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Building house under 100k or even less?

 
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Hello! My husband and I are looking to buy land, 20 acres, more or less, in central/northwest Virginia and build a small house on it.

We want to buy as much land as we can under 100k, with a mortgage that we can pay off in a year or two.  As for the house, we can build it ourselves or hire someone, but we have absolutely no prior experience with building. I guess there wouldn't be a problem if we can hire a builder to build something for less than 100k (which we will mortgage in addition to the land loan), but I'm not sure if it will be possible, as it seems that builders charge twice as much as a minimum, even with a very small house. It doesn't help that we need good internet at the land, as well as potentially installing septic/well/electricity. There are alternatives, such as finding land with a house, but the house is usually dilapidated or an old mobile home, and the choice of location becomes very limited. We can also buy less acreage, but we plan to live here for good so it seems better to invest in more land from the start. We can also wait a bit for building to accumulate more money, but it would be nice to move onto the land sooner.

The option of building a house ourselves intrigues me. What deters me is the length of time, getting permits, contractors for certain jobs, inspections, and mostly, my lack of experience. There are many ways to build a house, even buying or building a tiny or mobile house and setting it on a foundation. I am looking into all possibilities. And I apologize if this isn't in the right forum, but I am interested in natural building.  

I guess the question I have is, does anyone have any advice to give while I am still in the beginning planning stage? Have I missed any alternatives that I can look into? Thank you so much!
 
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Hi Kristina, sounds like a fun journey!  So you have $100K for land and another $100K for a house?  

I debated buying land and building a house but the struggle to rent or live in a camper while building turned me off.  So we ended up getting an existing house with the improvements and land we could live with.  Then we remodeled the house while living in it.

Building codes in your area may greatly affect what you can do yourself and how onerous the inspections and permits will be.  

Some home improvement retailers (Menards comes to mind) will sell you a whole house, all you have to do is put it together.  Other options are manufactured homes (not mobile homes) where you get a foundation put in and they assemble the house.  Options for natural building materials would be limited.

Building a house is not hard but it takes lots of learning and experience.  One option could be to build a very tiny house as practice in a summer.  Then live in that for a while until you build your "forever" home.  Any mistakes you make would be cheaper and you'd learn a lot.  Plus you could use the same well, septic and power services for both houses.
 
Kristina Black
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Mike Jay wrote:Hi Kristina, sounds like a fun journey!  So you have $100K for land and another $100K for a house?  

I debated buying land and building a house but the struggle to rent or live in a camper while building turned me off.  So we ended up getting an existing house with the improvements and land we could live with.  Then we remodeled the house while living in it.

Building codes in your area may greatly affect what you can do yourself and how onerous the inspections and permits will be.  

Some home improvement retailers (Menards comes to mind) will sell you a whole house, all you have to do is put it together.  Other options are manufactured homes (not mobile homes) where you get a foundation put in and they assemble the house.  Options for natural building materials would be limited.

Building a house is not hard but it takes lots of learning and experience.  One option could be to build a very tiny house as practice in a summer.  Then live in that for a while until you build your "forever" home.  Any mistakes you make would be cheaper and you'd learn a lot.  Plus you could use the same well, septic and power services for both houses.



Hi Mike, thank you for your advice!

At the moment, I would be able to buy land for 80k and get a loan to start building a house next summer for 100k, or could wait until the year 2021 and increase the values a bit with a bigger down payment and income.

I've thought about kit houses, but permits and inspections still need to be done, though this is a viable option. I've looked into manufactured homes, and I may be wrong, but the ones on the lower end of the price range have things I don't want long-term for such a big investment, such as low ceilings; though, I still need to take a look inside and see as they may be alright.

That is a good idea to build or buy a tiny house and live there temporarily, as I don't want to invest a lot of money immediately in a house that I don't want to live in long-term. The only issue is that it needs to be on a foundation and pass inspections and everything if I want to do things legally. I think that there are permits for living on a land temporarily (one or two years) in an rv/tiny house until a permanent structure is built, but I need to look into that more. That sounds good, though.

I also did find some farm houses on land that need to be remodeled, and I could see myself living there, but old houses have their own sets of problems. Anyways, thank you again for sharing your experience and advice, and I have lots to think about.
 
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Hi Kristina,

From what I understand, you have 100k to spend on the house itself.  I built my house about 15 years ago and I am thoroughly happy I did.  I can try to pass on some thoughts/help for you that you can heed or ignore as you wish.

My home is not a cookie cutter house as I had specific criteria, such as southern exposure and good natural lighting.  My wife and I bought a simple piece of architecture software and drew up a basic floor plan.  Unfortunately we could not figure out how to incorporate our second floor.  

Our solution was to take our proto-plan to an architect.  He looked at our plan, listened to our concerns and then returned with his own “corrected” version of our floor plan and it was indeed much better.  It was about 85% the same as what we gave him, but much improved.  This cost us $1200 and this was by far the best money we spent.  The takeaway is to as much as possible, plan in advance!  The more you can plan, the better you can control costs.

Secondly, check with multiple contractors unless you are really sold on one in particular.  Further, check on work in progress.  I spotted several problems during construction and got them fixed easily (I actually checked on the progress almost daily).

Thirdly, define how much you want the contractor to do.  For instance, do you want the contractor to put in a yard or will you do this yourself?  Do you own a tractor or plan on owning one soon?  At times (many actually) I wished that I owned my tractor during construction.

Fourthly, keep some money in the bank.  There will be cost overruns.  For instance, I got a quote for my house, but connecting my house to the water line was $3500!  This was not included in the construction cost and I did reduce it by trenching and assembling my own water line.  I had a similar issue with electricity.

Finally, despite all your detailed planning and hard work, expect the unexpected and sadly this will likely cost money.

These are just a few thoughts and if you have any more specific questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Good luck!

