Monday, October 10, 2011

#111 - It's Time to Find a Builder for our Country Home!

Well folks, it's about that time around here for Deputy Dave and I to locate a builder to construct the shell home on our property.

Here's another one I like.

We have some pretty tight requirements, so the builder we decide upon using must be able to embrace flexibility. The main area of flexibility is for the contractor to be willing and capable of installing the windows and doors that we will select. Since the windows and doors are of paramount importance to our home, we will definitely be going outside of the contractor's usual selection and we will need the contractor to install everything as we instruct.

A big bonus that comes with building in the country is that construction a country home means you get to avoid the usual "city" route, meaning the taxing entities will not recognize the structure as a residence, unless you take the steps to declare it as such. So we could avoid all of the taxes and such that go along with building a standard home.

One of my favorites.
Fortunately for us, Polk County is FAR FROM being like Harris County because the Houston area is extremely regimented in their building codes. No, we will not settle for below-par construction of our country home, but we will definitely not have to comply with city inspections and city bureaucracy such as we'd find ourselves confronting in the Houston area. If you build in Harris County, your construction costs will be sky high because of all the permits, city inspections and codes that are required during various construction phases. But, Polk County is different...they stay out of your business, unless you are located close to town.

I could even make this work, yes I could.
 Deputy Dave and I will still be regimented in our building code requirements and our country home will be Hurricane Wind certified...just because we know how and we can...but we will not be involving the city of Livingston with every decision we make during our construction. As far as the city will be concerned, we will be building a farm property structure. And since we will not be financing construction, there will not be a third-party sniffing around and issuing demands upon our construction process.

Now, this will probably be more of what our actual country
cabin will look far as cedar siding goes, etc.
We will be building our country home with incredible freedom and autonomy to do as we please. But, we will still have a private inspector oversee the process and to make sure that each construction phase is done flawlessly. Besides, Deputy Dave grew up in a family that owned a commercial construction company, he and his brothers provided the backbone for his dad's company workforce...which is the reason he joined the military and became a Texas Peace Officer. He learned young that he didn't want to stay in that line of work. Still, he lived and breathed construction for most of his life and that kind of knowledge does not ever leave a man. Deputy Dave thoroughly enjoys carpentry and every kind of construction project...just not under the harsh eye of a father who insists you continue working even though your hand is clearly broken.


As for our country home, looks as if the house will be built on a Pier and Beam foundation. We definitely want to use massive timbers that are not available in the standard lumber yard for certain areas of the house, such as the front porch, I want the porch beams to be massive rough-cut timbers.

Nice, but not enough porch space.

This week, I found a company that sells barn kits and country home kits that are assembled in the factory, then disassembled and sent to your property. They had some beautiful structures. If you want to take a look, go to to see some of their structures. My favorite is the red house. The only drawback that I can find that irks me is that there is too much roof on many of these structures. As a former Real Estate Broker in Texas, I once had a client who owned a barn-structure kind of home that was very large, about 5,000 square feet of living space and the roof replacement cost approximately $26,000 simply because there was SO MUCH OF IT. Shudder. And this company did not even want to broach the topic of average price per square foot, so I began to think that they are probably mighty proud of their product. So proud that I'll be priced FAR away from considering it as an option. But, I'm expecting their catalog in the mail and a follow-up call from a company representative, so we'll see.

As for over-kill on the roofing...I want metal anyway, so we can't do a barn-type of wrap down roof. Since I like the look of a country style home, that's exactly what I am going to shoot for.

One day, I hope to have a bunk house with the downstairs
large with a commercial style kitchen for gatherings.
We might also design some cool privacy screens with country
themes to put in between the beds.
Looks like we'll have the construction company build the shell of the house. We will hire out our own independent contractor for the air-conditioning, plumbing and electrical, based on detailed line-item bids and company reputation. I can tell you one thing, if their paperwork with line-item billing is not detailed and on target, then I'm moving on. I learned this the hard way in Houston. If you get a good old boy who says, "Yep, I'll do all that stuff there upstairs for about 10 grand," and you don't get anything in writing...he's going to want that 10 grand, no matter what he's done because he's got that 10 grand stuck in his head as his pay.

I love this bathroom with the stone wall and the old-style tub.

