Ask the Builder: “Can I Build My Own Home?”

Written by Andy Stauffer

July 9

andy stauffer home builder

One question we hear from time to time when discussing home building is: “Can I save money by building my own home?” While it’s a fair question, it’s usually asked as the result of a homeowner seeing an infomercial for a “do-it-yourself home building kit,” or some other system sold by a company that specializes in selling instructional books and videos. While spending $750 for a kit that shows you how to build your own home without needing any assistance from a General Contractor is an attractive notion, we have a different perspective on the subject (as you might have guessed). We’ve been building homes for nearly fifteen years, and in that time, we’ve seen a lot of DIY (do it yourself) projects.

While some home improvement projects are generally a safe bet for homeowners who do the research and have the time (decks, carpeting, fencing, etc), large projects (such as building a home) are generally not something a homeowner should attempt, for two major reasons: 1) the scope is too big for most homeowners, and 2) contrary to what these “DIY home building kits” might suggest, you’re probably not going to save money. Below is a list of ten reasons why.

Ten Reasons Not To Build Your Own Home:

One: A contractor usually has more buying power than a homeowner—he can hire subcontractors at a lower cost than a homeowner, because he buys in volume.

Two: A contractor spends several hours each day managing a job. If a homeowner were to do this himself, he would be spending a considerable amount of time “away from work” while managing his own personal project that is costing him money, when he should be making money. An equation you can think of for this is: Lost Time + Lost Money = Substantial Costs.

Three: If, for some reason, a contractor mismanages your project, or somehow leaves you stranded, a homeowner has a remarkable amount of legal options available for taking action against the contractor (in most states, Colorado included). However, if a homeowner is building his own project and for some reason is unable to complete the project, or otherwise mishandles the construction due to inexperience, he has no recourse and just has to live with the results. (We’ve been called by homeowners needing a “rescue” job where we’ve had to finish a project that was halfway done more than once!)

Four: Being handy at home repairs doesn’t always translate into being a skilled project manager. General Contracting requires great expertise in managing many trades—and not just simply having the means to perform one or two aspects of the construction. There’s a huge difference between building a 5′ x 10′ trex deck in the back yard and building an entire house from the ground up.

Five: A contractor spends his time, energy and passion in the building field. A homeowner often doesn’t. A contractor’s lifelong career is building structures, while a homeowner’s career seldom is. Most established contractors have 10, 15 or even 20 years in the business while a homeowner often has little or no experience. Learning to build is often a process of trial and error, so relying on a builder’s experience to avoid mistakes is money well spent!

Six: It takes several years for a good contractor to build up a collection of worthy subcontractors, at his considerable effort and expense. These are often “wholesale” subcontractors who only work for General Contractors, and their price and quality cannot be matched by a “retail” subcontractor found in the phone book or online. A General Contractor’s “portfolio” of subs is his most valuable assets. For example, we’ve built up a book of the best tradesmen in the Rocky Mountain region, and it’s taken us nearly fifteen years to do so.

Seven: A good contractor can finish even a large project very quickly, because he’s spent a career creating processes and systems for streamlining his projects, and has the advantage of being able to focus full-time on your project. Unlike a homeowner who might try to fit in an hour here and there, a builder has your project at the top of his mind as a high priority.

Eight: A homeowner seldom has a sufficient grasp of construction to “know what he doesn’t know” until it’s too late and significant changes are necessary to correct mistakes made (usually at a considerable cost). A General Contractor who’s doing his job properly can inform a homeowner of value engineering options, and will often suggest proven cost saving ideas, products, and/or approaches. When we build homes, we are often been able to come up with ideas that a homeowner hasn’t thought of before; simple because they don’t do it for a living.

Nine: A building project is usually funded by a construction loan. As previously mentioned, a good contractor can complete a job much faster than a novice homeowner. Time is money, especially in the form of interest on a loan. Construction loans, by definition, are meant to be short-term, so the longer the project takes, the more interest you have to pay. One month’s worth of interest on a typical new construction loan can run anywhere from $2,000 and $8,000 per month, depending upon the size and stage of the loan. The sooner the project is finished, the sooner the loan converts to a traditional mortgage, thereby significantly reducing the homeowner’s monthly costs.

Ten: In the end, the final decision rests on two variables—your comfort level and your overall financial health. Comfort is crucial: most families aren’t comfortable building their home on nights and weekends. Sometimes a project done in this fashion can take years or even decades to complete. Financial health is important as well: if you don’t have the luxury of taking several years to slowly build your dream home, hiring a builder is usually the smartest move.

A good suggestion before deciding whether to build your home yourself or hire a contractor is to talk to people who have experienced either approach. Listen carefully to both sides and then decide for yourself whose experience was more pleasant or successful, then choose whichever you prefer based on your comfort level—not out of fear. We’ve met homeowners who’ve built their own homes: some who say it was a great experience, and some who said they would never do it again.

If you are a true “do-it-yourselfer” and really want the challenge of building a home, maybe it is a good fit for you. If that’s the case, feel free to contact us to discuss ways we can work with you by acting as an owner’s representative or as a consultant for the difficult aspects of construction. If you aren’t the do-it-yourself type, we’re more than happy to help you create the home, remodel or addition that you dream of. Drop by our office and we’ll be happy to talk with you about your project.


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