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Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO

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1999 Owner-Builder Interview Part 3

What were your most important tools?

1. Computer, telephone, and I have my measures, levels, for checking a trades work, camera. I take a lot of pictures, because I may not see everything. Great record. If you have a problem, with your pictures, if there's a problem, you have documentation.
2. Cordless screwdriver. Power miter saw, good blade. Circular saw, wall texture sprayer. 1/2 inch drill.
4. Plans, hand tools, finishing nailer, mobile phone
5. Air hammers, portable battery powered saws.
6. Table saw, or radial arm saw, power drill, circular saw, belt sander, for finishing.
7. Cellular phone. You need to find why someone is not there, checking on price, delivery. Saved me many hours and many dollars. Temporary phone lines with a long distance block you can get. Subs can use it to.
8. Hammer, level, measuring tape, circular saw, framing square, utility knife, big lunchbox. extension cords,
9. Drill, cordless. Twice as much as anything else. Hammer drill for concrete. Bought
10. Bull float and concrete tools. Along with leather apron and skil saw.
11. Aggressiveness.
12. Knowledge and experience, personal tastes in knowing what you want exactly.
13. Most important was my relationships with people. This is unusual. Knowing people. Ability to get out and talk to everybody. Was able to get along with everybody. If you argue you are the only one who can lose. Had a very good carpenter who made up for the framers.
14. Knowledge from prior houses. I watch the shows.
15. Small pick-up truck. You will have to haul.
16. Hammer, screwdriver, level, knife, paintbrush, roller, scraper, circular saw, tape measure,

What anguish and fear of loss did you go through? What was your worst fear during the project?

1. Yes, I have felt alone.
2. Yes. You do. And we had one theft, stole the outside door locks, and boxes of pneumatic nails. And we had lots of anxieties the last two weeks, because we felt uninsured. We had already lost one house to fire.
4. No.
5. No.
6. No, not til I got married.
7. Not staying in budget. Fear of not finishing on time.
8. Running out of money and not being done, having to go back to the bank, when stuff was stolen, I was concerned until I got it locked up
9. No fear. Friction between spouses.
10. Biggest fear with first was building at all, not knowing whether I could do it. Thereafter the biggest concern was aggravation.
11. Throughout. No bones about it. Fear was the budget. I had to beat it. There isn't a huge opportunity to be out a lot of money. You have insurance against the biggest risks. Got my policy through an insurance agent only cost $100 for six months. Included theft of anything. There are risks of like having footings on disturbed soil, and it can shift.
12. This was our first. Scary to sign paperwork to owe this much money. I was sick to my stomach. Fear to be able to build what you have in your mind. It's exciting to see you r dream materialize. You anguish over almost everything. That you made a wrong choice. I redid my window in the kitchen three times. It wasn't coming out like I wanted. Tried two windows, stared at the gap. Tried a garden window, not right. Then just got a big picture window. Had to eat one of them. Stressed over that window.
13. No real fears. Dragging on. Fear of having the house just sit for another week. I think I would sub out a lot more on the next go around. It took a lot more of a toll than I wanted it to. Now I'm married, and I want to be with the family more. When I got bids in the beginning, I ran into a local building supply company. They were not the cheapest, but he was the best person, and I could bounce ideas off him. I have 3X6 windows, 15 of them across the back of the house. He told me about these wood windows that went out on a job, and were sent back. He sold them to me for $100 each. They were worth $400 each. I really changed design to take advantage of the deal.
14. Interest rates would skyrocket before I could lock. Other fear was, can I afford this? I forgot all about the fireplace and it was an extra grand. Rain was a fear of getting into the plywood and getting it warped. $150 I paid for screws on my floor. Once I bought Thompson Weather Seal $200 to cover the floors before a rain.
15. Delay. I don't worry about a job done wrong because attention to detail catches that. But subs not keeping commitment to be on time and causing you delay.
16. When all this with my old house, and renting a house, that I couldn't afford it. I had to reapply for a loan again. The builder wanted money and I couldn't get it for him.

What help did you want but couldn't get?

