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Old 05-21-2007, 11:38 PM   #1
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Pay GC to construct home and finish it myself? L O N G . . .


Lately I've been seriously considering the cost of new construction vs. the cost of buying a home and I've been tossing a few ideas around. After looking at a few designs online and evaluating their rough cost estimates, I was thinking "why not build new?" For example, this Cape Cod is exactly what my fiancee and I would be looking for. It is just over 1000 SF with two bedrooms on the ground floor and space to put two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. We have no desire for a large house or a huge piece of property, etc... Just a house with room enough for ourselves and two kids (well, one day), that's well built and comfortable. If we wanted to go bigger we could always add on once our income allowed. The plan estimates a rough cost of anywhere between $90,000 and $100,000 to construct including labor in the Northeast region of the U.S. First off-are these prices realistic?

If they are, then my next question is, how much lower could the price get if my fiancee and I did all of the finish work ourselves? I'll try to be as specific as possible here. I am proposing hiring a GC to do the following:
  • Excavate and build full height (8' ceiling) walkout basement with internal and external drain tile.
  • Excavate and build septic system suitable for a 4 bedroom house in well drained #5 soil.
  • Drill water well-I know that drilling a well can be a crapshoot, but average around here is 300' with maybe half of that through rock.
  • Frame, sheathe, and finish (roofing, siding, windows/doors, etc...) the "envelope" of the house.
  • Install all interior systems (Insulation, electrical, propane/gas, plumbing, HVAC units/ductwork, fiber optic, etc...)
  • Install subfloor, drywall (tape/spackle only)
Once the house was at that point I would consider it "finished," and do the following myself:
  • Sand and paint drywall.
  • Finish electrical (Install light fixtures, outlets, etc...)
  • Install all flooring-hardwood laminate/tile because my fiancee has bad allergies and does not want carpeting.
  • Finish plumbing (Install/connect sinks, toilets, bath fixtures, etc...)
  • Install all indoor trim, interior doors, countertops, closets, shelving, cabinets, appliances, and any general "finish" work.
  • Perform all landscaping other than rough grading done after foundation construction.
Our goal would be to begin living in the home as quickly as possible by installing the bare minimum we would need (one working bathroom, basic kitchen, etc...) so that we could slowly finish the rest of the home over time. I realize this may seem a bit bizarre to some, but we have our reasons. Both of us have decent paying jobs, but have only just emerged from credit card debt accrued during college and have only managed to save just over $10,000 thus far. Also, we'd like to borrow as little up front as possible, keeping our mortgage payment low- instead we'll finish the home as our cashflow allows over time. Finally, we are both relatively picky and would enjoy being able to have total control over the finishing touches on the home. We both get great satisfaction out of doing things ourselves. Frankly, I'd love to build the entire house myself from the ground up, but without quitting my job it would take at least 5 years!

Obviously we know that it won't all be fun and games, its not as easy as it looks on HGTV, and there will be weekends/nights when we're tired of working on the house, but we both feel that it will pay off with a lower mortgage payment and a home built exactly to our specifications. My parents did something similar when they built their log home, but my father really took over the project once the outer shell was completed and did all of the electrical, plumbing, HVAC, etc...himself. It also took him about 3 years to complete the house, not to mention that the "fine" work continued for at least another year and a half after we moved in. However, my parents paid the home off in 17 years and love what they've created.

All of that being said, let's get down to brass tacks:

Would I be able to find a GC who would be willing to take on the project? Would it be "too small" of a job?

If the total construction cost mentioned above ($100,000-high end) is accurate, would it be realistic to assume that I could have the house built for $70,000-$80,000 if I finish it myself?

Has anyone else here constructed a home in a similar manner?

One last question and I'll shut up. With regard to the original stated cost of $100,000, is it safe to say that it probably assumes "middle of the road" materials? If so, how much of a hike would that price take if I specified the following from the GC:

(From the top down)
Owens Corning Berkshire shingles
Ice shield underlayment
3/4" sheathing throughout (Not OSB)
Tyvek housewrap
Owens Corning vinyl siding
Anderson windows and doors (Tne sliding glass door units, double hung vinyl clad tilt in windows throughout)
Owens Corning R-21 insulation in exterior walls
Owens Corning R-38 insulation in attic
3/4" T&G subfloor
Silent floor I-beam joists
200 amp service
Wiring for a ceiling fan in every room plus two on the front porch, at least four outlets per room (two GFIs in each bathroom), at least one light fixture per room, at least two lights on each exterior wall, and one GFI on each exterior wall.
Water spigot on front and rear walls
Copper/PVC plumbing throughout
Bosch tankless hot water heater
Trane HVAC units (single zone forced air/gas heat)

