Monday, March 28, 2011


I've heard it said before that a camel is nothing more than a horse designed by a committee of well intentioned novices! Ignorance really is bliss... As times get tougher there is a real temptation to do-it-yourself. Home Depot and Lowe's thrive off of this concept. So does this small burgeoning industry of "build it yourself" websites that entices you with the ideas that 'anyone can do it' and 'you'll save so much money.'

How about a second career as a homebuilder? Sounds like fun doesn't it? Should you choose to "build it yourself" that is exactly what you will have - a second career. Once you get into the nuances of things like rebar in concrete; kinds of framing materials and structural components; wiring, plumbing, and mechanical systems; trim; paint sheen; hardware etc. etc., you will discover that you have bought yourself another career. Experience suggests that you won't save money, you'll spend lot's more on your almost vertical learning curve.

Unless you are a jack of all trades most likely you will hire out (or subcontract) the parts of construction that you know are way above your abilities. Straight from the mouth of a longtime friend that framed houses for twenty years before finally becoming a builder, let me paraphrase his arguement for why this may not be your best option:

  • Subcontractors usually charge a lot more when they work directly with the homeowner. Fact: without the knowledge that experience brings to the project, most subs know that their job function will be wrought with confusion - time is money and they charge accordingly.

  • Most owners don't have enough time to devote to their project so the project ends up with the "leftovers." Most trades work from 7am to 3pm. Particularly during the heat of the summer months (when they may start at 6am) they usually won't change their hours for an owner's schedule.

  • An owner's lack of experience can often result in the trades taking advantage of the situation. Cuttin' corners to save time and money; recommending the addition of unnecessary elements for the sake of driving up the price; installing it per instruction when they know it will result in a costly change order, are but a few ways where lack of experience can be detrimental.

  • As a "one shot" transaction you remove the incentive for the sub to keep you happy. We call that 'gravy train' because most subs look for repeat business to ensure their longevity in a given trade.

From a larger perspective I would add a couple of other things to think about:

  • Most people are not well trained to spot good talent - they spot available talent. Without the exhaustive experience of having done a lot of building so you know what to look for, most people will find what is available. Not necessarily your best approach for space you are going to live in!

  • For good talent you usually have to wait. No shortcuts here. The good ones are always busy and you have to work into their schedules. This requires planning that most people are not used to.

With limited experience in the homebuilding business are you really saving money and gaining the efficiency necessary for this to become a viable option? I doubt it! If you required surgery to remove a part of your body that was defective, would you do the surgery yourself? Absolutely not! Though not as complicated as medicine or surgery a good 'ole do-it-yourself project can still be pretty complicated.

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