The down-and-dirty of what it means to undertake a build: The things you don't hear about when preparing for the project

Nuts & Bolts: Assembling Your ‘Build’ Team

I’ve been lucky to work with a great team, but it has been no accident of fate. After reading everything from Consumer Reports (my ‘go-to’ for all material things) to Fine Homebuilding, Angie’s List, Houzz and personal blogs for recommendations on how to go about building my own home, I added the “me” factor to create a reliable and responsive team for my project.

I offer my somewhat quirkier than conventional approach. Use the elements that resonate with you.

I started by consulting with my Financial Advisor: Mechanical-Calculator

  • Could I afford to buy the land and build with the reserves I have before selling my current dwelling to reimburse my accounts?
  • Which financing option would be best for me overall? (I’m retired with no income other than the interest generated by my assets) 
  • How much could I spend to purchase the land & build? What would be my budget, how and why (factors considered) did my advisor determine that?
  • In worst case scenario, if my current house did not sell on schedule, could I afford to ‘carry’ it (while occupying my new home) and for how long?
  • Did my motives of down-sizing into my new home, with lower fuel and maintenance costs, off-setting the increase in property tax, make financial sense for my long-term goals of sustaining a livable income and lifestyle (in her informed opinion)?
  • What changes (if any) in the management of my assets did she anticipate needing to make to accommodate my wishes?

Next I consulted a trusted Realtor friend*:

*If you don’t have a Realtor friend, contact your local realty agency and let them know you need to engage someone on a consulting basis, ask the cost, and meet with the available realtors until you find someone with whom you are comfortable working. You can let them know you are looking for a listing agent for your ‘old’ house’s sale, but concentrate on your needs for a consulting relationship first.

Per new house:

  • Windmere Real Estate in Port Townsend, WA
    Windmere Real Estate in Port Townsend, WA

    Was the lot I wanted priced reasonably?

  • What elements do I need to include or adapt to maximize its value should I need to sell it vs. keeping it into old age?

Per ‘old’ house:

  • What selling price could I expect to realistically get for my current home/property?
  • What repairs, upgrades, and work should I undertake on my current home before offering it for sale?
  • What was the ideal timing for listing my existing home, to gain the best advantage of a quick and gainful sale, avoid it aging on the market while my new house is being built?
  • If the timing is not ideal, what is the strategy she would employ to get it sold?
  • Because she does not work in my area, how would she participate in selling it? Should I pay her directly for all her professional advice & help?

These consultations took a few weeks to produce the answers I needed in order to go forward. My Realtor friend insisted I look at local listings to verify none of the existing inventory of other (cheaper) lots or like-priced homes would meet my needs. She led me to consider all possible options. It was a meaningful exercise, helping me confirm my plans made practical sense for me and the pricing of the lot and projected costs of my build were in line with local real estate.

Next was the negotiation with the lot’s Seller, who, flying in the face of all legal, financial, and relationship advice, happened to be my current (and future) next door neighbors and close friends. Honesty, mutual respect, open-mindedness and commitment to cooperation has overcome the numerous, obvious pitfalls (so far). Under our circumstances, our buy/sell contract detailed IN WRITING numerous self-protecting contingencies on both sides. Put all your needs and expectations in writing as part of your purchase contract, friends or not.

The Bureaucracy hard at work

The City development regulators, local unimaginative, hand-wringing bureaucrats, were engaged. Though basically conforming, the lot did not meet typical parameters for development. The existing shared properties’ boundary had to be redrawn to address both our needs and new restrictions, requiring two rounds with a qualified surveyor. With respect for your needs, reader, I won’t list or discuss more specifics of my case.

The point is, be prepared to endure seemingly endless and protracted discussions, permit reviews, and your municipality’s ‘hoops’ through which you’ll have to jump. Some your architect/designer and builder/contractor will do for you, but you will need to be cooperative, resourceful and patient to achieve your plans.

There will be expensive fees, long waits, and development requirements you can’t believe are demanded of you. Advocate for yourself, and check every code for appropriateness (they make mistaken interpretation, too). But do be flexible.  Some of their requirements may directly benefit your project, some will benefit you indirectly as a resident, and others are veiled ‘rules’ designed to fund local ‘improvements.’ If your interactions are to get the ‘go-ahead’ for your building plans, this isn’t the time to mire yourself in the ‘unfairness’ of local regulations.

Once you have adjusted your plans per your personal needs and wants, timing, budget, local realty market and regulations, it’s time to assemble your building team. You’ll keep your Financial Advisor and Realty advisor updated as you progress. Once you have preliminary design/architectural plans, you will engage with your local governing bureau/department(s) again specifically to get a building permit. (Your architect/designer or Contractor can do this on your behalf, but they will likely want to see you face-to-face, to sign applications and pay them city fees.)

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