Archive for the ‘Budgeting’ Category

Zeroing in on One Design

Last Friday’s meeting was all about zeroing in on one design/floorplan and going over initial cost estimates. At this point, I’m very happy with the general floorplan and how the house looks from the back (the view side). The front of the house and the cost, however, need a bit of work. Below are the latest renderings and schematics:

Back side

Front side

Main floor

Upper floor

I think the back is looking really great. The major addition since the last renderings is the rooftop deck with the hot tub. We’re still figuring out how the roof access is going to work, but a hatch seems like the most cost-effective, least obtrusive (albeit a bit ghetto) solution.

The floorplans are also looking good, with the main floor really opening up, two flexible locations for the dining room (west edge or north edge), and an upper floor that accommodates the requisite three bedrooms. I still have a punchlist of things for Build to nudge around in the floorplans but nothing major.

The front of the house, however, is still not quite doing it for me. It just hasn’t achieved the Feng Shui that the back of the house has yet. I don’t know if it’s the angles, the paneled siding, the colors, or what, but it’s just not there yet. We’re going to experiment with some siding and color options as well as modifying the angles and lines until we achieve curb appeal nirvana.

And now for the costs.

Ohhhh the costs.

Let’s just say they are too high. It’s not Build’s fault as they are just estimating materials and labor for a house of this size and finish, but as the house is currently spec’d, it’s about $400k over my anticipated budget.

That’s a lot.

I’m not sure what we are going to do about it yet, but I’m glad we’re having this conversation at this stage rather than mid-construction. I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about architects underestimating projects only to have the homeowner vastly overextend themselves in order to finish the project. In Build’s words, they are trying to “make sure any financial surprises we run into will be positive ones”.

I like that.

We’re going to meet this Friday to discuss packages of things we can possibly save money on.

With the stock market sinking a whopping 18% last week, I have major questions in my head about what the cost of construction labor and materials will be come spring when we break ground. I have thought for the last several months that the cost of construction would decrease as the economy soured but have been told that so far, that hasn’t happened. That’s all well and good because before last week, the decline in the economy was a slow bleed, but last week was extremely damaging. It wasn’t just damaging to wall street fat cats and hedge funds. It was damaging to anyone and everyone who has any money invested in the stock or bond markets. In my opinion, it was the sort of calamity that is going to finally cause people to really watch their spending.

Everybody is always so quick to talk about how the American consumer borrows and spends above their means, but I think this episode shook a lot of people to their core. I think it canceled a lot of vacations and certainly canceled a ton of construction projects — indefinitely. When I think about how many construction projects will break ground in my neighborhood this spring, I think there is a real possibility that I’ll be the only one. Who knows.

Although the financial crisis we’re going through right now is a terrible thing, I’m hoping the cost of building a house during it will be commensurate with the reduction in wealth we’re seeing in the equity markets. If anyone has any good web sites at which to track the cost of materials, let me know. I know the cost of both lumber and copper have plummeted, but beyond that, I have no idea.

Asbestos, Lead Paint, Demolition, and The Economy

As you can probably deduce from the title, there are several unrelated things to cover in this post. Some more important than others.

First things first: I had NVL Laboratories check the house for asbestos and lead paint last week, and as expected, there’s a significant amount of both (mainly under floor tiles and on the exterior of the house). None of it is airborne, so that’s good, but it presents a bit of a challenge when taking the house down. You’re supposed to have a professional abatement team come in and dispose of the stuff in a special way.

That brings us to the subject of demolition. Build hooked me up with a great local non-profit organization called RE Store that is actually going to “deconstruct” most of the existing house piece by piece and sell the re-sellable elements as “vintage” building materials. Not only will this option save me a significant amount of money in demolition costs but it will save 52 tons of material from going to a landfill. This is really the best type of building decision: the kind that is environmentally friendly and saves you money. As if that wasn’t good enough, I can also write off the market value of the donated materials — $8500 — and get a nice tax refund out of it. It’s a win-win-win.

