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Building Castles Scott Schnaars 1

Building
Castles

How My Wife & I


Remodeled Our House,
Ahead of Schedule,
Almost Under Budget &
Didn't Lose Our Minds
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© Scott Schnaars, 2008

This book costs $5 USD. If you were able to get a copy for free, good for you. If you could, though,
please forward it along to a handful of people that you think would enjoy it.

This ebook is protected under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works
3.0 United States license. Please feel free to share it, print it or copy it.

The full contents of this book are available for free at http://www.building-castles.com

The blog that I kept while we built our house is http://scottshouse.wordpress.com

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Thanks for reading. Good luck with your project.


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In early 2006, my wife and I embarked on one of the most interesting projects that one can do, a full
knock down and rebuild of our dream house.

Despite all of the horror stories that we heard about contractors slipping, being over due and over
budget, we experienced very little frustration and consider our project to be a huge success.

In the end, we moved into our dream house two weeks ahead of schedule and only 8% over budget,
including landscaping, blinds, an entertainment center & an alarm system.

This ebook presents a simple guide to the steps that we took to achieve our dream. While we don’t
guarantee that this is the one roadmap to success, we do feel that by taking the time early to plan out
exactly what it is that you want to do, you will find the entire process to be less stressful on you, your
relationships with your significant other & contractor and you will be in your home more quickly.

Our perspective is based on our remodel. All projects are going to be different.

Our original home was slightly over 1,000 square feet of 1940’s nostalgia. The roof was starting to leak,
the plumbing was outdated and full of sediment, the electrical system could barely handle modern
appliances, the windows were drafty and with the addition of a second child, we were a bit cramped.

When we finished, we ended up with a mid-high end home, just over 2,100 square feet and, crucially, 2
bathrooms.
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Before
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After
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A Rough Calendar of Events

April 2001: Purchase our Home


April 2001: December 2005 - Read every home design and improvement magazine
published in English (and a few that weren’t). Cut out many, many pictures and put them
into folders by room.
March 2006: Hire architect, make many iterative designs
July 2006: Pick contractor; get plans approved by city
August 2006: Yikes! Where are we going to live? Identify and pick out an apartment.
September 2006: Get loan approved (important)
October 22, 2006: Move into temporary housing
October 31, 2006: Had an awesome demolition / Halloween party. Let the kids paint and
color on the walls and ride bikes inside.
November 1, 2006: Begin demolition
December 2006: Begin construction
December 2006 - May 2007: Pick out lots and lots and lots of things that you’ve never
thought of
May 15, 2007: Move In!!! - 2 weeks ahead of schedule
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W hat you are about to undertake may be the most stressful process of your life.

In essence, depending your project, you are entering into a 12 month, or longer, marriage with someone
who is a complete stranger (your contractor). Like any strong relationship, it is not something to be
entered into lightly. It requires a commitment from both parties

Our biggest piece of advice is to know exactly what you want prior to the first nail being driven. Not just
how you want it to look from the outside, but what the plumbing fixtures look like. What type of face
plates do you have on your outlets? Knobs or pulls in the kitchen? Hard wood or carpet? Does your
existing furniture match the style of house you want to build? How does your vision flow? Is your
master bedroom far away from your kids? Is your garage near your kitchen?

Even before your architect touches pencil to paper, know 90% of what you want. These are just a few of
the multitude of decisions that we faced during the build process.

They say that a stitch in time saves 9, spending an extra few months, really and truly thinking about what
you want the minutia of the home to look like will save many stitches, as well as less time living in your
temporary housing.. It seems like it makes sense, but we have been amazed at how many people we’ve
met that have told us how not knowing what type of stone they wanted for their fireplace delayed their
project by a few weeks.
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Once you start thinking about ideas, you have to know what to do with them. Our recommendation is to
put them in a folder. In the early stages of your project, you really shouldn’t have a budget, but simply
ideas. If you want a $50,000 Lacanche range, but are on a $500 Sears range budget, cut out the picture
anyway.

We purchased a 13 section file folder and labeled it for every area of the house. Exterior, kitchen, living
room, master bedroom, master bath, laundry room, kitchen, office, garage & kids rooms. We also had
sections for landscaping, contractors & finance.

For 3 years, we contributed to this folder. Each time we saw something in a magazine that we liked, we
cut it out and put it in the appropriate folder. We kept a digital camera in the car. When we saw a house
or landscaping that we liked, we took a picture of it and put it in the appropriate folder.

We would regularly swing by open houses and grab ideas from new homes. Again, we’d take pictures
and put them in the folder.

