What I Learned as a Builder Building My Own Home

Chris Legare is the owner of Nautilus Construction, LLC. He also, is the builder of his own new home in Kennebunk, Maine. What has he learned in the process of running a construction business while building his own home? The first thing he would say, is he has a lot of empathy and greater understanding for his clients. A tempestuous housing market, low supply and higher cost of building materials, and the decision fatigue of building a house are all things he can relate to on a more personal level.

Building a new home allows homebuyers to often realize their dreams through their new homes. Chris currently has a two-bedroom house, two children (ages 6 and 9). Chris and his wife, Suzy, quickly realized they needed more functional space for the family to live in. They both also value energy efficiency and green building and wanted that to be a part of their building dreams.

Building a house of your dreams involves consideration of cost and budget. This is when what you and your family value and consider most important come into play. The Legares chose a simple house plan. I modern colonial style design that allowed for more space and room for their family. The children currently share a room and with the new design they will each have their own room which is a win for everyone! The simple design elements allowed for the Legare Family to prioritize energy efficiency by adding solar panels and energy efficient windows. They cut back on fancy interior and exterior finish work and also had to find budget friendly supplies. Chris said, “I would emphasize that currently building costs are fluctuating quite a bit. Both subcontractors and vendors are all very busy.” Chris advises to be prepared for some cost over runs and delays.

Chris said, “If you are looking to build right away, it is my recommendation to make your land offer subject to a building permit.” Things can pop up that can delay building, so its safest to close on the land after you have the building permit from the city or town. To get the building permit, you will need: a house plan, a survey with house placed on lot, and other plans and approvals (wetland delineation, septic plan etc.).

Overall, Chris believes the process of building your own home can be long and its never perfect. Building your own home really allows your own family values and dreams to come true. This is true not just with new homes but with remodeling and any house work you add to your existing home. We will continue these blogs about building and remodeling your homes, with tips from Chris. Please follow us on Instagram and Facebook for updates and to learn more.

Market Competition

Pros:

With the real estate market still booming, the national average for the number of days an existing home is on the market is only 30 days! That means you have to be ready to jump as soon as a home is listed for sale, and with that level of competition, your offer better be a sweet one. When you build a home, however, the competition component decreases considerably. Fewer people are in a position to build a home, so there are less people competing with you for land, building packages, and development building sites.

Cons:

Because building new homes means the necessity for available land, it might be tougher to find a parcel in your desired town or neighborhood. Housing developments may not be as plentiful in your desired area either. When you do find a development you like, the likelihood of there being a set realtor, builder, and home design that you must work with is high, so you may need to sacrifice the professionals you prefer to work with for the entities doing the development.

Whereas you can negotiate sales price on an existing home based on issues such as work and upgrades needed, when you build a home there is much less negotiation on price. Build packages are designed with very set margins, and even with a custom-built home, your contractor can only do so much to get you the details you want and still make the profit margin they need to stay in business.

Customization

Pros:

Customization of the house style, features, and other details is obviously a huge pro when you build a house. You can select and personalize all the details of your house when you build it from the ground up – the floorplan and layout, elements such as woodwork and flooring, and fixtures including appliances and door knobs. You can customize any and all of your home’s details to fit your lifestyle and tastes. The rooms can be painted to your preferred colors before you move in, and you can even have the landscaping completed to your liking immediately.

Cons:

When you purchase a build package in a development, you may have more restrictions for customization choices. The timeframe for making different selections is also usually very tight. The developer/builder is working on multiple properties at once, and time is money for a residential builders. You will likely have some opportunity for customization, usually in the form of options and allowances (a set selection of finishes within a specific budget that your purchase includes). Expect options including color choices (although they may be limited), flooring options, and certain finishes and landscaping.

For some, building a custom home represents too many decision to make. At every stage of the build, you will need to decide on design details, select finishes, and decide how to handle changes as they occur. This can be too much pressure, and require way more time and energy than some people have to give. Building a new home is a project – so be sure you are ready to manage all those decisions.

Timeframe

Pros:

When you build a home, you won’t be able to move in right away. The average new construction home take at least seven months to complete, and the more customized the build, the longer it will take to complete. You will have to plan time to do research and meet with your architect and/or builder, but you will have the opportunity to think through design decisions and make ones that are best for you and your family. You will have time to truly create the home of your dreams.

