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Time To Go

Saturday, September 15th, 2007 by David Lee | 2 Comments »

Diorama Window

For several years I have written building articles for BHM. All of it was to give you, the readers, some alternative ways to think about building homes.

On this blog I have discussed different ways to become a builder or, at least, build your own home to save money.

My 30+ years of building has been in the form of projects. Buy land, build a house, live in it awhile, then sell it and start a new project. Well, it is time to do it again.

For some time now, my wife and I have been preparing to start what will perhaps be our last project. When I am in ‘building mode’ I am working more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Momentum is important. Some of the parts of this new project have been under construction during my off hours but now it is time to turn it into a full time priority.

This new project is different than all my others. It will be off-grid. In fact it will be offshore. The last details have been arranged and we are ready to go. So…this will be my last blog posting.

Sometime in the future, if this project works out well, I may write about it. For now, goodbye and live well.

Building Idea #3

Thursday, September 13th, 2007 by David Lee | Comments Off on Building Idea #3

Modular Home

What we have here is a modular home. After the site is prepared and the foundation is poured the sections of the home are brought in on tractor trailers and placed on the foundation by a crane. In a day or two the sections are connected and weather tight. After the details are completed a new home is finished in a very short time compared to building the old fashioned way.

Modulars are popular not just for the speed of construction. If you own a lot (some companies even help with that) the modular company can arrange all the site work. The kind of foundation you want, a private well or public water hookup, the electric service, the sewer connection, even the landscaping is arranged by them. You choose the color and type of flooring, siding and roofing. You also choose window and door styles and where you want them located.

On the inside they install the plumbing, furnace, and air conditioning. They also install cabinets, counters, appliances, carpets, even the type and color of trim work chosen by you. Sign the contract and have a custom home in a month.

Perhaps the most important feature of a modular home is that they have financing available for the buyer. Modulars are available in a wide range of prices and lavishness. It is quite an amazing business concept. I especially like the fact that these homes are built in a nice dry factory out of the weather, using lots of glue to hold them together. The modular “units” must survive being hauled hundreds of miles behind trucks so they have to be structurally tough. This extra toughness means the home will be stronger too.

Theoretically, and if the housing market were better, you could order a modular home, have it set up on your lot and sell it right away at a profit. Since that is not the case let’s modify this concept.

Imagine the modular home contract as a menu. You can order each part or service separately. So, how does this benefit you, the Alternative Builder?

You have learned skills and it is time to use them. The more work you do on the house yourself, the more money you will save and the larger your profit will be.

Suppose you manage the site work. Choosing your own contractors for the well, driveway, septic system, foundation, electric work and heating system will often save a considerable sum. Have the modular company deliver and set the units on your foundation but you do all the finish work like completing the siding, installing carpets and other details to save another significant percentage of the cost.

If you order the most basic home package and add your own cabinets, counters and appliances you save again. Some modulars come with unfinished second floors. The basic Cape style comes this way. Adding two rooms and a bath upstairs adds big value to the home.

You could install your own doors, windows and shutters. You could build dormers, add a deck, and build a fireplace. You can also add a garage, as in the photograph above.

With an easy web search I found a 24′ x 36′ modular Cape style home. The deal includes crane set, exterior finish and interior touch-up for $58,300 including sales tax. Taking over the finish and touch-up work yourself and doing some haggling could get you an even lower price during these hard times for the housing industry. Having the basic home set up and weatherproof so quickly provides you with a place to work right away.

How well could you do financially with a basic modular and your own work? Figure this out. The house above is assessed for $211,900. The lot was $30,000. Add about $60,000 for the modular and about $30,000 for added services and materials. The rest of the money is yours.

Take time to prepare yourself and take on a project like this, or the others I’ve talked about, and you can have a career in homebuilding even in times like this.

Building Idea #2

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007 by David Lee | Comments Off on Building Idea #2

Mobile Home

I am tempted by this property. For a project, I see it as an improved lot. It has a well, a septic system, electric power, a paved driveway and best of all, beautiful natural landscaping. It is ready for a new home. A big bonus is that it is a place to live and work while the new house is being built.

Properties like this are like jewels waiting to be shined up. They are on the low end of property values but have all the expensive improvements in place which is a great saving of money, time and labor over starting with a vacant lot. If you work carefully, the new house you put there won’t disturb the landscaping. Saving that great maple grove would be a priority with me.

Of course you must abide by the first law of real estate…location, location, location. Find a mobile home in a neighborhood where you will be bringing the value of the property up to the value of the rest of the homes, maybe even turning it into the be$t one there.

Financing a mobile home on a private lot is like any real estate transaction except the price will be lower (if you shopped well) than a regular home. Your down payment and monthly installments would be smaller, leaving more of your investment money available for building materials and other expenses.

Moving into a mobile home and making it useful is easy. Set up ‘camp’ by using the existing kitchen and bathroom and turning the living room into sleeping quarters. Clear the bedroom out and use it for a workshop. If there are two bedrooms turn the second into a storage room. A small efficient living space keeps housework to a minimum. Living on site saves the expense of maintaining another home elsewhere and eliminates commuting. It lets you work more hours per day, more days per week. Your constant presence protects the project from mischief.