With regard to the timing of deconstruction/demolition, there is an opportunity to do it as early as December but my feeling is that it should occur as close to construction time as possible (spring). I just don’t like the idea of tearing down a house before the plans for the new one are even approved yet. I also don’t want my across the street neighbors to get too used to their newly sweeping water view. I think they may actually end up with a significantly better view than they have right now by the time I’m done, but their best view is clearly when my house is just a hole in the ground.

So that brings us to the economy. I could probably do a whole post on this, but the long and short of it is as follows: the market and the economy in general have gone from bad in early 2008 to worse in mid 2008 to near catastrophic in October. I’m invested about as conservatively as you can get (mostly cash and muni bonds, very little equity exposure), but even with that conservative allocation, October and now November are really making me fear for the future of the economy. I remember clearly the 1987 crash and the dot-com bubble bursting, but in neither case did I think another Great Depression was possible. When you start to worry about whether your bank deposits are safe, how many millions of people are going to lose their jobs in 2008/2009, and how our government is going to deal with all of it, you reflexively move into “batten down the hatches” mode a bit.

My feeling as of now is that if things stay where they are at or get better, there shouldn’t be any change in my plans, but if the economy dives further off the cliff or I don’t think things have sufficiently stabilized by the spring, I may re-examine my construction schedule. I’ve prepared Build for this possibility, and they of course understand, being plenty in-tune with the markets and the economy themselves. It’s still game-on for now though. Permits are being applied for, documents are being submitted, and the project marches forward. Let’s hope Barry O. has the calming influence on the country and the economy that we think he can and let’s hope the market stops trading “like a lunatic on ecstasy”, as my favorite CNBC guy Steve Liesman likes to say.

Costs accrued during this stage:

Lead and asbestos testing$1,014.00

Permits Issued!

Almost 5 months after applying for building and demolition permits, the City of Seattle finally granted me my documents last week. With barely any permit applications going through the City these days, one would think things would have gone quicker, but in reality, I feel like the lack of permit flow caused more city scrutiny in the end. The main issue that dragged things out was something I wrote about a little while ago: indemnification.

In short, since part of my property is in an “environmentally sensitive area” (i.e. near a cliff) the City insisted that I sign a covenant running with the land that did many things I felt were overreaching and unnecessary. I understand why the City’s standard procedure is to ask for this (and most people accept it as is) but it contained two particular things that my attorney, Patrick Moran, was thankfully able to negotiate out:

  • A clause stating that if anyone sued the City for anything relating to the issuance of my permits, I had to indemnify them and pay for all legal fees, judgements, etc.
  • A clause stating that this covenant ran with the land and if I ever sold the property, the new owners would also be burdened by it.

The first clause was reduced such that the indemnification only covers actual damages caused by construction. This means that if a neighbor decides to sue the City because they don’t like the look of my house, I’m not on the hook to defend anybody or pay anything. The second clause was modified such that the indemnification ends if and when the property is sold. This is key in preserving value, as I would flinch if I was buying a property which transferred such indemnification to me.

A lot more language was clarified as well, and I feel like the $1049.50 I owe my attorney in fees has been well worth it.

During these final stages of preparing for construction, I’ve also completed a few more tasks and spent a little more money:

  • We had the asbestos abated for $2,335.64 by Partners Construction, Inc.
  • Some additional structural engineering work from Swenson Say Faget was completed for $2,192.29.
  • Some additional geotech work was required by the City and performed by Icicle Creek Engineers for $600.
  • The additional City of Seattle fee to complete the permitting process was $3,450.75 (bringing the total permit fee to $8,911.50).
  • Printing fees of $172.91 for some additional drawing sets.

So with that, we’re almost all set to build. I’m still waiting for my refinance to close, but after that it’s all systems go. Unfortunately, the place that is going to deconstruct and recycle most of the existing house is a little booked up right now so we may be looking at July.

It’s also interesting to note that the official amount of investment it took to get to the point of breaking ground has been exactly $78,543.85.