Eric
 
Mike Jay
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I'd second the architect!  I had a cabin plan all put together.  Luckily my brother-in-law is an architect and he adjusted the plan a bit and it made a world of difference.  Especially in a small space.  Six extra inches by the stove can really make a kitchen feel bigger.
 
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What about an Amish-built structure on pier blocks for temporary housing?  Those aren't terribly expensive and can be finished out with modern utilities to be just like a tiny house.  When your 'real' house is finished, use the cabin for a guest house or a studio or something.  

Old houses, as you already know, are a crapshoot.  I looked at a bunch here in Kentucky a couple of years ago when I was house-hunting.  All had something wrong with them, usually something major.  The best place I looked at (and the most expensive) was on the side of a hill that was so steep that from the edge of the narrow yard you could literally drop something and it would hit the edge of the road fifty feet below.  Difficult parking, no place for a garden.  It was on a couple of acres (I was looking mostly at places with a minimum of two acres) but most of the land was heavily wooded and extremely steep.  Nice big two story house, but the land had issues.  Another place was a nice one-story on two acres -- needed some updating, but looked pretty livable as it was. But there was a sinkhole forming under one corner of the house.  I don't know if those can be filled in and stabilized or not, so I passed on that!  Another place had six acres with mature fruit and nut trees and a couple of barns, but one section of the house had a big hole in the floor where it had rotted out, and the driveway was both in need of fixing (probably blasting -- exposed bedrock humps) and a title search since it was probably on someone else's land.  Other places I looked at had serious foundation issues, or needed to be completely removed and a new house built.  I should mention that my budget -- the houses I was looking at -- were in the range of $40,000 to $80,000, and I looked at places with two up to thirty acres of land.  

The place we ended up with is in south-central Kentucky, so we are out of the really steep 'hills and hollers' to the east (beautiful country unless you are claustrophobic, but rocky and steep, harder to find suitable land for gardening).  We've got 2.68 acres -- I'm 62, have a bad back, and am full-time caregiver for my severely mentally handicapped youngest daughter.  I'd love to have more land, but realistically wouldn't be able to do much of anything with it.  There's a small pond on the property; we are surrounded on three sides by a cow pasture which has three other ponds in it (and isn't mine, but we get the views).  We have two usable barns, a double dog kennel, a chicken coop, and a couple of other small sheds.  The house....well, I suppose for what we paid for this property, I could have found a small house in town that didn't need a whole lot done to it.  But we would have been in town.  First thing we had to do was get all the plumbing under the  house fixed -- it had frozen and was broken all over the place.  Also the bathtub had a big hole rusted in it around the drain, so that got replaced.  And at the same time the well pump needed replaced, and the pressure tank (which was the smallest one I'd ever seen).  So there went $2200 bucks right out the window.  The house had new subflooring, but no flooring on the ground level (the finished attic and stairs had new berber style carpet).  So I bought some vinyl flooring on sale before we left Oregon and brought that with us (another $2000 even on sale).  It's turned out to be more difficult to install than I'd been told it would be and it still isn't finished, so we still have subfloor in part of the house (and boxes of flooring in one corner of the dining room).  The electrical ALL needs to be replaced -- guestimate on that is around $5000.  I've got part of that saved up, hope to get it done before winter.  No heat in the house -- I bought a propane wall-mount heater, and just need to get that installed and get a propane tank out here and filled.  We went through last winter on electric space heaters, but I don't want to do that again.  The kitchen was a bare room, no cabinets or anything.  I've put in two Hoosier cabinets, a couple of dressers, and a couple of portable kitchen islands, along with one big sink cabinet, and the kitchen is good until I can afford to get it done right (and if that never happens, it works fine the way it is).  The last major thing that needs to be done is replace some of the windows.  The roof is nearly-new metal (though why anyone would put a black roof on a house in this climate is beyond me).  The foundation has a hole in it for access to the plumbing, but is solid otherwise.  So my $46,000 house is going to cost closer to $60-65,000 by the time all the work is done.  Most of the others we looked at would have either not met our needs as well as this location, or would have cost a lot more to fix.  The place needs some new paint, too, and a few other minor odds and ends.  But I guess all of that was to say that, Yes, an old house can be a pain to fix.  But I think it's worth considering, even if you'll need to hire the work done, one thing at a time.  

 
Eric Hanson
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Mike,

You are absolutely correct.  When my wife and I drew up our first floor plan, it started by me drawing a room (our great room).  Then my wife added a room, then I added a room by which time the plan was pretty obvious.  However, had we built that plan, we would have made a very expensive, ugly mistake.  Our architect simply rotated two rooms by 90 degrees and the new plan was wonderful.  

While I thought I knew what I wanted, it took an architect’s eye to make our idea workable.

Eric
 
Kristina Black
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Eric Hanson wrote:Hi Kristina,

From what I understand, you have 100k to spend on the house itself.  I built my house about 15 years ago and I am thoroughly happy I did.  I can try to pass on some thoughts/help for you that you can heed or ignore as you wish.

My home is not a cookie cutter house as I had specific criteria, such as southern exposure and good natural lighting.  My wife and I bought a simple piece of architecture software program and drew up a basic floor plan.  Unfortunately we could not figure out how to incorporate our second floor.  

Our solution was to take our proto-plan to an architect.  He looked at our plan, listened to our concerns and then returned with his own “corrected” version of our floor plan and it was indeed much better.  It was about 85% the same as what we gave him, but much improved.  This cost us $1200 and this was by far the best money we spent.  The takeaway is to as much as possible, plan in advance!  The more you can plan, the better you can control costs.

Secondly, check with multiple contractors unless you are really sold on one in particular.  Further, check on work in progress.  I spotted several problems during construction and got them fixed easily (I actually checked on the progress almost daily).

Thirdly, define how much you want the contractor to do.  For instance, do you want the contractor to put in a yard or will you do this yourself?  Do you own a tractor or plan on owning one soon?  At times (many actually) I wished that I owned my tractor during construction.