So, I want it clearly written on paper, in detail, as to what we will be paying for and if there is a line item that we'd rather do ourselves, it can be removed from the list and we will handle it. Also, this will protect the contractor so that he gets paid accordingly because those contractors can get customers who want much more completed than was the original agreement...without the extra payment to cover their expenditures. So, I'm wanting to be fair for both sides.

Now, I REALLY am digging this galvanized sheathing combined
with the natural woods in the kitchen. I love this look.
This is a definite contender for our kitchen.

As for the sheetrock, cabinetry, trim-work, painting, flooring, light fixtures and such...Deputy Dave and I will handle as much of it as possible. This will not be a quick project. We want to take our time, enjoy being in the country and making sure we do everything exactly as we dreamed it would be...on a budget, with our own blood, sweat and tears on the line.

This is still one of my favorite country kitchens. Very practical, but Deputy Dave
will definitely need more counterspace.

Here's a kicker...Deputy Dave and I are determined to build our country home without financing. This will not be an easy feat. First, this means that the shell home itself must be low in the square footage costs. This means that the house might not start out with as much square footage overall as we eventually would like to have...we're taking it one manageable step at a time.

And, I still like the natural raw cut of the timber for these cabinet facings.

Since we are paying a company to ONLY put up a shell, I expect the cost to reflect the far-from-turn-key stage. There is one company in Livingston that builds Shell Homes and they state that their shell homes begin at $22. per square foot. Not bad. However, we will be shopping around and checking out the quality of their work.

In Texas, we've gotta eventually get that screened-in patio space
that will let us enjoy sitting outside in the evening, even in
Mosquito Season.

There's no doubt that we will be tough clients on site every day to make sure construction is done properly. Deputy Dave usually gets along fabulously with our contractors, as long as they have the mentality that they WILL get the job done right, even if we must have a discussion over something being "off" and needing to be corrected. Good communication is key.

And, I will definitely have to implement a few WOW factors into the country home. I learned a long time ago that a home can indeed be a fun place if you incorporate WOW elements here and there. In our current home, we put a WOW jacuzzi tub upstairs in the secondary bathroom. Downstairs, we added a nice ceiling fan to the large master closet and a beautiful ceiling fan in the master bathroom that has a vintage feel to it. Deputy Dave put in custom built-in shelving in the office. We have hardwood flooring throughout a majority of the house and Italian Porcelain flooring through all living areas downstairs, the half bath, and master bathroom. Deputy Dave designed and laid a gorgeous mosaic tile rug at the entryway and that is a big WOW element waiting to greet everyone who walks through the front door.

Anyway, in every home we've owned, we have always incorporated WOW elements and our houses do sell rapidly. Every time we put a house up for sale I dread the listing time-frame that could potentially be in front of us, but we've never had to endure through much time at all. The last house we sold was out of our hands in less than 30 days from the time the sign went in the yard. Now, THAT was much faster than I had anticipated. I have a feeling that this house will be the same thing. Truly, I think the flooring will hook buyers. As a Real Estate Broker for years, I always could tell which houses would sell the fastest and those were usually the homes with the updated flooring...probably because it's such a large expense for the new buyer to confront. If the color is neutral, the house will likely be given a BIG boost to be sold quickly.

I guess time will tell. Once we put the sign in the yard, we will start the countdown. I wonder how long it will take to get a solid contract on this house?

Once the shell is built on our property, Deputy Dave and I will hustle to get the house livable. Our furnishings will likely be stored in a nice storage building we are expecting to build on the property which will later be used as Deputy Dave's workshop. We'll hook up some plumbing and electrical lines, then put in a window unit so the shop can have some climate control and Deputy Dave can later reap the rewards of having this shop ready for him to use for his wood-working space. Unlike the main house, this workshop will have a concrete foundation. We might see if we can get our future son-in-law, Henry, to help us out with his expertise in this area as we pour that foundation. He's a good kid and is running a concrete business that his father had started years ago. Henry has worked with concrete for most of his's been his bread and butter. And, the wonderful part is that...Henry is GOOD at it. So, we will be ready to listen to his expertise when we are preparing to pour our workshop foundation. Then, hopefully he'll have a LONG marriage to our daughter and he'll be able to visit through the years and see the foundation holding up strong and being enjoyed to the max.