I'm hoping that the price won't get too out of control since the home is small, but I don't know enough to estimate the costs accurately. I'm not trying to be a snob, but I'd rather have a really well built small home than a poorly built large one. In any event, the more guidance I can get here the better. For now I've shifted my house hunting to land hunting, which is still tricky here in NJ, but I'm hoping one of two things will happen: Either I'll find a nice site that's off the beaten path a bit and will need a well and septic, or I can find a derelict home in a residential area that I can knock down, utilizing the existing water, gas, and sewer lines.

In short...Please help!

P.S. Would it be cheaper, more expensive, or just about the same to go with ICFs for the foundation/exterior first floor walls?


Last edited by Badfish740; 05-21-2007 at 11:46 PM.
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Old 05-22-2007, 05:59 AM   #2
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Pay GC to construct home and finish it myself? L O N G . . .


It seems low cost-wise
But then, there is a big difference in NE labor
(think Boston vs. North Adams)

Also, living in an unfinished house is a huge stress maker

And you do realize that you'll need $1000 + extra every month over your mortgage to finish this

If you wait "until you have the money" you will live in an unfinished house forever

Then there is the time thing if you both have jobs

Not saying it's a bad idea, just you'll want your eyes wide open on this

Buying a fixer-upper/finisher can be great if you have the skills, and time and money every week...not just "when I can"

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Old 05-22-2007, 06:53 AM   #3
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Pay GC to construct home and finish it myself? L O N G . . .


Your numbers sound low to me. Does that $100,000 estimate you looked up include installing septic and drilling a well? I think you'll pay $30,000-40,000 for those two ALONE won't you?
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Old 05-22-2007, 06:56 AM   #4
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Pay GC to construct home and finish it myself? L O N G . . .


Quote:
Originally Posted by Badfish740 View Post
First off-are these prices realistic?
That depends on the area of the country you live in and what your preferences are in terms of quality, and what additional ground work is required to develop the plot for a home. However, It is possible to build a VERY, VERY small house for those stated cost parameters.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Badfish740 View Post
If they are, then my next question is, how much lower could the price get if my fiancee and I did all of the finish work ourselves? Frame, sheathe, and finish (roofing, siding, windows/doors, etc...) the "envelope" of the house.
You could save quite a bit, But please realize how much work is involved. People ALWAYS underestimate the time, effort, and skill actually required to properly complete the different phases of finished interior work. I have heard this phrase, oh so many times from home owners who tried to do it themselves over the course of MANY months: "I wish I had just paid someone else to do it"

Quote:
Originally Posted by Badfish740 View Post
Once the house was at that point I would consider it "finished," and do the following myself:
  • Sand and paint drywall.
  • Finish electrical (Install light fixtures, outlets, etc...)
  • Install all flooring-hardwood laminate/tile because my fiancee has bad allergies and does not want carpeting.
  • Finish plumbing (Install/connect sinks, toilets, bath fixtures, etc...)
  • Install all indoor trim, interior doors, countertops, closets, shelving, cabinets, appliances, and any general "finish" work.
  • Perform all landscaping other than rough grading done after foundation construction..
Yes, some of that is possible. What you can finish on your own is dependant on the building requirements in your region. Example: In my area, you must have a licensed plumber and a licensed electrician do the work. Generally, most experienced licensed electricans and plumbers will not agree to allow a home owner to 'finish' their work because of the various and obvious liability issues.
As far as the other areas you listed; again, please realize that for your 'team' (you and your wife) to do the work, it is going to essentially take 10X the amount of time normally required to do the work, and it generally won't be complete to the same quality level that a professional (who does it for a living) would complete it at.

