|Buying house plans online
Many do-it-yourselfers know the joy of poring over
house-plan books. Part frugality and part hobby, the process provides
infinite hours of enjoyment studying the placement of staircases and
laundry rooms, and debating the need for formal dining rooms or soaking
tubs in the master bath.
The Internet has elevated house-plan ogling to a science,
with hundreds of sites offering tens of thousands of plans, searchable
by square footage, foundation type, number of bedrooms, baths and
garage bays, architectural style, lot size and much more.
When it's time to move past the daydream phase into
actually buying plans, there are a few things buyers need to know.
The first is that they can't be returned, so you need to be ready
to buy when you click the "order" button.
First, learn the rules
Before you spend hundreds of dollars on a set of stock plans,
make a trip to your local city or county building department. Ask
if they'll issue a building permit from stock plans or if you need
a seal from a local architect. You also need to know if they'll
allow you to make minor changes to the plans in the field or if
the house must be built exactly as the plans are drawn.
In addition, you need to find out about easements
and setback requirements on your lot. Easements are rights of way
provided to the government for sidewalks or other improvements,
or to utility companies for power, water or other services. Setbacks
dictate how much space you need to leave around the edges of your
Unfortunately, this is the step that people skip far
too often, says Linda Reimer, president of Design Basics, a stock
"They fall in love with a plan," she says.
"It's such an emotional thing. Then they call us back and say
it won't fit on their lot."
It's also important to understand exactly what you're
buying. Many people think they're paying for a stack of papers that
show various segments of the house's construction, including the
framing, the electrical system and the plumbing. You get the stack
of papers, all right, but you're actually buying a construction
license to build the copyrighted plan and the right to modify it.
Stock plans can cut costs
Dan Ramsey, author of The
Complete Idiot's Guide to Building Your Own Home, says that
buying stock plans can dramatically cut the cost of designing your
own home. An architect may charge 2 percent to 3 percent of the
project's value for a full set of plans -- that's $5,000 to $7,500
for a $250,000 house. Stock plans typically can be ordered for as
little as $300, with the average running between $500 and $1,000.
"Some will reflect your local building codes,
while others will be based on standardized codes for your region,"
Ramsey says. "You also can purchase enhancements that include
suggested landscaping and decking."
Not all stock plan services are created equally. Ramsey
recommends asking for a free or low-cost sample package that you
can take to a local builder or architect for an opinion on the quality
of the design.
"The right stock plans can save you thousands
of dollars," he says. "The wrong ones can waste thousands
in building costs."
Is off-the-shelf for you?
That's pretty much the experience that Pete Catalano of Lafayette,
La., had when he and his fiancee wanted to build their own home.
"We wanted to buy house plans online because
there were a lot of unique things we wanted to have in the house,"
he says. "We like to entertain a lot and we wanted a keeping
room. We were also very much on a budget. The easiest thing is to
go to an architect to design a house, but it's also the most expensive."