Fourthly, keep some money in the bank.  There will be cost overruns.  For instance, I got a quote for my house, but connecting my house to the water line was $3500!  This was not included in the construction cost and I did reduce it by trenching and assembling my own water line.  I had a similar issue with electricity.

Finally, despite all your detailed planning and hard work, expect the unexpected and sadly this will likely cost money.

These are just a few thoughts and if you have any more specific questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Good luck!

Eric



Thank you for your input, Eric! Consulting an architect is a great idea. I guess if we find a plan online, it may already be good enough without having to consult an architect? It's nice to custom design your own home, though. And the price for the architect that you listed is only a bit more than the cost of buying a plan online.

Your other advice is great too. I can't imagine not having money in the bank for unexpected problems and going into debt.

I guess if no builders will build me a house under 100k, then I will have to use other alternatives such as hiring contractors or building a kit house myself, or wait another year until I can afford more. Like you said, when doing some projects on the house yourself, you need equipment such as a tractor, which increases costs.
 
Kristina Black
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Kathleen Sanderson wrote:What about an Amish-built structure on pier blocks for temporary housing?  Those aren't terribly expensive and can be finished out with modern utilities to be just like a tiny house.  When your 'real' house is finished, use the cabin for a guest house or a studio or something.  

Old houses, as you already know, are a crapshoot.  I looked at a bunch here in Kentucky a couple of years ago when I was house-hunting.  All had something wrong with them, usually something major.  The best place I looked at (and the most expensive) was on the side of a hill that was so steep that from the edge of the narrow yard you could literally drop something and it would hit the edge of the road fifty feet below.  Difficult parking, no place for a garden.  It was on a couple of acres (I was looking mostly at places with a minimum of two acres) but most of the land was heavily wooded and extremely steep.  Nice big two story house, but the land had issues.  Another place was a nice one-story on two acres -- needed some updating, but looked pretty livable as it was. But there was a sinkhole forming under one corner of the house.  I don't know if those can be filled in and stabilized or not, so I passed on that!  Another place had six acres with mature fruit and nut trees and a couple of barns, but one section of the house had a big hole in the floor where it had rotted out, and the driveway was both in need of fixing (probably blasting -- exposed bedrock humps) and a title search since it was probably on someone else's land.  Other places I looked at had serious foundation issues, or needed to be completely removed and a new house built.  I should mention that my budget -- the houses I was looking at -- were in the range of $40,000 to $80,000, and I looked at places with two up to thirty acres of land.  

The place we ended up with is in south-central Kentucky, so we are out of the really steep 'hills and hollers' to the east (beautiful country unless you are claustrophobic, but rocky and steep, harder to find suitable land for gardening).  We've got 2.68 acres -- I'm 62, have a bad back, and am full-time caregiver for my severely mentally handicapped youngest daughter.  I'd love to have more land, but realistically wouldn't be able to do much of anything with it.  There's a small pond on the property; we are surrounded on three sides by a cow pasture which has three other ponds in it (and isn't mine, but we get the views).  We have two usable barns, a double dog kennel, a chicken coop, and a couple of other small sheds.  The house....well, I suppose for what we paid for this property, I could have found a small house in town that didn't need a whole lot done to it.  But we would have been in town.  First thing we had to do was get all the plumbing under the  house fixed -- it had frozen and was broken all over the place.  Also the bathtub had a big hole rusted in it around the drain, so that got replaced.  And at the same time the well pump needed replaced, and the pressure tank (which was the smallest one I'd ever seen).  So there went $2200 bucks right out the window.  The house had new subflooring, but no flooring on the ground level (the finished attic and stairs had new berber style carpet).  So I bought some vinyl flooring on sale before we left Oregon and brought that with us (another $2000 even on sale).  It's turned out to be more difficult to install than I'd been told it would be and it still isn't finished, so we still have subfloor in part of the house (and boxes of flooring in one corner of the dining room).  The electrical ALL needs to be replaced -- guestimate on that is around $5000.  I've got part of that saved up, hope to get it done before winter.  No heat in the house -- I bought a propane wall-mount heater, and just need to get that installed and get a propane tank out here and filled.  We went through last winter on electric space heaters, but I don't want to do that again.  The kitchen was a bare room, no cabinets or anything.  I've put in two Hoosier cabinets, a couple of dressers, and a couple of portable kitchen islands, along with one big sink cabinet, and the kitchen is good until I can afford to get it done right (and if that never happens, it works fine the way it is).  The last major thing that needs to be done is replace some of the windows.  The roof is nearly-new metal (though why anyone would put a black roof on a house in this climate is beyond me).  The foundation has a hole in it for access to the plumbing, but is solid otherwise.  So my $46,000 house is going to cost closer to $60-65,000 by the time all the work is done.  Most of the others we looked at would have either not met our needs as well as this location, or would have cost a lot more to fix.  The place needs some new paint, too, and a few other minor odds and ends.  But I guess all of that was to say that, Yes, an old house can be a pain to fix.  But I think it's worth considering, even if you'll need to hire the work done, one thing at a time.  



Thank you for sharing your experience, Kathleen! It seems that there are always problems to solve whether building a house or fixing one up. That said, buying a house for 46k and improving it for 20k doesn't sound too bad to me, but I can only image the work needed and time spent fixing it as you described. Potentially, there would also be more future problems because of the age of the house. I think I'm leaning more towards building a house on raw land, mostly because I'm looking for more acreage and there are more options as far as location goes. Perhaps I'll find a nice old house that I will fall in love in, so I will keep everything in mind. Lots of variants to consider!
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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I have done some building, and honestly, if my back wasn't so bad now, I would have probably chosen to get bare land and build a new house.  Because you are right, you avoid some of the problems that come with an old house!  But with all the factors considered -- limited budget and NOT wanting to go with a mortgage (our place is paid for and work is being done as I can afford to); bad back limiting the amount of the work I'd be able to do myself; and needing a place to live right away since we were moving across the country...I could have lived in a tent if it was just me AND if I was physically able to do the building myself, but with my daughter it would have been rough.  Here, at least, we've had better shelter than a tent, and the basic utilities (once we got the water pipes fixed).  You just have to make a pros and cons list with all of your factors on it, and then decide.  

