How to Begin a Happy and Successful House Project

  1. Feasibility means different things to different people. In this example, feasibility means that we are creating value. Most bankers look at it this way.
  2. A cost of 120 -160 / sf is typical for new construction. If houses in your neighborhood are selling for 200 / sf or more, it normally means that your project is feasible. In other words, if the cost of the new space is less than the sf selling price of comparable houses in the neighborhood, the project will gain value.
  3. We can determine your cost by comparison with past projects on the attached cost chart. Based on the chart, we can predict a cost for your project if we know your sf. Based on our interview, we can imagine your needs and approximate your sf. The predicted cost will be approximate but for our purpose, it’s close enough.
  4. The three steps above normally occur at our first meeting. If you like what you see, we sign my typical one page design contract.
  1. We will use the design process to tailor the project to fit your needs. For instance, if you have a budget in mind, we can use this as a goal. If you have an unrestrained dream house in mind, we can do that too. The idea is to make budget and dreams come together early enough so that we proceed efficiently.
  2. As we proceed, we’ll have a series of brain storming meetings to determine: a.  What type of space you want. A detailed list of rooms with notes about usage works best. b.  We’ll discuss your wish list and I’ll prepare some very preliminary drawings for review at the next meeting. c.  These drawings will be a graphic representation of your wish list within the limits of building code, zoning code, and the        existing site. d. Our meetings can be in person or on Skype.
  3. Concurrently with the above, we’ll need some specific facts. a.  If your project is an addition, we first need to measure the existing house and create an accurate plan. b.  We’ll also need a survey to determine the elevations, position and shape of the house on the lot, or if the lot is empty, just its elevations and dimensions. c.  In most cases, we will need a soil report to determine the capacity and water content of the existing soil.
  4. Next, we’ll create a quick series of more accurate plans and other drawings showing alternative ways to arrange the spaces. a.  We’ll evaluate the plans for functionality and appropriateness to your life style. b.  In addition, we’ll evaluate the look of the house from the exterior and interior spaces. c.  3D drawings will help to visualize and you’ll see a lot of them.
  5. After a few iterations of this process, we will have a preliminary design which shows how the house will look and work for you. a.  Our goal is an exterior look which blends with the neighborhood and reflects your personal vision of what the house should look like. This normally involves exterior views of the house, a few pictures of similar houses with the right look, and a few variations to get it right. See some of the attached example 3D sketches. b.  In the same way, we’ll refine the interior layout, look at interior views, and refine the interior layout.
  6. At this stage, another preliminary estimate which reflects the cost of the proposed house design is needed. a.  Even though the drawings are preliminary, there is lots of information we can infer. For instance, the building structure, mechanical, and electrical are directly related to quantities we can take from the preliminary design. b.  Finishes can vary drastically. For this level of detail, a standard default spec is adequate. See some of my examples of the cost estimate to get an idea of the type of information you can expect and the range of choices you have. Let me know if the default spec is not enough, because this can affect the price in a big way.
  1. With a realistic budget, and a design that fits your needs, it’s time to finalize the financing. a.  I have a growing list of lenders which you can try if you haven’t already identified a lending source. b.  Most lenders have criteria which they use to determine project viability. In general, they will loan up to 60-80 percent of the completed value, or 70-90 percent of the construction cost, whichever is more. In effect, they are doing a detailed analysis of our feasibility study above. Most projects do not require money out of pocket because the bank is lending on future value when completed. In the banking world, lending criteria can change quickly, so be careful to find a bank to suit your needs. c.  Because of the recent housing issues, appraisal methods are standardized and not subject to interpretation by appraisers. Also, many banks cannot select appraisers from a preferred list. Instead, they are obligated to the next one in line which has experience in your neighborhood. d.  Due to these financing complexities, it’s a good idea to start the final search as soon as possible. The process could take several weeks and almost always takes much more time than you think it requires.
  1. After the design is resolved, you will need a set of architectural and structural construction drawings. The reasons for these drawings are itemized below: a.  To exactly communicate all the construction details of your project to builders. This is much more extensive than you might imagine. The trick is to create a guideline which allows each builder to offer a price quote on exactly the same thing. b.  To distribute to more than one builder, for final cost. 2-3 is usually enough. c.  To obtain a building permit.
  2. In some cases, you will need additional engineering drawings to supplement the architectural drawings. a.  Structural. Unless the house is structurally complicated, I normally do this design work. b.  Electrical. For pricing purposes, I normally add outlet locations to a separate set of plans. Unless the house is complicated, an electrical engineer is not required since electrical contractors can provide this information with their bid. Electrical drawings are not needed for permit. c.  Mechanical. For permit and pricing purposes, these drawings are not required since mechanical contractors can provide this information with their bid. Mechanical drawings are not needed for a permit. d.  When the construction drawings are submitted for permit, I will prepare a final estimate.
  1. While the drawings are being reviewed at the building department, we distribute them to builders for bidding. It’s very important to distribute the drawings to reputable builders because the good guys won’t leave anything out. a.  Normally, I will submit the final estimate as a bid for construction. However, at times I can’t build because of my work load. At other times, owners would rather use a friend who is a builder, or some other reason. All this is part of doing business, and perfectly ok with me. b.  If I can’t build your project, or if you would rather have me as a resource during construction, I can help with contractor selection, construction consulting, pay application review, and other services. c.  If I do build your project, my contract is a GMP (guarantied maximum price). This is a standard contract form written by the AIA and essentially offers the benefits of cost plus with a cap. Briefly, the contract includes a contingency of around 4% for use by the builder to offset gains or losses in the bidding process. At the end of the project, excess contingency is returned to the owner. See the services section in the website for more detail.
  2. Of course, price is important, but it isn’t the only consideration for selecting a builder. Some others are listed below: a.  Construction efficiency. Efficiency is relative to other work in progress, available staff, and management style compatibility. Efficiency is also the major component of progress. Efficient progress translates to lower interest cost, convenience, predictability, and generally letting the owner(s) go about your lives as soon as possible. b.  Construction quality. At the end of the project, quality shows. Everyone knows they want it, but it’s different for everyone. The expectation for level of quality must be clearly communicated when the contract is signed because it corresponds to cost. My drawings and estimating format offer lots of clarification on this very important issue.
  3. The attached “typical schedule” outlines the entire process from beginning to end. Please review it carefully because it shows a detailed view of responsibilities for the bank, the owner, the architect, the subcontractors, and of course, the contractor.
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