Periodically, we’d go through the folder to take things out that we had the time to think about and
decided that we didn’t like. When it came time to bid our job, we were able to present our folder to each
of the contractors that we spoke with and say “We want this.”

Sunset
Home Improvement
Looking for Ideas? Real Simple
Renovation Style
Read These Magazines Blueprint
Living
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Why do all this? At some point, your contractor will ask you to pick something out, interior doors, for
example. She will also probably say that you need to have your interior doors picked out by a specific
date, so that they are ready to install by another specific date.

People who build homes for a living understand build and shipping times. They tell you to order doors
by a specific date because they understand that it will take 4 – 6 weeks to have the doors delivered to
the site. It will probably be sooner, but assume and plan for the worst. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

What inevitably happens is life. Usually you get 2 – 3 weeks to make a decision about interior doors.
Normally, this would be a tremendous amount of time, but really, here is what happens. The door place
closes at 5, so you need to find a day that you can skip late afternoon meetings. It is the middle of your
kid’s soccer season, so you need to work around game schedules on Saturday morning. You don’t want
to make a solo decision.

Now, it has been 2 weeks and it is the last night for you to make a decision on your interior doors. You
get to the supplier only to be presented with 1,000 different types of interior doors. You spend 2 hours
walking around a giant warehouse that looks like a Dali nightmare, only to leave with a bunch of
brochures and no decision.

You are now late. Your contractor has a very defined project plan and wants to have interior doors
installed on X date. In order to meet X date, you needed to order your doors much earlier.

If you had only cut out that picture of the doors that you wanted. You’d be able to show up at the door
supplier with your pictures, explain that you want something that looked just like the one that you picked
out (as long as it fits your budget), and place your order.
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S ince we are on the subject of how contractors work, here is a high level to keep in mind. In
essence, it is project management. While they are building your dream house, they are building dream
houses for several other people too. They are trying to keep a tight schedule to get everyone into their
dream homes on time.

If you miss a deliverable, your contractor isn’t going to miss his deliverables for other clients. Missing a
deliverable, like your windows, even if just for a day, has exponential repercussions. You miss by one
day, but your contractor’s window guy has X date on his calendar for installation. He is booked solid for
2 weeks after that, thus your one day door miss results in just the window guy being put off schedule by
2 weeks.

There are so many variables dependent on your window guy being on time. Trim, exterior siding,
insulation. If your window guy is late, the other sub-contractors won’t be able to do their jobs until their
windows are in.

As you can see, while you’d think that being one day late would be no big deal, the end result is that one
day delay can cause you to miss being able to move into your house on the original date promised
significantly.

Long story short, know what you want and be able to pick it out well in advance of the due date. It will
make your life less stressful, it will make your suppliers happier and, most importantly, keep your
contractors on schedule.
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Paying For It All


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I f you are independently wealthy and don’t really care about money, you can skip this section.

Aside from knowing what you want to do in your remodel, how you are going to pay for the project and
staying within budget is the most important aspect of remodeling a home. Picking out expensive
accessories is a lot of fun, but it is easy to exceed any budget.

Devising a Budget
When we first started to talk with contractors, we had a number in mind. Let’s call it 100*. We arrived at
100 based on conversations that we had with friends, rumors we had heard, looking at websites and
jubilant optimism.

More scientifically, we arrived at 100 based on things like how much we had in savings, how much we
were saving each month, income, and projected income increases. It was our original intention to not
take a loan and pay for this project using more or less (more) all of our savings (or some derivative of
said plan based on tax implications).

At this point, we hadn’t actually thought about things like cabinet material, floor material, quality of
windows, type of roof, etc. We were just thinking that roughly 2,000 square feet should cost 100.

Then we had our meeting. It turns out that if we wanted things like double pane windows, insulation,
floors that were something other than ply wood and custom cabinets that weren’t recycled cardboard
boxes, that 100 was a little off. The first contractor that we met with gave us a rough ball park of 300.

*
100 is a generic number that I use when representing costs. It represents 100% of the total cost of the project.
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Wow! That was a harsh reality check. We had a similar casual conversation with another contractor.
This time the number was about 225. We were going in the right direction, but it was clearly time to
reevaluate 100.

Which we did. With a lot of reservation.

At this point, we had to truly figure out how much money we had and how much we could afford to
borrow. Next, we needed to figure out how much we wanted to borrow. Fortunately, the two numbers
were within about 5% of one another.