But, you aren't necessarily going to avoid problems by building a new house, either.  Anyone who has built a house, or had one built, will tell you that it always takes longer than expected, costs more than expected, and there are almost always things that will need to be fixed after you think it's all done.  So it isn't quite as black and white as it may initially appear.  

There is also the factor of recycling an older home, and the better materials and craftsmanship that may have gone into an older home (not always, but often).  

My hobby for most of my life has been designing houses; given the budget and reliable helpers, I would gladly build a new house!  But sometimes you have to go the other direction.  

 
Mike Jay
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Yet another consideration is the things you get with a used house that don't count towards the list price.  Fences, barns, outbuildings, septic systems, wells, gardens, orchards, ponds and the like seem to not count towards the asking price of houses these days.  So you'll save a lot of money and time if that infrastructure is already on a property.

If I ever remodel a house again, I'll start by stripping out the drywall and insulation and starting from there.  I dinked around with this current house, trying to work with the existing finishes and it took much longer.  
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Mike Jay wrote:Yet another consideration is the things you get with a used house that don't count towards the list price.  Fences, barns, outbuildings, septic systems, wells, gardens, orchards, ponds and the like seem to not count towards the asking price of houses these days.  So you'll save a lot of money and time if that infrastructure is already on a property.

If I ever remodel a house again, I'll start by stripping out the drywall and insulation and starting from there.  I dinked around with this current house, trying to work with the existing finishes and it took much longer.  



Yes, my old farmhouse came with two decent barns (not new by any means but still usable), a pond, partially fenced, kennels, chicken coop, driveway already in (and paved almost to the house).  
 
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Hey Kristina! I’m not sure exactly what to recommend because there are so many types and visual styles of homes out there, but I think double-wide and modular homes are great for ease and speed of assembly with minimal time from start to moving in. There are all kinds of kit homes that vary in what sort of shell is assembled and then left to finish inside. I built a home last year (and part of this year) and have a thread about it here https://permies.com/t/89510/James-log-cabin-build if you’re interested in seeing what I did. It was a log cabin kit, and I did as much as I could to save money. My wife and I managed to stay real close to budget, but it took twice as long as we thought. Labor in hiring roofers, plumbers, electricians, window & door installers, floor and tile guys, cabinet installers, painters, trim carpenters etc. adds up in a hurry. These are trades and crafts, and each person will be earning somewhere between $25/hr and $100/hr, depending on age/experience and the market they work in. Each one of those that a homeowner feels they can do themselves is essentially paying themselves in savings. There may be saving in money, but if a homeowner lacks a crew of friends to help with a part, the expense will be in the longer time it takes to complete the task.

You may discover that some rural counties, if you are looking for rural land, may not have certain, or any, building codes. I discovered this starting my home build, going to city hall at the county, will all my paperwork and my contractor beside me and he had his proof of active license, and I'm feeling good about getting my permit. We walked up to the clerk, I introduced myself and informed him I need a building permit, he asked where I was building and after I answered he said "you don't need one". My contractor and I looked at each other with quite the facial expressions of astonishment. He told us a long winded story of how building permits came up for vote in an election some years back and the voters elected to do away with them. I did have to have an electrical permit and inspection (that's federal, and unavoidable if you want grid power, and may be necessary for solar but I'm not qualified to answer that) and I had to get a permit for a septic installation. No other permits or inspections were needed or done. If you have some specific questions about building, I’m happy to try and answer them.
 
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I'll just throw this out there because I am having a house built right now.  Every builder in this area will tell you that with material prices what they are right now, plan on spending $125-$150 per square foot to have your house built if you have someone do it for you.  This is for a conventional stick-built house.
 
Kristina Black
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Kathleen Sanderson wrote:I have done some building, and honestly, if my back wasn't so bad now, I would have probably chosen to get bare land and build a new house.  Because you are right, you avoid some of the problems that come with an old house!  But with all the factors considered -- limited budget and NOT wanting to go with a mortgage (our place is paid for and work is being done as I can afford to); bad back limiting the amount of the work I'd be able to do myself; and needing a place to live right away since we were moving across the country...I could have lived in a tent if it was just me AND if I was physically able to do the building myself, but with my daughter it would have been rough.  Here, at least, we've had better shelter than a tent, and the basic utilities (once we got the water pipes fixed).  You just have to make a pros and cons list with all of your factors on it, and then decide.  

But, you aren't necessarily going to avoid problems by building a new house, either.  Anyone who has built a house, or had one built, will tell you that it always takes longer than expected, costs more than expected, and there are almost always things that will need to be fixed after you think it's all done.  So it isn't quite as black and white as it may initially appear.  

There is also the factor of recycling an older home, and the better materials and craftsmanship that may have gone into an older home (not always, but often).  

My hobby for most of my life has been designing houses; given the budget and reliable helpers, I would gladly build a new house!  But sometimes you have to go the other direction.  



I'm sorry to hear about your back. I've had some back pain before and it is the worst!

A pros and cons list is a great idea, and I'll definitely keep in mind all options when looking for land, such as looking at houses too. Perhaps I'll look into less acreage if the place is private enough, as well.

Thank you for your input!
 
Kristina Black
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Mike Jay wrote:Yet another consideration is the things you get with a used house that don't count towards the list price.  Fences, barns, outbuildings, septic systems, wells, gardens, orchards, ponds and the like seem to not count towards the asking price of houses these days.  So you'll save a lot of money and time if that infrastructure is already on a property.