1. Moral support, somebody telling me I wasn't alone. Home page could be a big help.
2. Moving in. People who say 'if you need any help, yell'; don't count on them. Depend on yourself.
4. None
5. No
10. no
11. You try to get professional opinions, and people don't want to give them. I wanted to get each sub to give me a list of pros and cons for a decision on anything, and they shied away from it. Another thing is that the city inspectors are not really there to protect you. They really serve to cover the city's behind. This book of rules gets covered so I can't sue them. I would ask can you tell me some things you will be looking for? And they don't give you a lot of help. I got so angry to an inspector and had to talk to his boss. He failed a wall on a nailing inspection three times. He failed it because you are supposed to have screws and nails and there were only screws. I said it was better, and he didn't let it pass, even though I was the owner and contractor. Chuck said it was a question of shear strength. I replied you don't need it on this inside wall. Same thing to get power before you have sheetrock. Which the rockers need because they won't do it if it's cold. Persistence paid off for me, and the policy was changed.

As an owner you can get early power, run water under the footings, put nailers behind walls, four inch pipes under driveways, double sheetrock between rooms with noise. Not expensive in a basement ceiling or for one bathroom.
13. No.
15. Not getting enough expertise in the planning stage. In customizing a house you can make costly mistakes. A sub will tell you, if you designed this this way you would have saved a thousand dollars. That comes too late.
16. Next time to talk to somebody experienced that had done it on his own too.

What do you consider the most desirable features in a custom
house? See page 38 also.

1. Central vac, alarms, whirlpool tub, functional kitchen, well chosen appliances.
4. From the planning stages on have input on the whole thing. On our level, your own type of floor finishes, molding selections, colors, bath fixture styles, towel bars, lighting,
5. Hot tub, steam showers, large bathrooms, large bedrooms. Halo steam showers about $600
7. Good kitchen design, and master bath, bedroom. Upgrading finish work.
8. master on main, dining room and family room, openness, high ceilings is a plus. We didn't do that. 9 foot down. When we built, the sheetrock only came in four foot, now they have 4 1/2 widths.
9. Energy efficiency.
10. Custom concrete, 9 foot ceilings, three tone paint
11. Openness, good acoustics, tightness against air leakage. Curb appeal.
12. I like the fact that there's lots of light, big rooms, ceilings taller, seem to have nice decorator touches, like wider moldings around doors, wood blinds, kitchens spacious, bathrooms not compact, recessed lighting, extra touches.
13. The bathrooms large, ceramic tile, good kitchens, kitchenaid appliances, it's not more expensive, but nine foot ceilings really makes an effect. I did use standard doors.
14. Rooms fitting the needs of owners. Kitchen so it fits your needs, deck placement. Views.
15. Be really careful how you design the house. This is extremely important. Your personal taste you have to understand when to back off of if it's not financially recoupable. In planning a custom home unless you are wealthy, you have to know when to back off of personal taste when it is outside the norm. You go to a lot of expense to fulfill that taste, but never get any money back for it. I wouldn't include quality. Examples may be expensive tiles. Cabinetry that is costly, to some extent you can recoup. Another area of your taste is funny floor plans outside of the norm, or the common desire of the marketplace. A certain sized window, a place for a certain hobby you have. Planning needs to be as conventional as possible. You should be thinking about resale. Houses turn over every three and a half years in California. Check on that.
16. We love our kitchen, it's big, island, lot of cabinets. Separate bathrooms, that's great.

What features in your house save operating costs?