Costs accrued during this stage:

Structural engineering services$2,192.00
Additional geotech work$600.00
Asbestos abatement$2,335.00
City of Seattle Demolition and Building Permits (Completion fee)$3,450.00
Legal fees to negotiate building permit$1,049.00

To G.C. or not to G.C.

As design stage neared completion, it was time to turn my attention toward the construction stage of the project. My architects at Build LLC specialize in what is called “Design/Build”, which is exactly as it sounds: designing the house and then building the house. Design/Build proponents will tell you this is the most efficient and cost-effective way to build a new house because it centers all responsibility in one place and eliminates many arguments, inefficiencies, and other overhead associated with using a separate traditional architect and general contractor. Both traditional architects and general contractors, however, will tell you that this back-and-forth between architects and contractors is what gets you the best quality house possible. Their argument is that the architect keeps the G.C. honest and the G.C. keeps the architect honest… all on your behalf. For instance, if an architect specifies a certain material and the G.C. tries to sub in something inferior, the architect will point it out and make sure it is remedied. Conversely, if an architect specs a material that is 5x as expensive as something just as good, the G.C. will alert you to this and ask if you’d like to use the more cost-effective stuff.

Both arguments make sense to me and I’m sure there is merit to each. Addtionally, I can see either situation working out very well or very poorly. A great Design/Build firm will provide a great all-around experience without the need for checks and balances whereas a crappy one will deliver you a poorly designed poorly constructed house. Conversely, a good architect/G.C. combo will give you a great finished product with minimal friction, but if either the architect or G.C. is a weak link, the entire project can turn out poorly.

One thing that doesn’t seem debatable, however, is price. The Design/Build process would seem to produce a less expensive experience in most cases, but as my attorney pointed out to me, it also involves more risk. The reason for this is that in a typical Design/Build arrangement, you never sign a G.C. contract at all. Instead, you sign what is called a C.M. (construction management) contract. This type of contract essentially just specifies the fee you’ll be paying your construction manager and the fact that they will be “advising” you throughout the process. Now… “advising” includes a lot of the things a G.C. would do like coordinating subcontractors, getting bids, supervising the site, etc but the two key things it doesn’t provide are blanket liability for the project or cost guarantees.


In a G.C. contract, if something bad happens during construction, the G.C. is ultimately responsible for it. If it’s a problem caused by a subcontractor (more common than not), the G.C. will attempt to assign blame and remediation to that subcontractor, but in the event it cannot be assigned for some reason, the G.C. assumes it. This is a valuable service, in my opinion. It’s nice to know that no matter what happens on site, you’ll never even have to hear about it.

In a C.M. contract, the construction manager will also attempt to assign blame and remediation to subcontractors when appropriate, but if that fails, it’s on you, the client. One of the reasons it’s cheaper to use a C.M. than a G.C. is that the liability insurance isn’t there, but the downside is more risk for you so you need to get cool with that if you’re going the C.M. route.

Cost Guarantees

There are three ways a G.C. can bid your project: Fixed bid, cost plus, and cost plus with gmax. Fixed bid is just as it sounds: a G.C. tells you he or she will build your house for X dollars and that is exactly the amount you pay. If it’s tougher to build than expected, the G.C.’s margins suffer and if it’s easier, their margins increase. A cost plus contract basically says you will pay whatever the house ends up costing to build, in time and materials, plus a fixed fee to your G.C. (either a flat fee or a percentage of the cost of construction). A cost plus with gmax is the same as a cost plus except the G.C. gives you a maximum amount you will be on the hook for no matter what happens.

While the certainty of a fixed bid contract seems nice, I have two problems with it. Firstly, since the G.C. needs to make sure the project is profitable for them, they are highly incented to pad the number, almost guaranteeing you are paying more than you should, unless things go terribly wrong… at which point they eat it and aren’t going to be happy anyway. Secondly, change orders inevitably come up and I imagine this can cause arguments between clients and G.C.s as to whether or not the fixed bid should be affected by the change.

The cost plus method seems the riskiest but also has the potential to save you a lot of money if things go well. The cost plus with gmax improves this option by at least giving you a ceiling you know you’ll never go over. Although again, fighting over changes can surely result in disputes here.

