Saturday, July 5, 2014

# 517 - Selecting a Country-House Builder

Finding a builder for our country-home has been more difficult than I had expected it to be. For this post, I have included pictures I took along with pictures from cyberspace, just to show some things that strike my eye.

Living in the Greater Houston for most of our lives exposed us to numerous residential developments that made it very easy to buy a house. Even if you were going to build a "custom" home in one of these developments, they still had the overall development already completed with roads, water, gas, electricity, cable, septic and readily available and with floor-plans to select from that meet neighborhood requirements.

However, here in the country, I have found that we are so far from town and so deep in the rural area that we have fewer choices for a builder that I thought we would have. That's a huge Farm Life Lesson.
perfect little cottage
Being in an rural area with heavily forested land also creates problems with prepping the land for construction. For us, it's not just about taking the trees down...and we are talking about TOWERING trees, but also dealing with getting those trees out of the construction zone without it costing a fortune.

Since we are building the country home on the side of our land that has not been touched, has never been lived is a challenge.

One builder quoted me a MINIMUM of $121-123 per square foot! That is more expensive, per square foot, than had been our beautiful home in the Greater Houston area. Heck no! That builder was eliminated quickly as they were too pricey for our budget. This is Texas folks, you get a lot of square footage for your money! Usually...

Then, I scheduled for this one builder to meet us on the acreage. However, after conducting a more thorough interview of him, by phone, I decided there was NO WAY we would select him to build our home.

First, I told him that our design included a metal roof...he immediately responded to cut me off to inform me that he doesn't do metal roofs, but will do composition and that would be "good enough" to meet my needs.


I am paying for it...I have waited all these years to build a house in the country and yet this builder had pre-determined exactly what was "good enough" for me.

I didn't give up...I kept asking questions while wondering if he could redeem himself.

He went on to explain that composition roofs were "just as good" as metal roofs. Actually, that is not true. I have lived with architectural composition shingles, the top of the line, but a metal roof is superior, just not allowed in every neighborhood because of the conformity that composition roofs bring for developments, in addition to the cost savings.

While metal roofs are more expensive to install due to higher upfront costs, the roofs are longer lasting. Metal roofs often save the home-owner long-term savings with their home insurance because of their fire-resistant quality. Additionally, metal roofs, especially in our area of heavy trees and sap, will be more durable and easier to clean. And being in a forest, I like the extra fire-protection and the insulating value that the metal roof offers.

I took this photo of a beautiful home in Brenham, Texas this past week.
Yes, I was the stalker woman at the main road. The darn acreage in
between the house and the road made it difficult to shoot. Persistent me.

That same builder that has been eliminated proceeded to tell me that I didn't need a metal roof because they also need to have their screws replaced every 15 years, approximately. However, the aspect of cost that this builder did not discuss is that, compared to a composition roof, replacing screws on a metal roof in about 15 years is much cheaper than having to replace an entire roof.

Often, metal roofs will last a minimum of 2-3 times as long as a composition roof. For our area, most people have metal roofs. For the construction of our home, a metal roof is something that is non-negotiable, but this guy did not know how to do a metal roof. However, I continued to try to give him a chance, asking if he could prep the house for us to hire a roofing company to install a metal roof, especially since I want my roof to be professionally installed. Then, he said that he's never built a house with a metal roof and did not know how to prep the construction property for one to be installed.

Oh, that explains a LOT. It got worse.

I then tell him that we are needing someone who could possibly do concrete piers and he told me that I did not need those either. At this point, I am not impressed.

I quickly discovered that the line, "You don't need that" actually translates to "I don't know how to do that."

Believe me, I would rather hear, "I don't know how to do that."

He might build the most basic of country homes, but not the kind with elements that I wish to incorporate into our next home.


To top it off, I ask for the approximate square footage cost for his most basic shell home and he said, "Somewhere in the $68.00 - $72.00 per square foot range."

Somewhere in that price range for a shell home? Wow.

Considering I had already interviewed another builder who is reputable, can build the home as we want, with a metal roof, and the piers the way we prefer...for much lower for the shell price per square's safe to say that the price per square foot that he quoted was not appealing to me.

Nix that builder. That means I would be paying for the most basic of construction and would still need to finish the plumbing, wiring, HVAC costs, insulation, sheetrock, and other major costs, such as putting in the kitchen cabinets, etc., and the shell costs would have eaten a huge chunk of the build costs.