If I ever remodel a house again, I'll start by stripping out the drywall and insulation and starting from there.  I dinked around with this current house, trying to work with the existing finishes and it took much longer.  



That is very true! Though, I don't plan on raising animals, gardens, orchards and fences are great things to have from the start. Plus things like barns can be repurposed into other things.

It seems like it's very important to look at everything in detail when fixing up a house, as some things may not be noticeable immediately. Thank you for sharing your experience.
 
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James Freyr wrote:Hey Kristina! I’m not sure exactly what to recommend because there are so many types and visual styles of homes out there, but I think double-wide and modular homes are great for ease and speed of assembly with minimal time from start to moving in. There are all kinds of kit homes that vary in what sort of shell is assembled and then left to finish inside. I built a home last year (and part of this year) and have a thread about it here https://permies.com/t/89510/James-log-cabin-build if you’re interested in seeing what I did. It was a log cabin kit, and I did as much as I could to save money. My wife and I managed to stay real close to budget, but it took twice as long as we thought. Labor in hiring roofers, plumbers, electricians, window & door installers, floor and tile guys, cabinet installers, painters, trim carpenters etc. adds up in a hurry. These are trades and crafts, and each person will be earning somewhere between $25/hr and $100/hr, depending on age/experience and the market they work in. Each one of those that a homeowner feels they can do themselves is essentially paying themselves in savings. There may be saving in money, but if a homeowner lacks a crew of friends to help with a part, the expense will be in the longer time it takes to complete the task.

You may discover that some rural counties, if you are looking for rural land, may not have certain, or any, building codes. I discovered this starting my home build, going to city hall at the county, will all my paperwork and my contractor beside me and he had his proof of active license, and I'm feeling good about getting my permit. We walked up to the clerk, I introduced myself and informed him I need a building permit, he asked where I was building and after I answered he said "you don't need one". My contractor and I looked at each other with quite the facial expressions of astonishment. He told us a long winded story of how building permits came up for vote in an election some years back and the voters elected to do away with them. I did have to have an electrical permit and inspection (that's federal, and unavoidable if you want grid power, and may be necessary for solar but I'm not qualified to answer that) and I had to get a permit for a septic installation. No other permits or inspections were needed or done. If you have some specific questions about building, I’m happy to try and answer them.



Hi James, thank you for your tips and advice! I'll definitely look into how you built your house. Since I'm flexible on the countries I'm looking at, I'll look into their permit/building/inspection requirements more. Though, since I need good internet, I guess I can't be too far in rural areas, but there are exceptions.

If I do build or contribute to the building in the house in some way, it will be just my husband and myself probably. We are pretty strong and fit, but it will still take more time with just the two of us. I guess it really is a trade-off between time and money, though you can't weigh the fact that you are gaining knowledge and experience for the future when you do things yourself.
 
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Trace Oswald wrote:I'll just throw this out there because I am having a house built right now.  Every builder in this area will tell you that with material prices what they are right now, plan on spending $125-$150 per square foot to have your house built if you have someone do it for you.  This is for a conventional stick-built house.



Thank you, Trace! I've seen similar figures, but I guess I'm wondering if the price increases the smaller the house is? With those figures, a builder should be able to build a 700 sq ft house for 100k max, even say excluding the costs of a well, septic, electricity. But perhaps builders don't like smaller projects since things like transportation are still taken into account? As far as material prices, I read that lumber has fallen in price almost in half in the US, but that doesn't include other materials and higher wages.
 
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Kristina,

First off, I am pleased I could help you with my earlier post.

But more to the point, when I built my house, there was a lot of talk about building a house for $85-$100/ft.  But after I spoke with a number of contractors, I found those numbers to be meaningless.  You could build a very simple shelter structure for under $50/ft, but this would have no windows, flooring, etc.  

Ultimately you want a house to fit you.  Things like granite countertops can raise the $/ft drastically.  Maybe this is worth it to you, or maybe not.  In my house, every single part of the house could have made better, but ultimately the act of building a house was an act of compromise.  Since you don’t have unlimited funds, you will have to make these compromises for yourself.

Incidentally, although every aspect of my house was a compromise. I have no regrets and I love the finished product, imperfections and all.

Best of luck to you,

Eric
 
Kristina Black
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Eric Hanson wrote:Kristina,

First off, I am pleased I could help you with my earlier post.

But more to the point, when I built my house, there was a lot of talk about building a house for $85-$100/ft.  But after I spoke with a number of contractors, I found those numbers to be meaningless.  You could build a very simple shelter structure for under $50/ft, but this would have no windows, flooring, etc.  

Ultimately you want a house to fit you.  Things like granite countertops can raise the $/ft drastically.  Maybe this is worth it to you, or maybe not.  In my house, every single part of the house could have made better, but ultimately the act of building a house was an act of compromise.  Since you don’t have unlimited funds, you will have to make these compromises for yourself.

Incidentally, although every aspect of my house was a compromise. I have no regrets and I love the finished product, imperfections and all.

Best of luck to you,

Eric



Thank you, Eric! I am definitely ready to compromise on everything except things that will be very difficult to change later on. So I am ok with a very small house that can be built to have additions later on. I guess windows may be difficult to put in later, so I would want to have lots of natural light at least in one area where I would spend the most time in. Countertops can be changed later. For things that are extras and luxury, I would like to do those in cash much later on after paying off the mortgage. I think that an imperfect house is much more unique and homey than something that is extravagant. Plus, I like simplicity in a house! Anyways, I'm glad that you are happy with how your house was built!

 
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Kristina,

I like that you want natural light.  If I could recommend, I would try to emphasize southern living lighting/windows.  The reason is that southern windows will let in lots of natural sunlight in the winter when the weather is cold and the sun is low.  In the summer the sun will be high and not let in direct sunlight during the heat of the day.

