From Approvals to Reality

From Approvals to Reality

I oscillate between pure excited, pure dread, pure anger, and pure happiness while building this dang house. It is an intense process, and it comes with many surprises – the theme of this week’s surprises: mounting costs.

  1. Our house has the right guts: This whole thing started because we want to build a green house. Green houses are more expensive – period. We knew this, but the reality of it still burns. For example, some additional costs due to the greenness of our build:
    1. Our walls are at least a ½ inch thicker than most walls. This place is a fortress (associated cost savings: We’ll have a heat pump, not a furnace)
    2. We upgraded our AC to the most energy efficient model
    3. We upgraded our appliances to the most energy efficient models
    4. Tesla shingles are a no go. (I’d like to clarify that the HPC didn’t approve, but also – we can’t get Tesla to call us back). We are planning to put solar panels on our garage, although cannot afford to do this Day 1. But we want to be “solar ready” which means extra costs in running some mega-wiring from the detached garage to the house mechanical room and vice versa.
  2. In our effort to find a green architect, we found an artist: Let’s be clear, our partnership with Locus has been very rewarding. Whereas our priority was green – architects are artists, and this made us fall in love with a house that had other priorities – to be zen and pretty and good. Our builder tells us often that basically everything in our design is an “upgrade.” I think most homes are assumed to be linoleum, carpet, and plastic finishes based on what is considered an “upgrade,” but I digress. AND I conform: we do have many upgrades in our custom artist home than a normal home… however you define “normal.”
  3. Being 2nd to build on a lot-split sucks bunches: There is approximately $50-100k in sunk expenses that are getting estimated and budgeted now that are simply because we are 2nd to build. A big one: on city lots, there is this concept of shoring during excavation. When you dig your basement, and it’s close to your neighbor’s house, you need to build what I would liken to a retaining wall in the ground to protect the neighbor’s basement / foundation from collapsing. Just that is another $40k. Buh-bye, moneys. In addition, because we only have access to our lot from the back, we can’t build our garage until the house is pretty far along – meaning crews need to return for a 2nd trip. It’s almost like two separate jobs… which inflates cost.
  4. Although our estimated build costs are well above our budget, it doesn’t include all the goods: No fence. No sod. No landscaping at all. No insulation in the garage. A big problem for us as we have slim to none today: no furniture. So on top of our downpayment savings, we need to consider out-of-pocket expenses.
  5. Setting “options” in the bid process: We are now figuring out all the places we can easily set up options that we can eliminate now and invest in later. E.g. run the wiring for the solar, but don’t install the solar. Remove the finished basement. Remove the garage (seriously, the whole thing – that’s the situation we are in).

We set a budget that was comfortable to us for a number of reasons, but mainly it allowed us to work for fun, not for a check eventually. Yes – things would be tight for at least five years, maybe ten – but by the time the kiddos were in high school, we felt we’d be back into a “normal” flow, refinanced to a “normal” mortgage. Or at least our definition of “normal.”

The builder’s original estimates is that we are well over this budget… Seriously, a little bedside manner for my builder friends: If you are planning to deliver a message where you are ~38% over budget, call first. Don’t just scoot over an email and cross your fingers that the client isn’t freaking the eff out.

So now, trade-offs. And the dreaded making of a budget. And truly assessing where our “comfort” line is. What do we cut? And where does it make sense to raise our budget now to account for the unforeseeable expenses of this beloved city lot?

PS: I’m still waiting for a stage where this is considered fun. HPC approvals – the opposite of fun. Materials selection – frustrating as hell. Setting the project budget – burns my soul.

I think the fun stage may start after we move into our home (so when it’s all done!). We are one step closer to that happening – we are sending the project out for bid this week. Cross your fingers the builders estimates are off to the tune of six figures. 🙂

PPS: Because I’m Negative Nancy, I’ll find one fun thing to put in every post. We ended up with the most perfect spot for a future chicken coop (I say future coop because there is no way in hell Dave is letting me get chickens until I’m off the road more – so it’s years off). I love that our detailed plans have these words: ACCESS DOOR TO FUTURE CHICKEN COOP, VERIFY REQUIREMENTS WITH OWNER. Right by the back entry door, in fact – on the back porch. How fun!


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