I look at our home as an investment. We purchased our house in 2001. Like a lot of people in Silicon
Valley, we have been fortunate enough to have weathered the storms in that our property values have
pretty consistently gone up. Even during the sub-prime crisis of 2007, our area took only a very minor
hit. In short, we had some equity in the house. We did not have 300 in equity, but we did have close to
it.

250 became the new 100. 250 was all in, too. 250 had to cover construction, landscaping, furniture,
rent (we bulldozed), hiccups, changes in our minds, the idea of falling in love with something out of
budget. 250 was all that we had. 250 was also the idea of no lavish vacations, no fancy restaurants, no
golf, no clothing binges. It isn’t top ramen, but it is close.

We met an appraiser and talked about what we wanted to do. She explained that based on the project,
the neighborhood, the market and a bunch of other variables, that, should things stay the same, the
equity in the home would probably go up slightly at move in.
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In other words:
Current loan on the house = X
Current equity in the house = Y
Total cost of the project = 100 (the new 100)
New loan = X+100
New value of the home = X+100+Y+~5%

We would be taking on a lot of debt. More than perhaps we were comfortable with, however, we
recognized that our existing equity would stay fairly safe and we’d make an immediate 5%. Over the
next few years, we only see property value in our neighborhood going up (with peaks and valleys, but
generally up). We felt that, in the absolute, most awful scenario, we would be homeless with Y+
whatever increase we saw in the bank. Hardly the worst position to be in.

We started to work with a loan agent.

Procuring a Loan

L ike any major financial commitment, getting a home loan is pretty stressful. Think of it this way:
your biggest, most expensive purchase, is about to be destroyed by a total stranger and you are on the
hook for the money. Good times.

Adding to the stress is that there are so many loan variations for doing a home remodel. Primarily, there
are home equity loans, where you are borrowing against the current value of the home and construction
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loans, where you borrow against the future value of the home. From there, you have all sorts of
products and time frames that you can choose from. You’ll need to pick what works best for your
budget.

What we discovered was that most banks will only lend you a certain percentage of the value of the
equity in your home. Typically about 80%. Thus, if we had Y in equity, we would be able to get 80% of
Y. There are some advantages to getting this type of loan. It is usually a little bit cheaper and you can
spend the money on anything from lumber to insulation to a plasma TV. One of the major drawbacks is
that you have to pay the money back as you withdraw funds. In other words, we would have had to pay
mortgage, rent & new mortgage based on the draws that we incurred. Not realistic. Also, in running the
numbers 80% of Y didn’t get us into our dream house.

Construction loans tend to be short-term loans in the range of 12 months, depending on your project, but
also will be more expensive. In most cases, we found, that we could withdraw from the loan, but not
make payments until our time frames was up. It was really helpful for us in that we wouldn’t have to pay
mortgage and rent at the same time. The drawback, while it sounds minor, was that we could only use
this money for construction of the structure being built. This means that we could not use the money for
furniture or landscaping. Construction loans are also usually only given in the amount of the original bid
by your contractor. Thus, if your contractor says that your build will be 100, your loan will be for 100.
Don’t go over budget.

The other beauty of a construction loan is that in order for the contractor to get the money, the bank
needs to approve what was done. We aren’t builders. I’m handy, but fixing a sink and framing a house
are two totally different universes. We liked the idea of someone coming on site regularly and making
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sure that things were going according to plan prior to cutting a check. With an equity line of credit, you
are responsible for making sure that things are done properly. Yikes!!!

The end result? We went with two loans. Go big or go home, right? We took out a construction loan to
pay for the building of the house and, towards the end of construction, took out a line of equity to pay for
landscaping, furniture and a melee of things that weren’t included in the original proposal.

Hidden Costs
The hidden costs of doing the house got to be pretty sizable. I use the terms hidden because, while we
knew about them, they weren’t included in our original bid. Using my 100 scale, this is about what we
ended up paying for things that weren’t included in the bid:
• Landscaping: 10 – We went really cheap too. I know people who have spent over $100,000 on
landscaping. To me, that is just silly talk.
• Fixtures (lights, towel racks, knobs): 2 – You don’t realize how many exterior light fixtures you
have until you have to buy them.
• Window coverings: 1
• Entertainment system / security system: 1
• Furniture: 2 – 3
• Fees: 5 – This really varies from city to city. San Jose is pretty inexpensive when it comes to these
things, but it is still quite a bit of a hit. Prepare for 5 – 10% of your cost to go to licenses, fees, etc.

