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By Julia in Norristown, PA on 3/6/2006


Hi Everyone,

This is my first post. I have been reading this forum and taking in the great knowledge that I have found here. It has been really helpful... we have been considering O-B'ing for the last two years while gathering more information. We already own our lot, so that part is out of the equation.

We had our eye on a house plan for a very long time. It was 3,000 sq. ft. and our dream home. Before contemplating being owner-builders, we got a quote from a construction company for $200 sq. ft. which blew our dream home out of the water. We shopped and found a smaller plan thinking that would be all we could afford. A friend of ours is a GC who has owned his own construction company for 30 years. So my friend said to me that he thinks he could build the smaller plan for under $90 a sq. ft. It's a fairly simple design, but it has the Cape Cod/farm style with big front and rear porch, cathedral great room and the living area is 2,500 sq. ft. not including full unfinished basement. I have been told that the covered porches add a lot of cost to the house.

Today I spoke with him, and he said that now we are around $100 sq. ft. and we have to supply most of the interior finish such as floors, cabinets and upgraded fixtures and lighting or electrical. This doesn't sound like such a great deal to us and after reading this forum, I am contemplating doing the entire project ourselves by subbing everything ourselves.

Another GC friend put some quick numbers down as for what we could expect to pay if we bid based on using his subs, which he offered at no charge to us. He is a "builder-developer" involved with a partner, so he can't give us any sort of deal if we go through his company. He offered to assist in some site supervision and guidance since he is local.

Here is how he broke it down for our original 3,000 sq. ft. dream home:

Septic $15K, Well $5K, Excavation $1K, Footing and basement $20K, Backfill $1K= $48K

Lumber and Framing $50K

Windows and doors $15K

Roof $5K

Fascia, Soffit and Siding $10K

Plumbing $10K, HVAC $10K, Electrical $5K

Insulation $4K, Drywall $15K, Trim and Install $8K, Paint $10K

Kitchen and Baths $15K, Mirrors, shelving etc. $2K

Tile, Wood and Carpet $9K

Final Grade, Rake and Seed $3K

If his numbers are correct (which I am unsure about) we would be at around $219K. Which for a $3,000 sq. ft. home is about $73 sq. ft.

My question are: Do these numbers sound doable for the 3,000 sq. ft.? Is my "friend" really giving me a good deal at $100 sq. ft. half-finished? (I already know the answer). If we do O-B and sub everything out how much more can we save? I guess my next step is start bidding out each trade and see where we come in at. I don't want to offend my "friend" but if he's making a huge profit on me, I guess he really isn't much of a friend after all and quite frankly I am offended.

Fortunately, I own a business that advertises in The Blue Book (thebluebook.com for anyone who is interested) which is geared towards construction/trades/engineers/architects. Last Friday, I decided to send out a request for bid on my house project and I have received an amazing response from subs that are interested in bidding on our home. In fact my entire morning has been spent discussing this on the phone with many subs. While it's not very conducive to getting actual work done for my business, I feel like I have some hope that I can get this done without involving my "friend" the GC.


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By Michael in Cave Creek, AZ on 3/6/2006


I would encourage you to proceed to the next step and get quotes based on your plans. It looks like you have a good start on the process. The results of getting these quotes will tell you how realistic the budget is. I will assume that your 3,000 SF house is 3,000 livable plus about 1,000 SF unheated space in garages and porches. I can give you some comparative information in relation to my budget which is for 2,824 square feet livable (4,150 SF under roof) in Arizona.

Remember to add your permitting costs to your budget. This varies widely. In my area it is about $4K for a house. Will you need any professionals (engineers, surveyors etc,) to get your permits? If yes, add those costs.

Septic $15K. This seems high for conventional system. Conventional septic in my part of the world is $5K to $8K.

Well $5K. A well like this would not be very deep. Could be realistic if the water table is very shallow.

Footing and basement. Mine was $21K for slab on grade, and another $20K to bring in endless dump trucks of dirt to bring the lot up to grade. Very site specific. Rely on your local quotes.

Lumber and Framing $50K. This is a good ballpark for this size of house.

Windows and doors $15K. This budget will get you windows and doors. Forget about the fancy brands of windows at this price. This is pretty much for builder's grade materials with a nice front door and maybe a couple of French doors thrown in.

