Who can be an Owner-Builder?

Anyone who has the drive and capability can owner-build. Follow along and see how you can too!

The term Owner-Builder is referring to someone acting as the general contractor on their own house build or home remodeling project. When you make the decision to be an owner-build there are guidelines that each county/state has in place. As far as I know most states allow you to owner-build for your home build or renovation.

Generally, there are stipulations that you must own the property.

Which means you will have to sign documents saying you plan to live in the home for a certain period of time after the CO- Certificate of Occupancy has been issued in order to qualify as an actual owner-builder.

In Pink Hill, NC, where our farm is, if you plan to owner-build you are required to intend to occupy the home for at least a year after building has been completed. – I found the wording of ‘intend to’, to be a bit strange when I was reading the owner-builder affidavit we had to sign.

We plan to be here forever so no need to worry about our intent to sell!

Husband and Wife move historic house
Husband and Wife move two historic houses to their farm to combine them into one unique home.

The welder will never leave the land his grandfather left him.

I agree this little slice of paradise is perfect for our family. We are starting to set down forever roots in the form of a recreated/restored/relocated house shenanigan that we call our passion project you can read all about it.

Why would you want to be an owner-builder?

Basically, there are as many different ways to be an owner-builder as there are a professional house builder. -Someone who builds houses for people for a living.

You can be a hands-on builder who is working on the project by physically doing the labor.

This can be a cheaper option because you are saving on labor, yet there is always a downside like learning different trades and skills.

See how we started our old house/new home dream owner-build!

And let’s be serious, a big part of this is that your home will be a reflection of what you are able to actually accomplish. If you are mediocre in an area and want to go the hands-on approach your work will reflect that.

Being an owner-builder one the biggest ways to save money is to tackle some or all of the work you can yourself!

*Owner-Building Tip- Watch YouTube videos! You can take classes and workshops like we did with Cardinal Joinery at Legacy Salvage, ask tradesman if you can shadow them or apprentice to learn skills! Pick up books and search online! There are so many tools out there to help you learn a new technique to make your project go from just okay to hot-diggity-dog!

Owner-builder and the general contractor

On the other hand, you can be the owner-builder who hires a general contractor. The general contractor can act as a consultant to guide you through the process and allow access to the subcontractors on their team.

A general contractor CAN sub the work out for the owner-builder.

Or the owner-builder can sub out some of the work on their own.

REMEMEBER the whole point and beauty of being an owner-builder is that you call the shots!

Going this route, you are still involved in the build just not necessarily as hands dirty as what we talked about before.

Understand someone being an owner-builder going this route will have to make tons of phone calls and run-down leads to find quality tradesman. The whole point of being an owner-builder is being in control of your build and maintaining the overall project.

Keep that your focus- You are the boss.

Our kind of Owner-Build

For us this choice was easy, we could NOT stop talking about how much we wanted to do ourselves.

Maybe that isn’t your thing, I know tons of owner-builders who only want to be project manager.

They hire and manage subs to complete the work, instead of wanting to tackle the labor themselves. I totally understand each option.

Are you a control freak?

Labeling yourself as a control freak isn’t a great idea but for the title of owner-builder you gotta put that hat on.

Trust me.

You can drop that hat on a cute coat rack and relax as soon as you are done!

I love the idea being in control of our build. Having the ability to learn and tackle each aspect of the project. The opportunity to subcontract the jobs that we felt would make the most sense having a licensed tradesman for.

The welder and I, wanted to be involved in all of it.

From the foundation (I had so much learning to lay block!) but we did sub that out, to the roof! -Which I want to go on the record for saying I am not getting on!

Our mindset has always been about how much sweat equity we could add to the project.

So, as you may have guessed we are going to be DIY-ing professionally owner-building our way through our Forever Home. *OURSELVES*

We started our Owner-Build a little different than most

Moving one house and then another, we designed our forever dream house based off of our older home the 1920’s Craftsman.

Our second house is a 1940s, we chose this house because of its solid framing.