If you have the time, the patience, self discipline, the physical strength, the nerves, and can live with some imperfect work, then you can give it a try.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Badfish740 View Post
Our goal would be to begin living in the home as quickly as possible by installing the bare minimum we would need (one working bathroom, basic kitchen, etc...) so that we could slowly finish the rest of the home over time. I realize this may seem a bit bizarre to some, but we have our reasons. Both of us have decent paying jobs, but have only just emerged from credit card debt accrued during college and have only managed to save just over $10,000 thus far. Also, we'd like to borrow as little up front as possible, keeping our mortgage payment low- instead we'll finish the home as our cashflow allows over time. Finally, we are both relatively picky and would enjoy being able to have total control over the finishing touches on the home. We both get great satisfaction out of doing things ourselves. Frankly, I'd love to build the entire house myself from the ground up, but without quitting my job it would take at least 5 years!
The areas mentioned above really have nothing to do with DIY, but rather, ''personal financial planning''. You would do well to consult with a professional financial planner as you are 'planning' to make one of the largest finacial investments that people make in their lives. Home building of any kind (even building your own home) is EXPENSIVE. There are many, many additional costs that 'pop-up' which people have not accounted for. Expect to spend a mimiumum of 20% more than you originally budgeted - by the time the job is complete. Expect to be stressed out at times, by issues that were not necessarily for-see-able. Also, be aware, that based on what you have listed here, you've put your time frame from site development to move in (obtaining an occupancy permit) to (at the minimum) = At LEAST - 2 years.
As you mentioned below, the other work could take many, many years to actually complete. It's a fact that once people actually move into a home, all the other planned projects take a (much needed) mental and physical break....

Quote:
Originally Posted by Badfish740 View Post
Obviously we know that it won't all be fun and games, its not as easy as it looks on HGTV, and there will be weekends/nights when we're tired of working on the house, but we both feel that it will pay off with a lower mortgage payment and a home built exactly to our specifications. My parents did something similar when they built their log home, but my father really took over the project once the outer shell was completed and did all of the electrical, plumbing, HVAC, etc...himself. It also took him about 3 years to complete the house, not to mention that the "fine" work continued for at least another year and a half after we moved in. However, my parents paid the home off in 17 years and love what they've created.
That's great that they were able to do that. Please realize that your plan, for one reason or another, or even for, many reasons or more, may in fact, not go that smoothly....

Quote:
Originally Posted by Badfish740 View Post
Would I be able to find a GC who would be willing to take on the project? Would it be "too small" of a job?
You could absolutely find a contractor to ''build'' your home's shell. A local GC will be able to help you pull realistic expense numbers together for your area. (ulitmately) You would be responsible for pulling most of the required building permits.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Badfish740 View Post
If the total construction cost mentioned above ($100,000-high end) is accurate, would it be realistic to assume that I could have the house built for $70,000-$80,000 if I finish it myself?
NO, absolutley not....again, it is a FACT that 'building' results in cost over-runs, they always do. You can try and convince yourself that yours won't because you will do 'this', or 'that', or whatever...But the reality is that IT WILL go over your original budget. Very likely by 20% or more in materials. Additonal land work, permitting requirements, unexpected labor expenses, etc...total up quite a bit too....

Quote:
Originally Posted by Badfish740 View Post
Has anyone else here constructed a home in a similar manner?
Many, many people have. And they well tell you about the headaches, the long days, the stress (stress on their marriage too) and a whole lot of "I wish I hads".... (This may sound discouraging, but you are in effect desiring to GC your own home and finish alot of it off on your own with one helper....and that my friend....is a HEAP of alot of hard work)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Badfish740 View Post
One last question and I'll shut up. With regard to the original stated cost of $100,000, is it safe to say that it probably assumes "middle of the road" materials?
Yes, that is absolutely for middle of the road materials...and a very small home that is baron of any custom features at all. Basic, basic, bare bones....

Quote:
Originally Posted by Badfish740 View Post
If so, how much of a hike would that price take if I specified the following from the GC:

(From the top down)
Owens Corning Berkshire shingles
Ice shield underlayment
3/4" sheathing throughout (Not OSB)
Tyvek housewrap
Owens Corning vinyl siding
Anderson windows and doors (Tne sliding glass door units, double hung vinyl clad tilt in windows throughout)
Owens Corning R-21 insulation in exterior walls
Owens Corning R-38 insulation in attic
3/4" T&G subfloor
Silent floor I-beam joists
200 amp service
Wiring for a ceiling fan in every room plus two on the front porch, at least four outlets per room (two GFIs in each bathroom), at least one light fixture per room, at least two lights on each exterior wall, and one GFI on each exterior wall.
Water spigot on front and rear walls
Copper/PVC plumbing throughout
Bosch tankless hot water heater
Trane HVAC units (single zone forced air/gas heat)
You will have to contact contractors in your area for all of these points. Get a minimum of 3 quotes each.....Yes, this will take alot of time, but that is what GCing your own home is all about.....alot of effort and your time....

Quote:
Originally Posted by Badfish740 View Post
I'm hoping that the price won't get too out of control since the home is small,
.....Last words spoken by many, many inexperienced & idealistic future property owners.....