1. Yes, the windows, and the stress skin panels.
4. Insulate under the hard wood floor. Ran heat strips under the tile. G.E.. Thermostat. Low-med-high.
5. No.
6. Everything does in a log home, it's very well insulated, and I came up with a new material for chinking. I restuffed it, and then got a wood putty type material in with a caulking gun, and is this house ever tight!
7. Good windows, insulation, furnaces.
8. 8 foot ceilings, good windows, Cradco vinyl clad wood windows, double pane,
9. Envelope, heat pump, 12 Seer, New appliances that are efficient, stove sealed top, ceiling fans. (In stead of shopping at home center stores, go to wholesale places and get your builder's discount with lifetime warranties)
10. Thermal pane windows, weatherstripping storm molding,
11. Orientation. No AC until three in the afternoon. Because of mountain shade. Low-E glass. 2X6 walls BIB insulation.
12. Two furnaces and two air conditioners. Very fuel efficient. Fireplaces allow me to heat with low thermostat. Have blower to send heat out. Very efficient. Orientation of house on lot gives me morning sun on one side, afternoon on other side. We didn't put any windows on west side of house. Brick keeps the house a lot cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
13. Design of the HVAC one system for downstairs, one for up. Down is a package of air handler and heat pump. The upper is a split system, but the air handler really was efficient. Easily pulls in air. HardiPlank cuts air infiltration, acts as a heat sink, has some R-value, saves on maintenance. I didn't plan anything, but we have done well on utilities. We have 19 R factor in walls, and 30 in ceiling. All electric, but only $80 a month. 12 SEER rating. That's high end.
14. A/C I put in 12 SEER. Wanted 13. Electrical is a saving. straight wiring no bundling, curls, this adds to the electric you use. Extra insulation in the attic, water heater best they had.
15. Size the furnace properly. Size air conditioner properly. Bigger is not better. Right is better. Type of lighting, not overkill. Types of heating. Some places all-electric is more economical. Radiant heat. When people think of short term ownership, they don't think about long term savings. Another area is good insulation. No overkill possible there. Even manufactured homes are six inch walls.
16. Gas dryer. 12 gauge wire, separate circuits, good grounding system, number four bare copper, I megged out my ground. I had one grounding rod, 26 ohm reading, put a second rod in 20 feet away, got a 5 ohm reading.

What features add the most value to your home - rate them.

1. People are starting to ask about operating costs.
4. Cabinetry, floors,
6. Three bedroom.
7. Extras in finish, and exterior planning, look of the home.
8. Hardwood floors, closets walk in, double water heaters
9. Two baths, big bedrooms, equal size. We made master and master bath smaller. Access from bedroom and from kitchen. All on tile, mudroom fashion.
10. Decorative concrete, all brick.
13. Decks, open layout, windows, large window on front entrance. 7 feet high by 8 feet across. Got custom quotes at $2,000 but I ended up getting sliding glass door replacement panels, and wood trim and doing it for $500. It's actually three big sliding door glass panels with mull strips in between.
14. Location, make sure that the features will appeal to the average buyer.
15. Layout. Stucco is valuable around here. Simple stucco is $2.50 here, and more expensive is $4 a foot. Walk-out basement on a sloped lot. It is nicer if you frame that wall while you do concrete on the other three walls. Nicer finish. Frame sits on the normal footings and slab.
16. Smart house, high ceilings, large master, baths separate, hardwood floors.

What owner-builder laws prevail where you are?

1. No limitations.
2. Not here. But ten miles north, you have to have a certified plumber in Omaha. Here they want the plumber and electrician must be licensed, but you can do your own as long as it passes.
4. Georgia mortgage company has first lien, title insurance covers you from the beginning. One time every two years. If your intent is to occupy the house. Otherwise you fall into the same requirements as a contractor, provide workmans comp and liability. That's the biggest danger of O-B. You're not aware of insurance requirements, and you hire an uninsured roofer, and he falls. You have a builder's risk policy and thinks he's covered. But it doesn't cover an employee. A contractor has a workman's comp policy for people like that. A framer can fall from the roof. The builder pays 25 cents of every dollar he pays a framer for workmans comp. On average it's 17 cents. If we write a check to somebody who doesn't have workman's comp, we get audited, and the state collects it. Get a builder's risk policy, a liability policy and a workman's comp policy. Ask your insurance agent. OR the state. An uneducated man doesn't often know that. Guys fall, they never walk again, they can't support the family. They go to court, the State gives you something, you get sued. Lose your house.
5. Not that I know of.
6. When I started, they had an energy code you had to follow. But as a vacation home, I was exempt. Meeting R-factors. You had to fill out three or four pages of forms. They are cracking down on mobile homes around here now. This is a low income, and there are a lot of working man's retired people here.
7. Some municipalities will let you build one a year. Springville let's you build one a year.
8. Not much. You can't continually build your own homes and sell them or you are a general contractor. Live in it for six months or a year.
9. None
10. Mechanic's lien law. Bonding statute requires any owner who improves his property in excess of $2,000 has to have a performance and payment bond before he authorizes the general to hire any subs. If you are the general the statute isn't applicable. May be applicable to an owner who hires one sub. There is a direct contract between the sub and owner, and there is a remedy. Most people are not aware of it.
11. I don't know of any. Unless it's early electric. More of an attitude thing. Financing can be a problem. I made a major presentation to the banker.
13. Owner-builders can do a lot more than a regular contractor, a lot of their own work without a license. For example electrical.
14. Restricted subdivisions. Two0three contractors offer land, but you have to use them. You could buy from them and wait til it's built it out. You could buy for a bargain and wait.
16. Only Northwest bank would talk to me. Eddie changed my mind.

