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By Frank in Columbia, MD on 3/18/2010


We currently live in Columbia, MD and we are looking for land. What would be the best approach to procure a one- to two-acre lot?

Frank & Lisa

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By John in Port Republic, MD on 5/1/2010


I would check the local papers where you are looking and also online at Realtor.com. When you look at land, WALK the lot. The whole lot and SEE WHAT YOU ARE BUYING! Next, check the tax records see what the seller paid for it and when.

Ask your Realtor to provide you with "comps" of other similar pieces of land in the area.

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By Tom in Ellicott City, MD on 5/2/2010


Are you looking to buy in HoCo? If so, there isn't much to choose from, and what is available is quite expensive. We found that in E.C. the cheapest lot we could find was the one we currently have. Even when factoring paying the mortgage for 15+ years, and the costs of demolition, the lot is STILL cheaper than anything we can find of comparable size (2/3 ac.) in HoCo. And we have a good location to boot.

Tom

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By Frank in Elkridge, MD on 12/11/2010


John,

We took your advice, and are currently looking to submit a bid on a lot. We have another seller asking us to counter on a bid we submitted. Is there a reason why some of the landowners in Howard County want to settle before 31 Dec 2010? I know the tax thing and also the new regulation to have sprinklers in residential homes in effect 1 Jan 2011, but is there any other reason for the rush? Do you how much more it's going to cost to install a sprinkler system in a home of 3,000 sq ft?

Frank

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By Frank in Elkridge, MD on 12/30/2010


Tom,

Sorry it took so long to respond. Yes, we are looking in HoCo and you are quite correct. Prices in Howard are very expensive, but they are coming down. From the spring to now prices have been going down by as much as 25% for some very nice lots western HoCo. 

During the summer and Fall we were talking to a builder and they wanted us to pay the equivalent of 50% of the total cost for the land and that is crazy...   

Still looking.

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By Frank in Elkridge, MD on 1/16/2011


Tom,

I was reading over some of your last posts from a year ago and I was wondering if you plan to O-B anytime soon. I would think this is a perfect time to O-B, since it's a buyers market for goods and services?

Frank

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By Elizabeth in Ellicott City, MD on 2/9/2011


Frank & Lisa,

I just bought a three-acre lot with a stone rancher on it here for $324,900. We plan to raze it in a couple of years to build our new chateau. In the meantime, we are renting it to pay for most of the mortgage. The house was an estate sale and it wasn't updated. I am also a Realtor and an appraiser. I would definitely look into finding an old house or a foreclosure with decent land. We really lucked out on our Frederick Road property. My husband and I had been driving past this house for years and one day out of the blue it was listed. Buying land with a house on it makes financial sense and you need to put less down. I know with lot loans they want 50% down. We did an FHA with 3% down. Also, the land without the house is worth around $450,000. To tear down the all-stone rancher will cost about $10,000. I think I can find someone to do it cheaper than that. I got that price from a friend who used to tear down houses.

Elizabeth


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By Frank in Elkridge, MD on 2/11/2011


Elizabeth,

Great news! Lisa and I will be settling on a lot located at Florence Road near Woodbine Road in March (if all goes well). After the closing, we plan to put our house up for sale and put together a plan to perhaps break ground late summer or early fall. We'll be posting from time to time.
 
At the moment we are looking for draftsmen/designers with Chief Architect/Home Designer capabilities that can help us with the design of the house. This weekend we'll put out a new forum to look for a designer in our area.

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By Elizabeth in Ellicott City, MD on 2/12/2011


Frank & Lisa,

Wow that's great! I got the name of a draftsman from a general contractor. He's in Westminster. Do you have a house plan yet? I bought my plans from the Internet and will be making modifications to mine. I'm still in the planning phase. I have been collecting building materials from vendors and have five drawers of catalogs, etc. I am going to get a builder's license so I can get the steep discounts. Here's a picture on the house we plan to build. Keep us informed! This is exciting!

