I've been a long time member to the mothering forums, but use this "alias" because there are people who know me on this blog. hubby and I don't want people in real life to know some of our thoughts about this newly purchased property. We are still trying to figure out lots of things right now.
Anyway, here are the stats on the place we just purchased barely one week ago!!...
150 year old farmhouse (about 1400 sq feet with no usable basement)
in need of a lot of tlc and foundation repair (about $15-20k)
about 7 acres have been previously farmed for hay
House has been "abandoned" for about 2 years
Personal stuff... we have four children between the ages of 11 months and 7 years. We currently live in a small home (1080 sq feet) but all usable space with full basement. We love our home and neighborhood. Great schools, although considering to home school. half of our yard is a garden/cold frames/greenhouse. About 30 x 30. We love to grow our own food.
We are stretched super thin financially right now with the purchase of this new property. We would like to gut/rehab the farmhouse (down to a couple of walls) and redesign and build a new home. We want to move there as a family and continue to grow our own food (larger scale), have some animals (chickens, horses for manure, and sheep and maybe ducks). Is it possible to be the "general contractor" and build your own home for maybe less than 50k?
We don't think we want to fix the foundation issue in the farmhouse. For a little more money, we could build a new home! We are looking to build about a 1500-1800 sq foot home. Not too big. I just want a huge kitchen :)
Would love to know what this community thinks about anything I wrote, especially if it's possible to build a good sturdy house "on the cheap" by having us GC the projects.
A good general contractor would know more than your family probably does how to save wads of money building a house. Unless you are handy yourself, have good connections with the community for subcontractors, you cannot just discount the cost of the general contractor from the cost of building your house. Contractors have long, deep relationships with other contractors. The good ones will weed out the bad subcontractors, potentially saving you a lot of money and headaches. Our contractor helped us design the house, making recommendations for designing it in a way that saved labor to build it. He steered us away from cosmetic choices that would have required an engineer's approval. He made up the schematics that were required for 1/4 of the cost of a drafting firm.
One possible way is to find a general contractor who will work with you and your budget (if you are willing to work with your budget.) This option works, especially if you are handy and have the spare time to do the work. The contractor will advise what you can do and how to keep it within a budget. For us, it was doing a lot of the dull work, plus meeting with inspectors since our house was so far out for him. We hired a neighbor to do the excavating to specs, both for the house and the utility lines, saving us thousands and thousands of dollars. We hauled off all the debris. But our contractor did the actual building. If we were handier, we could have done more.
So, don't automatically write off a contractor as a way to save money, because the best ones can actually end up saving you money. A good relationship with one contractor will prevent you from having to create good relationships with many subs. A good general would take the question "I have 50,000 to throw at this farm for housing. How can it best be spent?" and help you work with those limits. It could be that improving the foundation and updating some electrical and insulation in the old house might be the best use of your money, giving you a good place to spend a decade getting your farm up and running. Dig yourself a good root cellar on the cheap, if it's basement storage you are looking for.
Now, if you can do a lot of the work yourself, it might be worth pursuing a owner-built home, if you think you have the discipline to get it finished. That's entirely doable for a many folks. For others, a good general can save a whole lotta headaches.
Give me a few minutes while I caffeinate.
We acted as GC building our own house on a 4-acre hayfield-turned-mini-farm, and I'm very happy with the results! I think we used higher quality materials than a contractor would. Our sub-contractors were very helpful in the process, as were friends in the area. I think it would be much harder to do in a booming economy, because sub-contractor wouldn't want to give a homeowner the time of day. But in this economy, everyone is hurting for work.
If I were in your shoes, I would spend as little as possible on the existing structure, and plan to build a new house on a different piece of the land. You will be able to rent or sell the original house, or use it for aging parents or what have you. Does the property have any out-buildings -- barns, etc? Any covered area will be very useful for future building and micro-farming activities!! Have you read anything by homesteading pioneers, the Nearings?
We did not want to borrow money to build our house, but ended up taking a "mortgage" from a parent. It worked out well. Our parent earns better interest from us than from the bank, and we had the freedom to build ourselves. (The bank would require a GC for a loan.) We originally planned to pay-as-we-go and take some time to build. However, said parent built a garage apartment attached to the house, and was not interested in dragging the process out. Also, we had young kids and didn't have a way to live on the land (for free) while we built.
Every situation is different. You are in for a grand adventure! Best wishes!
It really depends on your situation to determine what will work best for you. I hate to see a farmhouse get taken down, if it was me I'd probably be more interested in restoring it lol. I will say though depending on the farmhouse you got you might could make some extra money off of taking it down to go towards your new home budget as well. In the south most old farmhouses were built with heart pine. This wood can't be found now unless it comes from taking down an old building and is therefore worth a good bit of money. If your house is made with that type of wood or possibly some other valuable kind of wood (depending on your area maybe) then you might can make money off of the old wood being reclaimed to a company that buys it.
Michelle mom to DD , DS , & lil DD plus and spending my days
Congratulations on your new house!
I think you want to be your own general contractor to save money to get the most out of your money. Probably the best way is to actually do some sweat equity and do some work yourself. You can still work with a general contractor and tell them you want to do so of the work yourself, and save money that way. I totally think you can learn some construction stuff and do some of the work yourself, but I just would be wary of jumping into the role of GC if you don't have a construction background (maybe you have a good friend or family member with some construction background that could help you though?)
I was a little confused because you mentioned wanting to gut and remodel farmhouse, but not want to deal with having to fix foundation, are you considering just building a new house somewhere else on the land?
You could build a house somewhere else on your land but ultimately your still left with having to upgrade that farmhouse eventually. First thing check if it has lead paint or asbestos. If it does it needs to be removed by professionals (it is a HUGE process and is VERY expensive but worth the peace of mind especially because you said you have young children.) Don't think you can just demolish the house to get rid of those either, especially since your growing your own food/livestock. There are actually stories I've heard of people having free range eggs with high levels of lead because the soil around the house was contaminated. Then determine if the houses layout will work for you, if not redesign it, perhaps adding an addition or moving some walls will make it work for you. Architects sometimes design things that are really pretty but don't work so well in actual use, or come up with designs that just have a lot of waste of lumber etc. General contractors (get references!) can take a look at the plans and be able to change things around to make the design actually work in the real world, and can tweak things to get what you want, with spending a lot less. You can then move forward knowing you have a total plan, and remodel things in stages (for example doing the bathroom first, then moving onto adding a kitchen addition, etc), easier on the budget, kids, and lifestyle. If you don't have lead/asbestos I would highly recommend doing demolition yourself, you can easily learn to do that. Other things you can learn to do to save money and put sweat equity in the house: putting in insulation, hanging drywall, painting, putting flooring down, and some detail work. You will have to get the foundation fixed but if you wanted a usable basement room (perhaps to store all those wonderful veggies you will grow!) you could put a full basement under the addition.
Best of luck!