I've been considering an idea that I'd like to share and perhaps get
information and experience from others who may have followed this path.
I recently retired, am in good health, and am fairly proficient at
carpentry, etc. I once refinished an enclosed garage into a livable room,
and the result was generally successful and inexpensive.
We now live in a much-too-large house which we want to sell and move into
something half that size. It occurred to me that we might build our own -- a
one-level house with very small grounds more or less designed for growing
I would function as my own general contractor to get professionals to do the
work I couldn't do -- i.e. foundations, frame and roof, plumbing,
electrical, heating etc.
But once it was "roughed in," I'd do the flooring, moulding, painting, etc.
I remember that old movie, "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House," and maybe
that ought to teach me not to go down that road.
But I'd like to hear from anyone else who has experience in this area.
its possible, but it depends a lot on your finances and some details about
First off, its going to take you a *lot* longer than a professional crew to
do the finish work. Be realistic about when you'll be able to move in. Most
places won't give you a CO (Certificate of ocupancy) until its all done and
Getting financing might be hard. there aren't that many banks willing to
risk a "do-it-yourself" homebuilding project - too many opf them get started
and then never get finished, and the bank is left with a property that they
can't sell without sinking still more money into....... They've been burned
too often. If you're ina position where you can finance yourself, that's not
an issue, bt not many of us are in that boat.....
Be realistic about what you can do. Finishing out a garage is a good start,
but what about kitchens and baths? they're the most expensive rooms to do,
and are places where small details can get you - have you ever hung kitchen
Acting as your own general isn't a bad thing - it cn be hard, but it can
also be really rewarding. Don't expect the same results as the pros though -
all those subs are businessmen, and they ahve to take care of their repeat
customers (read: general contractors).
Where are you located? different palces have different rules/laws. Here in
New Hampshire, a homeowner can do pretty much whatever they want to their
own home - is many cases you don't even need to get an inspection for the
CO. A few miles south in Massachusetts, you need to hire an electrician to
replace a wall outlet or switch, and you need to hire a plumber to fix a
leak in a pipe. (at least to be legal.....) Find out what the rules are
where you are.
A really good source is to go talk to your local building inspector. If you
end up building yourself, you'll end up knowing him pretty well anyway. A
bit of time up front and a chat with him should give you good idea of what
can be done...
Don't get me wrong - I think this is a great thing - I've helped a few
people do exactly what you're talking about (and more - one person I worked
with did everything except his foundation work)....I'd just hate to see you
get started and realize after the fact that you're in too deep...... A good
friend of mine still lives in the house that her parents built in the 60s.
The outside is done and in good shape, but all of the interior walls are
nothing but studs (they've been turned into bookshelves, and are pretty much
full of paperbacks now - fire inspectors nightmare). A couple of years ago
she started finishing one of the bathrooms.....
anyway, good luck - if theres anything I can do to help, ping me on list...
Thanks much for your very detailed answer, JD.
I hadn't thought of the building-codes problem, and I live in an old city
where that could be a problem.
I would plan to do minimal work, like painting, laying floors, possibly
One approach to consider is to hire an architect to be the prime and let
him do the design and act as general contractor. Then he gets the stuff
designed and built to code with the crews he's familiar with.
As the previous poster suggested, this can take you to the point where
you can lock the place and finish at your leisure (unless you're married,
in which case you'll have to finish it yesterday :-). You then can do
all the interior stuff the way you want it - the heavy stuff is done.
The money you save on finishing yourself will end up being paid to the
architect instead. However, you may get a better house than otherwise.
You get bragging rights on an exclusive, architect-designed home (not
necessarily an exotic, ultra-modern, oddball house - some do nice
variations on traditional designs).
Plus you have someone to sue if it gets really screwed up.
One key thing: Make sure that _you_ think like a general contractor
even though the architect does the dirty work for you. If you keep on
top of things, the cost will remain under your control. Make sure
you're getting what you want _before_ the first spade hits the dirt.
Changes are $$$$$$$$$$$$.
<< But I'd like to hear from anyone else who has experience in this area. >>
FWIW, many years ago I built my first house. At that time, listening to the
advice of competent friends, relatives, others, it became apparent that the
man hours required were so substantial that a compromise was necessary.
Fortunately, i found a reasonably priced pre-fab and was able to convince the
zoning board of my good intentions, so the project went ahead very nicely. With
the stucture weather tight in a few weeks, I was able to finish the rest in
good fashion and in a reasonable amount of time. Sold the place a few years
later and moved on, but it still stands and looks good.
If I had tio do it over I don't think I'd change much except making the garage
Have you considered a modular home? Seems like having most of the house
pre-built and delivered would avoid a lot of hassles with the
subcontractors and you wouldn't have to worry about having the shell done
and being moved in by the time the weather turned bad.
You'd still be able to finish off the inside in any way you pleased.
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Lot easier to have it erected and assembled to a lock up stage and you
take over. House building involves more or less 40 different trades
unless you're good with all of them with experience.
Preassembled modular homes can be as good as one built on site.
Just choose a good reputable manufacturer. You can customize plan too.
Usually, when site is ready, erecting can be done in about 3 days with
Ray Jenkins wrote:
Certainly doable, but be prepared for a lot of work and a lot of time.