So, the simplified version of our plan so far is to...
1) Prep the land and design a master plan for the land with structures --- prep the sites for both the workshop site and the house site (after reviewing elevations and getting soil sample results in our hands). This will require a LOT of work...clearing forested areas, etc.

2) Get the slab for the workshop poured, with Henry's advice and guidance.

3) Build the workshop and get it ready to start holding our household items, I also prefer to have at least one side of the building with an overhead door so that we can easily take large equipment/furniture in and out of the workshop. This will require an extended outdoor concrete zone that can also double as outdoor workspace on pretty days in the country.

4) Find the contractor who will build our shell home and get the timing lined up.

5) Figure out how Deputy Dave and I can be on the land while we are building...maybe we can stay in the workshop in a room sectioned off from the other part of the workshop? Maybe an RV? We just sold our RV this past year, and I don't think we'll have the funds to buy an RV, build a workshop AND a shell home, so I think the workshop will have to pull double temporary duty as storage and tight housing.

6) Install a more than adequate septic tank system for the workshop and house

7) Figure out if we are going to dig a well or have water ran from the city lines we paid TWO ARMS AND TWO LEGS to have run to the front of our property a few years back. We had to pay for it to run through several acres to reach our land. I think I kind of like the idea of having SOME city water available. Running those lines to the construction sites might be cheaper and less of a hassle than digging a well.

Something is drawing me to this kitchen, probably the huge
kitchen window over the sink, the ceiling design and open concept with the
usable island that's large enough to use for extra counter space.
I guess I'll see what pans out during my research in finding a contractor to build our shell home. I'm a bit nervous, hoping it will be affordable. Putting all the figures down on paper will surely help us to plan.

And, I'm sure glad that I like the raw country style that doesn't require a high-dollar budget. With creative design, we can find ourselves sitting in a country house that is full of rich character, style and durability.

Bring on the challenges!


Vickie said...

My goodness, Lana, you've already got everything all laid out and planned out down to the gnat's rear end! I like pay as you go. I hope we can do that when we get ready to build. At least we have this little old farmhouse to live in until such time as that...I'm looking forward to your breaking ground. I'm gonna let my hubby look at all your pictures and blog when you get it going. It'll give us some good ideas I'm sure!

Rae said...

Yay! How excited are you!? Gotta tell ya, metal roofing is AWESOME! And a poured floor shop is a wonderful thing to have. Our old house (1940's) had a shop with an old plank style floor. Nightmare. Our shop at the new place has a wonderfully level concrete floor. Are you gonna put in a detached garage and/or boat shed? said...

Vickie, I feel horribly unprepared. I guess there are so many variables and I'm so concerned about getting out of this house and trying to make the transition as smooth as possible. The only way to do that is to really get that workshop finished first with a rough camp kitchen, shower, toilet and bedroom area. All of our furnishings and the garage items we have now will probably take up the entire workshop. It will be interesting, for sure. I imagine we'll have about 3-6 months of living that way before the main house will be actually ready for us to move in. But, it's a sacrifice we're willing to make. I will definitely be taking pictures all along the way. I sure wish we had an old farmhouse on the property, that would be so incredible. We'd move into it in a heartbeat! We actually discussed buying an old shotgun/catalog house and having it moved to our property, but then we'd have to cut down trees...the entire reason I'm so looking forward to living live in the forest. :-/ Like you guys, we'll just pace ourselves. Ha, There's no other choice!!!

Lana said...

Rae --- it's so funny because we currently live in this huge house with a 2-car detached garage, but we haven't even talked about a garage yet because we're just so concerned about being able to build the house. But, I do think we'll have to put up something fairly fast for covered parking to keep the falling pine cones, etc. from dinging the parked vehicles. After the house is built, Deputy Dave can start dreaming and planning to construct a garage/old-style carriage house that'll somewhat match the main house. But, no typical garages like we have here in the city. And, I am looking forward to the concrete being poured with help by Henry...he doesn't know he's helping us yet, I guess I should fill him in. haha :-)


Texan said...

I am sure your home will be so great. Love the look of all the ones you showed.

