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Build Your Own Home, Issue #031, Ten Common Mistakes
June 03, 2011

The Ten Most Common Mistakes You Must Avoid When You Build Your Own Home

Mistake #1

Picking a building site just because you like the way it looks, or where it is located.

There are several serious details to consider when picking your dream home building site:

  • Can you get electricity, water and deeded access to your land? If you donít confirm the availability, and cost of such items you are headed for an expensive, or worse yet, disappointing experience. Even if you planning for a off of the grid lifestyle, you may want to install grid connected electricity as a back up system.

  • I agree that most sites, with enough effort, are buildable sites. But you need to do some critical thinking about how much it will cost to develop the land to bring it up to flood zone standards, optimum drainage, and foundation cost containment. Rural, or sloped, un-level land does cost more to build on, as does heavily treed, and low lying areas. How much money do you want to spend developing the land prior to building?

Donít purchase a building site until you have investigated these details. (And NEVER buy a building site until you verified a clear title of ownership, and all taxes paid up to date.)

Mistake #2

Cutting corners by relying upon a hand drawn set of plans to build your own home.

Unless you planning to build a simple chicken coop to house your family, I strongly suggest that you pay for formal plans so that the contractors can properly see what they need to do to build your own home. Many areas that involve safety, such as electrical, plumbing, and structural integrity spring to mind and I shutter to think what can happen if a home is built using a haphazard construction plan. Formal home construction blueprints take into account such important issues as local weather hazards, (i.e. earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes) and general home safety issues (gas pipes, electrical wiring schematics, plumbing gases discharge).

Mistake #3

Confusing the money in your line of credit bank account, with your actual budget.

No one is able to precisely pinpoint what your home will cost to build. This is why it is called ďconstruction cost estimationĒ. Something always pops up during construction. If you do not set a detailed budget as to what you will spend on everything A-Z, I guarantee that you WILL run out of money. The bank loans you a fairly accurate amount of money because they want you to finish and pay for the mortgage. They are in the business to make money, on the money. BUT if you spend like a drunken sailor you will run into trouble. Spend what you need, but DO NOT be tempted with every new suggestion from the contractors, or upgrade every appliance or finish in your house. That check book figure looks really fat in the beginning, but believe me, it whittles down pretty darn fast. Keep your eye on the ball and make it to the finish line!

Mistake #4

You plan to rely on friends and family to build your own home in their spare time.

Now, donít get mad. I must tell you that this is the dumbest mistake you can make. Your friends and family members mean well, and it looks at first, like a great fun adventure, to build your own home. BUT, itís real work and your friends most likely work full time at their jobs. Itís not so easy to boss free labor around. And there really is no substitute for the experience and hard earned knowledge that a good contractor brings to the equation. Let your friends and family members bring you a Coke or a beer when they come to visit you at the home building site. Treasure their support and do not alienate them by hiring them to work on your house. Hire the people who do the work every day and keep your friends, just that, your friends.

Mistake #5

Neglecting the Punch List

You are to keep at least one wire bound note pad to create a daily punch list no matter which contractor is working on your site. Most of my successful owner builders had several note pads for their punch lists. A punch list is all of the construction details that fell through the cracks and need attending to. Make written lists of the tasks that did not get done. Give the contractor the list. Remember what I have said, time and time again? Once you pay them, donít expect to see them again. They have to move on to another job. Getting them back to complete stuff is very hard, if not impossible. A punch list is a daily task, not something you do at the end of your build your own home project.

Mistake #6

Not establishing a Construction Schedule

My wife does not go into our kitchen and start a meal without deciding which food gets cooked first. But yet, a man will put his $300,000 build your own home project on cruise control and then act shocked when it all goes funky. You have to steer your new home construction project. You canít have contractors stepping all over each other during construction. It makes them very cranky. And guess what? Cranky people donít perform well. Some even give up and just quit. Yes, the contractors generally know what to do, but itís up to you to direct them when they start, and when you expect them to wrap up their work. For best results use them in the right way. Communicate the Construction Schedule, okay?

Mistake #7

Not spending enough time planning and designing your project

Itís a given that there will be some changes during your build your own home project.

But you cannot let confusion and frustration dominate your project because you keep changing your mind, or you keep saying, ďOh, I forgot thatĒ, or ďOh, I never thought of thatĒ. The contractors can only take so much change and they may ask to revise their contract with you. I donít blame them for that. Do you?

Donít be lazy or haphazard in clearly thinking out the details of what you want. Go over the first set of blue prints very carefully and make those revisions. Then go over the second set and make a list of final revisions. Set the blueprints aside for at least a day and then look them over very carefully. Mark any changes on the blueprints in red. Then make a written list of changes by area. If you are sure that you are not missing anything you really want, then get the final set done. The amount of up front investment you make at this stage, will directly translate into how satisfied you will be when your home construction project is complete. You can be very happy in your dream home, not remorseful about what you didnít get done.

Mistake #8

Moving your family or your belongings into the house before it is complete

I know that you hold the checkbook. I know that you have full latitude on your decisions. But until your home building project is complete, it is a dangerous and unsecured construction site. It is not yet a safe home. Your children do not belong where contractors are trying to work with power tools, ladders, and poisonous materials. The contractors are not watching out for curious children, they are focused on their work. You should also instruct the contractors not to bring their young children to the work site because your home building project is not equipped to function as a day care facility. I donít see a problem with teenagers being trained by their trade fathers, but young children should be cared for at home.

Also, you do not want to have to confront anyone about the theft of your personal belongings. There is enough responsibility keeping track of your construction material assets during home construction. So keep the line drawn and you move in when you are suppose to.

Mistake #9

Neglecting due diligence when hiring contractors

One of the best avenues in locating good contractors is asking the construction material suppliers. In most instances, the building suppliers recommend the contractors who pay their bills on time. When a contractor pays his bills on time, it generally means he gets steady work because he is responsible and is faithful to keep his word and re-pay his debts. Generally he will treat you right, too. Faithful is, as faithful does. You canít act one way, and pretend to be different. We act, the way we are. It can be somewhat deceptive to only rely upon past customers, or referrals when checking out a potential contractor.

One thing is for sure: if you neglect the steps I talk about when choosing contractors you can run into serious trouble on your home building project. Most contractors are good, but some are really bad. And unless you are psychic, I suggest that you follow my steps in doing your due diligence when hiring contractors.

Mistake #10

Not establishing a chain of command and a project team

Disputes always arise during a build your home project. You know the saying, ďWhen you got people, you got problemsĒ? Itís true! People are people. Disagreements will arise, but the question is, how will you handle those disagreements?

Somebody has to be the leader and final authority. And somebody has to be the support team member. Everybody canít be the chief. The ďteam conceptĒ of having no real leader wonít work. The contractors are like manipulative children when it comes to getting their way. You and your team must present a united front. Set policy up front concerning paydays, work completion guidelines, and who makes the final decision on disputes. Be consistent in your dealings. Remember, a policy is a standard answer to a re-occurring question. No matter how many times, or how many different ways the question is asked, the policy always delivers the exact same answer. Set policy and stick to it.

Well, my ďbuild your home friendsĒ, I could on, but I hope bringing up these avoidable mistakes will make your own home construction project run a little bit smoother.

Thanks for reading.

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And Always Remember:
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Happy Home Building,

George, from Build Your Own Home.

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