Can you get a loan without a contractor?

1. Yes. I did.
4. Yes.
5. No.
6. Yes. I did it when I put up a garage.
7. yes and no
8. yes, but
9. Yes, but we didn't take out a construction loan. We took a cash out loan on the land. And when we sell our other house we're okay.
10. Probably not.
11. Absolutely.
12. You can. We had a friend that served as a ghost contractor. He didn't charge us, but was on the documents. That made bank feel better.
13. Very difficult. Because I had the license it was easier for me.
14. I had a problem. Only two places that would talk to me unless I had a cosigner, where you can get anything you want. Small town, small bank it's easier.
15. The system doesn't allow it. You need one to sign.
16. Couldn't find.

How did you do it?

1. They go to different banks, and show the budget and contractors they have lined up and they have no problem on it.

2. Talk to the banker in advance. Get an estimate. Give him copies of the bids.
4. Smaller banks are easier. Fill out a loan ap estimated cost. Get an appraisal off your plans.
5. Show that you own the lot, set of plans.
6. I showed that I had collateral.
7. Equity. More down, less risk, prove you have planned it out and have capabilities. You can hire someone as a foreman, and use his credentials.
8. Dad helped. We did a spec house and got that on our own.
9. Cost of construction insurance, and prove that you are in the trade or have the capabilities.
10. I use Rod's license.
11. Sell loan officer on your ability to make the project happen. Can involve references, an interview of sorts, like you would for a job. They invest in you. Need to know you are capable.
13. Planning. Proving to him that you've got it planned out. Had I walked in with schedule, list of subs, quotes, he would have walked right through that. Our friends two doors down went to Eddie he scared them away.
14. Experience. Show your assets. Get a cosigner. Sign the house and land over to them. They are protected until you quit-claim.

Stress also, finding land that is buildable. Land can settle because waste site, dump. Big tall trees are a good sign. Guy built a house in Fl, $280,000. Rain filled the lot up and went into the house. They could only put retainer walls. It was an O-B. He was in the Bobcat business and he leveled the land in advance. He never got a survey to see if it was sitting at the right elevation. It was four feet below road level. He was out in the estates. They said the only solution was to tear it down. It would have to be raid 24 inches. You need a survey. This is to show that you are meeting all the easements. Needs a survey line.

Do you have a step-up strategy?

1. I say you step up in features and size, you do more of the work, you watch other trades real close, you learn. On house four you do a couple of more trades, and you have shrewdly negotiated several deals. You put on your game face, you can do it on the phone easier. It's your money. If you are doing a unique house, you can get it in the paper, and maybe cut a deal with the sub for a better price in exchange for coverage.
2. Yes. We will own this one free and clear.
4. No.
5. No
6. Remember that the building inspectors will help you. Don't be afraid to ask. This is it. I wouldn't mind, but if I ever did it again, it would be fun. And I would contract out more things.
7. First, make sure your family is in with you. Your wife. Have two goals, building the same level of home, in which case, you pay capital gains and pay off your mortgage. Or you can build nicer, and you may get into a monster, and then not be able to sell it. Maybe go up about three times, and then go back down a step with virtually no mortgage. Sell for $285 build for $240 you have to pay 28% on $45. Pay $12 in taxes, so you made $33 which you can use to buy down your mortgage. Five houses will get you there. 20% times five does it. Then when you retire, you go to a condo, and bank the rest. First was a remodel, paid $50 sold for $70. Second paid $150 sold for $240. Third paid $240 will sell for $300. Last house will build for $280 and will be valued at $400 Same mortgage since second house.

