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Build your Own home Washington State

Build Custom Home / June 1, 2019

No. Take it from someone who just did this in the Seattle Area. In 2006, my wife and I were thrilled to buy a lot in Lake Forest Park. 2 acres for only 175K! 15 minutes from downtown seattle, centrally located in the northend. Jackpot! We sold our house in Snohomish and then paid cash for the land. Now all we had to do was get an architect, get some permits, and then build, easy peasy, amiright?

Not so fast. First…there’s the studies….

  • $7500 for a wetland delineation survey (I actually ended up doing 2, because the first wetland company was too conservative and recommended a suspension bridge for my driveway so I wouldn’t drive over wetlands. Pro Tip: Don’t use any of the companies the city recommends, they will usually be too conservative. My second wetland company was sourced by the consultant I hired after I had screwed up several times).
  • $2500 for a Boundary survey
  • $6500 for a geotechnical survey

The reason the land was still available was because there was wetland and steep slope. So, now we had to get a Reasonable Economic Use Exception. In the state of Washington, if you own a piece of property that is zoned residential, you are by law allowed to put a single family home on it. But…that doesn’t mean that you can just do that. The County and City can lay all the restrictions it wants on you based on environmental concerns, local ordinances, etc. That cost me $3500 for the application, and I also had to engage a consultant to usher our project through the process at $8000, because I watched a neighbor try to do it on his own and he blew $40000 because he didn’t know what he was doing, best 8K I spent on the project.

Then, there are the improvements.

Need electrical? $5000 to stub out service. Need Water? $5000 per line, which I needed two of because the City of LFP required that I put in a fire suppression system, just ’cause (it’s not part of the code, but they required it to sign off on my plans).

Architect? If you know what you want and just need someone to draft something code compliant, you are looking at probably $10, 000. Add in another $5000 for engineering. Add $5000 for contingencies once the city has their planner and engineer putting their fingers in the pie.

Now, we are into the project $175K for the land, and $65K just to get the project shovel ready.

Next construction. You are living in fantasy land if you think you can build for 100–150K. We put up a modest house with 2100 square feet. Not too small, but not huge. It’s 3 bedroom, 2 1/2 baths, with a 2 car garage. The initial bids I got in 2007 (before I dropped 63K on land improvements) while the market was at it’s height ran around 500–650K for construction. Fortunately, all the rigamarole above had me wait to engage a builder until 2011…when the construction market was at it’s lowest in decades. The cheapest bid I got then was for $350K (now, the market is hotter than it’s been in decades, you won’t find a builder like I was who was starving and willing to do things at cost to keep his lights on). To stay in budget, I sourced a bunch of materials off of Craigslist (from builders and design studios who were going out of business), did all my own tile-work, and much of the trim. It was finished in 11 months. I did not mention the neighbors who were resentful of me building near a wetland who would turn me into the city for any perceived environmental violation. Or my wife who was depressed for 6 months because due to financial compromises driven by city restrictions she could not have her dream house. Total cost for the project then: $588, 000 (plus the building permits, another 5K), not counting all the lighting and plumbing fixtures I bought on CL, or my own time and effort.

TL;DR: Don’t do it, it’s not a game for amateurs.

Fortunately, due to the insane Seattle Market, the house is worth about 100K more than I have into it after 4 years. But it was a hard hundred grand to make, let me tell you.

Edit: as I have been thinking about this, new costs keep coming to me. For instance, the city had recently run sewer down the street before I built, but required me to put in a 12k mascerating sewer pump, and then charged me an additional County sewage fee of around 10k which I am still making monthly payments on... And I didn't even mention the joy of getting the construction loan 2 years after the financial meltdown (45 years old with excellent credit (FICO over 750) and I still needed my father in law to co-sign (that was an awesome conversation to have, as you can imagine)).