You can see, it adds up. If you are doing a full tear down, expect a good 20 – 25% of the cost won’t be
in your contractors bid.
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The Architect
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W e went about picking our architect a bit backwards from the normal process, but I believe that it is
a good strategy and that it worked out really well. I’ll be the first to admit that we also got a bit lucky, too.
The first thing that we did in our process was to find a half a dozen or so homes that were recently built
and find out who the contractor on the job was. Hopefully, we were alert enough to note who the builder
was before the family moved in, but in some cases, we just knocked on doors and asked “Who built your
house?”

Once we compiled a list of builders, we began calling them and, after explaining our project asked “Can
you recommend an architect?” In four cases, they recommended the same person. That is who we
went with.

I don’t know if this is the right strategy, but our thinking was that we would end up choosing one of the
contractors that we called, so we wanted to ensure that our architect and our builder would work well
together.

Of course we did the typical due diligence, but in the end, we got an architect that helped design a great
home and worked well with our builder. Often times your architect is the one who will get the plans
approved from the city. During your diligence, you want to make sure that your architect has a good
relationship with that department as plans can sit in bureaucracy for weeks or longer. If you have an
idea, you can’t ask for more than that.
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Designing a Home

A s I’ve mentioned, we had a lot of time to think about what it is that we wanted our house to look
like. We wanted what could only be referred to as neuvo-Craftsman. We wanted the look of a
Craftsman home, but wanted the comforts of a modern home.

Designing a house, from the ground up, is like free time in art class. You can pretty much do anything
and your only parameters are physics and budget. As a geek, I even got to play with the design
software a bit. It made a great error noise when you tried to do something that broke the laws of
physics.

Remember the pictures that I suggested that you cut out and take when you are out and about dreaming
of your house. This is where you want to break them out. Show your architect the pictures and explain
what you like and what you don’t like. Tell her that you love the windows, but not the frame around
them. You love the porch, but not the pillars. Be honest, the owners of those homes aren’t in the room,
fire away.

We started with vellum, a thick, tracing paper like material, and an outline of our existing floor plan. We
then took Sharpies and drew out what we wanted. Rick, our architect, would look at it and offer some
guidance around things like “You have your master bedroom behind your garage, but your kid’s rooms
are on the other side of the house. It doesn’t flow very well and if there is an emergency, it will be tough
to get from one side of the house to the other.” Back to the drawing board.
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After about 5 – 6 iterations of this, we were getting close to our dream house, at which point, Rick began
to put mouse to pad and design our house that we sketched out. Now our limitations were physics,
budget & the fair City of San Jose.

Like most cities, San Jose has some pretty stringent guidelines. Easements, how far the house can be
from the garage, how wide a driveway can be, what level of foundation you need for a chimney. All sorts
of weird stuff that no one ever thinks of unless they are trying to get plans approved by the city. Rick
knew them very well and helped navigate these waters.

Then came the details. How wide do you want your kitchen island to be? Do you want the shower head
on the left side or right side when you are looking at it? Do you want the toilet to be here or here? Are
you right or left handed (it makes a difference with toilet placement)? Do you want 6 lights in the kitchen
or 8? Do you want this hallway to be 4 feet wide or 3.5 feet? Your front porch as a drop off of 9 inches,
that requires a step, do you want it half way and have 2 small steps or one large step at _ way? Ugh,
the details.

But we managed.

Pick Your Priorities

W e went to meet our architect knowing exactly what we wanted. Not just the main layout of the
house, but all of the little nuances as well. Like I said, a neuvo-Craftsman. We also wanted a big claw
bathtub, a giant walk-in closet, a wrap around porch, a theater, a moat and a helipad. What we got was
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a little different. In the end, it came down to what our priorities were. We identified the three most
important things to us and we settled on those.

We based our priorities on how we live, our budget and what would add the most value to the house. I
didn’t get my moat due to the city. We decided that a medium sized closet and no bathtub in the master
bedroom would be more enjoyable than a tiny closet with one.

Your priorities will be, of course, up to you. Go into the design process with an open mind and a long list
of wants, but during the process, whittle away at your list to get to the things that are most important to
you and your family. Do you entertain a lot? Perhaps a bigger kitchen. Do you have kids over a lot,
maybe a bigger mudroom. I’m assuming that if you are reading this, than you can’t have everything.
Prioritizing what is most important to you will help to keep you in budget and get as close as you can to
the dream home you’ve always wanted.

Can We Afford It?

W hen we were about 90% finished with our drawings, but prior to them going to the city, Rick
suggested that we take our drawings to some contractors to make sure that what we have designed fits
within our budget.