Eric
 
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Eric Hanson wrote:Kristina,

I like that you want natural light.  If I could recommend, I would try to emphasize southern living lighting/windows.  The reason is that southern windows will let in lots of natural sunlight in the winter when the weather is cold and the sun is low.  In the summer the sun will be high and not let in direct sunlight during the heat of the day.

Eric



Thank you, I am definitely keeping that in mind. I've lived in both southern and northern facing houses and there is certainly a difference in my mood and sleep between the two! Plus, southern exposure is great for gardens.
 
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Kristina,

When we were planning our kitchen, our quote for the house allocated just a bit over $12k for the whole kitchen.  We came within pennies of our budget, but my wife wanted granite countertops.  Sadly, the price for the granite countertops alone was $12k.  Obviously we went with much cheaper countertops.

Eric
 
Kristina Black
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Eric Hanson wrote:Kristina,

When we were planning our kitchen, our quote for the house allocated just a bit over $12k for the whole kitchen.  We came within pennies of our budget, but my wife wanted granite countertops.  Sadly, the price for the granite countertops alone was $12k.  Obviously we went with much cheaper countertops.

Eric



That's good to hear that everything can be done much cheaper. Plus, granite can be pretty radioactive if not checked before buying it, so there are other benefits besides cost to not having it installed!
 
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Somewhere I've seen a website that compared countertop materials for how easy they were to maintain.  That's something else to consider, in addition to cost -- if I recall correctly, surprisingly, one of the less expensive countertop materials was also the easiest to maintain.  For anyone like me (housework isn't my favorite thing to do) that could be an important consideration.  And if you get rich later and can afford to get one of the more expensive materials, go for it.  I do, however, recommend getting the best cabinets you can afford.  Well-built cabinets (plywood, not particle-board) can last a life-time, only needing fresh paint once in a while to keep them looking nice.  But they are a pain to replace.

 
Kristina Black
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Kathleen Sanderson wrote:Somewhere I've seen a website that compared countertop materials for how easy they were to maintain.  That's something else to consider, in addition to cost -- if I recall correctly, surprisingly, one of the less expensive countertop materials was also the easiest to maintain.  For anyone like me (housework isn't my favorite thing to do) that could be an important consideration.  And if you get rich later and can afford to get one of the more expensive materials, go for it.  I do, however, recommend getting the best cabinets you can afford.  Well-built cabinets (plywood, not particle-board) can last a life-time, only needing fresh paint once in a while to keep them looking nice.  But they are a pain to replace.



That's a great point! Perhaps if cabinets are costly in the beginning, it would make sense to have less of them in the beginning, and add more later instead of replacing them or having lots of them from the get to?
 
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Kristina Black wrote:

Kathleen Sanderson wrote:Somewhere I've seen a website that compared countertop materials for how easy they were to maintain.  That's something else to consider, in addition to cost -- if I recall correctly, surprisingly, one of the less expensive countertop materials was also the easiest to maintain.  For anyone like me (housework isn't my favorite thing to do) that could be an important consideration.  And if you get rich later and can afford to get one of the more expensive materials, go for it.  I do, however, recommend getting the best cabinets you can afford.  Well-built cabinets (plywood, not particle-board) can last a life-time, only needing fresh paint once in a while to keep them looking nice.  But they are a pain to replace.



That's a great point! Perhaps if cabinets are costly in the beginning, it would make sense to have less of them in the beginning, and add more later instead of replacing them or having lots of them from the get to?



I think that makes sense.  I mentioned above that this house had a blank slate with no cabinets in the kitchen at all.  I got a sink cabinet (on clearance at Lowe's).  My oldest daughter picked up a section of countertop (formica type) at a yard sale, with a sink in it already, that just fit the extra-wide sink cabinet.  So that all went into place, along with a used (over-sized) frig.  I filled in with other Craigslist and FB Marketplace finds -- a couple of antique Hoosier cabinets, a dresser with bookshelves on top, and two portable kitchen islands as well as a dresser I already had.  I have more than enough shelf and drawer space for everything (especially since I've been de-cluttering a lot).  I do also have a big metal cabinet -- formerly a filing cabinet, it has doors that lift up -- in the enclosed back porch that holds canned goods, and the small freezer is also on the porch.  Now I can add cabinets when I can afford them, and once the cabinets are all in place (with temporary plywood countertops, probably), I'll finish it off with a regular countertop.  You don't have to do everything the 'standard' way.  Improvise, make it work!

 
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Kathleen Sanderson wrote:

Kristina Black wrote:

Kathleen Sanderson wrote:Somewhere I've seen a website that compared countertop materials for how easy they were to maintain.  That's something else to consider, in addition to cost -- if I recall correctly, surprisingly, one of the less expensive countertop materials was also the easiest to maintain.  For anyone like me (housework isn't my favorite thing to do) that could be an important consideration.  And if you get rich later and can afford to get one of the more expensive materials, go for it.  I do, however, recommend getting the best cabinets you can afford.  Well-built cabinets (plywood, not particle-board) can last a life-time, only needing fresh paint once in a while to keep them looking nice.  But they are a pain to replace.



That's a great point! Perhaps if cabinets are costly in the beginning, it would make sense to have less of them in the beginning, and add more later instead of replacing them or having lots of them from the get to?



I think that makes sense.  I mentioned above that this house had a blank slate with no cabinets in the kitchen at all.  I got a sink cabinet (on clearance at Lowe's).  My oldest daughter picked up a section of countertop (formica type) at a yard sale, with a sink in it already, that just fit the extra-wide sink cabinet.  So that all went into place, along with a used (over-sized) frig.  I filled in with other Craigslist and FB Marketplace finds -- a couple of antique Hoosier cabinets, a dresser with bookshelves on top, and two portable kitchen islands as well as a dresser I already had.  I have more than enough shelf and drawer space for everything (especially since I've been de-cluttering a lot).  I do also have a big metal cabinet -- formerly a filing cabinet, it has doors that lift up -- in the enclosed back porch that holds canned goods, and the small freezer is also on the porch.  Now I can add cabinets when I can afford them, and once the cabinets are all in place (with temporary plywood countertops, probably), I'll finish it off with a regular countertop.  You don't have to do everything the 'standard' way.  Improvise, make it work!