Roof $5K: This seems low. It may buy asphalt shingles or a composition roof. Concrete tile would probably be in the mid-teens.

Fascia, Soffit and Siding $10K. Stucco for my house is $15K.

Plumbing $10K: Reasonable; would exclude fixtures.

HVAC $10K. Reasonable for a two-unit SEER 13 system. Maybe a little more.

Electrical $5K. This is a bargain basement price, but could get you builder grade fixtures and a minimally code-compliant installation.

Insulation $4K. Right on with my experience

Drywall $15K. Right on with my experience

Trim and Install $8K. This could be some fancy trim. It takes about 40 hours to trim a house and a couple thousand in materials.

Paint $10K. This would be the cost of a professional painter. Two or three weekends with an airless sprayer and a couple of volunteers can get this done for materials cost of less than $2K.

Kitchen and Baths $15K. Mirrors, shelving etc., $2K. This budget will buy some decent cabinets and plumbing fixtures. Probably not enough for granite countertops.

Tile, Wood and Carpet $9K. This would buy economy tile and somewhat decent carpet. Not enough budget for wood in any kind of quantity.

Final Grade, Rake and Seed $3K. This seems like a minimal landscape budget. Any fencing, block wall, big trees?

Do you need a driveway? Add $$$

What about sanitation and clean-up? Dumpsters are $350 to $500 every time. A house will use about three to four of them. A Porta-John for 6 months adds another $600.

Think about the omitted items, get your quotes, load up on front-end costs like excavation, utilities, footings and framing lumber so that you have some cash to work with from your first draw to get the rest of the house built. Add some contingency and supervision. Say 10% to 15% and apply for your construction loan. Get ready to spend every day on site managing your project and have fun. You will soon learn that you can build your house for way less than that $200-per-square-foot GC. Remember none of the tradespeople you want to use on your project advertise in the newspaper or Yellow Pages. They are too busy based on word of mouth. You will need to find them. Visit job sites, get references from other tradespeople, etc. or materials suppliers.   

A 70% cost-to-value ratio for an O-B project is very realistic to achieve. Your project seems doable with good management and good subcontractor choices. You will blow your budget if you keep adding features and high-end materials.

Good luck.


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By Julia in Norristown, PA on 3/7/2006


Michael, thanks.

Yes, I thought his numbers might have been off a little bit. Some of the initial costs such as surveying and engineering we are paying out of pocket, which are approx. $7K.

The well for my brother's house which is two doors away from my future house was $5K and they actually got it pretty deep for that price. He paid $10K for his sand mound septic system, so numbers were estimated a little high there.

I was considering making the front-end costs higher for the loan, since it seems they only dish out about 10% for the first draw. And on a $300K loan that wouldn't cover much.

I am really not too concerned with upgrades and fancy trim, since we can do most of the tile and things like that ourselves. I could get kitchen and bath cabinets through Home Depot or Lowe's for under $10K. I am not thrilled with the prospect of painting the great room with 20' ceiling, so maybe I'll contract that part out and do the rest ourselves.

We won't need much in the way of landscaping. There is already a lot of nice vegetation that won't be disturbed. My house will be situated on the rear half of a two-acre lot and the front has a nice lawn and the perimeter is lined with old oaks and evergreens as well as dotted with fruit trees. The remainder of the landscaping I plan to do myself with the assistance of some friends and family. I have a green thumb and a good eye for design.

Initially we were planning to not pave the drive, since it will be quite long and probably pretty expensive, but I guess I should get bids and include it anyway.

I am wondering do many O-B's get their Use and Occupancy permit before the house is completely finished? Or do most O-B's try to complete some of the work themselves in between the subs?

Fortunately my business is about a mile from the site where our house will be built and I have a flexible schedule, so I'll be able to be at the site for as much time as needed. My dad lives next door and my brother on the the other side of him. They both offered to help oversee things, BUT I am still going to need a GC or site supervisor though for the construction loan. Let the fun begin!


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By Tom in Stroudsburg, PA on 3/8/2006


Julia, I can't speak for most O-Bs, but where the occupancy permit figures into the picture is this; most banks want an occupancy permit before they will allow you to roll your construction loan to permanent. When your construction loan is approaching its intended expiration, the only items you should be focused on are what you need to get the occupancy permit; everything else is secondary. There are severe consequences for exceeding the duration of your construction loan.