The mobile home itself has potential. If it is in good shape it has value and you can sell it privately or to a dealer when you are finished with it, recouping some of your investment. It is also possible to disassemble the thing and use the materials and equipment in the new project. Think about that. All the plumbing fixtures, range, refrigerator, cabinets, doors, paneling, lumber, insulation, windows and more are items you may not have to buy new. Once the mobile home is stripped down to the frame and wheels you can sell that for a good price to someone who builds cargo trailers.

You can search a long distance from your present location to find a suitable mobile home project. Some distant town or city may have better potential than your local area. Be thorough in your real estate assessment of the area you choose to d0 your project. Swoop in there, do the work, sell the finished house and plan the next one.

What if your project does not sell immediately? You have increased the value of the property and can refinance the mortgage. This will give you money to live on until it sells or the capital to start another venture while you rent out the first one. Once you are in the position of being a property owner you have many options.

Building Idea #1

Saturday, September 8th, 2007 by David Lee | Comments Off on Building Idea #1

Fixxer Upper

Let’s suppose you have prepared for a year and the time has come to start your house building adventure full time. You could start right in and build a whole house from scratch. In fact you may have thought that is what I was going to suggest when I started all this. Not necessarily so. There are a number of alternatives that might suit you better as a starter project. So, let’s skip right over building from the ground up and talk about another way which I am not fond of but is worth exploring.

Taking on a fixer-upper can be profitable IF…and there are a number of them.

IF you can get one for a low price.

IF it is in a good location where it will sell when finished.

IF the fixing up part of the deal is within your skill set.

IF the costs of rehabbing it are within a realistic budget.

IF there are no surprises when you start repairs. Usually there are.

IF you treat the place as a business and don’t fall in love with it.

There are advantages to a Fixer. You could move right in, saving the rent and utilities of living elsewhere. Camping out in your fixer-upper means having lots more hours per day to work, shortening the time needed to finish the project. You are not there to enjoy the comforts of home; you are there to work. Pretend it’s sort of a combat mission.

Fixing up an existing house means you could do your project anywhere. New Orleans and the Gulf coast is Fixer-Upper Paradise right now.

Working on an existing home means you will be learning by repairing rather than learning by constructing. That is a big difference early in your career and you will learn more than you can imagine. Hopefully you will find a place with better potential than the picture above portrays.

The large number of foreclosures coming on unfortunately means homes will be left unoccupied. Many of them will suffer damage from vandalism or weather and from not being maintained. This puts you in a good position to buy an abandoned home at a low price.

During the last downturn in our local economy, back in about 1996, we looked at an empty home owned by a bank. It had not sold at auction and was in pretty rough shape with broken windows, water damage and overgrown landscaping. We could have gotten it for about $45,000. It was assessed at $135,000. Someone else bought it and a couple years ago it was assessed at $220,000.

The key to getting the best deal on a Fixer is to buy the worst house in a good neighborhood. Unfortunately for some but lucky for you, opportunities like this exist now and there will be more of them in the near future than at any time in many years – IF you are prepared.

I know that people who are good at doing things think anyone could do them if they really wanted to. Building a house from scratch is one of those “things.” A fixer-upper may be the transition project that makes you a good builder.

Next time, I’ll have another transition idea for you.

Back To School

Thursday, September 6th, 2007 by David Lee | Comments Off on Back To School

Trebor Mansion

It is hard to believe this blog is two months old already. Up to this point I have talked about the following:

  1. Arranging or rearranging your money.
  2. Studying what you need to know about building.
  3. Studying the real estate market while looking for deals on things you will need.
  4. Transportation for when you do your project.

If you are even slightly aware of the news these days you know the housing market is in trouble and more and more foreclosures are happening all the time. The general economy may even suffer because of this problem so for now it is best to bide your time, save money, get out of debt and become prepared. In about a year there will be lots of good deals on real estate and you will get the best one possible IF you combine your skills, knowledge and the money you have accumulated.

I’ve done this kind of project 24 times and will do it at least once more. But I know most people will not consider this as a career or even as a one time effort. I remember my own worries before building my first house and I have observed the nervousness of people whom I have tried to interest in this type of venture. Excuses are curses.

Some people are so tradition-bound that owning a home by any method other than how everyone else does it is taboo. Some fear the criticism of family or friends who will tell them how absurd the idea is. Some fear failure and doubt their own abilities to complete such a big project. Others cannot, or most often will not, overcome limitations and thus are prevented from success before starting. Believe it or not, some are too well off to attempt something like this because they prefer not to take the financial risk or they believe it is beneath their station in life.

I have had to overcome traditions all my life. It’s been kind of fun and liberating for me. Fears are always involved in decisions of any magnitude but knowledge builds confidence and will get you through.

People who won’t overcome their limitations are the ones who perplex me the most. Limits tend to be in three categories: psychological, as in “I’m just a girl;” situational, as in “I can’t get out of the the ‘hood;” or physical, such as “I’m too old and fat.” Limitations are an excuse to quit before beginning.

I know a fellow who has been blind since he was a young man. I think he is in his 50s now. He has renovated his home! It took him longer than most but like any true builder, he won’t stop until he dies because he loves it. He uses power saws and all the usual tools. He works on his roof. He has even painted his house! I don’t especially like the color, but he does. I let him run his hands over a scale model of one of my homes and he was able to intelligently discuss everything about it. Not many are like Peter but there should be more.

Predictions for what our future might be drives me to live a simpler life, learn practical skills, share my knowledge and be ready to act when the time comes. I don’t remember where I heard this, but “the difference between a survivor and a refugee is timing.” Something to think about.



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