Case history. Two pilots, one commercial airline, one freight. A makes $120,000. B makes $60,000. Four years ago both bought houses. Both paid $150,000. A started paying his mortgage down, owes $120,00 house is worth $160,000. Equity $40,000 B sold the $150,000 for $240,000. He then built a $240,000 house for a mortgage of $165. Now worth $300,000. His equity is $135,000 more than three times what A has. He lives in a nicer neighborhood now with half the salary. And he has something for retirement.
8. We are there. We don't want to sell because we have 6.75% fixed interest.
9. This is it.
10. Trying to own one free and clear. That is difficult to plan. Build a little more home. I will do a couple more
11. No. Originally, I did, but my wants can be moderated. A Zen approach. If I look to build another house, the only thing I really get is bigger. You have to go up for tax reason. I want to pay off this mortgage.
12. We're there. The difference between a custom home and a dream home. Most people build small and move up. We went a little more overboard, less budget conscious. We did without a few things, but not enough to make us want to move.
13. Three and out. This is the first from the ground up, although I renovated a couple, converted a welding shed to a house. Was beautiful. Run down, with roof falling in, in a subdivision. Spent $27,000 and sold it for $40.
14. One more to get my payments down. I would do it if I didn't have to work.
15. I have a goal that's hard to reach. Every time you owner build, if yo do it right, you really are looking if you can do some work yourself, a $40,000 to $50,000 enhancement of your net worth. Therefore the strategy is to keep doing it, regardless of your other goals. You have to have the ability to borrow the money. If you are retired it's harder to get the loan. You need some money to make money.
16. Not really.

What do you do for a living?

1. I am an engineer and I run the engineering for the conference center. Environmental laboratory for the National Arbor Day Foundation.
2. Personal financial analyst.
4. General contractor
5. Stump removal business. Eight months does enough for a whole year.
7. Pilot and attorney is the wife.
8. Designer
13. Facilities management. You need a shot in the arm because plugging away at savings you never seem to get there.
15. Cable TV and satellite.
16. Maintenance manager. I am over the C&C machinery and production and maintenance building.

How much time did you spend planning?

1. 300 hours.
2. Two months.
4. three months.
5. A month
6. Months. It doesn't hurt. What do you really want? My friend had logs stacked at his mill, so he sold them to me. How big, what kind of house, what do other people have in your area? What are good ideas, pick brains, look. Decide what you need and can afford, and come up with the design.
7. 500 hours
9. Starting ten years ago. Keep clippings, for when the time comes. In the year before we broke ground, maybe 50 hours before we saw the draftsman. Then 200 more.
15. Depends on your talents. 60-90 days.
16. 6 years. Collecting ideas. We couldn't settle on stuff. We bought books. We finally saw plan we liked, but we added and changed it. It was casual at first, and at the end of the sixth year it got serious. Every weekend was busy 500 hours, then 400 hours making 900 hours of prep.

How many times are you planning to do this?

1. I will do it forever. This is number 4. Maybe 6-7.
2. This is the last one.
4. Twice. This is it.
6. This is it.
7. One more. And it's easiest on your family to stay in the same neighborhood. Maintain same schools, continuity in your life, etc..
8. Once.
9. Once.
12. This is it.
15. I'm only interested in one more time. I'm sorry I didn't start doing this 30 years ago. I'm 62.
16. No.

Are you organized?

1. Yes
2. Yes.
4. yes
5. No
6. I try to be.
7. No, just persistent
8. No, not at all.
9. Yes.
10. Yes
12. To a point.
13. Fairly.
14. Yes.
15. Yes. You have to be to be successful.
16. Yes.

What suggestions do you have for O-B's to get organized?

1. Need to understand a way to understand the scope of what they are getting into. Have a clear understanding of the work flow chart.
2. Set up a system from the beginning, like folders in a box, binders for all the bids. Separate binder for all the insurance work. Samples, items sent to us.
4. Make sure you have a good estimate when I start. They leave out about 15% of the items.
5. Get prices before you start, set your limits.
6. Make up a plan governed by what you can afford, how much time, how much help you are going to get.
7. Good spreadsheet, good file system, and huge business card reference base. When you find good subs, take care of them. Pay them on time. I went in there and got the draws. They said I was the fastest. But don't pay until work is done.
8. Computer, but we do it natural. But I would want to know where every penny went.