It was a great suggestion as it opened our eyes to even more details that we, of course, hadn’t thought
of before. What kind of flooring did we want? Cherry is much more expensive than pine. What kind of
roofing did we want? If you want tile, you need to put more into the foundation and support to hold the
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weight. What kind of cabinets do you want? Paint is less expensive than stain. What kind of
appliances? Stucco versus siding.

All of these things would make a big difference to our budget. If we wanted 12” plank, cherry flooring
with a mahogany inlay, we would have a hard time meeting our budget. If we wanted a 60”, restaurant
quality refrigerator, we would have a tough time meeting our budget. If we wanted 3” plank floors and a
normal refrigerator, we would probably be under budget. We needed to find that middle ground of the
look that we loved at the cost we could afford.

Pretty much everything that you can see in the house can be purchased at 3 levels: expensive, more
expensive and are you serious? The challenge is to identify what is important to you and what isn’t.

We started with grandiose dreams. But when you look at the cost of a 48” range versus a 36” range
versus a 28” range, you really start to ask yourself how much you cook. In that case, the difference can
be several thousand dollars. For us, having an extremely high end range wasn’t important. So we
downgraded our range and reallocated the money into windows, which is something that we felt would
not only add value to the home in terms of aesthetics, but would also better insulate the home.

During the process, we had several conversations with several different contractors. Each time going
back and forth taking things off of the list and adding new items to it. Each time weighing what is
important to us. $500 towel bars were not important to us. Towel bars should be $50 or less. We were
able to move that money to something more important to us.

Ultimately, we had 3 bids that were in the range of what we could afford (the new 100) and went back to
Rick to finish the plans and submit them to the city.
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The Builder
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A s I mentioned before, going into a relationship with a builder is not something to be taken lightly.
As I’ve mentioned before, you are essentially paying a total stranger a tremendous amount of money to
more or less destroy your house. You want to be certain that the person that you pick is someone that
you have a high degree of confidence that your contractor will put it back together.

You want to love their work, but you also want to be sure that they won’t take your money and run, that
they won’t come in at 2x their quote and that they will finish pretty close to on time.

We found our builder in more or less the traditional manner. We asked around. Then we asked some
more. We asked anyone in our neighborhood who they worked with, why, who they considered, why
they didn’t go with that builder, if they were going to do it again, who would they use & why. Over the 2
– 3 years prior to beginning our process, we asked this question; probably to the point of annoyance.

The beauty of this, over a long period of time, is that you begin to hear some consistent responses. So
and so is really fast, but their finish work is shoddy. ABC was on time, but way over budget. XYZ took
my money and ran to Mexico (we actually did hear one story like this). Buildco delivered on time and on
budget. And so on and so on, but hearing this allowed us to identify who we would interview and get
bids from when the time came.

Once we had a list of 6 or 7 builders, it was time to narrow that down. We started with who is
accustomed to building the type of home that we wanted. With plans, you can pretty much build
anything, but the contractors experience will allow him to focus on the nuances that might be overlooked
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by an average builder. We wanted someone that would give us confidence in their ability to create our
neuvo-Craftsman. If a builder loves doing contemporary homes, that is awesome for them, but not so
much for us.

We contacted each of the builders and asked for a list of the last 5 or 6 homes that they have built in the
area so that we could do drive-bys, speak with owners, stalk people, etc. While we weren’t experienced
in picking quality homes, like a lot of people, we knew what we liked and driving by homes allowed us to
look at each one and determine whether or not we could live with a similar look.

This process allowed us to narrow the selection down to 4 contractors.

Getting Bids

T he bid process is fairly tedious, but also offers some guidance on what to expect from the builders.
As previously mentioned, we had a budget of 100. In order to allocate to that, we had to give builders
some rough guess as to the materials that we wanted to use and the finishes we wanted even before we
had a contractor picked.

It is obvious to see that if one builder is bidding on kitchen counters that are laminate and one is bidding
on marble that the quotes will be very disparate. If one builder is planning on putting in shag carpet and
the other is planning on putting cherry hardwood, the bids will be pretty different.
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What we found is that the good builders came to the table prepared. With a long checklist of materials
and an understanding of our budget. Essentially, what do you want? Types of floors? Types of counter
tops? Tile in the bathroom? Type of roof? Types of windows? Trim painted or stained? Cabinets
painted or stained? Tile or cement outside? What types of appliances? Air conditioning? One
contractor even asked if we would be doing any welding in order to put in the proper electrical system.

