After working with three different custom home builders this spring and coming up empty, we decided to give it one last shot with Brester Construction. They were great to work with, but really not much cheaper than the other builders that had already fallen through for us.
Brester Construction is owned by a friend of ours from church. While their bread and butter is commercial construction, they do have a small division that does custom homes of all different budgets. Some friends of ours had just begun building a home with them that was much smaller than the one we’d planned, and recommended them highly. We decided to try one last time to work out a house plan that we could afford.
Jim Brester is the owner’s uncle, and is in charge of the residential division. He spent many hours pouring over plans with us and giving advice on how we could cut costs by changing our plans. He was really great to work with, and I’d recommend him to anybody who’s looking to build a custom home. We also went back to our draftsman, Charles Gebbie at RDS, to get more recommendations and implement the changes that Jim suggested, along with some simplifications that I came up with on my own.
Unfortunately, the end result was that we only dropped about 300 square feet off our 3600-foot plan. We also made a few changes to simplify (and thereby reduce the cost of) other features in the house. The total changes just weren’t enough to make it fit with our budget, though.
The size of the lot was also starting to concern us. The more we talked with the septic guy (Raymond Contracting), the smaller our 3-acre lot started to feel. The lot failed a perc test, which mean that a cheap, underground septic system wouldn’t work. The cheapest alternative was a lagoon, but those have to be 50′ from the nearest property line or tree, which would have placed a 70-foot square lagoon right in the middle of our back yard. Underground engineered solutions are available, but would raise the cost by $25,000. It was starting to feel like we’d end up with a big city lot rather than an acreage where we could spread out.
I think our biggest problem was that we’d been dreaming of this house for so long that we had a hard time letting go of pieces of that dream. We also developed the perfect floor plan too early in the process–before we talked with anybody who knew anything about construction costs. Had we gotten a builder involved early on, they probably would have cautioned us to simplify things long before we settled upon a “perfect” floor plan and got our hearts set on it. Of course, having an extra couple hundred thousand extra dollars (*cough* CPI *cough*) would have alleviated this problem altogether.
When you’re buying an existing house, you have a limited number of choices, and it’s easier to make sacrifices because your ideal plan almost certainly isn’t an option. When you’re building a new home, you’ve got a blank slate, and absolutely anything is possible (finances permitting). It’s a lot harder to sacrifice features of your dream home when you feel like it’s dangling just out of reach. I just couldn’t bring myself to give up enough of the things in that house to bring it down into our budget.
Honestly, if owning our dream home was our number one priority in life, we probably could have built the plans that we’d developed by mid-October. But that’s not who we are. Stacy would have had to go get a full time job, and we would have had to scrutinize each of our discretionary purchases. We don’t want to live like that. We want to be able to focus our time on our kids and be able to enjoy our time with them rather than giving them a great house to rattle around in by themselves.
It was with very heavy hearts that, by the end of October, we finally gave up on our hope to build a new house. We’ve stepped up our efforts to find an existing acreage that will suit our needs while fitting into a more limited budget. It’s difficult to think about how much time and money we’ve wasted on this pursuit. We don’t want to waste any more.
It’s hard to know just yet what we’re willing to sacrifice and what we absolutely must have. The more we look at the options and the more we pray for wisdom in this area, the more clarity we’ll have.