The septic price seems excessive unless you exceeded three bedrooms on your design. All Pennsylvania sand mound systems are designed for three bedrooms minimum even if you only build one. If you don't have a quarry close, the added cost could be hauling, but unlikely. You almost need to know someone to get a standard in-ground system these days. I would have thought that Norristown with its population density was all central sewer and water.


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By Lori in Reno, NV on 3/8/2006


Julia,

Let me ask you a few questions. First, how many houses do you plan on building? Now that you are done thinking I am crazy, I will explain later. Next, why are you considering building a home that is not your dream home, which you may later regret or ask "what if?" Because of the price? Now the explaining!

I am assuming you only plan on building one house in your lifetime and in my opinion it should be your dream home. We have been where you are for the last five years (the planning stage). As we looked for land, weathered through overseas deployments, and drew plans for our dream home the prices all went up. Now that we have closed the building loan, our cost is (excluding land) $262,000 for a 2,508 sf home, single story with 700 sf porches (if all goes as budget planned). Our well and septic prices are flipped from yours. Is your septic an engineered above ground?

We are building with a lumber package, which includes all wood, windows, cabinets, roofing, drywall, insulation, and vinyl siding all panelized walls pre-sheathed. This package cost about $50/sf and the finished product will be about $104/sf. 

So bottom line, you can build your dream house. You may have to do more work and hire less subs to save money. Our price includes subs for the well and electric only. We didn’t need to hire framers, since the house is pre-framed. Our covered porches came in at $42/sf.

Oh, by the way we didn't need a GC for our construction loan, just a letter explaining why we thought we could do the work. My husband had only done HVAC before joining the Air Force. So, we don't have extensive trade knowledge.

What I am trying to say is, you can do it. Don't lose sight of your dream.

Lori


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By Julia in Norristown, PA on 3/9/2006


Lori, thanks and you are exactly right.

I knew in my gut that if we built the smaller - less perfect house I would forever regret it. I only plan on building one house and that is why we are getting bids from subs for the 3,000 sq. ft. dream home I originally chose. We will be able to do some of the work ourselves as far as interior finish. My fiance doesn't have nearly the flexible schedule I do and sometimes his days run really long at work. So any work we will do together will be on the weekends. We plan on doing the electrical (with the help of a friend). We will do the painting and the flooring (tile and hardwood) ourselves, which should save us around $30K.

The septic estimate was a little high because we aren't sure what type of system we are going to have to use. Our perc test is on the 21st of March. We went with a worst case scenario price.


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By Julia in Norristown, PA on 3/9/2006


Tom, the reason we want to know what we need for the occupancy permit is because we want to be able to move into the house and finish some of the work ourselves. We currently pay $1,500 a month rent on a house that we live in and would like to eliminate that expense at the earliest possible time and start paying our mortgage. I just hate throwing away that rent money. I heard from a few people that as long as you have heat/AC and bathroom and running water, they will give you the Occupancy Permit. I definitely do not want to live in the middle of a construction zone, so ideally I'd like to move in once it's drywalled and we have a working bathroom/shower and kitchen.

As for the septic, the house is being built in Worcester, PA and they have an open space rule that the lots in my zone can't be less than about 1.5 acres. My lot is actually closer to 2 acres; our house will be on the rear half of the lot. There is no public sewer or water on our street, which is kind of a blessing because we would have to make a run of approx 350' to connect if it were available. The septic price is a worst case scenario. Our perc test is on the 21st so we won't know until then what type of system we will have to use. I am hoping for the less expensive sand mound type.


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By John in Erie, CO on 3/9/2006


In my locale, you need a working kitchen sink and something to cook on, a full working bathroom, heat, and approval/complete electrical trim. You don't need flooring, paint, other bathrooms, etc... Also, any life safety issues (missing elevated decks, etc.) need to be mitigated. It's common to see a couple of rails nailed across a second story door while the owner finishes a deck, so that they can get a CO.

I've seen folks install their kitchen sink on a cardboard box, (but connected to plumbing) and pass.