As we built the list, we were given guidance about what would be more or less expensive and how to
modify our budget are substitute one thing for another. Tons of questions, but it was great for two
reasons. First, it helped us to better envision our house and second it helped us to determine which
builders we were talking with that actually had their acts together.

They say that timing is everything. It also holds true when building a home. When narrowing down to a
contactor, it is important to find out if they can even complete the job based on their current workload.
Of the four builders we spoke with, three felt that they could have our home completed in 8 – 9 months.
The fourth felt that, based on his current commitments, that it would be closer to 12 or 13. We were
immediately down to 3 and hoping that they weren’t under estimating us.

One of the builders didn’t come with a list or spend a lot of time discussing with us what we wanted. We
were pretty surprised by that, as we had heard really good things and seen the homes that his company
had built and really loved them. When we got our bid, which was really low (about 75 on our 100
schedule), we felt that it was a finger to the wind guess and that our expectations probably wouldn’t have
been met. We were down to two.
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We had a pretty high level of confidence in both builders that we were narrowed down to. We felt that
both could meet our budget constraints and our time constraints. If our budget was at 100 for
everything, one was at around 85 and the other was at around 95.

If you remember, we were 100 all in: landscaping, furniture, mishaps, falling in love with something that
we couldn’t afford, the unexpected, & a nice TV (for me). All of these extras cost more than 5, but
probably less than 15. Our concern ended up being that we felt that if we went with the contractor that
gave us the quote for 95, we wouldn’t be able to afford these extras. We went with the builder who gave
us the quote of 85.
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Getting Ready for the Build


Beyond getting a loan, preparing for a major residential construction project almost becomes a full time
job. Like any major move, this is a hassle, but there are some things to keep in mind that will hopefully
make it easier on you.

Where Are You Going to Live?


When you tell someone that you are going to do a major remodel of your home, inevitably the first
question to come up is ‘Where are you going to live?’ It is funny because people ask this like you
haven’t thought about it at all. But you should have something lined up.

Make sure wherever you live fits your lifestyle and is close to work and schools. Since you are going to
have to be at your house almost every day, it is important that you are near your house too. It is always
best to find something that will rent month to month and, if necessary, is pet friendly. It can never be too
early to start looking. Corporate housing is good as are large apartment complexes. Anything that is
accustom to a lot of turn over.

Your Mail
The US Mail will allow you to forward your mail for up to 6 months. This is great as it keeps you from
having to call everyone and issue a change of address.
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Packing
We used a POD, the big box that they leave in your driveway, you fill it with your stuff then they store it
in a warehouse for you. The service was great, but I think that they were a little rough with the shipping.
Shame on me for not pulling the ties a bit tighter.

Also, save your boxes. Put them into a closet or a garage or with a friend, but it will save you some time
trying to find boxes when you have to move back into your home.

Movers
Obviously hire movers whom you trust, but explain that you will be moving twice during the next ‘X’
months and try to negotiate a better rate.
Building Castles Scott Schnaars 30

Staying Within Budget

I n all relationships, honesty is vital for success. When it comes to budget, it is important to be honest
with yourself, your builder and your vendors.

When your builder is crafting your bid, he will give you the proposal based on what you tell him. If you
anticipate that you want carpeting, and then change your mind to hard wood halfway through your build,
your budget will be off. If you tell the builder that you want your interior trim painted and then change
your mind to have your trim stained, you are going to miss your estimate number.

In short, don’t change your mind. If you do change your mind, especially once work has been done,
anticipate that it will cost extra for this change. Before you even begin the project, have an idea of what
you want to end up with and get as much of the costs associated with what you want in the bid.

Our bids ranged anywhere from 2 – 5 pages depending on the amount of detail. One went as granular
as $25 for toilet paper holders. You want to be sure that the expensive things are listed in your bid.
Roof type, floor type, window type (and brand if possible), appliance type, etc. You don’t want to go with
a proposal that only has $5,000 allocated for appliances when you were anticipating building a gourmet
kitchen.

If you are planning on building a luxury home, be sure that you and your builder have the same idea of
what ‘luxury’ is. If you believe that $10,000 will buy high end appliances and your builder is thinking
Building Castles Scott Schnaars 31

$75,000, make sure you get on the right page early. Spend time researching the items that you will be
required to purchase. While you might not be able to get an exact cost, a 20-minute session on Google
should give you an idea of what the appliances (windows, floors, doors, etc.) that you want will cost. If
something on your proposal looks fishy, call your builder on it.

If staying within budget is important, the most crucial phrase you can use is:
“My budget for this is ‘$X’. Only show me things that are in my budget. Do not show me anything else.”