That was very smart of you to do, and I can only imagine how much money you have saved! It's easy to make it all look good with the proper placement of the shelves, paint, and decorations. I want to minimize costs as much as possible, too, for things that won't be necessary in the beginning.
 
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Kristina Black wrote:

Kathleen Sanderson wrote:

Kristina Black wrote:

Kathleen Sanderson wrote:Somewhere I've seen a website that compared countertop materials for how easy they were to maintain.  That's something else to consider, in addition to cost -- if I recall correctly, surprisingly, one of the less expensive countertop materials was also the easiest to maintain.  For anyone like me (housework isn't my favorite thing to do) that could be an important consideration.  And if you get rich later and can afford to get one of the more expensive materials, go for it.  I do, however, recommend getting the best cabinets you can afford.  Well-built cabinets (plywood, not particle-board) can last a life-time, only needing fresh paint once in a while to keep them looking nice.  But they are a pain to replace.



That's a great point! Perhaps if cabinets are costly in the beginning, it would make sense to have less of them in the beginning, and add more later instead of replacing them or having lots of them from the get to?



I think that makes sense.  I mentioned above that this house had a blank slate with no cabinets in the kitchen at all.  I got a sink cabinet (on clearance at Lowe's).  My oldest daughter picked up a section of countertop (formica type) at a yard sale, with a sink in it already, that just fit the extra-wide sink cabinet.  So that all went into place, along with a used (over-sized) frig.  I filled in with other Craigslist and FB Marketplace finds -- a couple of antique Hoosier cabinets, a dresser with bookshelves on top, and two portable kitchen islands as well as a dresser I already had.  I have more than enough shelf and drawer space for everything (especially since I've been de-cluttering a lot).  I do also have a big metal cabinet -- formerly a filing cabinet, it has doors that lift up -- in the enclosed back porch that holds canned goods, and the small freezer is also on the porch.  Now I can add cabinets when I can afford them, and once the cabinets are all in place (with temporary plywood countertops, probably), I'll finish it off with a regular countertop.  You don't have to do everything the 'standard' way.  Improvise, make it work!



That was very smart of you to do, and I can only imagine how much money you have saved! It's easy to make it all look good with the proper placement of the shelves, paint, and decorations. I want to minimize costs as much as possible, too, for things that won't be necessary in the beginning.



Talking about money saved -- I investigated prices for cabinets (and countertops) for my approximately 12' X 12' kitchen, and the estimate for DIY unassembled cabinets was about $6,000.  I spent less than a thousand dollars on what I've got in the kitchen right now, and it works.  I should have mentioned, too, that I've drooled over the Hoosier cabinets for a LONG time.  Their prices used to be sky-high, but are down considerably right now, at least in my area.  I paid under $200 for each of the two I've got.  
 
Kristina Black
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Wow! That's a lot of money saved. I'm willing to go that route if needed. I don't know if some builders may not be happy about less money/work, but being the general contractor yourself saves you that trouble
 
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Hi Kristina,

Just finished my barn home in central VA on 11 acres, 2 of which is a stocked spring fed pond, 7 acres hay pasture and the rest trees. My landlord raised my rent during the build so my builder built me a tiny house (250 sq ft) to live in during the build. It is hooked up to the house power and septic. Complete blast to live there during the build! And had the bonus to 'get to know' the property. Moved in April and now I rent the tiny house on Airbnb. The house is small (around 1300sq ft) but has an attached, insulated greenhouse which offers heat and natural filtration - in addition to fresh fruits/veggies year round! Also adds another almost 200 sq feet to the house. Because I designed the house, I wanted the attached greenhouse and an outdoor shower added in the build.
Huge savings on kitchen and bath, all cabinets/shelves are made of left over lumber from the build - stained or cut a different pattern.
I believe you can do it, don't ever give up on your dream. Do your research. I interviewed all subcontractors and was responsible to hire them as well as my contractor. I brought the builder in from out of state because I did not want a cookie cutter home.
Beware, nothing can prepare you for the psychological/financial/emotional roll coaster ride due to a variety of reasons (weather, equipment failure etc) but it is definitely worth it.
Have fun and best of builds to you!
 
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Teri Reed wrote:Hi Kristina,

Just finished my barn home in central VA on 11 acres, 2 of which is a stocked spring fed pond, 7 acres hay pasture and the rest trees. My landlord raised my rent during the build so my builder built me a tiny house (250 sq ft) to live in during the build. It is hooked up to the house power and septic. Complete blast to live there during the build! And had the bonus to 'get to know' the property. Moved in April and now I rent the tiny house on Airbnb. The house is small (around 1300sq ft) but has an attached, insulated greenhouse which offers heat and natural filtration - in addition to fresh fruits/veggies year round! Also adds another almost 200 sq feet to the house. Because I designed the house, I wanted the attached greenhouse and an outdoor shower added in the build.
Huge savings on kitchen and bath, all cabinets/shelves are made of left over lumber from the build - stained or cut a different pattern.
I believe you can do it, don't ever give up on your dream. Do your research. I interviewed all subcontractors and was responsible to hire them as well as my contractor. I brought the builder in from out of state because I did not want a cookie cutter home.
Beware, nothing can prepare you for the psychological/financial/emotional roll coaster ride due to a variety of reasons (weather, equipment failure etc) but it is definitely worth it.
Have fun and best of builds to you!



