Posted by: Timothy Ellis (The Tim)

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market.

17 responses to “Local First-Hand Journal of the Custom Home-Building Process”

  1. Hector

    I have a brother who builds custom homes, but refuses to let me in on the secret, other than what his profit margin is. I have a friend who is building his own cabin, it’s more house than cabin, but is doing it from the ground up. I’ve been cosidering doing the same, but as you point out Tim, there is no true source of step by step, in-my-own-experience type books out there, only rare, gem blog’s such as Mike’s. I’m sure his plan is to parlay it into a book, and if so, there has to be a market for it.

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  2. CostcoMike

    My wife and I have been toying with the idea of building as opposed to buying lately. In previous posts I have been labeled as one of those so called haters of Freedom™ =). I would prefer to keep the cost of my home to less than 20% of my income. I also would like a home that fits our needs. (musicians and starting a business) I have a sizeable down payment saved and we don’t want too large of a house. We have found a few properties on the sound that are to our liking but I have had no way to compare the cost difference and effectiveness between building and buying. I will be excited to look through this as I figure out what will best suit my needs.

    I wonder how much property value has dropped from peak and by how much in comparison to the housing market?

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  3. Hinten

    Yes, yes, yes, thank you very much!!!

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  4. David Losh

    227 days to drywall and we have a saying that once the drywall is hung you’re about half way done. Holy Cow.

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  5. Herman

    This is a cool site. Anyone thinking about buying a house on a 10,000 square foot lot on a bluff over puget sound, tearing it down, and building a post-modern eco-box in its place? Check it out.

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  6. One Eyed Man

    The Tim, great post! The breadth of appeal of something like this may be a little limited but I really appreciate you’re bringing this to our attention. I wrestled for years over whether to buy property and build before buying our current house. Being able to choose the custom design and features you want is very appealing. And the idea of saving the general contractor’s 15 to 20% is very enticing too, but comes with many risks both known and unknown, and requires a substantial investment of time.

    I had a head start over most people, having worked with contractors, lenders, brokers and land developers for years but in the end, I decided to buy an existing house. I still wonder if I was smart or just too lazy and chicken to take the plunge. A good friend of mine just finished building a 5100 sq ft home with the help of a construction supervisor who acted as the general contractor at times. It took over 2 years but they loved the project. He and his wife are very bright and hard working people. Someone less skilled may not have been up to the intellectual, emotional, physical and financial challenges. I both admire and envy them for what they accomplished.

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  7. Mike D.

    Thanks for the link, Tim.

    David, because of a variety of reasons, I am not exactly rushing the project through as quickly as I could. Number one, the weather in Seattle dictates that starting construction in the Spring or Summer is usually much better than starting in the Fall or Winter (and I bought the place around the end of the summer). Number two, the economic collapse of October/November — although I stayed mostly clear of it — caused some uncertainty in my head about building, but also set up significant price drops on materials if people were willing to wait on construction a bit (it seems as if construction activity will bottom out about 10 months after architecture activity bottomed out in March). And number three, I just really want to make sure I get everything right.

    We’re still negotiating with the City over permitting, so if that gets resolved quickly and we start construction right away, I would say the place would probably be done in February or March 2010, which would make your halfway comment pretty right on. If for some reason I delay until next season, 244 may only be a third :). No indication of that yet though.

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  8. Pndscm

    “This is a cool site. Anyone thinking about buying a house on a 10,000 square foot lot on a bluff over puget sound, tearing it down, and building a post-modern eco-box in its place? Check it out.”

    I thought exactly the same thing.

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  9. Scotsman

    Great post. As a future home builder- with absolutely no experience in such matters- I find it fascinating. The process is complex. It’s great to have an idea of where some of the issues may arise along with strategies for dealing with them.

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  10. Everett_Tom


    I’ve been trying to get a handle on what it would take to build vs buy. While style wise, I don’t have much in common with Mike house style wise.. some of the post are great.

    I especially like the one where he broke down the compensation models for architects, and advice on choosing one!

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  11. Mike D.

    Herman and Pndscm: No two projects are the same. There’s probably more in common with building my house and building a 1000 square foot rambler on a level lot than there is uncommon. You still need to find the property, you still need to negotiate the price, you still need to hire and work with an architect, you still need to shop for materials, etc etc. The fact that some specifics of this house don’t match the specifics of what you may be thinking about building would seem to matter very little if you’re just trying to learn about the process (which is what the blog is all about).

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  12. deejayoh

    Mike –
    I love the place. Looks like something right up my alley.

    do you have any sense yet of what the $/sqft cost will be for the completed product (ex land cost, just construction and materials)

    I’d love to do something like what you are doing but it seems to overwhelming to even consider. Your blog is inspiring.

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  13. Mike D.

    Deejayoh: I’ll have to check the latest budget sheet, but I believe the current number is about $215 per square foot. The cost per square foot thing is a tricky calculation though because it doesn’t include things like sales tax, design fees, landscaping, etc. It’s really just plain vanilla “construction costs”. In reality, the out the door number, including ALL fees, taxes, and contingency is going to be more like $340 per square foot (if you don’t include the approximately 1800 extra square feet in the basement and garage, since they aren’t officially “conditioned living space”).

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  14. David Losh

    You are absolutely correct that things come up. Your time line looks good actually. A year and a half for a custom project seems good to me if you want it done right.

    My point is the commitment. Dedicating the time is what most people miss. You have a great site that I think people will learn a lot from.

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  15. Gary

    To : Pndscm@8
    Hows Underride?

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  16. mukoh

    Think this is a great read for anyone contemplating building their own home, and exactly how much goes into it.

    Remember it took me 3 weeks to find the right appliances myself, and then 6 weeks for shipping and so on. Know exactly what you are going through.

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  17. DIY Seattle Home Ownership on the Cheap | Seattle Bubble — News & discussion about real estate & the housing bubble in the Seattle area.

    [...] couple months ago I pointed out Mike Davidson’s excellent home-building journal A House by the Park, in which he is [...]

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