As soon as you see something that is out of your budget, you will want it. And you will justify it by saying
to yourself, ‘It’s only a few hundred (or a few thousand) dollars more than our budget, in the grand
scheme of things, this isn’t so bad.

And it isn’t, providing you are just buying one thing. However, extrapolated over a few dozen purchases,
the cost will add up and you will be over budget.

Having vendors only show you products that are within your budget will also greatly reduce the amount
of time you spend thinking about different items. If you are picking out door knobs and have polished
nickel in mind, odds are good that there will be only one or two brands in your budget range. Just pick
one of the two, versus one of the many and move on to your next pick.

Finally, make sure that you have a tacit understanding of what is not included in the bid. In our case,
anything that protruded from the walls or ceilings was not included. For example, lighting like ceiling
fans was not included. Nor were things like towel racks. While this sounds trivial, lighting, for an entire
house, can be 1% of the total build cost.
Building Castles Scott Schnaars 32

Staying Ahead of Schedule

W hen doing a construction project, you, the homeowner, have just as much responsibility for the
project as your builder does. You need to be prepared and be ahead of schedule. In all cases, if there
is going to be finger pointing, you don’t want the finger being pointed at you.

At the beginning of your project, your builder should give you a schedule. Depending on how detailed
your builder is, this may be a schedule of specific events or a schedule on when you need to have things
picked out. My advice is that, as soon as you have that schedule, start picking out things for your home.

Be way ahead of the curve. If you are to have windows picked out and ordered by February 15, try to
have them picked out and ordered by January 15. Something will happen. A window will be delivered
broken, a door will come in the wrong style, granite will be cracked. At some point, something bad will
happen and you don’t want it to hold up your job.

Start shopping fast. Make the vendor deal with storage. Better to have it delivered and inspected and
sitting in a warehouse near your home, than fighting with a shipping company to make a deadline.

The value of this is twofold. One, you have things in hand rather than on a truck somewhere on the way
to your house. And two, if your items are sitting in a warehouse somewhere and your builder is ahead of
schedule (in our case, we had a dry winter, so they were able to move a bit faster), your builder will be
more likely to do the installation to keep with the momentum.
Building Castles Scott Schnaars 33

What We Would Do Different

The Apartment
If we were to do it again, the first thing that we would do differently would be to find a different place to
live. The apartment that we stayed at was nice. It was clean. It had a pool. It was dog friendly and
leased month to month. It was, for the most part, quiet and crime free, but the location didn’t really fit
our lifestyle.

We love to walk to our downtown area. We love to walk the dog and look at houses. We like being in a
neighborhood.

If we were to do it again, we would find a house to rent in a neighborhood more like the one that we live
in.

The Flooring (Soft)


We wanted dark, worn 12” wide plank flooring. It wasn’t in the budget, but we ended up with really nice
flooring. Unfortunately, it is pretty malleable. We started noticing scratches on it a week or so after we
moved in. Slide some furniture around, scratches. Let the dog run through the house, scratches.
Actually, a year later, the scratches are starting to darken up and look nice, but I’d prefer not to have the
scratches in the first place.

If I were to do it again, I’d take a few of the samples and give them to my four year old and his friends to
play with for an hour or so. Then we’d buy the one with the fewest scratches.
Building Castles Scott Schnaars 34

The Flooring (Dark)


We ended up getting the dark floor that we wanted. Not black, but a pretty dark brown. You see
everything on it. Every nick, scratch, piece of lint, scrap of paper and of course, dog hair. As we alluded
to, we are kind of neat freaks. Roomba is helpful, but we are sweeping all the time.

The Showerhead
When we did our master bathroom, I really wanted a rain head shower. We got a nice, 18” rain head. It
is really cool and feels great, but it was expensive and the guy told me, after installation, that it was a 7-
gallon a minute shower. Call me cheap, but I thought that this was pretty excessive. I can’t enjoy it.

White Cabinets & Black Honed Granite


Our kitchen, with dark hardwood floors, white cabinets, green back splash and black counters looks
awesome.

When it’s clean.

Unfortunately, the kitchen is a messy place. Every fingerprint & food spec is revealed. This isn’t good
for two clean freaks like us. It is a lot of maintenance. Kids wipes work great to keep it clean, but we are
left wiping everything down after every meal.
Building Castles Scott Schnaars 35

What We Would Do the Same


Truth be told, we had a pretty amazing experience. Unlike so many horror stories about building a
home, ours went about as smoothly as possible.

