Looking to Build your own home yourself. Here are the Pros and Cons – in a Tough Economy

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by Engineer Designer on October 28, 2011

Looking to Build your own home yourself? Here are the Pros and Cons - in a Tough Economy Should you build your own home without a contractor? There can be a strong incentive for the owner to take on the building project and hire the subcontractors and buy the materials directly. Managing one's own building project can be exciting but it can, at the same time, be risky. There are booby traps which, if not handled, will siphon away any savings. Considering being your own contractor? Here are some pros and cons: Pros
  • Saving Contractor Fees - A contractor tallies up the cost of materials and labor and adds 15% to 25% on top . This covers overhead costs and profit for his troubles. A viable markup is about 20%. You can save this markup by being your own contractor.
  • Control - A building project involves dozens of workers. As contractor you are boss. You work directly with these people. You make special requests and assure the work is done to your own standards. Owners can often spend more time on the job than the professional contractor.
  • Changes are relatively easy to make - Perhaps you find a good deal on fixtures or materials. Perhaps you find a place for a plant shelf, enlarge a closet or move a door. Good design and specifications will reduce the need for these changes but opportunities to change will be usually be found. As contractor you can accomplish these with minimum hassle.
  • Pride - We have all felt the pride of accomplishment. It is a good feeling. Contracting your own home will give you a feeling of accomplishment that is nearly unmatched.
Cons
  • If you're financing your home, banks will not like it. Regardless of your experience, banks want the job done through a licensed construction company. There are many reasons: Owner-builders can involve the project in activities that the banks can't condone ranging from "under the table" deals with unlicensed sub Contractors (resulting in lack of warranties, shoddy workmanship and many other problems). Additionally, the inexperienced builder is will likely to miss and allow errors to occur that are expensive to fix or are ignored and covered up. This can reduce the value of the home. Unless you are looking to finance your own project, being an owner-builder will be a problem.
  • An experienced builder is aware of many things as they oversee a building project. Situations are noticed by the pro that may not become a real problems for several months. These can be handled when discovered. This foresight is a mark of an experienced builder. It is an awareness created by experience. If the Owner-Builder lacks that ability regarding construction there can be expensive ramifications.
  • Some sub contractors and material suppliers take advantage of inexperience. They may provide bids for services and products that are not complete - then charge extras later when you discover that a vital aspect was missing. Also subcontractors know that it is often more difficult to deal directly with owners due to inexperience as well as a "this is my baby" attitude than can be burdensome to them. Prices of materials and labor can be higher in the long run - eating into any savings.
  • Time is a factor. Contractors earn their fees. A well-run project requires lots of attention - including obtaining bids, managing subcontracts, creating material lists, monitoring the work, getting inspections and babysitting the inspectors. If you are retired or not working this may not be a problem. It is important to remember that the time you spend is valuable itself however only you can judge its true value.
Summary After more than 30 years in the business, working with owner-builders and contractors (and being both myself), I sincerely believe that hiring a contractor, especially in these times (2011) is the better way to proceed. Contractors are making deals these days. The ones still standing are generally experienced and worthy of trust. The contractor's fee saved will likely be wasted in ways that are unforeseen to you unless you are experienced in the industry. It is not a question if you CAN build a home yourself. The question is - SHOULD YOU? In my opinion, the answer is usually, "No". A licensed and experienced contractor will prove worth his or her fees and will save you money and headaches in the long run.