Cons:

The additional time required to move into your new home can be difficult for people. If you have sold your previous home, you may have to find temporary housing, and it can leave a family feeling displaced. It takes time to find specialty finishes, create custom woodwork, and achieve the finer nuances of design that you might want. The level of frustration with the process timeframe can build, and be too much for some people (and some couples) to endure.

Financial Implications

Pros:

If you are planning to build a new home instead of purchase a home already built, you can research the projected costs of the type of home you plan to build and save accordingly. You might have some extra time to find just the right loan package, and even wait for the interest rates to drop.

Cons:

Because of the extended timeframe before your new home is ready to move into, building a new home can be more costly. You will essentially be maintaining two homes during the building project, one that you live in, and one you are paying for as it is built. You need to be sure you have the financial stability to handle these extra living expenses, as well as the likely overages in the budget when you make upgrades (you will make upgrades!).

Emotional Resilience

Pros:

Building a new home can be an incredibly rewarding process. You can exercise all of your creative abilities into designing a truly inspired home built just for you and your family. Because you have built it from scratch, and participated in every step of the process, it will be unique to you, unlike any other home.

Cons:

Building a new home from the ground up isn’t for everyone. The timeframe can feel as if it is dragging on, making decisions about so many details can get frustrating, and communications and negotiations with your builder and other trades can get exasperating. Building budgets most often go over budget, due in large part to decisions you will make for unplanned upgrades and changing your mind mid-stream. These changes are par for the course and to be expected, but if you don’t plan for this budget overage allowance, it can add to the stress of building new. Because it is such an emotionally charged project, relationships will either get stronger or suffer. Being prepared ahead of time for the many challenges of building will go a long way to maintaining healthy relationships throughout the process.

At Nautilus Construction, we specialize in building custom homes. We work in partnership with our clients to design the home you are envisioning, and our expansive resources in the design and custom fabrication areas allow us to handle all the stages of building a house. Please contact us to discuss your ideas – we’d love to help you build your dream!

Kitchen remodels vary drastically from small enhancements to complete overhauls. Whether you want to make some minor improvements like additional cupboards or a built-in breakfast nook, or your kitchen is dreadfully outdated and you want to completely update your design and appliances, where do you start? Do you need an architect? A kitchen designer? A remodeling contractor?

At Nautilus Construction, we prefer a team approach to kitchen projects. We bring in the necessary professionals at the outset, and work together to determine the best design and project implementation. Let’s take a look at who the players in your kitchen remodel might be:

An Architect

Architects are educated in design theory, project management, and building engineering. They work with clients to assess the architectural space, draw up plans and designs, and in many cases, oversee the entire project management. They usually have contractors that they work with, and can help with soliciting work estimates, choosing contactors and vendors, and keep your project moving forward smoothly. Because an architect’s real specialty is design and the best use of spaces, they can offer aesthetically pleasing and innovative design solutions.

A Kitchen Designer

Kitchen designers do not have the same academic background or licensing as architects, and are not typically trained in any engineering or building concepts. A kitchen designer is a type of interior designer who works with clients to create, remodel or update a kitchen’s layout, design elements, and fixtures. With a kitchen designer you discuss materials, themes, colors and patterns, and room layout. Designers keep up with the most current kitchen trends, so can help with incorporating the latest styles, layouts and innovated products to incorporate in your new kitchen. A kitchen designer will help you create a functional and attractive space.

A Remodeling Contractor

Building contractors who specialize in remodeling and kitchens will provide the nuts and bolts of getting your kitchen remodeling project completed. Their experience and knowledge pertains to building construction, sequencing of work, project management, and overseeing all the necessary trades involved in the project. They will make sure all the demolition occurs safely, install new materials, and either complete or oversee trades such as plumbing and electrical upgrades. Because a remodeling contractor likely has the most hands-on experience in this group of professionals, their expertise and knowledge is critical to your new kitchen remodel going smoothly and staying on budget.

What about costs?