-Elizabeth


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By Frank in Elkridge, MD on 2/16/2011


Elizabeth,

That's a very nice HOUSE! As for a plan, we have been looking through many books and just as many websites for one. We did find several we liked and I'm using Chief Architect, Home Design Pro V. 10 to modify them. We don't intend to submit our plan without having a designer stamp of approval. Our basic plan is to have two master suites, one on the main level and the other on the second floor with three and a half baths. We also want to design our house so the garage is attached to the house but without any living spaces above it. Big kitchen and great room with a dining room and a family room as well. If the budget permits it, we will have solar panels and solar water heaters. We are aligning the house True South for our area which I believe is 171 degrees SW, and MAYBE geothermal.

How difficult is it to get a GC license in HoCo? I think it's worth it, especially since some suppliers won't even quote if you are not a sub or GC to protect their local clients. I understand GCs get as much as 10% rebate in addition to their discount at the end of the project depending how much business they bring to the shop. Maybe we can talk to see how we can pool our buying power together and use a GC when needed and use the O-B route when necessary?

Meeting with the GC on Monday who is building the house next to our lot. I'll call our neighbors to see how they decided to use this GC.

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By Tom in Ellicott City, MD on 2/17/2011


Frank:

We are currently going through the permitting thrash with HoCo. It has been an interesting adventure, to say the least. Turns out that the group that deals with stormwater management and the group that deals with permitting have different definitions of "disturbance" and neither of them adhere to the only written definition I could find. 

In a nutshell, if you "disturb" less than 5,000 sq ft on your lot, and your lot was recorded before 1976, you are exempt from submitting a site development plan (SDP). We thought we met this criteria, but found that the county saw it differently. To make a long story short, I had to submit a request asking to have the SDP requirement waived and earlier this month I found out that the waiver had been approved. That took some effort and money, as a full survey of the lot was required. I am happy it was approved, as an SDP would have cost an estimated $15K-$20K and taken up to six or more months to get it approved.

They didn't let me 100% off the hook, as they require an Environmental Concept Plan (ECP), and this must be submitted and approved BEFORE I'm allowed to submit for a building permit and a demolition permit. This will require a stormwater management plan, and something called a site distance analysis wherein the survey company has to come out and measure the speeds of cars going past my proposed driveway entrance so that they can determine if the driveway will be far enough away from the nearest intersection. 

Nothing is easy. Most of the requirements are aimed at large developments on virgin land, not redeveloping on a lot that was recorded in 1955! But, small-time projects like mine get caught in the machinery of gov't. nonetheless. With luck, I'll be able to submit the ECP next week and hopefully hear back in 4-6 weeks. Assuming I get it approved, then I can move on to the permitting stage and get the project really moving.

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By Tom in Ellicott City, MD on 2/17/2011


Frank, Elizabeth:

I designed my house using some simple, inexpensive 3-D design software, then worked with a designer to get the plans formalized and engineering work done. His job was to get the plans suitable for a permit application, which included the professional engineering certifications. I worked with Greg Little in Finksburg, and have had no complaints with him or his work. He gets my recommendation and he also has some experience doing solar home designs.

I, too, designed my house to face solar south (about an 11-degree declination west of magnetic south here in Ellicott City). I also pitched the roof to accommodate solar HW and PV panels, which will be installed as budget allows.

I am using ICF construction for a variety of reasons and will be working with Mark Quinn of Quinn Construction to get the house built. He normally doesn't build in HoCo, but there aren't any ICF builders in HoCo, so I had to look elsewhere. Mark has done ICF work in AA county and other counties, and the sites I visited impressed me.

Be sure to educate yourselves on the building process in HoCo, especially the Site Development Plan requirements. These can be costly, and will take significant time to submit and get approved. As I found out, you may be required to do one for a teardown and rebuild too, so it will behoove you to go and meet with some of the county folks to learn what will be required of you and the time lines involved.

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By Elizabeth in Ellicott City, MD on 2/17/2011


Frank and Lisa,

Getting a home builder's license is easy in Maryland. Here's the links on how to get one:

oag.state.md.us/Homebuilder/registerfornew

oag.state.md.us/homebuilder

For $600 plus insurance, it's worth it. There is no test, since you hire licensed subs. Then you can make business cards to hand out to vendors. I even have a logo to go on my business cards. I have an old childhood friend who works at John Wilson Lumber off 32 who I am going into the home building business with. He can get the really good discounts, and the builder license from the state allows you to get discounts from suppliers you may find on the Internet. For the past few years, I have collected all kinds of catalogs from kitchen appliances, fireplace mantels, stone, lighting, etc., with special trade pricing. I have 15% to 20% discount pricing from most vendors. It's pretty impressive. If you have the home builder's license, they will give you better discounts, because they think they will get more orders from you in the future - which may be true in our case. If all goes well, I plan to start a business. If you are interested, I can show you what I have. There may be some items you never thought of.

