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Starting Your Project

The next step in getting a project started is starting it.

From the Tao, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”


We begin here. In the previous chapter we discussed the commitment you will need for a successful project.  We talked about the pros and cons of different building approaches: remodeling, adding on and building new.  You should now have a feeling for how you want to approach your project.

Unless you’re capable of creating the vision (architect), drawing the plan (draftsman) and hammering the nails (contractor) you are going to need help.  Many people can do some or all of the building process.  Now is the time to decide what you can and can’t do yourself. Each job involves a level of confidence or frustration will ensue. Let’s decide now what you are comfortable with and what you’re not.  Then we can figure out who to hire and get things going. The process I have outlined below is the least expensive way to determine if your dreams match your purse.

In all but the most complicated projects I find an architect is an unnecessary expense.  There are times when they are needed and valuable but limit their involvement to those times.  Architects are visionaries.  They can look at a piece of land or an existing house and know what will work and what won’t.  Architects are not always needed for the entire planning process.  I have found that the most effective use of an architect is to create the vision.  I will hire them by the hour to look at the project and do some quick renderings of their ideas. Some projects warrant hiring the architect for the full drawing set but for most the renderings are enough.

Architects are expensive. Their fees range from 10-20% of the projects costs and that is just for drawing. For a complicated custom building having a professional to coordinate the drawing phase is warranted. In simpler projects it is an added expense that has little value or impact on the finished project. Architects are notoriously bad budgeters. In most cases I will pay for the vision.

Now that we have a vision we need some plans to get bids from. If you are comfortable doing some of the initial drawing start with the floor plan and elevation. Draftsmen are an available and inexpensive alternative.  They often advertise in the classifieds of local papers, on Craig’s list or you can ask your local blueprint shop for recommendations. Many home centers will have bulletin boards where you can pick up some good contacts. Draftsman do not require professional licensing so they are unregulated. Do some homework and check out work and references.

Before you go much further you should get some budget numbers to see if the vision is feasible. Before you authorize the finished, “permit” set of plans it is a good idea to get some rough estimates. Visions don’t have prices but plans do. Many contractors will do a quick ballpark number for you. Just keep in mind that they are not going on a lot of information. Floor plans and elevations are hardly a bid set of plans and specifications. Get a couple of quotes as each contractor will look at the job differently. This is not the time to negotiate and offer to do some of the scope of work yourself to save some money. Leave that for later. We are looking for an opinion of the project cost. If you prefer the owner builder approach you can contract subcontractors directly for numbers. Even if you intend to do the project yourself it is worth the contractors estimate to determine the true worth of the project.

After the vision, the sketches and the budget number comes the dreaded feasibility study. This is something many overlook and regret it later.  Take a good honest look about what the project is going to do for your property. This involves getting some comps (comparable properties) from real estate listings. This can be easily accomplished on the internet. Find out what a similar house in your neighborhood is worth and divide the cost into the square footage. This give you a cost per square foot. Make your best estimate of what the differences are for example outbuildings and pools that differentiate the two homes. Take your project either new home, remodel or addition and add the projected construction costs to the existing costs (land in the case of a new building) and you have the expected cost per square foot. How does it match up. This is important in refinancing or selling your home. Regardless of your intentions now it is important to  protect your future. Many people build and remodel thinking thinking they will never move. This is rarely the case, you never know when or why a move or refinance may occur. Stay within the comps for your area. It is ok to be the most expensive house on the block – just not by much.

If the numbers still look good you can move forward to the next step covered in plans and permitting. If the numbers don’t work out you have the option of redesign or scrapping the project entirely having incurred the least expense possible.