Apparently the only persons in the world who don't yearn to build their own home are those who already have.

The horror stories are numerous; some homebuilders marvel that their marriage survived the enterprise and many say they would never do it again. Yet most veterans are very proud of the end result and when pressed, admit that they hated the experience but are not sorry they went through it. There are also, of course, multiple offenders who so loved building their first home that they build a second and third; some even turn pro.

New products and processes are making it easier and cheaper to custom build the home of your dreams. Should you attempt it? Let's look at the process and the possibilities.



Some sage or philosopher once said the obvious: "Under all is the land." Or maybe the National Real Estate Association invented the phrase in 1940 when they so titled a book. In any case, finding a building lot can be a major stumbling block to potential dream home builders. In urban areas land is scarce and when available, tracts are frequently under the control of developers with rules and plans that may not be compatible with homebuilding dreams. Developers often insist on being the builder, and, while they are willing to customize, often do so only within the parameters of limited exterior and/or interior designs. This is one reason that small or functionally obsolete homes on nice lots are being grabbed up and torn down by prospective homeowners in the Northeast and California.

Assuming you find a lot, the next step is a home plan. Architects are pricy but hiring one allows you to express your own creativity, while having it kept under control. A good architect will tell you that you cannot possibly afford to engineer the unsupported roof span required for your dream kitchen/living/family/dining room but that a slight modification in the roof trusses might, almost, allow you to realize your vision. An architect can make clear the reason for clustering rooms that require plumbing or devise energy saving "green" modifications.

Economical off-the-rack home plans available via Internet or mail order are a cheaper alternative. It would be hard to envision a floor plan that is not for sale somewhere, and an architect might use a standard floor plan as a springboard to allow you the best of affordability and creativity.

Next, decide how involved you want to be. Do you have the skills, time, and temperament to be your own general contractor? If so, you can expect to save 10 to 20 percent of construction costs by GCing the project yourself, but this will mean locating, qualifying, supervising, and scheduling subcontractors. A general contractor has his own list of reliable plumbers, electricians and dry wall contractors and knows the timelines involved in bringing them in. If you lack the expertise, delays and mistakes will quickly eat up any savings from not hiring a professional GC.

Contractors get discounts from materials suppliers, but prior planning may allow you qualify for such discounts yourself. While some suppliers require evidence of a contractor's license, others will discount volume purchases or you can rely on your subs to purchase materials using their own discounts.

Can you do some of the finish work yourself? Don't even think of attempting electrical or plumbing work if you are not licensed in those trades. To do so can cause problems with municipal code inspections and even with your insurance if you should later have a fire or a flood. But can you or should you, undertake painting, laying tile, or doing the landscaping? Time and stress as well as skill and cost should always be factored into these decisions.

What about financing? Is the lender providing your construction financing willing to allow you to act as GC? Is the lender going to require a larger down payment for that portion of financing going toward the land purchase? Will there be time limits enforced for completing the project? Will the bank do the "take out" financing; that is, provide a regular mortgage to pay off the construction loan at the end of the process?

Zoning and permits are another issue. Is your lot adequate to support the setbacks and sidelines required by local zoning? Will you be allowed to construct outbuildings such as barns or workshops essential to your dream plans? Schedule an appointment with the engineering or building department in your town to discuss your plans. Some very weird local ordinances can pop up, usually inconveniently late in the building process.

Be sure you understand and utilize the permitting process. A diligent town code inspector may shut down your project and levy significant fines if you fail to pull the appropriate permits. There can also be insurance problems if the final work is not signed off on by the town's code inspector.

If you will be building in a subdivision, check for subdivision restrictions. In one recent incident, a homeowner's association that had been dormant for years sprang back into life, all covenants intact, when someone tried to place a small modular home on a vacant lot. Not only did the neighbors physically block delivery of the modules, but another new homeowner who had bought because of an extra building lot then found she could not build a planned home for her sister because of the newly resurrected minimum size restrictions.

Still want to build a house? Me too! And, as stated earlier, there are half a dozen shortcuts available to make the process less problematic and expensive than traditional stick built construction. We will talk about manufactured homes (no trailer jokes allowed), modular and prefab homes, panelized construction, home building kits, and maybe a few other options that can make your dream home come true.