Building Cost-Plus and working with Bangerter Homes (utah home builder)

January 24th, 2014

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I’ve been meaning to write about our experience building our house as a “cost plus” and working with Bangerter Homes specifically. There were some great discussions in my tile update post comments yesterday about all this, so I figured this was a good time to write this post.

Okay so I’m not going to go into all the technical details of a cost plus build, pros and cons and whatnots, You can read a great article about that – Hiring a Contractor Cost-Plus – from Building Advisor.  What I am going to talk about is my personal experience building cost plus and why this was a good choice for us.

I really have to start with talking about our builder. Cost plus really isn’t possible unless you trust your builder – this should be said for any construction project actually, but I think especially when it comes to cost plus as a builder could be unscrupulous as far as marking up invoices, or not caring how much the end price is and spending way too much money putting you over your budget.   When we decided to move to Utah (so Spencer could teach at BYU, I could be in the same state and facilitate my Utah clients better, and of course our family is here too), we looked into buying/renovating, and building a tract/production home. Although we loved our renovation in California, and would love to renovate again in the future, the ability to build a home in Utah is just as affordable (if not more so, than renovating). So we looked into building with a big home builder – they build lots of homes and develop the land, and you can do some little custom changes here and there. The prices are actually really good because they make their profit on the land mark-ups and sheer quantity. They also tend to cut some corners here and there… nothing terrible, but things that would definitely drive Mr. Project up the wall. I also called a few of the builders whom people had recommended and asked if it was possible to build and install our own cabinets, trim, and built-ins. The resounding answer was “NO”. Which I can understand… that’s kind of a wildcard to have a homeowner with unknown credentials want to build their own cabinets and what-nots. But for us, it was a deal breaker. Not only could we save 10s of thousands of dollars doing our own woodwork (and by we, I mean Mr. Project), if anyone else did it, it would not be up to our standards. So we’d pay 5x as much and have an inferior product. Not an option.

So where did that leave us? Up a creek? In my estimation, we couldn’t afford a custom home builder. Everything I’d ever heard was that they have huge mark-ups and cut corners to make even more profit (maybe not all of them do this). In the end you have a beautiful home – exactly what you want, but you’ve paid greatly for it – overpaid for it no doubt. Well we don’t like overpaying for things. So I just couldn’t even go there in my mind – if we built with a custom builder/contractor, I would be constantly stressed that we were getting milked. And I know that isn’t always the case, I don’t think contractors are crooks etc. But they do make their money in mark-ups and have to have a pretty big cushion in case some part of the build ends up going over budget – which, again, I get it but I didn’t want to be the one paying the big cushion. I just want to pay what it actually costs to build the house.

What we decided on was to Self-contract. We would find and contract all the subcontractors, schedule and manage the entire build. We’d have complete control over the process. Generally self-contracting takes a lot longer though – subcontractors work for their big clients first and get to you last. It helps if you have relationships already with subcontractors, or at least know which ones have good reputations. Dealing with one bad sub can cost you a lot of money and time. So there is risk involved there.

I started calling on lots that were listed online and talking to local realtors. With land I felt I was at a huge disadvantage in being so far away. A lot of land sales are not listed anywhere. The owner will put a sign in the yard, or just tell people in the neighborhood that the land is for sale. Sometimes there isn’t even that and people will cold-call land owners based on the county tax records.  Being in California, we didn’t know what land was open even do that. My resources were limited – in many ways I wish I would have been more patient and moved here first and then looked around for land, knowing more people and the area much better. What I also found was that it was really hard to find land with no strings attached. A myriad of lots were available, but you had to build with their custom builder etc. So I found myself looking, and not finding what I wanted. Finally I found a lot online that looked great – cul-de-sac – a mile from my brother, nice looking new homes on adjacent lots etc. I had my brother go check it out and he liked it. The next day I called the number on the lot… it was a builder – Bangerter Homes. I was disheartened. I told him that we wanted to self-build. He said that they would prefer to build on the lot. I asked if they would take more for the lot than they were asking if we could self build. He said that he had a solution… a Cost Plus build, and if we built with them, he’d even discount the lot a little bit more.

So that was the start of a beautiful relationship. He told me that a homeowner can save a lot of money with a cost plus build. The basic idea is that the builder is paid a flat fee (a percentage of the estimated build cost), and then all the actual costs are paid without a mark-up by the homeowner. Bangerter Homes even includes a 4% risk clause that basically says that based on their estimated price the exact services provided wont cost more than 4% over budget, and if they do, the additional costs are split by both parties. I asked about cabinetry. He said that the homeowner can do work on the house, and use their own subcontractors/suppliers if desired. To me it sounded like a dream come true. I know exactly how much of a premium I’m paying for having someone contract my build, and I also have the flexibility to be in control of everything that goes into the build. And to be honest, with the great price we got on the lot, and the amount we’re most likely saving on having really great negotiated subcontracting rates through the builder, I doubt we’re paying much if anything over what it would have cost us to self-build (especially if we had gotten a bad subcontractor or two). And of course with a lot less headache, and none of the work that it would take to manage the entire build, and much faster (how much are we saving on a construction loan and rent not having to spend a full year building?).