In Houston, for the square footage price he quoted to me, you can buy home in an established neighborhood...nothing spectacular, but nice. Here I am, in the country where licensing and permits are dirt cheap...and this guy cannot build economically.

Then, the next guy is a builder who has been in this area for 31 years...time tested...a great builder, but same thing with lack of flexibility as he builds a country home that does not give much room for change. He cannot change the roof pitch to add a loft, and most importantly, he can't change the window selection from his own standard preference. thanks.

However, after all of the interviews I conducted, there is one builder who stands above the rest...he also has broad experience with building all kinds of homes, such as log homes, homes on pilings at the lake, and more traditional homes throughout the countryside. He can build on concrete piers or with 8x8 double-treated wood piers, which is the kind of pier they build the homes on at the lake and those are the kind of piers used in the water to support the boat-docks, they are long-lasting, weather-durable and are heavy load-bearing piers.

Just to check on this builder, I called the busiest and most trusted banking mortgage lender in this area to ask about closings he has had with this particular builder constructing his clients home.

The lender told me that every house that builder had constructed definitely closed either under budget or right on budget, but he never went over budget. Also, the lender said this builder usually completed construction before the deadline had arrived, so I would need to be ready to sub-contract the other items as soon as the shell was completed.

We are saving major money by having a builder construct the shell and then we will have sub-contractors finish other areas of the home. Actually, Sgt. Dave will probably do a lot of it himself...such as the insulation, sheetrock, taping and floating, texturing, and I will probably do most of the painting.

We will do the baseboards, crown molding, bead-board (wainscoting) and most of the trim ourselves, and we won't use that particle board trim that is such bad quality material! Fortunately, Sgt. Dave always lays our wood floors and tile, so that will save us thousands in installation costs. It is a good thing that he has saved substantial comp-time to take off during the weeks of finishing the house because we will be working on a task list every single day to wrap things up.

Sgt. Dave can also save us major money by installing all of the light fixtures, after the electrician provides the up-to-code wiring.

As for plumbing, I prefer to have a top plumber handle all the plumbing and installation of any item attached to the plumbing, such as tubs, faucets, exterior water faucet spigots, toilets and food disposal and that's because we cannot afford to have plumbing problems down the road and a professional who does plumbing day in and day out is more knowledgeable. Anyone who has suffered through their home having plumbing problems can appreciate a great plumber that can do things the right way and prevent you from having ANY destructive leaks! One leaky incident is damaging enough...I won't let anyone who isn't currently a certified plumber touch our plumbing work.

Anyway, I am supposed to make a list of all items that will be needed to complete the house or there won't be money in the budget to get it completed. Since we are doing a lot of the work ourselves, this means I better price things properly and account for every little detail. For the items being done by sub-contractors, I had better make sure I get a written estimate and that they do the job as specified and agreed upon.

Regardless, this list must be comprehensive so that it includes every construction detail...and I was told that it is better to over-estimate than to under-estimate because in the mortgage process of custom construction, you close the deal with the lender upfront, before construction begins. During construction, you make "draws" to pay the vendors for their work, and you cannot add more money to the cost of your mortgage loan to compensate for the kitchen costing $1,700. more than you anticipated or for the air-conditioning system that costs $2,000. more than you thought it would, so it is better to over-estimate the cost of each vendor than to be forced to pay them out of pocket. Also, consideration must be taken into account for the approximate time and schedule that each area will take to complete so that everything can be done in the right order.

On top of all of this work, in addition to daily life in an RV that can be an increasingly intense challenge, we have also been so busy with our seven-year old niece came for a week visit. A few days after the niece left, my oldest daughter came to visit with my precious grand-baby for several days, and last weekend we went to San Marcos to help Stefie move into a new apartment since she has six months left in college.

In a couple of weeks, I will be going to see my oldest daughter in the Greater Fort Worth area for a few days, and in August, I will again have my niece, Shaye, for at least a week, which is so AWESOME!

I want a house again...minus the hitch, slide-outs and wheels please.

1 comment:

LindaG said...

You remind me of the time, back in the 70's before we went to Alaska. We were looking for a vehicle with a standard transmission. (We were in California at the time.) The sales person told us "No one buys standard transmissions any more."

Well, we certainly didn't buy from her!

Good luck with the building!