9. Keep a notebook, write down the names of those you hear about. page for each trade. Write down bad references also. Folders with categories. Made a budget book broken into categories, and my running tally. See what over or under I am. Add ten percent to you number, and a miscellaneous with a couple more thousand.
10. Computer
11. Interview contractors. Get their spreadsheets they use to make a bid. Build a list of subs before you think about starting. Build a relationship with these guys
12. Had a notebook with contractor names, phone list, all invoices, attach copy of check you paid. The nice thing our bank did was there was a waiver on the check they had to sign. That's important. Having a spreadsheet. Up til about half way, then it got so hectic, and I was just throwing it in a folder. Makes it possible to go back and check.
13. Computer.
14. Make sure you are simple, things in files, separate contractors, release of liens, bids, don't throw away. You are responsible for the quality of that house for ten years, at least contractors are.
15. Depends on your own talents. How well you adjust. Detail person is needed.
16. Read your prints, make list, price things what you want, price things, see what's on the market. Know what you want. Otherwise you will get the wrong thing.

Are you a good shopper?

1. Yes. Don't always go with the cheapest if you have bad feelings on it.
2. Yes.
4. fair
5. Yes.
6. Yes. If I'm not in a rush. Women are the bargain hunters.
7. Yes.
8. No
9. Yes.
10. I don't like to shop.
11. No
12. Yes.
13. Yes.
15. Yeah, a bargain hunter. More than just pricing.
16. Yes, a tough one.

What suggestions do you have on finding good prices?

1. Watch Sunday ads for lumber yards, and educate yourself what a toilet costs.
2. Shop around. Let the manager know up front that you are doing a whole house, make a deal in advance. Know the people at the lumberyard.
4. look and read as much as I could. Get an education on quality. Number one wood on the interior.
6. Do your homework, like when using a blue book before making an offer on a car, and then make an offer.
7. Use your referrals from other people, shop yourself, don't be afraid to go to small suppliers, ask around. Tell people up front you need to save money, and what do they suggest.
8. Shop around, try not to get in a hurry, but don't drive yourself crazy. Be decisive.
9. Keep your sale flyers. Compare. Do notebook summaries on doors, or vanities, screws and fasteners are very high at Home center stores than they are at the wholesale houses.
10. Contacts in the industry
11. If you know every item you will need, and keep them in your mind, then over six to 8 month period stay a step ahead and be aware of sales. Close outs are real big. Even your plumber will have things they have one or two left of, and may be able to offer you. I used Moen pull-out white faucet the plumber had a real good deal for $100. Sink, too. They had one, white one, paid only $325 usually $600. He was my last plumber.
12. Don't go with the cheapest price even though is your first inclination. Like carpet, I would shop and look at the colors in a lot of different lights. Carpet can be phenomenal difference in cost. You think about will he be thee to service.
13. Tenacity, ask questions, be open and flexible. "Do you have any deals you come across?"
14. Best thing to find bids is to go into local lumber stores, plumbing houses, never go out of phone book. Ask for the reputable guys just from counter men.
15. Shop on materials. For help, it depends how much you are into it. Cheryl works for a framer. His theory is to hire people who cost him less. He thinks he gets more bang for the buck. He hires gals like Cheryl. He has to work with and watch more closely.
16. You have to look at quality. Two eyeball lights were shown me. $95 and $45. There was a little black ring. It was meaningless. I later paid $25. On outside lights, if they want to get rid of because discontinued, you can get good price. Lucky with my appliances. On my own would have cost $12,000. I got for $7,000 instead of $12,000.

Can I have a copy of your budget, or would you like to go through
a second interview where we review the items in your construction budget?

1. Yes. The budget is set up in sections, and I use it for scheduling. 2. Yes.
6. Don't have it.
7. Didn't have one. Have an initial budget. Can give you the bank summary of what I spent. You want to do a good job, and then have something to set aside for extra on some of the things you would like to spend more on at the end.
9. Yes. Screws weren't included with all the systems, so we negotiated the missing fasteners with the vendors.
10. I had a loan with categories in it.
12. Is almost irrelevant now.
13. Yes.
14. Yes. I would go and list all the materials and trades, and I guesstimated it, and bids verified that.

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