That is how we ended up doing a cost-plus build… and I couldn’t be happier. It’s been a great experience. That being said, I think the experience has everything to do with what builder you choose. We kind of fell into our Bangerter Homes. We didn’t seek them out or know of their reputation etc. All we knew was that they owned the land we wanted to build on, and they were willing to do a cost plus build with us. We put out feelers, asked people about their reputation and so forth. Everything we heard was absolutely glowing. A great builder to work with. Incredibly ethical, hard working, and they put out a quality product. And now, just a month out from being done, I can happily say the same. I would build with them over and over again. They have treated us like family from the start, and have consistently gone above and beyond what is required and expected. And the best part is that we’ve been able to build the home that we want to build, exactly how we wanted to build it, and definitely for less than a custom build. For us, that is such a big deal. Mr. Project is incredibly detail oriented and picky about quality of workmanship etc. We can easily say that this is a well built home that conforms to our exacting standards – which are very high.

I’m sure a cost plus build isn’t for everyone. Sometimes traditional pricing through a contractor can save you money too. And definitely building a less custom home through a production builder is cheaper. We want to be as involved as possible, and save as much money as possible. I do want to say this about Bangerter Homes, they will go through the design/build process with smaller builds as well – possibly not a cost plus, but definitely a customized build. You don’t have to be building a big custom home – in fact that is a little more rare for them.  They have a drafter on staff who can customize existing plans – even design from scratch, and you can get exactly what you want on a smaller scale. Like their tagline says – “If you Dream it… we can custom design & build it for your life.” This has definitely been true for us – we dream big, and they have made it all come to life.

*Bangerter Homes isn’t giving me any sort of sponsorship for this post, we’ve just had such a great experience, I want to share and let people know where they can have an equally great experience. If you do end up talking to them or building with them, definitely mention my blog to them. They will love to hear that you found them through me as word of mouth is the lifeblood of their business.

The Project House – Tile update part 1

January 23rd, 2014

Usually when you build a house, you don’t source your own tile – you go through your contractor or builder. And if you want anything custom-looking, you pay way more than you should. However, we are doing our home build as a “Cost-Plus” build. This basically means that we pay our builder/contractor a flat rate to build/subcontract the house, and then all the bills/invoices are paid by us without any sort of mark-up. This has several benefits, one of which is that we can provide anything (or any subcontractors) that we want for the house and at the end of the day there isn’t any sort of credit/allowance issues that we have to deal with. It basically gives us complete artistic freedom to do anything to the house and any changes/upgrades etc without having to deal with logistical issues. For us creatives, it’s the perfect way to build a house. We have total control over the spending, materials, and subcontractors, but we don’t have to actually manage the build, pay invoices, or make sure people show up. It also allows us to do some serious budget shopping to save money in areas where people normally spend the most.

Anyway, back to the tile… When we were in the design phase of the build, we visited a local tile design center. We happily looked through tile samples and found 3 that we liked a lot for the kitchen backsplash. The sales associate looked up the price on her computer, and the tile that we liked best was $93.00/sq. ft. No misplaced decimals… 93 bones! It was fabulous tile, but not even remotely close to our budget. I knew I could find something else that worked just as well for a fraction of the price. I started searching online, and went to several online tile retailers to see what the prices and selection was available.

It’s interesting buying something like tile online. Unlike things like 2x4s and drywall, finishes for a home are an emotional/design purchase. You want to connect in someway with the surfaces that you are going to interact with on a daily basis. As a creative person I’m completely picky about my environment, so I have to be 100% happy with the products going into my home. I was a little nervous about the prospect of buying my tile online, but I figured if I could look at sample tiles, and save a lot of money, it was worth the risk of possibly being dissatisfied and having to look elsewhere. I’ll tell you right now, that I have been so incredibly impressed with the style and quality of every tile product that I ordered. Even Mr. Project, who is very hard to impress, has commented numerous times on the quality of the tile that we ordered from BuildDirect.

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When I came across BuildDirect.com I found exactly what I was looking for. They had a great selection of 12×24 floor tile that I wanted for several areas of the house. They also had white subway tile, glass subway tile, and even 12×24 sheets of white marble – all the classic items I was wanting to put in my home. And the best part was that the prices were better than I’d seen at the other online stores (in most cases by a lot). I ordered some free samples (first 5 are free including shipping!) and I was so impressed with their tile samples, and customer service that I knew they were a perfect fit for our build. Knowing that their product was perfect for the look and style of our home, I took a chance and contacted them about being a blog sponsor.  They were excited to see a big project like our Project House unfold in real time, and we worked out some details to make it all happen. Throughout the whole tile process (ordering, receiving, ordering more last minute, quick shipments, and installation etc), I’ve been impressed over and over again by their great customer service, and quality of product. I really could not recommend them more, and not just because they were kind enough to sponsor my blog, but also because I know that if you order tile from them, you will have a great experience.