My situation

Anyway, my attorney advised me to look into going the G.C. route because he feels more comfortable with the liability protection they provide. Although I had planned on using Build for both designing and building, I agreed with my attorney’s concerns and met with a couple of reputable G.C.s in Seattle to see what they could do for me.

It is important to note that I did not talk to any one-man shops or otherwise unestablished firms. I’m sure I could have gotten plenty of low-ball, unrealistic bids if I did. Instead, I picked one G.C. based on what I knew about their reputation and another G.C. based on some great work I had seen from them. My experience speaking with each firm was different.

When I called the first firm and inquired about them building my house, I ended up spending an hour or so on the phone with one of the principals and we got along great. He was a very knowledgeable guy and explained to me in great detail the benefits of going the G.C. route and what his firm offered. By the end of the phone call, I told him I’d love an estimate at which point he asked me to send the plans over. I emailed the plans over a day or so later and his response surprised me a little. He essentially said that the plans were “so complete” that it would actually make the project harder to estimate. I guess Build does such a thorough job spec’ing everything out that it requires more of a G.C.’s time to examine than if it were just a sketch. Given this, he asked me if a quick ballpark bid would suffice for now and if the fit felt right, they would do a deep dive. Absolutely I said, not wanting to waste anyone’s time. Two full weeks later, I got a bid from them and it was shocking. They submitted a “low end” (best case) number and a “high end” (worst case) number.

The low-end number was 86% higher for the total project cost than Build’s! And the high-end number was 155% higher!

I’m not just saying their fee was higher. The entire project, if contracted through them, would cost between 86% and 155% more. I’m not sure any amount of liability protection is worth that. It’s simply an obscene amount of money. So what accounted for all of the extra costs? A lot of stuff, including a higher fee and a bucket called “General Conditions” that essentially includes a construction management fee on top of the standard G.C. fee. This G.C. pitches their “fee” as being 12%, but it’s really a bullshit number. If you add in the fee they charge for their project manager and superintendent, it’s more like 20%. This is fairly standard practice, so I’m not implying any dishonesty here. I’m just saying, when you’re pricing a project, you need to really dig into the numbers and find out what you’re paying for. As a point of comparison, Build’s proposed C.M. fee would be a flat charge and it would amount to approximately 11% of the cost of construction, pre-tax, pre-contingency.

With this sort of cost differential, there is no way I could ever justify using this G.C. With no hard feelings of course, I sent an email to the principal informing them how much higher their bid was and that as a result, I could not justify a relationship with them. That’s when things started to get a little weird. The principal asked me to keep their bid confidential, and I told him that I planned on talking about the bid on my blog but that of course I wasn’t planning on mentioning his firm’s name because I’m not trying to make anyone look bad. I thought that would be the end of the discussion but he then felt the need to clarify that he wasn’t afraid of looking bad but rather that he doesn’t want his competitors learning about the way his firm bids and that “ethically” he would never ask for information on his competitors either.


I asked him what could possibly be unethical about inquiring about your competitors and why was he so concerned with obscuring his business practices? I told him that one of the things that attracted me to Build in the first place was their transparency, honesty, and desire to remove the mystery from the profession. He told me his was decidedly unimpressed with that and wished me good luck on my project. Very strange… and very much NOT a good fit for me, obviously.

The second G.C. firm I met with was a smaller shop (about 40 people) whose work had impressed me and seemed to build a lot of great modern homes in the Seattle area. The firm is Dyna Contracting and I’m mentioning their name because they’re just as open about their practices as Build and they said they didn’t mind being mentioned even though I didn’t end up moving forward with them. In other words, they are my type of guys.

My initial meeting with Dyna went great and when I walked out — without even seeing an estimate yet — I knew this was a firm I would be happy to work with. They are into modern architecture, their overhead is smaller than some of the bigger firms, and they strike me as the type of people that are more interested in working on cool projects and providing value than capturing every potential dollar that could hit the top line. They also seem like great “value engineers”, meaning they are vigilant about looking for cost savings wherever possible in order to reduce your projects costs and thus make you a happier client.

