Are you torn between building your own custom log home or buying an existing cabin? 

Recently, my husband and I were toying with the idea of selling our current cabin and buying land to build a new home. The way home values have skyrocketed there was a possibility that we could end up debt free.

As I began running numbers on a new build to see if this idea was feasible, I became acutely aware of some things that I had not considered previously. I want to share with you 3 things I learned that can be helpful for anyone deciding whether to buy or build a new home for the first time.

The Mindset of Buying

Like many of you, I have always bought homes that were already built and the idea of building was a first for me.

As exciting as it was, it was also overwhelming even though I work at a business that helps people build homes. I realize the irony is hilarious, but this experience was too beneficial not to share.

When people shop for homes on the market they have the luxury of seeing what is in front of them. They may not have a clear picture of what they want before arriving, but instead, they are checking out the home and deciding if its features are suitable or not and what could  be done with the existing structure. Could renovations be made or is it livable as it is? By walking through many homes shoppers can get clear on their preferences or dislikes. Plus, because the rooms are constructed, getting a feel for how furniture will fit, or how lives can arrange our around the already existing space is easier.

3 Things I Learned

Here are 3 tips I learned by exploring the idea of building. Really these tips are helpful when building a log home or traditionally framed home.

Tip #1 – Admit that you don’t know what you don’t know! Thankfully, I knew just enough to be mindful of aspects of construction that I wouldn’t have considered had I not worked in this environment. But, after talking with the owners about my project they pointed out many things I had not yet thought of that go into the overall cost of building. 

For example, I realized I would be buying some appliances such as a stove and dish washer. Previously, when I bought homes, these two items were already in place. But, when building a new home I would need to budget for appliances that would be sold with my current cabin. It is easy to take things like this for granted when building a new home for the first time. Caribou Creek’s owner said, “Think about everything you touch in your home. Now, you have to buy it.” This advice really gave me pause and helped me expand my thinking about all the details that would go into the project.

My advice is, don’t be afraid to ask questions and admit uncertainty because it is better to find out sooner rather than later. Finding people who have the experience and can walk you through the process is very important.

This leads me to Tip #2: A common problem arises for shoppers comparing the cost of building to buying. The quandary becomes: “How to find a contractor willing to bid a project before having a finalized a design?”  And “How to embark on a design agreement without knowing how much the project will cost?”

Often, people are understandably concerned about committing to a land purchase without having at least a general idea about what building prices will amount to. But, finding a contractor willing to talk numbers without a floor plan is very difficult, especially in this market.

In my case, I didn’t want to list my house and buy land to then discover I could not afford to finish building my house. I really wanted to know what size structure I could build before committing.

To make matters more difficult, I was researching this during unprecedented times when building materials had risen uncontrollably and with no end in sight. This was seriously complicating things for both builders and homeowners. My advice to others in the same situation is if you have a very strict budget to follow it may be wise to hold off on building until prices level out.

Whether planning a project in a topsy-turvy market, or under normal economic times, Tip #2 will prove beneficial.

Be willing to share your budget. Start by determining how much you want to afford. You may have a firm cap amount and a “I’d prefer to come under this amount” price.  Either way, be transparent with contractors and ask if it is reasonable to build within the given amount rather than asking contractors how much a house costs per square foot. Price per square foot can range dramatically depending on location, materials, and finishes, so this question will not result in an accurate answer.  

Often people are afraid to share their budget with contractors for fear that they will run out of money before the house is finished.  Although this business practice is rampant in many sales industries, my experience is that contractors would rather meet their clients expectations and avoid an uncomfortable situation for all. They like to see projects get completed as much as their clients.  Most builds go over budget because homeowners choose fixtures that seem like small overages, but really add up in the end. By sharing your budget early your contractor will know the parameters he or she has to work within which will help them guide you during the decision making process.

Tip # 3: Be open minded and expect things to change.   There are constantly moving pieces being juggled by contractors behind the scenes on projects. Material delays, labor shortages, problems that come up during the process, these are all things that can affect the scope of the build and why it is a good idea to hire a contractor.  Having loose expectations will go a long way to easing your mind through the process. 

In 2013 my sister and I ran my fathers floor covering business after he passed away.

We were scheduled to show up on a job site to install carpet. My sister had picked up the material and delivered it on the scheduled day of installation. When our installer rolled out the carpet we discovered that a line of carpet threads were dis-colored. The entire roll was unusable. The homeowner’s furniture had been moved and  the floor was prepped, but we couldn’t complete the job that day. Our disappointment was as genuine as our customer because we wanted to provide a quality job. We had to call the manufacturer and get them to warranty the carpet to replace it. This was time consuming. We payed movers to move furniture around until the time we could get back to finish the job. Thankfully the homeowner was understanding.

As you can see, things can happen that are unforeseeable. Even when buying a home unexpected things can come up during negotiations and inspections, but the nice part is that once the contract is signed it is really just a matter of moving in. When building the timeframe for unknowns to occur is much longer. Give yourself peace of mind by expecting the unexpected.

About The Author

Lindsay is the host of the podcast My Dream Log Cabin. After chasing her dream of living in a log cabin in the woods, she found herself in North Idaho living in a log cabin and working for Caribou Creek Log Homes! Her posts are based on her personal eperience.

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