Okay so really, onto the (drool-worthy) tile.

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About a week after ordering my tile, I started to get boxes… and palettes (I ordered a lot of tile). Getting your first box is always the most exciting, and my first was this GORGEOUS ice mist 3×6 glass subway tile. I was really nervous about this color – I decided on this tile at the last minute and didn’t have time to get a sample. So I was just crossing my fingers that the color was correct. The color that the BuildDirect website shows was a little more green then I was hoping for, but I decided to just go with it and hope for the best. When I got the box and opened it, I jumped with joy because the color was absolutely PERFECT. Seriously perfect. And for a designer to say a color is perfect means a lot. If you’re looking for a great ice-aqua color glass tile, this is the tile for you. I also ended up ordering the same tile but in 4×12 for the boy’s shower/toilet room. I haven’t received it yet, but it should be here in a few days.

The next day I received this beautiful Marble Basket-weave tile. This tile is so beautiful in person. I love mosaic tile, and really love how the basket weave mixes just a little contrasting black into the pattern. I also was excited to find a basket-weave in marble as most of the ones I’ve seen are porcelain.

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Maybe an hour after receiving the basket-weave tile, a truck pulled up with 2 palettes of tile… thats a lot of tile. Nearly 3000 lbs!

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I could hardly wait to open it and see what it all was. It was seriously like Christmas!

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After carting (literally using a hand cart – well not me – but the very  nice neighbor) a few boxes in the house, I opened up this glorious 12×24 white marble tile. So pretty and so heavy. I ordered a lot of it too – for the master shower, floor, and tub surround.

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The Project House – Mr. Project’s Built-in Window Seat with bookshelves

January 21st, 2014

Okay… I haven’t updated on the house in a few weeks. So much has happened… so much is happening right now. It’s really kind of overwhelming to keep up with it all, and take pictures, and blog and whatnot. And so pictures were kind of piling up and I knew I needed to get to an update, but then I went out of town on business for several days, and pictures really started piling up, and the whole idea of updating on the build seemed really overwhelming.

So finally I decided that I couldn’t wait any longer, and started flagging images. Well there were more than 60 images that I want to share… and really, I couldn’t do that in one mega post,  so I decided to catch up a bit by showing projects/categories for a few quick posts. This way I can get a bunch of little posts done and get all my updates posted, without feeling overwhelmed.

Onto the first project… The built-in window seat in the Guest Room. This is one of those projects that I just didn’t think we’d get to until after we moved in. Mr. Project was feeling motivated, and asked what I was planning and said that maybe he could get it done… well if you know my husband, you know that when he says that, he is about 5 minutes away from diving in head first and getting said project started and finished in record time.

Here is the window wall of the room. I really wanted double or triple windows in all the rooms instead of one big slider window. I just think it looks so quaint and designed.

built-in-window-seat-before

I planned for this room to have a window seat with shelving on the sides, so I had the framers keep the ceiling lower over this one part of the room, and then raise it up higher for the rest of the room. I basically wanted it to feel like a more enclosed space.

When Mr. Project asked what I wanted the space to look like, I drew this (awesome) picture on the wall:

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Apparently I need to brush up on my perspective drawing… I drew a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf on each side of the windows, and then a bench area between. Then detailed the paneling on the inside of the seating area, and the front of the bench. We made a few measurement decisions – how deep, how wide etc. and then Mr. Project got to work!

First he made bases for everything to sit on. He said that this was the most important part of the job because if the bases were off, then everything else would be off. So he spent a long time putting these in and making them completely level and plumb.

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Once he had the bases in, he built each bookshelf in two pieces (because they are so tall). I don’t have any during pictures of this process because I had to go home and be a mom/get work done. But Mr. Project stayed late that first night assembling the shelving and router-ing the v-groove paneling for the shelve backing. The next day when I came by again, it looked like this:

built-in-window-seat-during2

That’s a lot of progress for less than 24 hours. That Mr. Project, he’s pretty amazing. The second night he stayed late again and paneled out the window and created the face frame (from poplar wood) for the shelving, and the paneling on the inside.

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So the next morning when I came to the house… this Is what I saw!

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So amazingly gorgeous, and absolutely perfect. Less than 48 hours from Mr. Project just asking what I wanted it to look like – to – being all done except the baseboard, front trim, and liftable-seat. He really is amazing!

Here’s the simple v-groove detail in the back:built-in-window-seat-vgroove

And the inside paneling:

built-in-window-seat-detail2  The crown and face frame detail.

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If you want to know more about HOW he created this, I can see if Mr. Project will write a how-to with some additional images and notes. Just let me know in the comments/ instagram/facebook, and if I get enough interest, I can convince him to write a post all about building a built-in window seat with bookshelves.

Stay tuned to my blog for a lot more house projects and mini-update posts the next few weeks. We’re less than a month out (cross my fingers), so things are really picking up!

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