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Monday, February 2, 2009

Building A Home On The Cheap

We have gone over RV and travel trailer living in the past, mobile homes have been discussed also. Let us assume that you want to live in a more permanent but want/ need to do it on the cheap. It is worth noting that cheap for a permanent structure is nowhere near trailer/ RV/ mobile home sort of cheap. The bottom line is that cabins/ houses/ whatever you want to call them just plain cost more.

Please check out some background by reading this post by Steve. All the good advice in it aside it got me to thinking. Three different people and their residences come to mind; I will now talk about them. Hopefully you will get something out of it. Here I go in no particular order.

Uncle B lives in a nice little cabin. It sits in a mid sized town that was small 20 years ago. The origin of the cabin is kind of a funny story. Grandpa was in construction and was building a park which included demolishing the structures that were on the land. He had a lot adjacent to the family home where they had a barn and kept the horses. Grandpa chose the best of the cabins on the land he was working on, sawed it in half with a chainsaw put it on a truck and drove it to the land in the middle of the night. This structure is fairly small but ingeniously designed to have a lot of space.

The cabin is about 20' x 35'. It has two small (queen bed, desk, dresser, small closet and its full) bedrooms on the left side that are about 10 feet wide. The little bit of space on the left side between the wall of the middle bedroom and the north wall was a tiny bathroom. The remaining space was split up with about 25' of living room and the rest was the kitchen. A brick fireplace is in between the two spaces. It looks like at one time the oven might have been attached but it was replaced by a gas oven. Later on a laundry room was added which tacked about 10 feet onto the end of the place. This place has pretty much everything you need and could be built pretty cheaply. My uncle and I were talking (he is a contractor) about homes and I gave this floor plan some serious thought. We agreed that adding a loft (very cheap space) would help out a lot. Admittedly in the cabin storage is somewhat short but between the barn and assorted outbuildings (one of which is basically a small apartment without a bathroom) there is plenty of space to put stuff.

This place has three lessons for me. First sometimes you can get a place just for moving it. This is of course more economic if you have the truck and such to move a place. However if that is your only expense for getting a livable structure it is worth looking into. The big thing in this is that for it to be cost effective the structure probably needs to be pretty close to your home site. Certainly not an answer for every situation but it is worth keeping in mind. The second lesson is that to a certain degree the floor plan and its livability are more important then total square footage. The third lesson is that if you have enough space on your lot additional storage space can always be added later on as funds allow. The cabin started with a tiny porch and no laundry room. After it became Grandmas full time residence I think the laundry room came pretty quickly. A few years later Pa and my uncles all got together and built a car port and a wrap around deck. Build a small place now, a shed in a year or two, a barn a few years later, maybe another room or two down the road, etc.

The second place is probably the smallest and almost definitely the cheapest. It belongs to one of Uncle B's friends who we will refer to as J. He owns ten beautiful acres of woods with an amazing view. He got the land about 20 years ago for a darn good price. He lives in an A frame. No foundation and no septic. He has a grey water system and an outhouse. To be honest I am not sure if there was a single permit involved in the place getting built. In any case the work was done by him, I imagine Uncle B and a friend or two. He has a nice barn also which stores all manner of things. The morale I learned from this place is that if you are willing to adjust your lifestyle (he has an outhouse) then substantial savings can be made.

The third place is the one I know the most about as it was recently built by a friend of mine. His folks have 40 acres they inherited and he was given a couple to build a house on. He of course has access to the rest should he want to have a cow or something. Most likely he would just get more involved in his parents rather substantial efforts (cows, pig, chickens) and have a piece of the rewards.

My friend built what could be best described as a studio house. Pretty simple layout with a bedroom in one corner, the bathroom kitty corner to the bedroom with the kitchen on the same wall to make plumbing easier. A wood stove sits by the doorway and the rest of the place is open. It sits on a slab and there is a small mud room in which the washer and dryer live. If I recall correctly he built the place for $45,000.

It took him about a year to build partially because he built as he could pay for materials. He thus owns the place free and clear. Being a union machine operator and generally a handy guy who knows lots of other handy guys he was able to get everything but the septic system and the plumbing done for trade or greatly discounted cash prices.

The good part of this plan is that he got the place for significantly less then it would have cost to have someone else build it. The bad sides are numerous but it is a question of what is important to you. When you get cabinets and such from leftovers at a great discount some weird combination's come up. When people are doing work for free or lower cash rates they show up when they can and feel like it. This means stuff takes a lot longer then if someone is there all day long. Expect to have lots of pauses while waiting for someone to come and finish their piece of things.

The building process being far lengthier is a big problem if you are paying rent/ mortgage/ whatever somewhere else. Paying for two places to live puts a strain on all but the biggest budgets. Living on site in a travel trailer/ barn (tent if you are a bachelor and the climate is mild enough) would be a good option. A friend of his who I don't know was building a place in the same manner and having serious financial problems because he was paying rent. My friend probably would have done things differently if he didn't have a room in his folks place. The bottom line is that he got far more of a place for his cash then through any other means. He did concede that if his time was factored in the cost would be far higher and really it was a pain in the ass. When he adds on two more bedrooms and a family room in a few years he is going to just have a contractor do the work.

I guess the biggest thing to keep in mind is that you need to think outside of the box to really cut costs. Thinking outside of the box means making sacrifices in some form or another. It is just a question of what you are willing to live without. Doing the average thing and getting a loan which you use to purchase a turn key home or having one built is going to lead to an average sized mortgage and all that comes with it.


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