Most of the things that we’ve outlined in this short book we would do again.

If I had to pick a few things, I’d say that starting early was the best thing that we could do. We were
lucky to have a vision pretty early on and I truly believe that this vision helped us to design the house
and manage the construction. There are some things that we really love though.

Lots of Light
During the design period, we were lucky enough to have our architect come by and get a feel for how
the sun moves around the house (yes, astronomically incorrect, but you get it). From there, we were
able to add a number of large windows in the right places in order to allow the most natural light into the
house. When the sun shines in, it looks perfectly amazing.

10 Foot Ceilings
I am amazed when I am in other houses how much of a difference having 10-foot ceilings makes. It just
makes the whole house feel so much larger than it is.

Cheap Knobs
Knobs and pulls for kitchen and bathroom cabinets are really expensive. We looked at a few that were
in the $10 – $12 a piece range. This is great until you count them up and realize that there are about 50
of these and that you are going to spend $500 on knobs and pulls. We went to Home Depot and found
Building Castles Scott Schnaars 36

some really nice ones for $2 each. Make sure you buy a few extras because in a few years they will
wear and you’ll want to replace them, but won’t be able to find them again.

Beverage Fridge
We put a beverage refrigerator in the kitchen. It is awesome. We don’t drink wine, but it is stocked with
beer, soda, juice & water. It is low enough that the kids can reach it and small enough that they
remember to close the door. It is better than having them in the primary fridge and it keeps guests out of
the refrigerator too.

Unique Colors
I’m lucky that I have a wife that has an amazing
sense of design and color.

During the design phase, she picked out wonderful,


unique colors for all of the rooms (laundry
pictured). It keeps the house unique and fun.

Like the colors, we also tried to leverage old


antiques, like the chandelier in the picture. We
found a great paper towel holder from the ‘30s in
the mountains, it provides an excellent contrast to
our somewhat modern kitchen.
Building Castles Scott Schnaars 37

Bathroom Vanities
We wanted some really nice stand-alone cabinet type vanities in the bathroom. We looked at some sets
at specialty stores and at Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn. In all cases, they were several
thousand dollars; well out of our budget for the bathroom. We showed our cabinetmaker the picture and
he was able to build more or less the same thing for about 1/3 the cost. The aesthetic difference was
minor, but the cost savings was huge.

Granite Reuse
As was mentioned before, we opted to use black granite in the kitchen. It turned out, we were able to
use the scraps from the kitchen on our bathroom vanities as well. It saved us quite a bit of money as we
didn’t have to buy a new slab of granite for the bathrooms. Anytime you can reuse anything to make
your money go further, do so.

We used the same faucets in both bathrooms, the same flooring throughout the house, same brand of
appliances, same brands of electrical fixtures. All will give you the chance to buy in bulk or negotiate a
better price.
Building Castles Scott Schnaars 38

Good Luck
Building your dream home is an incredibly fulfilling experience. In the end, you end up with the house
that you love and the sense of satisfaction knowing that this is something that you’ve designed. It is an
amazing feeling.

It can also be stressful, frustrating and down right disappointing if you don’t manage the project properly.
It can also be a labor of love. We regularly sit back and look around and think, “Wow, we built this. It is
our dream home.” And we love it.

I’m sure you will love yours too.


Building Castles Scott Schnaars 39

Thank Yous, Photo Credits & Licensing


Thank you to the following:

• Craig Rogers Construction for building our amazing house. I wish he had a website to link to.
• HomeTec Architecture for designing our house.
• Team 009 for helping us get the loan and for being so incredibly helpful and honest during the
height of the sub-prime fiasco.
• Seth Godin and Scott Ginsberg for their motivation to actually get this done.
• All the amazing ebook authors that I’ve seen over the past few months as I’ve put this together.
Thank you for the ideas.
• And of course, for my amazing wife Holly who, despite being sick through a lot of this process, built
an absolutely stunning home for us to raise our family. I could not have done it without her (it
certainly wouldn’t have been decorated as nice). I love her more every day. Thank you, love.

This ebook is protected under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works
3.0 United States license. Please feel free to share it, print it or copy it.

The following photos are from Flickr and are under Creative Commons.
Building Castles Scott Schnaars 40

Paying For It All - Money! by TracyO

The Architect - ARCH by task_d

The Builder - McHouse Under Construction by Dean Terry

All other photos are property of me, Scott Schnaars, and are licensed under Creative Commons via
Flickr and the Attribution Share Alike license.

I can be reached at scott AT scott schnaars DOT com