So, Mr. Handyman, you think
you're ready to build your own house. Or at least to supervise
the people who do the actual construction work.
You want to be your own general contractor and
hire the subcontractors, set the schedules, coordinate with
inspectors and suppliers and buy some or all of the supplies.
Maybe you should think about it some more.
The idea, of course, is to save the cost of a general contractor.
"If you're really savvy, you can get the lot at a good
price, get construction at a good price and save a lot of money,"
says Robert Irwin, author of Tips
& Traps When Building Your Home.
But it's not easy. "Everybody can
do it, but not everybody wants to," says Carl Heldmann,
author of "Be Your Own House Contractor."
C. Kent Conine, immediate past president
of the National Association of Home Builders, is not a fan
of the practice. "There are just so many pitfalls that
come up in the middle of the process of constructing a home,"
he says. "It's not a perfect science."
It can also make it difficult to find financing.
"The lender wants to see that the person who's doing
the work is qualified," says Irwin.
Who's best for the job?
Acting as your own general contractor works
best if you're highly organized, detail-oriented and have
a clear idea of what you want in your home.
"You don't have to know how to put the
shingles on the roof or tape out the drywall if you know how
to manage the crew that's doing it," says R. Dodge Woodson,
a professional builder who also wrote Build
Your Dream Home for Less.
How much time will you spend on site? There's
no telling. "You have to be available when you're needed,"
says Irwin. "And nobody knows when that will be."
Heldmann remembers building one vacation home
where he only went to the site three times during construction.
Others believe in being more hands-on. "Once construction
begins, it's a good idea to visit the site every day,"
Professionals also disagree on how much you
stand to save. While some claim you can cut as much as 40
percent of the cost of your home (especially if you do some
of the work yourself, too), others believe 10 to 20 percent
is more realistic.
But Conine doesn't think it's that much. He
pegs the typical general contractor's fee at 10 percent or
less. In addition, he says, a homeowner will pay substantially
more for supplies.
What do you want?
Before you build anything, you need a
clear picture in your own mind. Tour homes. Read books and
magazines. Look at floor plans. Start a scrapbook with information
and notes on all the details you want to include.
This also is when you want to learn about the
building process. Study up on the latest materials and supplies,
as well as what goes in when. Building a house is like reciting
the alphabet, and the order of the steps is just about as
When you feel ready, engage an architect to
draw up a complete set of plans. "Make all the changes
you want on paper," says Irwin. Later, "even the
smallest changes cost you a fortune."
This also might be the time to weigh hiring
a building professional, under a management contract, to help
you. This person would cost less than a general contractor,
and could walk you through parts of the project where you
Draw up a plan of action that includes each
step in the process. "Storyboard it out," Woodson
Now the fun begins. "It's the largest shopping
experience you will ever go on in your life," says Heldmann.
"If you like to shop, you will have a ball."
As the manager, your biggest responsibility
is hiring the subcontractors who will do the work. Start with
the usual suspects. Who do you know who had some work done
on their house? Who did they use? Was it done on time and
Drive around neighborhoods you like and find
out who's doing that work. Talk to subcontractors you've already
vetted. If your carpenter recommends an electrician he works
with frequently (and it's not his ne'er-do-well brother-in-law),
that's a solid lead. If you're using a project manager, have
him help you.
Once you get names, you want to learn all you
can. Google them. Get a long list of references and talk to
them. Examine past work in person. Arrange to meet them on
a current job site.
Once you get a handful of subcontractors you
like (three to five), start penciling in what your picks will
charge to do each job. And remember that the low bidder doesn't
necessarily do the best work.
One other wrinkle: The builder's crew normally
does the framing. But since you're the builder, you have to
find a subcontractor who will do it for you.
Another point to consider: Do you want
subcontractors to buy the supplies or do you want to do it
yourself? There is no set answer, and the standard practice
can vary with the professional, the trade and even the area
of the country. "It's a mixed bag," says Conine.