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By Patty in Saratoga Springs, NY on 9/15/2009


I have house envy.  I see so many beautiful homes that I want but can't afford.  So, after much research and worry that I really am insane, I am tentatively considering owner-building in about two years.  But I'm just not sure I can save enough to afford the size house I want.  I really like big roomy homes, I would like some upgrades but don't need a true dream home.  Has anyone out there owner-built in the Albany, NY or Saratoga Springs area?  If you have, can you tell me your cost per square foot?

I would like to begin by figuring out how much house I can afford to build with reasonable savings.  I won't be doing much sweat equity, but neither do I need mahogany floors.  I think my construction budget will be somewhere in the $300,000 to $350,000 range.  Is $100 per square foot possible in Saratoga Springs?  Any advice is really appreciated!  Patty
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By Carlos in Kingston, NY on 9/17/2009


Hi Patty,

My name is Carlos and I live in Kingston, NY and think I can provide some guidance. I'm a commercial real estate appraiser and bank reviewer by profession and five years ago I acted as GC on a new modular home. The $100/sf price can certainly be done if you are just talking about the house alone and not including land cost. When I built my home, I found that modulars offer many options and finishes and control costs best. They provide a very predictable cost structure as opposed to stick built which are subject to variable labor costs and the weather.

I spent a considerable amount of my money on landscaping such as stone walls, steps, and walkways. These items can certainly add a considerable amount to the overall budget. Another consideration is how much do you want to finance as opposed to completing over time. In other words, landscaping for example can be completed over time and not financed. Another example are detached garages; do you need one right away or can you build it later? When you speak of $100/sf, are you including these items? Much depends on the style of the home.

There is so much to consider and plan but I hope this is some help. My house is a 2,240 sf Colonial with a two-car detached garage and I have city water and sewer. Excluding the land, I came in well under $90/sf but did much of the work myself.


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By Mike in Upstate, NY on 9/18/2009


Hello Patty... I say yes, you can build a new home over 3,000 sq ft for under $350K. I say this because I have done it and am doing it. I am down in the Bronx. I do have many upgrades in my home. 

Read and learn a lot. You become the GC and hire someone to help you run and set up your subs. I did very little sweat equity.

Focus on where you may run over budget. Down here my major headache was getting rid of DIRT. Yes, dirt ran me over budget.

Focus on plumbing, electrical and structure is very important. Hire an independent inspector to come in after each sub to check the work and sign off.

Any questions, just write.


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By Patty in Saratoga Springs, NY on 9/19/2009


Thank you, Carlos!

Your response was really helpful and encouraging!  It's one thing to read people have been able to owner-build for less in a book and it's something else to actually communicate with someone in your area who has done it!  When you mentioned modular building, were you referring to companies that factory build?  And, if so, how much did they allow you to do?  Did you still hire your own subs?  Do you think such companies still mark up their costs and labor as would a local GC?  Were their markups less?  Thanks again for you input! Patty


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By Patty in Saratoga Springs, NY on 9/19/2009


Thanks Mike!

Wow, I can't believe you are able to build like that in NYC, where real estate is so incredibly pricey!  You mentioned learning all you can, which is great advice.  I was wondering how much you knew about constructing a home when you began?  For instance, did you understand all about footers?  If so, can you recommend any books that might describe the building process that you found helpful?  Thanks so much, it's so exciting to realize we can actually do this and get the house we dreamed of for a price we can afford.  Wow!  Patty


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By Mike in Upstate, NY on 9/19/2009


I had no knowledge when I started my project. I read about footings in a basic way on the Web. It wasn't a book I went to. I asked a lot of questions of GC's. That's what made me decide to be my own. That alone saved me about $35K. Search for your supplies online where you pay no tax and shipping is free. Make deals with lumberyards. Since you are the owner and GC, they help you more and break things down. ALWAYS shop around. Times are hard and people are looking for deals.

Check your local codes about permits, very important. It took me almost a year to get my plans approved. Here in the city they are a pain in the rear about little things.

It's taking me so long to finish mine because I am using my own money. The bank wouldn't help me. So it's me and a few friends knocking a little out at a time. It started at 1,500 sq ft and now its 3,100 sq ft.

I did hire professionals for demo, pouring footings and foundations walls. Need inspections for those. Also remember you have to do a soil sample.  I have steel in my home, so I had a company do the erection of that. I got a sub to handle all the framing. I hired a sub for HVAC and plumbing. The only shortfall was the plumber. He had a good track record until he got to my house and totally blew it. Yes, he was a friend of mine. Don't hire friends unless you can totally trust them. This friend cost me $20K So I had to get another plumber to fix all his mistakes. So take your time and back-check all subs.

Any other questions just let me know and I will help as much as possible.