Architects are not cheap, but they will ensure your new kitchen floor doesn’t sag and you can safely remove a wall to open up your space. Designers tend to charge less per hour than architects, but their structural skills are likely not comparable and they usually do not offer project management. You might hire a designer to create drawings of your overall look based on your needs, wants, space and budget. An architect might be useful to ensure all your proposed changes will actually work structurally within the building. Building and remodeling contractors charge based on the scope of the project, what role they will play in project management, and other trades that they will need to oversee and coordinate with during the project.

So where do you begin?

In some cases, you may only need a designer to help you figure out the look and functionality you want. In other cases, with larger remodels, you may need an architect for the building designs and a designer to help achieve the décor look you desire. In all cases, you need to work with a reputable, experienced contractor to help you get all the work completed.

Many people bring in their architect and/or kitchen designer first to create the design, then seek out the contractor who can create a plan of action and complete the remodel work. The challenge in this approach is that once your contractor is on board, they may very well identify issues and specifications that haven’t been considered. This will require your architect or designer to redraw designs and blueprints to fit the updated specifications. This is when projects become less efficient and budgets begin to dissolve.

At Nautilus Construction, we like to be involved right from the outset of your new kitchen concept, and work as a team with your architect or designer so that we can ensure your ideas are realistic with your budget, and plan the course of action for your remodel together. There is much less going back and forth, redoing design specifications, and, frankly, wasting of time and resources with this approach. We have a cadre of kitchen professionals that we have worked with for years, and have seen their abilities in action, that we can refer to you to complete your project. Of course, if you have already hired an architect or designer to come up with your new kitchen concept, that is fine too! We appreciate your consideration to help get you from design to DONE with your new kitchen!

We really enjoy helping homeowners make their homes more comfortable by creating an addition that meets their current needs, and blends architecturally with the existing structure. Planning an addition is exciting and nerve-wracking, check out our five best tips to get started on your way to success:

Know Your Property Options

Before you even get started with design, figure out what you are actually allowed to do about adding on to your property. You’ll need an accurate plot plan that shows exactly where your property lines are, and the location of any existing structures on the property. Your town’s zoning laws will determine what your required setbacks are which may have an impact on the options you have for the placement and size of your addition. Your local Zoning office or your local Registry of Deeds should have this information available for you. You absolutely should not skip this step! Any building too close to property lines or not conforming to your local zoning may have to be torn down, so this is a very costly mistake to make.

Needs versus Wants

It’s easy to be planning for the new bedroom you need, and suddenly find yourself designing a master bathroom with double sinks and a jacuzzi tub. It’s important early on to make a list of what you actually need that is motivating you to plan an addition so you don’t lose sight of that in the excitement of design possibilities. Be clear about what new functions you need from the additional space, then you can add in some special items or splurges if they fit in the budget. The clearer you are about what issues the addition needs to solve, the better you can describe your needs to your designer or contractor.

Budget Realistically

Your designer, architect or builder will help you determine the costs for your addition, but you need to have a number in mind that is affordable and fits in your overall household budget. There are also a number of costs to additions that are not direct building costs – items such as increased property taxes, utilities expenses, and the cost of new furnishings all impact the bottom line of the total cost of your addition. You should also plan a contingency budget, because all construction projects seem to go over for one reason or another. Sometimes materials have to be swapped out based on availability, or you might realize you want to add a design feature after-the-fact. Get real with your budget and stick to it so that your addition doesn’t stress you out financially.

Hire Professionals

Additions are not DIY opportunities. Find a designer, architect or builder that you are comfortable with and let them help you design an addition that meets your needs and adds value to your property. When you are adding on to the structure of your home, you want to know that all the code and safety requirements are met, and you want this project to be completed in a timely manner, not drag on endlessly while you try to fit it in on the weekends. If you are financing your project, your bank will likely require a licensed contractor. A good architect or contractor will listen to your ideas, work to meet your needs, but also not lead you down a path that isn’t feasible. Not to mention, these folks do this every day so their knowledge and creativity is likely beyond what you are capable of coming up with. These professionals also know other quality vendors you may need to handle other aspects of your project. Not sure where to start to find someone? Check out our blog about hiring contractors.

Have a Construction-Free Zone

Having construction in your home is disruptive, no matter how carefully you plan everything out. Work into your plan some livable, construction-free areas where life can go on with some normalcy. If you are redoing your kitchen, for example, create a small temporary area with a small refrigerator, microwave and hot plate. Create a space where you can escape so the inconveniences of an addition don’t get to you – this is when people make rash decisions that they regret.