While the first G.C. firm took two full weeks to get me a rough estimate that went into no detail, Dyna produced a detailed breakdown of every single cost anticipated in the project, right down to the door hardware and cabinet pulls. There were pages and pages of details about everything, including an entire section on “qualifications” spelling out things like “existing downspout locations assumed to be adequate”. Like the first G.C., they commented on the completeness of Build’s drawings and even said they were among the most complete they’d ever seen. Go Andrew!

What Dyna produced exceeded my expectations as far as completeness goes, and it took them only a few days to turn around. Amazing.

At the end of the day, however, it’s the bottom line that matters most, and I had to stack Dyna’s numbers up against Build’s. Dyna came in a very respectable and reasonable 16% higher, while of course being much lower than the other G.C. Most of the additional cost was in a higher fee and once again a higher “General Conditions” bucket that included a separate project management fee. Again, this appears typical in the industry so it’s not a big deal, but you just have to add it to the equation.

The decision

At the end of the day, my decision came down to whether or not liability protection was worth an extra 16% to me. Since neither Build’s nor Dyna’s estimates were fixed cost, I risked going over on either number, but I assigned a high honesty score to each, so I assumed an equal chance of overage with either route. This point should not be underestimated. An estimate is just an estimate and if you don’t trust the estimator, the estimate isn’t worth much. Through my many months of working with Build, they’ve done nothing but increase my trust in them and when I called their references to ask how well they stay on budget, they got glowing reviews. Although I hadn’t had any experience working with Dyna yet, they just felt very honest to me (and I tested them a bit) and I’m sure if I called their past clients, that hunch would be validated as well.

In the end, my decision was to stick with Build, mainly because they have given me no reason not to. I realize not hiring a traditional G.C. is a bit of a leap of faith, but the past several months have given me the faith I need to take that leap, and hopefully save some moey in the process. I am convinced that the Design/Build process Build goes through indeed saves money and produces great results. I accept that if my project goes off the rails in a way their projects never have in the past, I am a bit more exposed than I would be under a normal G.C. relationship, but at the same time, I’ve heard of plenty traditional architect/G.C. relationships that get out of hand as well.

In the end, you need to trust the people who have given you reason to trust them, and Build has given me that in spades over the last year. That said, if you’re looking for a great G.C. in the Seattle area, I would start your quest with Dyna… and of course if you’re looking for a Design/Build firm to design, build, or remodel something, you know how I feel about Build.


  1. Wow, 2400 words. That was a long post.
  2. We may end up using Dyna as a vendor for some major elements of the project, including plumbing, electrical, and other things.
  3. Big ups to both G.C. firms for not low-balling and not responding to my declining of their services by lowering their own bids to unrealistic levels.
  4. My sample size of G.C.s was very small. I do not mean this as any sort of referendum on G.C.s as a whole, although as mentioned above, I do believe that the Design/Build process — although requiring more risk — generally results in lower costs in the end. We’ll see if this proves true. This is just the sort of thing this blog is for!

Costs accrued during this stage:

Construction management services$95,000.00
Legal fees to examine construction management contract$416.00
Printing/Reprographic fees$1,188.00

Framing complete. Sizing crisis averted.

After only five weeks, Scott and the three man crew at Alexander’s Custom Homes have successfully completed framing of the house. They will be back to install the windows and several other things later, but the bulk of their work is done… and done extremely well.

Here is the timelapse of framing phase:

Click to play timelapse

I mentioned in my last post that we encountered a few sizing “issues” during framing, two of which were solved by minor shifts in interior walls, and one of which was unsolved.

