Archive for August, 2008 —

Picking an Architect

Although I’ve spent a bit of time over these last several months researching and interviewing architects, the complexity of picking a firm didn’t hit home until I realized how different each one is from the other. Being a designer myself, I felt a rapport with almost all of the 8 firms I talked to, and I had even “soft settled” on one of them for a couple of months, based mainly on how much I like the principals personally and how great their portfolio was.

As the prospect of building became more and more certain though, I felt I still had some homework to do, specifically around the subject of pricing. High end custom home architects have an awful reputation for designing without cost consciousness in mind. I’ve talked to people who’ve gone through it first-hand as clients as well as other people in the construction industry and most seem to agree that although architects are very important to the process of building a house, most are not overly concerned with building you a nice house as economically as possible, but rather building the most impressive house they can, with overspending as the main by-product. I know not all architects are this way, but from personal accounts, I also know that many are, and that’s why I have to be extra careful. Since I don’t want to spend a million dollars on construction, finding the most cost-effective high end architect has quickly become the most important part of this project.

Following is everything I’ve learned about architects over the last several weeks:

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Architecture Contract Signed

Alright, Build LLC and I are now officially signed up to build a house together. It feels great to have such an important part of the process taken care of.

One of the nice things about Build is that Kevin Eckert and Andrew van Leeuwen — the principals — are very transparent about how long things will take and how much they will cost. When I went in to sign the contract with them, Kevin gave me a spreadsheet of where all time and money was expected to go, even though we were going with a flat-fee structure of $48,000. I won’t list every line item in the document, but the main sections are as follows:

  • Information Gathering and Documentation: $3,220 (42 hours)
  • Schematic Design and Design Development: $29,440 (370 hours)
  • Construction Documents: $10,430 (126 hours)
  • Pre-construction Services: $800 (8 hours)
  • General Conditions: $2790 (30 hours)
  • Contingency: $1,500

All of that adds up to $48,000, which I will be paying as I go, every month. The initial deposit, which I will pay today is $9600.

Costs accrued during this stage:

Architecture services$48,000.00

Survey Completed

The day after the deal closed, I called a few surveyors to see who charged a reasonable fee and could come out to the property in short order. It turns out they are all in the $3000 range, but some of them will charge you an hourly fee with a “not to exceed” number (better). I ended up going with Brent Eble and Emerald Land Surveying, Inc. who were able to come out to the property the very next day and charged an hourly rate with a not-to-exceed number of $2900.

Three weeks later (today), I received my survey drawings and 3D CAD file with a total bill of $2695. Not bad. I’ve already forwarded the file onto my architects and they told me everything looks great, but unfortunately, I am not able to easily import the CAD file into SketchUp. I plan on mucking around with some design ideas in SketchUp, so it’s a bit disappointing that the surface mesh the surveyor provided doesn’t seem to work very well in the only modeling app normal people like me can use. It imports, but as a series of lines instead of a true, clean surface mesh. I’ve already tried to re-convert the .dwg file from AutoCAD and ArchiCAD but since I don’t know those apps very well, I’m not making a ton of progress.

Anyway, the important part is that the survey is now done so the architects can get going on the designs.

Good old-fashioned drawings from the surveyor.

Costs accrued during this stage:


New House, New Junk Mail: How to Opt Out

Within a few weeks of buying a new house, you should start receiving mountains and mountains of new junk mail thanks to the fact that you’re now considered “fresh meat” to a lot of marketing and mortgage companies. There appears to be good news and bad news about getting off of these mailing lists.

The good news is that you can opt out of most of them by spending two minutes filling out a couple of quick forms on only two sites. The bad news is that mortgage offers, specifically, seem to be immune to the opt-out lists. The reason is that when you take out a mortgage, your mortgage information is part of the public record, and solicitors routinely cull these records in order to generate leads for their mortgage refinance businesses. On the bright side, quantity of mortgage junk mail seems to start out high and then taper off as your loan becomes less and less fresh.

You might as well do what you can though by opting out of both direct marketing mail and also pre-screened credit solicitations: gets you out of the former, and gets you out of the latter.