Building a house : Looking back

I know a lot of you have been patiently waiting for photos of our house finished. There are a few tiny projects we're finishing up still, and then I promise I'll share. In the meantime we are finally at a good stopping point were I think it would be fun to look at how far we've come. The two biggest questions I get about my house are how long did it take, and how much did it cost. So let's start with the first. I've broken down a rough timeline below of major milestones. Cliff notes: it takes a long time to design and build a house.

Aug 2013 - After months of talking about buying a lot in east Austin, we get serious about it and talk to the bank about lending requirements and start actively looking at lots.

Jan 2014 - Find a tear down house that fits our budget and purchase it.

Feb 2014 - On a whim decide that we can save money and get a better appreciation for the lot if we live in the tear down. Besides, we still need to save money before we can afford to build a new home.

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June 2014 - Move into our (sorta) remodeled house. See the before and after here.

Sept 2014 -  Start interviewing architects and select Bercy Chen to design our house. See how we chose an architect here.

Nov 2014 - Receive first draft of drawings back with 3 different possible schematics. See the inspiration and early drafts of our project here. During the next month Bercy Chen will continue to tweak and adjust the drawings per our feedback.

Dec 2014 - Spend two weeks in Morocco to see in person some of the inspiration Bercy Chen was pulling from, as well as gather more inspiration for ourselves. See a run down of that trip here: Part 1 Marrakech, Part 2 Desert and Ocean, Part 3 Fez. Hint, you'll see that blue again.

June 2015 - After months of budget meetings, planning, tweaking, adjusting and most of all saving our pennies we are finally ready to start building. You can get some idea of the budget process here, but I'll also do a more high level review below. We also move into a condo near by, sad to leave our old house, but happy to be done with inadequate heat in the winter, shitty cooling in the summer, sewage spills under the home and leaky roofs. It's been a long 12 months.

Aug 2015 - In July our demo permit is approved and in August, after scavenging as much useful stuff as possible from the inside of our house, it's finally torn down. Up to this point all the expenses (architect fees, surveys, soil reports, demo etc) have been paid out of pocket. See graph two below. In August we also start the application for our construction loan.

Oct 2015 - Our project appraises for the needed amount and the bank approves the loan. We sign the contract to have Bercy Chen as our builder and the project is officially underway.

Nov 2015 - General site prep starts for the slab pour of our main house. Rough plumbing and tubing for radiant heating is put in place.

Dec 2015 - The slab is finally poured.

Jan 2016 - Framing begins.

Feb 2016 - Windows and doors installed.

May 2016 - Rough electrical, plumbing and HVAC are all done. Drywall started.

June 2016 - White stucco goes on.

July 2016 - Finish painting started, other finishes are mostly complete (flooring, tile etc).

Aug 2016 - Cabinetry and light fixtures

Sept 2016 - Punch list, certificate of occupancy and move in date!

Whew! That's a lot. So roughly speaking it was just over a 3 year process beginning to end, that is if you don't count the previous 10 years where I though about and obsessed about building a home. So now let's dig into the not so fun part. How much did it cost?

I don't want to sound dodgy here, but I do want to stress that every project is different. Because our house cost a certain amount doesn't mean that should be used as a standard. We could have spent less, and we definitely could have spent more. In an effort to be transparent though let me break it down a few different ways.

First price per square foot. Our goal when we met with the architect was to build for $200 a sq. ft. So how did we do? Not so hot. We actually came in under budget but the budget we agreed to was much higher than the $200 a sq. ft. we wanted to do originally. The final number was $291 sq. ft. A few notes on that too. That does not include the price of the land, or the architectural fees, or financing fees or anything else. Just construction. On top of that, to be totally transparent, there were some things we paid for out of pocket like the upgrade to radiant heat, and all the cabinetry which I installed myself.  So where does that money go? Check out the graph below for a rough distribution. Hint: Categories start at the top and go clockwise with Management being the biggest slice on the left.

Percentage of total construction cost

I share the chart above to point out one obvious thing. Over 25% goes towards soft costs. Things like profit for the contractor and having a project manager to keep things moving smoothly. That's not to say it isn't worth it, that's the stuff that has to get done to keep a project on budget and on time. I also mention it because I feel like a lot of people just never think of these costs or don't include them when they talk about the cost of a house. To get a little perspective too, I had another respected local builder look at our plans and budget and was told they would be 25% higher, so overall we are very happy with what we paid.

So, now that we've broken that down, let's zoom out one more time for the big picture. You can see the amount we paid out of pocket in architecture and other fees was almost as much as our 10% down payment. Another way to say that is architecture fees are about 10% of the project cost, unfortunately they need to be paid out of pocket before you can get a loan to build. Also check out how big a cost the land was. If we wen't building in the city where land cost are high, that slice would be much smaller.

Percentage of total house cost

So yeah, it costs a lot of money and takes a long time. We're not even close to being done with our landscaping either, which people say should be 10% of the project cost as well. Unfortunately we weren't able to sneak the pool into the budget either so that will have to wait a bit. For now though we are just happy to have a beautiful home to spend time in and share with our friends. Would we do it all over again? Crazy as it sounds, we both would.