The unsolved issue centered around the feeling that, at less than 12 feet, the master bedroom was too shallow. While 12 feet is a perfectly livable depth for a bedroom, it just seemed too cramped, especially for a house designed from scratch for its owner. The girlfriend and I both felt the entire master suite was just too small so we asked Build for options, priced out. The options were:

  1. Move the entire exterior west wall of the master bedroom two feet west, enlarging the bedroom depth by two feet and shrinking the deck depth by two feet. This seemed like the most attractive option, but it was also by far the most difficult because it posed far-reaching structural problems. Turns out we would have had to re-beam a good portion of the house all the way from the north to the south. Approximate cost: $14,000.
  2. Same thing as above but move the wall six feet west instead, to the edge of the deck, eliminating the deck. This was a lot easier structurally, but losing the master bedroom deck did not seem good. Approximate cost: $10,000.
  3. Move only the section of the west wall that is glass two feet west, leaving the structural part of the wall in place. This poses no structural issues, shrinks part of the deck to a 4 foot depth and leaves the other part at a full 6 feet. Approximate cost: $1,500.
  4. Steal a foot from the already small master bathroom and walk-in closet. Approximate cost: $500.
  5. Do nothing. Cost: only disappointment.

After some heavy thinking, option 3 arose as the clear winner. It accomplished the objective of enlarging the master bedroom, didn’t cost too much, and it even improves the deck in a way, since the six-foot-depth area is a bit more private now.

So, sizing crisis averted!

There are a few very important things I learned from this process:

  1. I can’t stress how relieving it is to have a design/build firm whose interests are completely aligned with mine and who isn’t interested in nickel-and-diming me for every little change order that comes along. With many traditional architects and G.C.s, even meeting about such a change would “start the meter” so to speak. Build has been great through all modification requests and I feel very lucky to have a team that cares as much as they do.
  2. Not withstanding the above, I am a bit mad at myself for not doing more during design stage to ensure the house was sized appropriately. In looking at plans, I tended to concentrate on the more obvious questions like “where is the kitchen in relation to the living room and dining room” and “how many bedrooms are on the same floor at the master”. I really never scrutinized actual dimensions of rooms because I just figured there was a standard size for everything that would be either met or exceeded. What I should have done is physically laid out string in an open space somewhere to match the dimensions of each room in the house. Just a quick “reality check”. This lesson gave me a great idea for an invention/business that I may pursue at some point. The bottom line, however, is that it doesn’t matter who your architect is… they are going to design what they think works and if you don’t have the data to know otherwise and say something, you’ll end up with questions and change orders.
  3. In this phase of the project, I will freely admit that I have gone from a “low to medium maintenance” client to a “high maintenance” client, and I think I know why: I am a web designer. My world is not a world in which I spend months planning things with the intent of building them out to the meticulous specs of the plan. My world is a world in which you have an idea, mock something up, prototype a little, iterate, launch, and then keep iterating after that. The foundation is never set, the walls are never nailed, and the paint is never dry. Working on the web is an infinitely iterative process and designing a house is the opposite of that.

Costs accrued during this stage:

Honeybucket rental$117.00
Structural engineering services$232.00
Structural engineering services$155.00
Structural engineering services$775.00
Printing/Reprographic fees$27.00
Framing supplies$1,774.00
Framing supplies$380.00
Framing supplies$714.00
Framing labor$4,565.00
Framing labor$27,813.00
Framing labor$5,412.00
Framing labor$5,625.00
Wood debris hauling$1,089.00
Wood debris hauling$1,089.00
Fence Rental for 6 months$438.00

Coming down the home stretch

According to the schedule, we’re only about three weeks away from occupancy now. From looking at the house, it feels more like six weeks, but I’m told things come together extremely rapidly at the end. So many of the surfaces are still covered in protection and there’s so much dust and debris around that it just looks a lot less finished than it actually is. On the bright side, coming to the house every day now is a complete joy as a new element is finished and uncovered almost every day.

If we really end up being done in three weeks, the project will have come in only about five or six weeks late and only about $8000 over budget. I’ll explain this in a later post, but both the time and the budget are a bit misleading though because we added approximately 1300 square feet in the form of a fully finished basement and some other things to the project and still came in close to the original monetary and time budgets.