One thing you can't stress enough to your contractors is that your going OUTSIDE the box! Our plumber was very good but he had never installed Claw foot vintage tubs before...he was good with doing it but just never had he said ... a quick phone call and putting him on the phone with which is where I got our cast iron tubs and they had it all worked out. He did a great job installing them. Great place by the way Good prices and were super to deal with!

So your very right to make sure your contractors understand your thinking out of the box! If they are not going to be good with that the time to speak up is BEFORE they take the job LOL...

Honeyman is used to dealing with contractors as he is in commercial construction. That helped a lot, as sometimes they can get selective memory after they are on the job LOL...

LindaG said...

All you need to start with is the kitchen, a bathroom and a bedroom. You can always add on as funds permit.

$22 a square foot does sound pretty good though. :)

I think it is great that Deputy Dave enjoys wood working. My hubby likes to think he is, but he starts things that he doesn't finish...

Thanks for the flooring tips. While this area is nothing like Houston, we do have to replace the linoleum and carpeting. I will do neutral colors, I think.

Look at used RV/trailers, or perhaps even rentals?

Wish you all the best in this endeavor, Lana. Looking forward to watching your new place grow. ♥

Karen said...

Coming from the viewpoint of two old do it yourselfers, wow, you have Energy to Spare, Lana! We live in the house we built back in 1978 and it needs updates--badly. Our house is tiny, only 1500 sq ft and I want to add on a mud room (to replace the mud house I currently live in!) and a new kitchen and tear out the chimney since we now have geothermal and on and on and you know what? I'm terrified to begin. We'll probably do all the work ourselves, like we always do, and I can envision decades going by as we try to finish the house off while living in it. Heck, look how long we've been working on the stone thing. (Maybe if we get ol' Castle Aaargh done, we'll live in there and forget our house, lol.)

I'm so looking forward to seeing your dreams come true, I know you and your husband are very hard working people. My very best wishes to you! said...

Texan --- You give excellent advice. I think I will stress to the contractors how much out of the box we really are thinking...we don't want the shiny look, we want the country look, so I guess I should make that clear. We want the country look without sacrificing detail to construction standards. It will be challenging, for sure. And I love the picture with your vintage tub, I'll take a look at that site. Years ago, early in our marriage, we rented an old Sears Catalog house that had the original claw tub and it was heaven, so comfortable. Since your husband works in commercial construction, I'm sure he deals with this mess every day and then some more. We have an incredible contractor here in our area, but our land is too far away for him to bother with and there are plenty of people in the country there who can do the work...we just have to be diligent. And pray, lots of praying along with planning!

Linda --- I'm with you. We just want to build what we can afford and get moved out there!!!! We are looking forward to having less square feet and much more land. At this point, we just want to breathe in some fresh air instead of air with frequent chemical releases! And that price does sounds great, but it will just be the house to the studs...everything else will be ours to handle. However, this one particular contractor can build green and if we can afford some solar energy, we might do it. And Deputy Dave does love wood working projects. I should start showing picture of a few things he's done over the years. But, there is a curse on any woodworker to finish what they start...that's the difficult part and we also have a few projects that needs finishing. As for the RV, my dad just bought another RV...I might be able to convince him to let me borrow it for a few weeks, as we are building the shell. I'll have to see...depends on what his plans will be at the time. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by these huge changes...I have moved to different countries and not had this much anticipation and excitement. This is a huge change in lifestyle for us, but it is very welcomed.

Karen --- I never feel as if I am doing enough. I often feel as if I am working at a snail's pace and can't stay on track! My blogging actually helps me keep a running log of everything as we go along, it's been so wonderful to also get the advice and words of wisdom from others. And your house square footage is probably about what we'll end up building for our shell house size. It all depends on the square footage price and the additional costs for our windows, etc. One thing I've learned is to just keep working on all the projects and things you want to see happen, time passes anyway, you might as well be making it count toward seeing a vision come to life. I don't think we're ever "finished" with our projects. haha. That's probably a good thing. Your stone house is coming along beautifully...such painstaking work, but well worthwhile. It already displays great character. And not many people can say they've done such a unique project. There's no telling how many generations that stone house will stand as testimony to your hard work. I eagerly read your blog and enjoy watching the structure grow through such hard work and determination.