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By Carlos in Kingston, NY on 9/19/2009


Hi Patty,

Very glad that you found my input helpful. Yes, modular homes are fabricated in an climatically-controlled environment meaning the wood stays dry and all construction is done within an enclosed building. This has obvious advantages and economies of scale. I bought my home from a dealer and chose the floor plan I wanted, and the level of finish I wanted, which can vary greatly. You can choose to have minimal finish such as sheetrocked walls and bare floors, or you can choose to have it finished with cabinets and floor coverings.

I chose to have a mostly finished product with most of the plumbing and electric installed, kitchen cabinets, bath fixtures, etc., installed prior to delivery. At the site, the dealer finished the interior work, e.g. stairs (basement & second floor), some minor sheetrocking at mating walls, and second floor exterior siding. I was in charge of the excavation, foundation walls and footings, basement slab, site grading, backfilling, decks, front stoop, walkways, electrical service, gas service, and water/sewer connection to the street. Inside, I installed the electrical panel, some plumbing connections, boiler, and some floor finishes where I wanted some hardwood floors and marble tile. When I say I installed, I mean that I either did it myself or contracted out those jobs. I live within a municipality that requires electric and plumbing work to be performed by licensed individuals.

On the financing end of construction, you may encounter issues with your lender/bank. Most lenders will not lend money to individuals who do not have construction experience. Therefore, if you lack experience, you may have to align yourself with someone who does. In my case, I was able to demonstrate I had sufficient experience to perform the duties of a GC and complete the sundries that I would ultimately be responsible for while the modular company and dealer would supply what related to them. It was also helpful to have cash on hand to do some preliminary work such as site preparation, excavation and foundation. This all counts as your equity/down payment in the total project.

I found The Owner-Builder Book AFTER I had completed my project. I thought it provided a great deal of useful information and structure but having some experience and hindsight goes a long way to truly understanding some of the topics presented. Feel free to ask me any questions and I'll try and help.


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By Steve in Hudson Falls, NY on 9/23/2009


Patty,

We'll be building in upstate NY (near Saratoga).  Based on our budget, our goal is to build around $115-$125 /sq.ft (land excluded, well/septic included).  I'm actually trying to deveop a plan and specifications that we can forward to several GC's to provide us with estimates.  I'll also start having subs quote directly.

I've generated quite a library of books including references on framing, plumbing, site construction, and concrete work as well as a copy of the residential building code (NYS).  We're still trying to figure out how much sweat equity we'll be providing (I'd love to frame it, but may not have the time), I do plan on doing the majority of finish work.  I know of several pannelized builders (factory-framed walls, etc.) including Northern Design (northerndesign.com), Connor Homes (connorbuilding.com) that will work with O-Bs. They're local, and are more than happy to provide tours of their facilities.  We'll likely send our plans to them for quotation as well (Connor is our favorite... beautiful stuff, and they provide custom carpentry for interior finishing).  Best of luck as you proceed... we've moved very slowly in the planning stages (we purchased the land early last summer).  Keep in touch.


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By Patty in Saratoga Springs, NY on 9/24/2009


Thank you Steve, Carlos and Mike!

Everyone had been so generous providing information and I am taking the advice seriously.  The more I research the more I realize I need to research!  I really appreciate the websites for the modular builds.  I was only aware of Barden and am glad to find out that Barden has some competition.

Steve, I was wondering if you have tackled the financing issue yet?  Right now I am really in the planning stage and trying to figure out all the separate issues that will need to be addressed.  For instance, has anyone found financing easier to obtain if you have a professional build your shell?  I know that I won't save as much money if I do that but it also limits, somewhat, what I have to GC myself and seems less overwhelming.

Will the companies you mentioned draft your complete design package so that you have material lists for the things they won't do?  Or did you do that yourself?  And did you purchase land that had already been Board of Health approved as a buildable lot or did you have to do that afterward and how did that go?  I'm still trying to convince my better half that this is a project we can undertake and will be worth it; so did anyone find that the equity achieved after the project was complete was great enough to justify the time and effort? 

I just love this website and have to limit how much time I surf here or I'll waste a whole day, haha!  Thanks again, Patty


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By Mike in Upstate, NY on 9/24/2009


The equity aspect of it for me was a $200K positive upswing. I sank a lot more into than I thought I would for the location I am in.  But it's priceless to me because I am not planning on selling. I did a HELOC to do all my work.
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By Steve in Hudson Falls, NY on 9/24/2009


We haven't initiated identifying financing yet, so I'm not sure how that'll go, as we initiate that, I'll keep you in the loop with the various banks that are willing to work with us.  Regarding the lot, it was subdivided into lots perhaps 10 yrs. ago, and the suitability was established when the lots were established (we'll still need to perform perc/pit tests for septic development).


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