How Nautilus Construction Can Help

Who you hire to work with you on your addition or remodel is the most important decision you will make in the whole process. You want to work with someone you can trust, communicate easily with, and who has the experience and expertise to bring your vision into reality. At Nautilus Construction, we offer design-build services to help you from conceptualization of your project, through to the finishing touches of your new addition or remodel, and we can manage all the pieces in between. Call us today so we can discuss your new project with you!

Choosing the Right Contractor

When choosing the right contractor for your project your choice should be based on proven experience and skill, customer service, references, and then on price. You are building a partnership with your contractor, and you will work very closely with this person for several months or more. You need to feel comfortable, like your questions and concerns are listened to, and you need to feel that you will enjoy working with this person. Many homeowners try to force their dream into a budget that is too small, and then decide on a contractor who offers the lowest price. In the end, that scenario is fraught with disaster. It will be a painful process that results in an inferior product, delayed by change orders and disappointments.

You need to find someone with the technical expertise to complete the work and you want to select someone with whom you feel comfortable discussing your needs.

Pay careful attention for cues that you are being listened to, and that your questions are being answered thoroughly and thoughtfully. A contractor should be taking the lead from you as you describe your vision for the project. Their suggestions should reflect your description of what you want, and you should not feel rushed or pushed into any particular decision. Even small jobs can be fraught with complications and present many judgment calls, so you want to be working with someone who is qualified and approachable.

Finding skilled craftspeople can be tough. Always begin with “qualified referrals” from family, friends and others you may know who have completed a similar project. Your neighbors are also an excellent resource. Most professionals in the industry and specialty retailers can also recommend people. Someone who is familiar with a contractor’s work and can speak about his or her experience with that person is invaluable. A random Internet search is best left as a last resort.

Once you have some referrals, then head to the Internet and check out their websites. While contractors don’t generally have all the bells and whistles on their website, they should have some web presence and a site that is professional looking and sounding. They should also have a project portfolio where you can look at pictures and read customer testimonials about their work.

A good contractor should have a professional looking website with project pictures and customer testimonials.

Before you grab for the telephone, take some time to carefully think through your project. For even the smallest renovation you will have a picture in your mind of what you want it to look like. For larger projects prepare checklists, an outline and timetable, budgets, sketches, magazine clippings and pictures. The best contractor is limited by how clearly you can express what you want done. They aren’t mind readers, so the more time you put into preparing and being able to describe your expectations, the better your project will turn out.

When you talk to contractors, be prepared with questions that will draw out their knowledge and working style. A good contractor should be able to speak with technical expertise and describe their approach to you clearly. Expect to be offered several options for your project, ask for clear descriptions of how the options differ, and the pros and cons of each.

If you are unfamiliar with a contractor, ask for several customer references. Take the time to make these calls and prepare some questions. You want to know if the project was completed on time and on budget, what the contractor and his crew were like to work with, did they do what they said they were going to do, and would they hire them again.

The process of checking professional references is very important so don’t skip this step!

Consider the “fine print” and choose an insured professional running a legitimate business. All the contractors you hire should carry liability and workers’ compensation insurance, protecting their workers and your family. You want to be sure that you are not held responsible for any accidents or mishaps. Be sure you are clear on guarantees and any restrictions involved with the work or products being used. State contract law dictates guarantees on work to some degree, but there are always exceptions. Some contractors are committed to certain product lines, and this may or may not fit your project. Layout your timeline and your expectations for the schedule, as there is nothing worse than having someone fail to show up when expected.

Pay attention to experience and technical expertise, how seriously a contractor takes their business, and how they communicate and present themselves professionally, and you will find the right person for your project.

At Nautilus Construction, open communication and customer service is our top priority as our clients will tell you. Our daily attention to project progress means you can get an update whenever you want one, and you will never feel left in the dark. At Nautilus – you get the owner on the phone – call Chris today so we can discuss how we can help you!


© Copyright Nautilus Construction 2022

Chris Legare of Nautilus Construction is a general contractor in Southern Maine, specializing in Design Build Construction, general contracting and remodeling. Serving Kennebunk, Wells, York, Saco, Portland, Scarborough and beyond.

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