My wife and I started building our own home January of 2003. We are doing
ALL of the work ourselves, including the steps you mentioned above. Before
we started we sat down and made out a detailed estimate of the time and
money it would take to build the house. We originally estimated a move-in
date of July 2005 (about 2.5 years to build), and this is working full time
(mostly me working alone, but with lots of help from my wife). However, we
are progressing much faster than our original estimates, and figure we'll
be in by December of 2004. We're actually hoping for an August move in
date... Ha. Ha.
The downside to working faster than planned is that we are spending money
faster than it is coming in. So, our savings balance is dwindling lower
than we expected. We're building completely from our savings and paycheck
to paycheck. So, getting a mortgage was not an issue. We're currently
installing the sheetrock and have spent about $39,000 so far on our 1456 sq
foot house. We'll probably spend somewhere around $45-50 thousand dollars
by the time we're done. MUCH cheaper than any similar house we could buy,
and much better built.
Of course, there's a LOT of study involved with each step but, for me,
that's part of the joy of building our own home.
It's a once in a lifetime experience we'll never forget and will be able to
enjoy for many years to come.
Sub-contractors generally are a bad lot. As indicated in other responses,
the good ones are tied to their principal clients for a high portion of
their work and your project will be a low priority for them when there is
work to be had from their traditional sources of business. A lot of
sub-contractors are guys who couldn't hold a steady job as a tradesman
because of alcohol and other drug problems or the quality of their work not
being up to standard. After getting fired from several jobs, they decide to
go into business for themselves and wreak havoc on an unsuspecting public.
They often will ask for a sizeable downpayment on the contract and disappear
into the nite. Unless you know which watering holes they frequent, you will
not be able to find them.
Acting as your own contractor can be a frustrating and financially draining
experience and is fraught with traps and pitfalls for the inexperienced. I
would far prefer to find a resale home of a suitable type in an area that I
like. Retirement is meant to be enjoyed, not to be a draining experience.
My two cents!
So you know where I'm coming from, I'm a general contractor.
Right up front, what you are proposing is quite do-able. But with a
fairly lengthy list of caveats.
In your situation, I'd consider --
Buying a townhouse or single home in a 55 plus community, and
pocketing the difference between the sale of your larger home and the
cost of the new one. No muss, no fuss, little bother. Most of
these communities are fairly active socially.
Buying a smaller home in a suitable neighbourhood and renovating it to
suit your lifestyle. Much less work, much shorter timeline -- and
mostly stuff you can handle or supervise.
Buying a new home from a builder. Least expensive route.
Buying a lot and hiring a GC. Next least expensive.
Or, going the route you suggested. I won't be much cheaper, but it
could be a hell of a lot of fun. Depends on you and your family.
To act as your own GC, you need four things: average intelligence,
sharp people skills, patience/determination, and deep pockets.
I'd suggest you go that route only if you have lots of time, and if
you can make it a labour of love. (Woking to tight schedules will
make you and your family crazy.)
I'd start with your municipality -- what do they require? Then, to
the bank -- what do they require? Then, to insurance -- what do
Then I'd look at what land I can get -- here, for example, your best
hope would be to buy an older home, bulldoze it, and build an
infill. There are very few vacant lots -- and the developers have
virtually all the new land sewn up.
Then, hit the library and learn what you can about being your own GC.
And finally, make your decision based on your ability, time, budget,
The Mr. Blandings horror show is a movie -- your project won't go
smoothly, but it won't be a horror show either.
I don't think Ray was unaware of this as an option. I do think Ray wants
something of a dream home, where he can custom build what he needs, and nothing
I can tell you from experience, this option could prove far more harrowing and
troublesome than building from scratch. I've renovated 4 homes, and built 1 new
and I can tell you, building from scratch goes a LOT quicker and is a lot less
trouble. There are fewer unknowns.
Not likely. Buying from a builder puts him in the same situation he's in now.
Builders build to cater to a large market, Ray in in a niche market builders
generally don't cater to.
>Buying a lot and hiring a GC. Next least expensive.
But a better option. Especially if he does all the interior work himself, and
let the GC handle the foundation, utilities, windows, doors, roofing and
siding. That's all just monotonous busywork anyway.
That'll leave Ray with a finished "shell" within which he can finish the
You would probably be better off selling and buying a smaller place.
That said, go for it.
I'm a little over a year into my project.
Hired a guy to do the foundation, and another to help
with the roof. The rest done with help from family
Outside's done, HVAC done, electrical 90%, plumbing 50%.
Hope to be drywalling by March.
Was wiring this weekend, -20 deg. slows things down a bit.
To say the least, it has been interesting.
This is the place when it was a little warmer.
This past summer I was talking with a gentleman who, as a volunteer, was
tending a seacoast lighthouse museum. In talking with him he told us he
was 92. Later he mentioned that the next day he was going to put up the
siding a new garage he was building. This seemed quite ambitious but
perhaps possible with a garage. A couple of weeks later I was out
walking with my wife and we went down a road we hadn't walked on
together before and saw him working on his "garage." It is two+
stories, 3 cars, and as big as many houses. He was working harder than
many 20 year olds.
There may still be hope for us 'old folks."
Ray Jenkins wrote:
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