What are the secrets to acting as your own general contractor to save money on the construction of your home? 200,000 American families are estimated to build homes without a general contractor each year. They come from every walk of life and report an average savings of 35% off contractor estimates. Based on interviews with successful owner-builders, here are ten keys to follow to contract your home without tears:
1. 1,000 hours of planning. There are 2,000 hours in a work year, and it takes about 6 months of careful planning to build your own house. Our studies indicate that if you short yourself on the planning, you will save less money and take longer to build.
2. Written list of features. Once you start construction, you will be tempted to make many changes to your original plan if you have not thought through your design carefully. A written list of room-by-room specifications ensures good design and saves money.
3. Spreadsheet budget and expense tracking. Putting all your costs estimates onto a computer spreadsheet has the magical effect of producing project savings. You can see what you've spent and what cost projections for the future are. You can take advantage of bargains and limit damage from overruns.
4. Written schedule. Very few general contractors and a minority of owner-builders commit their project schedule to paper. Those that do invariably finish their projects smoother and faster.
5. Three bids from subcontractor and suppliers for each item. It takes time to get bids from subcontractors (subs) and compare them on paper. The effort results in an improved plan and tighter estimates of cost. Sometimes you find big bargains by looking for just one more bidder.
6. Signed agreements and lien releases. Many owner-builders have expressed regrets that they didn't get agreements in writing. A signed agreement can be your best defense in the event of a dispute. Signed lien releases, available from your lender, prohibit subs and suppliers from placing a lien on the new house.
7. Buy materials directly. Most subs like to provide their own materials, but experienced owner-builders know that it costs more that way. Buy your materials separate from labor and avoid unwanted overhead charges. When you search for materials you find bargains, too.
8. Constant communication with subs. One of the biggest problems with owner-building is that some subcontractors won't show up as promised. The remedy is to communicate early and often with your chosen subs.
9. Be on-site. Owner-building can be very profitable but demanding and is not something to be done on evenings and weekends. You or your spouse need to be on-site during construction to ensure that all possible steps are taken to get you a well-built home at a savings.
10. Run a clean, organized job. It actually saves money to have a clean construction site where tools and materials aren't trampled and lost. By keeping the site clean, you will end up with a house that is satisfyingly clean and healthy to live in.