We did our best to make sure once we secured the land, we could actually afford to build a liveable home on it. A liveable home for us isn't a high bar. A 3 bedroom, 1,500 square foot home was the baseline. A modest home by most middle class standards. Of course, we were trying to build by moisture which makes a huge difference in Washington state. Most lenders typically expect the land cost to only be 20 percent of the total land and home value. This was not going to be the case with us. I never seem to fit the norm, so this was unsuprising. We had been talking to custom builders, modular builders, panelized builders and basically anyone who would call us back since mid 2005. About half the builders we called either did not call us back or would not build in King County. Times were good for builders in mid 2005. Builders not willing to build in King County should have been a warning sign and probably would have been to someone seasoned in building homes. In my nievity, I assumed it was just a matter of business territory or licensing. Did I mention I'm not only stubborn but occasionally blind in my pursuit of what interests me? I spent countless hours researching home building online. I learned everything I could about home construction, building types, county regulations, permitting, excavation services and on-going initiatives (more on that later).
(hum, need some dates, times, places and people here).
First we visited Viceroy Homes in Fife. We bought a $30 plan book. It turned out, Viceroy only provides the supplies to build the home. They are not a builder. Viceroy will sell you a package of materials and you find your own builder. The packages were reasonably priced and I liked the plan designs. I spent hours pouring over the plan book and selecting a beautiful home. We returned to Viceroy for a formal consultation the next weekend. We discussed the process for building a Viceroy package and the sales representative gave us the numbers of several builders they have had experience with. That week I called four builders off the list. None of the builders that called me back would put one up for under $150 to $180 a square foot. Since that was in addition to the package cost, we were out of the ball park. Our next stop was Lindal Cedar Homes in Seattle.
We went to the Lindal Cedar Homes showroom in Seattle and bought a $30 glossy book of designs. We realized immediately the price per square foot was far too high for us. I was now a little discouraged after the first two places we spoke with were so far out of our range. Went back home and did some more searching for builders online.
The next weekend, we wound up at Timberland Homes in Auburn, WA. Timberland did not sell us a plan book. Instead, we walked through several very nice model homes on the lot and started talking turnkey prices. It finally seemed like we were making some progress and had a chance at getting something built on our lot. A week later, we paid two grand for some custom plans to get started. The plans were a little boxy but the modular construction style promised to keep costs under control and possibly under a $100 per square foot. George soon became our new best friend at Timberland and offered lots of advice to help us on our adventure. He had even seen our lot before for another client interested in buying it. George referred us to Gretchen, a lady who's business it is to help guide people through the permitting process. We immediately started working with Gretchen to get our permits underway. More on Gretchen and permits later.
We worked with George to refine the house plans but costs spiraled out of control. In an attempt to cut costs, we reduced the the ceiling height to 8 feet. The next time we spoke, costs were still too high so we cut the fireplace. The next time we spoke, costs were still too high so we reduced the square footage. Around this time we got a letter from Timberland informing us they were raising prices. This cycle of price escalation and feature reducton went on until it wasn't a house we liked very much. One day, we got a call telling us that George was gone and we had a new contact person. We showed up the next weekend see the newest version of the house plans and for the last time we were told costs were out of control. It was suggested we cut the electric furnace and use King wall heaters instead. It was no longer a house we wanted to live in. We abandonded our money and plans at Timberland. We thought we were at a dead end. We were not going to build. That is when I ran across an advertisement for Armstrong Homes in the Little Nickle
Armstrong had a small Ad that caught my eye. I looked up the website and one of the FAQ's on the site read "The cost after the ArmSystem is in place can vary depending on what type of materials are used to finish the house. The price can vary from $25 to $85 per square foot, or more". At this point, there was not a snow balls chance in hell I was going to believe anything reasonable could be built for $25 a square foot, but maybe $85. We headed down to Armstrong the next weeked. I arrived right as the last sales rep was leaving on a Sunday afternoon but before he locked up he gave me a few print outs of plans you can see on the website. Problem was, I didn't like any of them. That night Jen and I discussed going back with some rough drawings we made on 8 x 11 paper. The next weekend, we met with Scott Hempel and paid another $1500 to start new plans.
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