My husband is in the energy engineering field and knows a lot about solar energy. He says it's a waste of money. By the time you save money to offset the cost, you will need to replace the solar panels. The amount of energy you get from them is not that high. He could explain it better if you like. Save the money and get the geothermal heating. It'll save fuel costs. Also, building your home with stone or brick with good insulation will save you money. We are going to get triple glass windows for our all-stone home. Building a custom home with vinyl siding would be tragic! 

As for our home plans, we bought them from eplans.com and bought the CAD version of the plan so that a draftsman can easily change them. I do have the Chief Architect software you described. I played around with it. I don't trust myself to make the changes. I have been getting some advice from the lady who use to own UBuildIt in Westminster. She has kept me up to date with zoning and construction rules for Howard County. She is currently looking at my house plans and is looking at ways for us to save money. She has a package that will guide you through the building and bidding process for Howard County. It's $1,600. Kind of pricey, and I haven't decided if we will buy it. It would be nice to have the correct building process for the county and the phone numbers that we need. She said it would be like she is "holding" your hand throughout the process.

-Elizabeth


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By Frank in Elkridge, MD on 2/22/2011


Tom,

It's good to hear you're moving forward on the project and thanks for the designer name. 

We are definitely using solar water heaters, aligning the house true south (correction 169 degrees SW for our area), and most likely, geothermal. As to the solar panels, we have to determine if the solar shingles makes sense since the thinner solar sheets process less electricity than the full panels, and we have to put the shingles in the front of the house.

Is Mark Quinn your GC or is he willing to work with an O-B?

Frank

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By Frank in Elkridge, MD on 2/22/2011


Elizabeth,

At this point I'm debating applying for a GC license. Maybe we can use your license and help each other in dealing with the county and learning as we go. I owned an office and medical supplies company for almost twenty years and I'm very familiar with the advantage of having a resellers license and buying direct from manufacturers. We could use our experience and save money by working with HoCo on our O-B project. I'll send you a private message with my info and and the four of us can get together to further discuss this project. Tom, I'll also send you a PM with my info in case you want to have a personal meeting.

Your husband is right. At the moment, the payback for solar power, especially in this area with the limited number of daily average solar hours of 4.6, is a long-term commitment. As for the brick or stone, it may be a budget breaker for our house. Instead we are considering Dow's Styrofoam Structural Insulated Sheathing (SIS). I know it's very expensive. I heard three times more expensive than OSB for 1/2" and I suppose the 1" type is even more expensive. Ask your husband what he thinks of this new product.

We are doing relatively well with Home Designer, but like you I don't trust it to pass muster with the county without having an engineer's review and approval. Like you and Tom, we will work with a designer to make sure the house meets code. Like you said the HoCo package to help you submit a building permit is pricey.

Frank

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By Frank in Elkridge, MD on 2/22/2011


Elizabeth, Tom:

Met with a GC yesterday. Our meeting lasted three hours going over the features and benefits of his houses and construction company. This particular builder is a small company, on average building 8 houses a year. I had my list of questions, which I felt he did not like. I asked him what he needed from us to move forward and he said he needed a $5K deposit, which included working with a designer/architect to make changes to our plan. I asked him if I could use his designer and he was very defensive and said we could not use one of his plans even though we would pay the designer directly.

How could we take our design to another builder to price out our plan?

I told him that we wanted to design our house to the point of not having too many last minute changes to our plan and he laughed out loud "that's what everyone tells me". I was so glad to have read The O-B Book!

We are moving forward on designing the house to the point of knowing for the most part what we need. With plan in hand we can take it, along with the Materials List to several other GC's to compare apples to apples.

I'm sure this builder is a very honest and reputable contractor, but if he has to manage 8 builds a year, how much time is he going to spend on site to make sure the subs don't cut corners?