Things are definitely getting a little hectic as Build and the many different subcontractors involved at this point scramble to put all of the remaining pieces in place. There are a ton of things to coordinate and if I was acting as my own G.C., this is where things would really start to fall apart, if they hadn’t already.

I have a bunch of miscellaneous costs to recognize in this post that have occurred over the last couple of months, so if you have costs turned on, you should see them below.

Costs accrued during this stage:

Millwork supplies (Compton Lumber)$2,062.00
Carpentry labor (Rivera 26 Remodeling)$1,256.00
Carpentry labor (Rivera 26 Remodeling)$1,809.00
Carpentry materials (Compton Lumber)$801.00
Carpentry labor (Rivera 26 Remodeling)$2,890.00
Installs, carpentry, and general conditions (Build LLC)$11,675.00
Honeybucket rental$117.00
Installs, carpentry, and general conditions (Build LLC)$11,295.00
Debris removal (Take-It-Away Hauling)$598.00
Fence rental additional month (National Construction Rentals)$26.00
Honeybucket rental$125.00
Miscellaneous materials (Tacoma Screw)$90.00
Miscellaneous site work (Economy Concrete Cutting)$328.00
Miscellaneous expenses$387.00
Miscellaneous expenses$1,826.00
Gas line install (Puget Sound Energy)$3,651.00
Seattle City Light (power connect fee)$789.00

Final costs and stats

Now that the house is all completed and everything’s paid for, I thought I’d share some of the final costs and statistics of the project. Half the fun of keeping such meticulous documentation during construction is being able to check back at the end to see how you did.

As you can see from the chart, thanks to team Build, we did insanely great on the overall budget. Going into the project, I wanted to spend $1.1m, and the finally tally came out to $1,144,538.80 (excluding land). This represents an overage of only 4%. It should also be noted that these are total project cost numbers and include several items that occurred before the project even started and after it officially ended, from Build’s point of view (things like inspection of the property before I even purchased it and purchase of some automation stuff after it was finished). Using Build’s own tally of budgets, and only counting true construction costs, it was more like a 1% overage… even more incredible.

Even more astounding than that however, is all of the stuff that was added to the project midstream. In addition to landscaping, irrigation, a more extensive cabinet package, and several other things, we ended up finishing the entire basement, which increased the finished square footage from 3,165 to 4,618… a whopping 46%:

Going through this process, it’s very easy to see how costs get out of control on construction projects. You get 10% of the way in and you change your mind on something major. Then, 20% of the way in, you make another left turn. Then halfway in, you think you’re ok on budget, so you authorize a bunch of upgrades. Then, when the shit starts to hit the fan and things inevitably don’t go as planned, you’re way over budget and can’t turn back.

One of the great things about working with Build on this project was that we did cost reality checks every couple of weeks. Every time an element was adjusted upward or downward in price, Kevin re-calibrated the spreadsheets and we talked about what that did to the overall cost of the project. There was no sugarcoating when something went wrong and no parties with hookers and cocaine when things went right… just a nice steady march towards the number we both wanted to hit.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to pick trustworthy, disciplined experts to build your house for you. They really have your entire investment and then some in their hands. It’s even riskier than giving someone access to your bank account, because it’s not just honesty you need to worry it… it’s construction management skill. A couple of bad, honest mistakes and you could be in really bad shape.

As for how the costs broke down, here’s the raw spreadsheet (make sure to click both tabs at the bottom of it) and a graph that summarizes it:

Here are several other vital stats on the project:

  • Time between purchasing the property and moving in: 679 days
  • Time between construction began and moving in: 335 days
  • Total cost per finished square foot of the project: $247
  • Construction cost per finished square foot of the project: $209
  • Number of job-site injuries: 1 (fingertip jammed during framing… needed stitches)
  • Number of checks written: 187… more than entire life combined
  • Approximate amount rebated via use of 2% cash back credit card: $5000
  • Total number of posts on A House By The Park including the next and final one: 98

I have one wrap-up post with a complete time-lapse movie of the whole project left, and then it’ll be time to put this blog on autopilot and go back to posting on Mike Industries.