By Jim Cooper
1. Do you own the land where your home will be built?
This might seem obvious, but homes are started every year on the assumption that the owner holds clear legal title to the construction site. When a lending institution is involved, its requirements will include an accurate land survey and site plan that the surveyor uses to mark house and utility locations. On self-financed projects, especially in areas with limited building-code enforcement, it’s possible to overlook this simple step. Before you break ground, make sure the title is free and clear. The cost of a survey and site plan is cheap insurance against potential costly legal problems down the road.
2. Do you have final blueprints and detailed specifications for your project?
In the excitement of starting a new log home, it’s easy to put the cart before the horse and assume that a preliminary floor plan is sufficient to break ground. However, preliminary plans lack sufficient detail to prepare an accurate cost estimate and may also lead to confusion as construction progresses. Even when building-permit authorities do not require them, take the time to develop a complete set of plans before breaking ground.
3. Do you have an accurate cost estimate for all costs including land preparation?
A complete set of blueprints should give a general contractor the foundation for an accurate cost estimate. Contractors often handle such details as plumbing and lighting fixtures or appliances by including “allowances” — amounts to cover the cost of items not detailed in the blueprints. If the allowance won’t cover their full cost, what isn’t covered becomes an out-of-pocket expense to you. Review all allowances to be sure they accurately reflect the items they are supposed to cover.
Utility allowances merit special concern because costs can escalate dramatically, depending on site conditions. On developed building lots with utilities already present, risk is minimal. On large rural tracts that require well, septic and power service, however, costs can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Understand what utility costs are included in your contract. If power must be brought to your site, talk with a representative from the utility company for procedures and a cost estimate.
4. Do you have a signed construction agreement that includes total cost and detailed explanation of procedures for handling change orders?
In addition to a clear total contract cost with detailed description of what is included, be sure your contract includes an explanation of how changes during construction will be handled. Changes are a part of construction and represent an area of potentially large hidden costs. A clear procedure for handling changes that includes a written estimate before the changes are made reduces this risk greatly.
5. If you will be acting as your own general contractor, do you have a detailed estimate of total cost and signed subcontracts for major construction activities?
Accurate cost estimating is probably the most difficult challenge facing an owner-contractor. It requires not only great attention to detail, but also a thorough understanding of the entire construction process. If you aren’t intimately familiar with home construction, consider retaining a construction professional or consultant.
6. Is financing in place, including a 10 percent “cushion” to cover unexpected costs and change orders?
Lenders have well-explained procedures and requirements for obtaining financing. Your loan officer can guide you through this process. It is important to remember that you can expect to encounter costs that aren’t included in your construction loan. Be prepared by setting aside a cushion of 5 to 10 percent of estimated project costs. Once your financing is secure, be prepared to establish a draw schedule to outline who gets paid and when.
7. Have you or your contractor secured a building permit?
The final step in your journey to a new log home is securing a building permit. If you are working with a general contractor, this is usually part of his or her services. If not, visit your local building-code office and follow the procedures it outlines.
Once the permit is posted, your new home adventure is ready to begin.
Jim Cooper, a former log-home builder and general contractor, is author of Log Homes Made Easy and The Log Home Project Planner. He is a LEED Accredited Professional and Certified Passive House Consultant.