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Has anyone built on a hill ?


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By Julien in Santa Clara, CA on 5/24/2010


We are looking into a vacant lot that's got nice views and utilities already, but is sloped 2:1. This is in California in the SF bay area.

How much will it add to costs to build a house on a such a lot, vs. a flat lot? Percentage-wise or flat cost. We are looking into building a 2,500-3,000 sq ft home. We are just starting to look at the constructions costs, so we have no idea yet what they are. We would appreciate hearing from other O-Bs in the area what the costs are. We don't want to build something extremely high-end, but still above average.

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By Lori in Reno, NV on 5/31/2010


Hello Julien,

We started looking for property in 2001 and ran across a couple of sloped lots. My husband was dead set against building on them and stuck to his guns. Our friends caught the builders' bug and bought one of the sloped lots. My husband tried to talk them out of it, but had no luck. They started building a year before us, and because of all the issues of the sloped lot, finished a year after us. It took them three years. Both of us did most of the work ourselves, but toward the end the bank was on them pretty hard to finish, so they had to hire subs to finish stuff. Shoring up the hill was the biggest issue. The city didn't like the way they planned on doing it, the bank wanted a sub to do it, but they were out of money from their construction loan. They ended up owing more money for their house than it was worth. In the end, they wished they hadn't built on the hill with the view of the city and mountains.

You could put in an offer contingent upon building specifics on shoring up the hill according the city codes. Or you could get an excavator out to take a look. They could give you a estimate on the possible cost.

Hope this helps.

Lori


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By Julien in Santa Clara, CA on 6/2/2010


Thanks, Lori. Yes, this is helpful. We don't plan to do any of the work ourselves, since we have no construction background.

The specific lot we are looking at is an REO and would be sold strictly as-is; I can't ask the bank for any contingencies. They don't even have a soils report for me at this point. We will probably keep looking.

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By Lori in Reno, NV on 7/4/2010


Hello Julien,

Glad I was able to help, but, I would like to encourage you to think about doing some of the build yourself. My husband (military cop) nor myself (teacher) knew one thing about building a house when we started. However, there are several things that everyday people like you and I can do to save us money.

With the housing market the way it is right now, building a custom home can cost more then buying a house off the market.

Give it some thought and if you need to ask ways to keep your bottom line down, send me a PM and I would be happy to share with you how we were able to build $150K of equity in a market that was falling.


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By Pat in Arnold, CA on 7/6/2010


We just finished getting bids in last week for building a 2,100 SF house on a slope (not as severe as yours) in the CA Sierras (about three hours east of SF) and the lowest bid for everything (excluding the land cost) was $600,000. That included us doing much of the interior work ourselves. That is $285/SF. I would expect that yours on a more severe slope with added engineering would cost around $325/SF. Permits are expensive in CA, engineering is costly for earthquakes, materials are still expensive, and labor costs have not come down much in our experience.


The worst of it is the initial appraisals for new houses are coming in lower than the projected cost to build, so the projects have to be scrapped. The bank we had our financing set up with said they continue to run into this problem. One of  our contractors who bid on the dry-in of our house finished his own house in the Sierras on three acres, just under 4,000 SF, a three-car garage, 1,100 SF with an in-law suite; gave a finished appraisal of $700,000 and it cost over $800,000 to build it. The garage alone cost him $175,000 to build and the appraiser gave him $15,000 for it. He had two separate appraisals done and both came in about the same. Luckily, he had a cash buyer and they ignored the appraisal. Otherwise, he would have been upside down to start. After over $55,000 in development costs of our lot, engineering fees and architectural drawing fees we finally gave up and put our lot up for sale this week.  

We ended up buying a 6-year-old 2,300 SF straw-bale house with an 180-degree canyon view on 53 acres for less than the cost to build our smaller house on two acres. Building can't compete with existing house prices right now and it's really screwing with appraisals. You couldn't build the house we just bought for the price we got it for.

Good luck.

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By Valerie in Chelsea, MA on 8/12/2010


Interesting topic! We are about to build a house on Vieques, P.R. on a hill with sea views, but there is a lot of granite underneath, so foundations do not need to be more than four feet deep, and the actual incline is not steep. I would think that the type of soil and the degree of incline would be major factors in the cost estimate. Any thoughts?
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By Bethanne on 8/13/2011


Hi everybody,

My experience is a basic home with three bedrooms, two baths with no custom features, bottom of the line appliances and cheap carpeting closer to $125 to $150/sq.ft. If you want the HDTV trends of stainless steel appliances, tile or wood floors, quality workmanship, etc. it is easy to exceed $200/sq. ft. You can build a house for $94/sq. ft, but I don't think it is going to be one you want to live in.

My advice is for the OP to specify in detail EVERY feature he wants in the new construction plans, including model numbers of fixtures, etc, then have three reputable builders give him bids. I would be very interested to see if they come close to $94/sq. ft.

Thanks a lot.

Bethanne


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By Arne in Houston, TX on 9/8/2011


I think you are going to have to look at your sloped lot and take it on in multiple steps.


1. Get a professional engineer to do soil tests and determine what kind of foundation will be required along with any shoring up to meet local regulations and for the house design that will be built on top of it.  

2. Next with the engineer report, get with foundation contractors and have them create their bid to the engineer's specifications. 

3. Once you get three bids from foundation contractors, pay a few bucks more to at least have the engineer review the bids and validate that they meet all regulations and requirements. (The engineer will not tell you which one to pick, he is just stating that the bid responses meet the specifications given). 

4. Once you get it done, have your foundation inspected by the engineer to certify that it was built to the specifications.

Yes, you will pay for this level of inspection and checks and balances, but failing here can be costly and lead to a project failure.

Even in other areas of the country where the land is flat, it is amazing how few homes are built without a soil condition report and a foundation spec designed for the specific lot.   Builders just go in, grade, lay out forms, dump sand and pour a slab. Of course, doing the foundation on the cheap does keep the foundation repair companies busy.

My home project will be built on a slab, but what I have learned tells me I have to dig 18 inches below grade and one foot outside the finished footprint of the house. Next we'll line the pit and build up a minimum 12 inches of compacted 3/4" gravel all to be finished off with 12-inch concrete slab that will finish out 6 inches above grade. I will then fill in around the slab with gravel to bring it to grade.  

Way different then the common slab in my area done on the cheap, but I want to know that my home sits on a solid base.

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