Quote:
Originally Posted by Badfish740 View Post
....but I don't know enough to estimate the costs accurately.
That is why people hire a GC. That is what we do....

Quote:
Originally Posted by Badfish740 View Post
P.S. Would it be cheaper, more expensive, or just about the same to go with ICFs for the foundation/exterior first floor walls?
Generally, these cost more than form foundations. The advantage is that they can be done quickly....so there is a trade off: time vs. cost

Last edited by AtlanticWBConst.; 05-22-2007 at 07:13 AM.
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Old 05-22-2007, 09:03 AM   #5
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Pay GC to construct home and finish it myself? L O N G . . .


The above responses said it all, and I will add this: Trimming out what electricians have done is NOT a DIY task....plumbing can be a bit easier, but still something that should be left to the plumber.

With the walk out basement you mentioned, I would seriously doubt 100k will get close to your level of completion. Although I would not advocate anyone to buy from Jim Walter Homes, they typically will build a frame home to 80-90% completion on a customers lot. The positive is they carry the mortgage, and you save 10-20% of the cost of a finished home. The bad is limited floor plans, definately not the best construction, and it will be plain vanilla unless you throw a lot of extras into it after the fact.

As advised above, gather some opinions from reputable builders/contractors...and see what their take is on what you are doing. You might ask around the lumber yards and see if you can find a retired, or semi-retired builder who would be your GC for a small fee, and has the know how to build your home to the level you want.....BTW, except for the trim outs, the level of completion you are wanting is what we would call 95% done. Trim, paint, and floors are the end of the project.
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Old 05-22-2007, 09:22 AM   #6
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Pay GC to construct home and finish it myself? L O N G . . .


Would you consider a modular house. I imagine the price should be lower than stick built.

Re: Your pick list.
Make sure you spec model numbers on all the items.
For example, there are several different models of Andersen windows.
Bosch makes a few different tankless water heaters make sure you spec one that will meet your family's needs. Be as specific as possible or can be sure that the contractor will spec the least expenisive to get to your target price.
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Old 06-10-2007, 03:09 PM   #7
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Pay GC to construct home and finish it myself? L O N G . . .


There's no way the state of NJ will allow you to live in a house without a Certificate of Occupancy. Doubtful they will allow you to do the electric or plumbing. You would need to be licensed to even pull the permits.
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Old 06-15-2007, 09:09 PM   #8
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Pay GC to construct home and finish it myself? L O N G . . .


perhaps avoiding a basement all together will save you some cash in the excavation? Look for a ranch on a slab maybe?

Do you already own some land? Out here you have to have a minimum of 1acre to have a well AND septic... cheap land will still be $20k and up I imagine?

you've gotten some good advice from a few pros above... don't be that "one guy that knows more than everyone else"... heed the advice. You COULD be the GC... but a GC is a fulltime job, literally. So unless you want to quit your job....

If you're just getting out of credit card debt, you know how the 'ol "i'll have money later" theory goes...

If I were you, I'd pick the house you want, and skimp on absolutely everything you can inside (that the GC/builder will allow)... as years go by, you can upgrade.

get cheap carpet, the $99 bathroom vanity, the cheapest closet doors, etc. that's how people I know have done it on a budget.

Last edited by johnny331; 06-15-2007 at 09:12 PM.
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Old 07-27-2007, 07:56 AM   #9
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Pay GC to construct home and finish it myself? L O N G . . .


that's what I am doing, except I am the GC. The state of Michigan allows me to pull permits as a homeowner.

I don't think your estimate of $100K is realistic. You might be able to build the house for close to $100K, but figure at least $25K more for site preperation, utility connections, permits, title fees, closing costs, etc.
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Old 07-27-2007, 08:44 AM   #10
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Pay GC to construct home and finish it myself? L O N G . . .


If you are the homeowner and doing the electrical/plumbing yourself NJ will allow you to pull the permit's.

I did an 18x18 2 story addition. Had a GC do a "shell" wich was basically getting it weather proffed (siding, window's, door's, roof). I then did or subbed out all the rest.

In the end, the cost came to about $100 per sq. ft. It took a lot of time and was a HUGE inconveinence as some of the existing house was disrupted and we were living in it.

So, having an entire house in this condition will be a big mess.

Last year we were looking at building a new house and me doing this again (my builder do the "shell" and I do the rest. I then looked at Modular and fell in love with them. Cost was about the same, but DONE. I would look that route.

$100,000 is low especially with needing to do all the "other work" PLUS building the house and finishing it (ie:septic, water, etc...).

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