Hi Teri, that sounds like an absolute dream! When you lived in that tiny house during the build, did you have to get a permit for temporary living there or just winged it? I am not against buying a used tiny house and living on the land until I can afford to start building a house, but I don't think that's legal unless the tiny house is on a foundation and passed inspections.

And I wonder how much the tiny house cost to build? I know they can be from 35k to 100k, but it must have been worth it to see the building process close by, as you said.  

Interesting that you brought the builder out of state, and interviewed the subcontractors! It must have made for a better quality home too.

Your additions and custom features probably added to the cost of the build, but are worth it like you mentioned. I was thinking of an attached greenhouse a while ago but I would imagine it to add a bit to my budget. Besides that, do you think that there are builders in VA that will agree to build a smaller house for less than 100k?

Thank you for sharing your experience and advice!
 
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You have to do your homework. The county I built in, the regs stated that a structure 255sq ft or over must be anchored and needed all sorts of additional permits. As a result, we only did 250 sq ft on the tiny house. The shell for the tiny house was approx. 11k - not including fixtures/hot water heater/sink/frig/hookups etc. Still under 17k for everything. I think the silver lining was the rural community and super friendly building inspector who could see the structures were solidly built and not thrown together. Got all lumber for the finishing touches from a local mill, stayed away from big box stores as much as possible. For the house, craigslist was my friend - got a beautiful 1930s concrete laundry sink for the kitchen, etsy has some great finds too.
Many builders turned me down because they only build Mcmansions. To keep my cost down, I purchased all fixtures - the mark-up from the contractors is eye-popping and would have put me over budget. I found awesome artistic, unique sinks, faucets, lights on etsy (my chandeliers in the kitchen are handmade stained glass from Turkey) so much cheaper than Home depot/Lowes.
Attached greenhouse is not that more expensive - when the foundation is poured, have them pour that as well with a slope wherever you want the floor drain. I bought the windows/sliding glass door and the roofing material for the greenhouse that was seperate (approx 2k)
Without a very lengthy note, it can be done with research. I went 8k over budget on the house and incorporated alot of expenses from the tiny house into the house construction loan (running septic/electric lines etc)
 
Kristina Black
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Teri Reed wrote:You have to do your homework. The county I built in, the regs stated that a structure 255sq ft or over must be anchored and needed all sorts of additional permits. As a result, we only did 250 sq ft on the tiny house. The shell for the tiny house was approx. 11k - not including fixtures/hot water heater/sink/frig/hookups etc. Still under 17k for everything. I think the silver lining was the rural community and super friendly building inspector who could see the structures were solidly built and not thrown together. Got all lumber for the finishing touches from a local mill, stayed away from big box stores as much as possible. For the house, craigslist was my friend - got a beautiful 1930s concrete laundry sink for the kitchen, etsy has some great finds too.
Many builders turned me down because they only build Mcmansions. To keep my cost down, I purchased all fixtures - the mark-up from the contractors is eye-popping and would have put me over budget. I found awesome artistic, unique sinks, faucets, lights on etsy (my chandeliers in the kitchen are handmade stained glass from Turkey) so much cheaper than Home depot/Lowes.
Attached greenhouse is not that more expensive - when the foundation is poured, have them pour that as well with a slope wherever you want the floor drain. I bought the windows/sliding glass door and the roofing material for the greenhouse that was seperate (approx 2k)
Without a very lengthy note, it can be done with research. I went 8k over budget on the house and incorporated alot of expenses from the tiny house into the house construction loan (running septic/electric lines etc)



Thank you so much, Teri! That is a lot of very helpful information!

So what I'm gathering from what you state, it's possible to find a general contractor to give a house plan to, and he will coordinate the subcontractors (who you choose) to build the house with the materials that you also choose yourself, all instead of hiring a builder. Or is a builder the same thing as a general contractor?

As for the tiny house, my main concern is the county not liking that I'm living there full-time, even if it is during construction, though I read that a permit for this can be acquired, but it is usually for 1-2 years only. I will figure this out, but very great to hear that it worked for you, and only 17k for the tiny house that you will get back from renting it out.

I will research more into builders/contractors in the areas I want to buy land in.
 
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Kristina,

Sorry it has taken me so long to get to you.  

Since I last posted you have had a lot of good advice.  It may be difficult to shuffle all of this information around, but it is all solid advice.

For my part, I am glad that you have an appreciation for Southern light.  I find that this makes the house so much more livable in the winter.

Best of luck and please keep us updated.

Eric
 
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Eric Hanson wrote:Kristina,

Sorry it has taken me so long to get to you.  

Since I last posted you have had a lot of good advice.  It may be difficult to shuffle all of this information around, but it is all solid advice.

For my part, I am glad that you have an appreciation for Southern light.  I find that this makes the house so much more livable in the winter.

Best of luck and please keep us updated.

Eric



Thank you, Eric. No need to apologize; I am grateful to everyone for taking some time out of his or her life to give me advice. I am writing down all of the advice and experiences everyone has mentioned and will reference it in the future. I probably won't have any more questions until I actually start considering properties/land. Until then, I will be browsing this forum to get more ideas. :)
 
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Just throwing this idea in to the ring, more for the cost aspect than the natural building angle.

Pole buildings covered in steel siding have been the go-to design for agricultural building for over 40 years now.  In the past 15 - 20 years, more of these companies are helping to design and build homes based on post and beam construction rather than the more typical stud-frame on slab or foundation approach.  Apparently there is good cost savings, but this may vary by state, codes, etc.  Nevertheless, if moving to a more rural area where post and beam construction firms are common, it may be worth consulting them and some of their past home-building projects to see if it may work for you.  Were I to start from scratch, I would probably have a post and beam ag building erected first and rough it using that immediate shelter while having the same crew/business work on adding an attached building/home for living quarters.  The finished product would be a home designed with your needs in mind directly attached to a larger ag-type building where storage/vehicles/shop items/...and animals?... would be in one place.
 
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