It turned out they
had a program for that, and furnished us with a 10% discount, (over $1,000) and
free upgrades for the baths and laundry rooms. Our duties wee to open our house on short notice for any
prospective customers to see. In
our case, nobody ever called.
137. Be a Demo Site
I manufactured a roofing product in the 1980's I had a marketing budget for
free field installations of our new product to use for publicity, installer
training, promotion, and experience.
We actually looked for opportunities to spend
the money. As
mentioned above, we took advantage of this phenomenon when buying cabinets for
our house. Later we found big savings on an
all-vinyl deck by doing the same.
Call or email materials suppliers and say "Are you
doing any tests or anything, do you want a demo site?"
could do the same with subcontractors who are looking for a start and want a
place to showcase their work. You
would be willing to take pictures and write letters of referral.
138. Be a Solar Tour Home
and Cyndee M. of Bend, Oregon told me: "We think we can do it for $165,000 and
it appraises at $280,000. It will be on the solar home tour. We're getting some
items at half price. Ecologically sensitive. We live on the east side of the
Cascade Mountains. Terrific view. Five and a half acres on a mesa, we can see
every mountain in the Cascades, and can see the Deschutes River.
our community there is also a solar home tour, an energy home tour, and a
hidden gardens tour. By planning ahead, you may get leverage to "sell" the
traffic that will see your home to subs and vendors.
139. Use MDF for your Woodwork
140. Brick Smarts
Owner-Builders Gary and Cynthia Strong suggest: "Use normal brick instead
of oversized. Problems with mortar joints, they don't match up as
well." The Strongs are featured along with
their seventh owner-built house in our Ten Commandments of Owner-Builders DVD Series Number V (see our Bookstore).
Gary Matthews picked up brick from a demolished public school for his custom
home and barn for twenty cents each.
construction materials, brick is very reusable, and you may find good sources
in recycled and surplus yards.
local brickyard here has an annual cash and carry sale for discontinued and
overstocked bricks. Substantial
savings are available if you plan ahead.
141. Lock in Prices before increase
Owner-builders Thomas and Joanie L. featured in our Ten Commandments of Owner-Builders DVD Series Number III (see our Bookstore), reported:
"Yesterday talked to Mr. Wallace. He does framing. He told me that lumber is
going up 25% today. I had a bid for lumber good until last night which I had
well shopped. I called and they let me lock it in."
Lynn H. of Tremonton Utah said: "Bought cement by self bought lumber in
advance, before price went up , and they held it for me, hired a contractor to
basically build it. I hired the subs, and he did the framing."
142. New Technology Savings
Steve Godfrey told me: "I decided on Fast Foot footing form which is a fabric
form that uses no lumber, and is fast. It's awesome. You have to have yokes,
which you can reuse, and they cost, but other than that, it's a real bargain.
You can get perfectly level footings.
there's a risk in using untried technologies, sometimes they just plain make
sense. Today's sheetrock was forty
years in the wilderness before universally accepted by construction
people. Structural Insulated
Panels have been earning their spurs for more than a decade and are well proven
in most climates. Other examples
that save time or money could be Insulated Concrete Forms, wood foundations,
and steel framing.
For some people Insulated Concrete Forms, like the
Fast Form product and like insulated flex tubes for HVAC are examples of a
more do-it-yourself technology that lend itself to simple installations which
even an amateur can perform
Jeff Robertson studied panelized construction when he planned his new
home: "I am doing panelized
construction, and I 'm going after the Canadian market. Panelized is starting
at $15 a lineal foot per floor. Manufactured in a controlled atmosphere with
good quality. When your first floor is decked they deliver it. They can erect a
ranch-style house in one day. Avantek has a 50 year warranty. Say it comes
apart or swells, floor or roof, the mfr. will replace and pay for the labor.
The cost on that is more money than OSB but pennies shy of plywood. More glue
than an OSB. When sent through it's final pressing points it knurls it for easy
walking when you do a roof. Usually you do 7/16'' on the outside of a
When they do tongue and groove on a floor, you should leave a nickel's worth of
space in each seam. With the Avantek, they have left out the nickel's space, it
is self-spaced. With 2X4's and 2X6's, you have a certain percentage of culls. I
hand select everything. On a whole house that's impossible. But this stuff is
done in a controlled environment. You need to be plumb, level and square and in
target. You will get a blueprint in color when you stuff is ready to be
shipped. You get a nice field assembly when it's erected."
143. Work for a Contractor
K. OF Plymouth, Minnesota said:: "Since I work for a contractor, I can get
appliances half off, plumbing half off. New advantium microwave, convection
oven. Washer and dryer, too. Special deal on windows. They have a showroom near
Curtis Brown told me: "I can get stuff at work at a discounted price. And you
wouldn't believe what they throw away on commercial projects. Framing lumber,
rebar, mesh for concrete. I can buy stuff at wholesale from the subcontractors.
I can ask technical questions of everybody on our jobs."
144. Become a Contractor
Yes, you can easily become licensed as a general contractor if you
wish. It takes
only one day and $400 in some places, and it may or may not get you better
discounts from subs and vendors. Most discounts are based on competition or
By getting multiple bids you create
competition that brings prices down fast, with or without a
145. Cultivate Your Inspector
and Cyndee M. of Bend Oregon told me: "Our neighbors are using a sand filter
system and a drain field for our septic. Because the excavator met with the
county septic supervisor, we can do a pressurized cap and fill which saves us
$7,000 over the sand filter system. We cultivated him, and it paid
John Norton, who is featured on our web site and in Ten Commandments of Owner-Builders DVD Series Number VIII, (see our Bookstore)
got a savings from his inspector, too, who went to bat for him with the city
council over a zoning exception, and later he overruled another inspector who
hassled the Nortons.