It's not ideal, but for a lot of us, it can be a reality. We moved in without countertops, a couple of bathroom sinks installed, and some minor trim work remaining. Still, we were able to get out of our old house, and some people really balk at it "Oh, what a horrible mistake, you will never get finished now," but I do a little here and there, and after a year, we are pretty much done (except for landscaping, which will be this spring/summer's project).

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By Julia in Norristown, PA on 3/9/2006


Thanks for the info. We are hoping to move in and be able to finish part of the interior stuff and landscaping as soon as would be possible without interfering with the bulk of the project too much. I think our plan will be to get our CO when most of the major interior work is done. I can live without finish carpentry (trim), finished paint and finished floors for a little while, especially if it saves us a bunch of money by doing it ourselves.

We decided not to have a big Key West destination wedding as we originally planned because we were looking at $35K to do this. Instead we are planning an intimate wedding on our lot this coming spring before we break ground. We couldn't see wasting all of that money. Once we are finished our house (or somewhat finished) we will throw a big party and celebrate our marriage and housewarming.

I am the type to take a project head on and not be done until it's finished. (I drive my fiance crazy with this). I plan to finish some of the carpentry myself and I plan to spray the primer for the walls before we move in. I will faux finish or paint most of the house, as I feel the motivation to do so while we live there. 

I want to do a tile shower and tile around our garden tub. Thankfully I know how do tile (mosaic is my specialty) and I am hoping to find the type of tile I want for a good price, the rest is easy.

We will also do most of the flooring ourselves. I am considering getting some discount lower-end appliances to use for the meantime in our kitchen that can be used in our future finished basement for my kitchen down there by the  future bar.

My fiance does whole house automation for his career (Crestron) which includes temp control for the house, music system, lighting and pretty much anything you can imagine - the sky is the limit. We are currently able to access our house from our computers at any remote location, e.g. my computer at work or our laptops in Key West, FL. We can turn anything on or off or adjust it from any remote  location. So we are designing and planning where everything will be wired for that and as we can afford we will integrate more features.

We realize there is a lot to think about and plan for and that we aren't going to have a "turnkey" house. And that is just fine. I will be rewarded tenfold for the experience and the hard work as well as looking at it when it's finished and being able to say that "We did this".


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By Kyndal in Charlotte, NC on 3/30/2006


Hello Julia,

I am a first-time O-B as well. I began my home late last year. I would do a little more shopping around on the drywall. I am currently building the same size house; I am 90% complete. When I began looking for a drywall contractor, I spoke with someone at Lowe's who told me he had a guy who would charge me $51 a board. I did my own takeoff for the sheetrock and I came in right at 300 boards with 10% waste for a 3,000 sq. ft house and I have 11 ft. ceilings in the entry, living room and drop ceilings in the master and kitchen.

Long story short... I spoke with the contractor, who then wanted to quote me $67 per board for hang, tape, mud and finish. Whole thing would have been right around $15K. I decided to pass on his "best I can do" offer and I visited one of the more exclusive neighborhoods near me. I ran into a guy running the drywall crew in a very nice 5,000 sq. ft house and I asked him how much he would charge. $20 per board, to hang, tape, mud and sand. I got mine done for $18 per board and the whole thing was done in two weeks and they used 290 boards.

Roof: Be sure to do your own takeoff on the roof. My framer swore up and down that I had 9,000 sf. ft. (90 squares of material). I knew better. I decided to purchase the materials, Elk Weathered Wood from a building supply for $45 per square. I called around and found a really nice female roofer who charged me $43 per square for labor and another $600 for metal and open valleys. Be sure that the roofer puts in the contract that you will only pay for what is installed, not everything on the ground - because my roof was not 9,000 sq. ft. it was 7,000 sq ft. and I have 3 gables, 12 hips and a 9/12 pitch on the main hip.

Your excavation looks deceptively low unless you are on really flat ground. I say that because excavators, graders are notorious for "misjudging" the slope on what appears to be a perfectly flat lot and they will run the price up on you so fast you will need a neck brace. Case in point, mine said my lot was flat, perfect for slab on grade. I wound up with a crawl space that slopes from 4 ft. on one side to 8 ft. on the other. They had to go down pretty far to get to bedrock.


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