Frank

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By Elizabeth in Ellicott City, MD on 2/23/2011


I don't know if using our license will work, because our license and tax ID puts us "on the hook" so to speak, with the suppliers. They give us credit using our business tax ID. That means if something goes wrong, Rick and I are holding the bag because it's our credit. Also, we have an insurance policy. That might void the insurance, since we are not the builders. You are better off getting the license yourself and setting up things. It will be easier for you to get a construction loan and you will have control paying the suppliers, etc. That is the thing I am worried about, since Rick and I would not technically be the builders. 

I haven't spoken to Rick about this yet. He would be a good consultant for your project. He'd make sure they are not cutting corners. I have no problem letting you see the suppliers we have. I can tell you which ones will give you builder discounts.

Frank, if you want to know how much it will cost to build the home, I can do that for you. Appraisers have a software program called Marshall and Swift. This program basically surveys builders by zip code for its construction cost data. You then use this report and submit it to the lenders. There are questions you answer about the construction, interior amenities, etc. It is very helpful. It breaks down all the costs with the builder's profit built in. There are are certain levels of construction quality. I usually use the low because it is somewhat closer to what it would really cost if I were to build it myself.

So let's say it would cost out your home with a builder for $124/sq. ft. and your home is 3,000 sq. ft. Under the low construction quality it would cost $372,000. That would be the number to beat building the home yourself. There will be line item costs such as framing, flooring options etc. Take those numbers and try to beat them. You should be able to build your own home for around $105/sq. ft. out here in Howard County.


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By Frank in Elkridge, MD on 6/16/2011


Hi Elizabeth,

We listed our house for sale back in late April using "For Sale By Owner" (agents are welcome) and it's proving to be somewhat difficult even though we may be in the strongest real estate market in the nation. The minute we close on the house, Lisa and I will start our construction project. We changed our minds as to the design of the house from a two-story house to a rancher. One look at the layout of the house on the topography drawing proved to us that we could stretch out the house to a rancher (3,000 sq. ft. heated space) and still have plenty of space on our three-acre lot.

Tom, did you have your ICF plans approved through the HoCo government? I would really like to see (and possibly give you a hand) the construction process of your house from the footers to the finishing stage.

Frank

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By Elizabeth in Ellicott City, MD on 6/17/2011


Hi Frank! Good to hear from you. Right now it is hard to sell houses. If you don't want an agent, I suggest you go to "Mr. Listing" and sell it as an owner. For a fee, Mr. Listing will put your house in the MLS. The MLS is going to sell your house. The more people who know about it, the better.

-Elizabeth


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By Tom in Ellicott City, MD on 6/17/2011


Frank:

I missed this posting and your question about Mark Quinn -- he is acting as my construction manager as I simply have no time to do it all myself. He can also be a full GC if desired.  He works with O-B or full turn-key. You can see some of his work on his website:

allied-icf-systems.com

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By Tom in Ellicott City, MD on 6/17/2011


Frank:

We just recently got the Environmental Concept Plan approved. Then we had to submit formal Mylar copies of the site drawings for "official signature." After waiting for that, we needed numerous copies of the signed site drawings so that we could, today, submit for a grading permit.

I don't actually need a grading permit, because the waiver I got for the Site Development Plan indicated that the area of net new disturbance was under 5,000 sq ft. However, I had to submit the application for the grading permit so they can tell me, officially, that I don't need one. I guess they also have a record of the application should anyone care in the future. At least there was no fee for this.

Once the grading non-permit is approved, I am then free to submit plans for a building permit and the associated demolition permit. The building permit will not be issued until the demo permit is approved (demo permits can be done in a day once you meet the criterion.) However, they will accept the building permit application and just hold final approval until the demo permit is done.

All this thrash is hidden from people who buy houses from developers. For those of us pursuing alternative methods to get a house built, we have to learn about and deal with the bureaucracy as we go. It will probably take longer than you think to get through the system, as the system is geared for developers, not O-B types.

I don't know how the county will react to ICF. I believe two ICF houses have been built in HoCo in the last few years -- perhaps it isn't so foreign a concept now. I think with appropriate engineering stamps and support documentation it hopefully won't be an issue. ICF manufacturers provide tons of information about the products just for this purpose. The county supposedly is quite interested in promoting energy-efficient housing, so that should be in our favor.

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