146. Savings Ideas from Your Subs
subcontractors wind up being owner-builders, some of them exemplary
their knowledge of the industry to save.
You can profit by talking with them about your needs, both in
preconstruction interviews and on the job site. Sometimes the savings are huge like when one sub arranged for an O-B to
share a well with a neighbor, saving $5,000.
subs gave us advice, help and freebies when we built the Riverbottoms
example, our framer told us to cross out the line in the credit agreement with
our lumberyard which said that returns would be liable for a 25% restocking
fee. That simple move gave us protection and
convenience while building that we wouldn't have known about.
147. Eliminate change orders
Curtis B. of Valparaiso, IN told me: "I'm in commercial construction, and will
break ground end of this season on my own home after 8-10 mos. of planning. We
want to make sure there's no change orders. Curtis and his wife Cheryl are wisely investing most of a
year planning because as his construction background has taught him the
economics of change orders.
to Custom Builder Magazine, the average custom home goes over budget by
12-19%. I love that
statistic. Typical builderspeak.
An average is a single number, not a
range. But if you state it as a
range, people can hope for the lower end, which may have been the lowest case
measured. My guess is that actual
direct costs went over budget by 19% and with added builder overheads, and
interest costs for delay, easily 20% over.
Construction writer Ron Horne says that the average custom home goes over
by 20%. These are contractor-built homes, and
with the average new custom home now over $500,000 a 20% increase could ruin
your whole day. Why does it
orders. You agree to a budget number, you see
what you get, and you change your mind.
Then you undergo the cost of taking out and redoing something, far more
than doing it right the first time.
antidote is planning. If you do
your shopping and cross the T's and dot the I's, you'll get what you want the
first time. The average
owner-builder reported to me a cost overrun of 5% due to
changes. Much better than contractor-built, and
another reason owner-builders save money.
But even the 5% can be eliminated by good planning.
148. Ask for Discontinued or Sale Items
are sales and there are sales.
It's a lot of bother for a vendor to do an official sale with newspaper
ads, remarked prices and special displays. But they may have items that they need to move
informally. You can make your own
sale simply by asking.
William B. of Brooklyn NY said, "When I went looking for ceramic tile, they
showed me several styles, and then I said, 'Do you have any discontinued
styles, or ones you have a lot of?'
He showed me several then that were only $1 a foot. I found some I was
149. Have a Barn Raising
was first introduced to home repair and maintenance through group
bunch of us would gather to repair the roof of an older person in our
church. We recovered existing roofs several
times, and even tackled one where it was the fourth roof replacement and we had
to tear off the existing shingles.
It was really fun to see how much an enthusiastic group could do in a
it came time to reshingle my own roof, I invited the same group for a single
session and made sure all the materials and tools would be on hand, and planned
a big potluck supper for the families.
That was one of the most wonderful days of my
life. I found good sources for materials and
got a $10,000 job done for less than $3,000. With kids, there were about 65
Sawyer made the strategy of getting your friends to do it famous when he
painted the white fence in a Mark Twain classic. You may be able to do the same with some unwieldy tasks on
your project. Robert G. of Tucson,
AZ describes it:
raisings are not uncommon here and is quite something to see 50 or 60 friends
and strangers working side by side on a job site. Most come to help and learn
how to do themselves. When they are finally ready to build we go help them.
There usually is a great deal of experience and lots of practical help from all
walks of life at these events. A great way to save thousands building and make
important contacts. And talk about enthusiasm! Walls go up in a weekend usually. The same can be done to
stucco the house etc."
A few ideas:
Practice reciprocity - do for those who do for you.
Practice safety. Overdo it, because you bear a liability when
people help you.
Practice planning. Make good use of scarce time.
Provide supervision. A few skilled people can keep
the less skilled from messing up your project.
People have done it on framing, roofing, painting, laying sod, and almost any
project that needs helpers.
150. Finish Some of House Later
It's not my preference to only finish part of the house before moving
in. I really prefer to be done with the
project and turn my attention to other things. But some O-B's thrive on continuing to build and
finish, and they clearly save money doing so. Dr. Jason B. of Pleasant Grove, Utah told me: "We built our
house and left the basement unfinished until after the assessor filed his
report, then we started finishing it ourselves. No sense having twice the square footage to pay
taking this approach, you can save on taxes, loan fees, permit costs, and
interest. When you apply for a
loan, you pay a fee on the overall amount. If the scope of the project is initially smaller, you pay a
smaller fee. Permits with the
local building department are the same.
The costs are based on the gross project
Later, when you are building, the carrying cost of the gross cost comes
through as interest.
You can reduce this amount by taking
the project in steps.
variant on this strategy is to move in early. Even though the
defined living quarters you are building are not finished, you can get in a bit
early and save money.
You save by shutting down the lodging
costs you are paying elsewhere and by turning off the construction loan and its
interest and beginning on your permanent mortgage payments at a lower interest
rate. Some municipalities let you
occupy before things are really finished, others insist that every last lick is
in place before issuing the certificate of occupancy. Owner-Builder Kevin Watson lived in one of the former types
area I will be building in does not require finished floors
and painted walls to obtain occupancy and only one bathroom and kitchen
must be operational. That means I can do the painting,
flooring, and baths 2-4 after move-in. This saves cash and time as
I see it.""Construction Bargain Strategies for the Commando Shopper"
with your building inspector as to the exact requirements you must