The fact it was affordable was HUGE to us and the joists ran in the direction I needed them to. Planning the build with two houses meant the need for rearranging spaces to fit our family needs.

We knew when we bought the two houses that our game plan involved taking down walls.

Heck, taking everything down to the studs and then rebuilding it with a nod to the character and charm we found while dismantling.

1920s Craftsman 4 over 1 windows
Historic 1920s Craftsman 4 pane over single pane window, Farm style with no weights

Salvaging our first owner-build

We have saved each board that has come down painstakingly 4 inches at a time.

De-nailing and stacking each plank of beadboard and flooring, the plan will be to rebuild with the old materials.

Been having a love hate with the beadboard at this point.

Remember that Nicole Curtis moment when she walks by the camera saying, “There is always one last door”.

But in my life, it is old square nails.

I swear I will be de-nailing boards till I die.

Maybe I’ll get lucky, and my family won’t bury me with the prybar and my trusty red hammer.

If I make it to the pearly gates, I pray that in heaven I don’t hit my fingertips as many times as I have down here on earth.

Lord let us pray!

Buying building materials

Where in the 1940s house we do not have any original character, we have chosen to use 100-year-old tongue and groove heart pine flooring we salvaged from a man in New Bern.

We have found windows from a family upgrading to all vinyl. No judgement here!

Ok I don’t want to lie I may be judging a little bit.

But ya’ll I was so excited to find a large set of matching wood sashes, 4 over 1.

Rare Craftsman four over one single hung wood windows
Rare Craftsman four over one single hung wood windows, simple with no pulley or weights.

We are currently working with Cardinal Joinery in Winston-Salem, they are creating functioning windows from the salvaged sashes.

I can’t wait to finally have all the windows on this project be the historic 4 over 1 solid wood windows.

I think that being able to owner-build this project has allowed us the opportunity to take our time sourcing materials. Being an owner-builder means you, yourself are the person finding all of the materials for the project.

For me that was perfect because we are using materials you can’t go to the local hardware and pickup.

In our owner-build it is very important to us to maintain the style and building materials used in 1920 Craftsman.

The upside of being the owner that builds

I will preach all day long about us getting to take our time and do everything ourselves.

I am so proud of the welder and I for each project we start and begin.

There have been so many early morning hours we crawled to bed too exhausted to even say good night to each other because we spent too long outside working on the houses.

Just when we think we are done de-nailing beadboard, we find a stack we forgot.

Beadboard original paint
Beadboard original paint

Or my favorite is the late nights sanding.

I know, you are going to say I am weird, I have come to terms with my strange obsession of getting lost in the orbital and allowing my inner saw dust fairy fly.

I could spend hours stripping doors with my music wide open and never realize a minute has passed.

So, knowing how much I enjoy working with my hands and how much the welder brings to the table with his engineering and construction background I always knew we could owner-build our dream house, I just kinda wondered if we should.

I mean wanting to build your own house or be in charge of your renovation in the terms of being your own contractor is kind of crazy and let’s be serious here, it is a lot of work.

I feel like the route we are taking is even more Wack-a-doodle than the average build but maybe that’s just the exhaustion in my fingers typing tonight after pulling down more beadboard.

The other side of going it on your own as an owner-builder

Which brings me to what could be considered a downfall of being your own contractor or owner-builder, the amount of work involved.

This process and title you have taken on is some people’s full-time job. Making the choice to be the contractor on your owner-build means you have decided to make it your job.

Like anything in life, you will only get out of it what you put into it. So put your heart and soul into it.

And do not take the leap until you are ready to!

The more planning you do the smoother your job will be!

Being an owner-builder, you are responsible for

  • Planning and budgeting the project
  • Coordinating all work from beginning to end it falls on you
  • Must be present for all building inspections
  • Purchasing materials/returning materials
  • Ensuring work is completed to the standard you set
  • Insurance/Permits/Affidavits

How we are financing our owner-build

I am going to start right here by being up front and honest in saying that we did not go the traditional way of getting a mortgage.

So, I cannot speak about owner-build traditional mortgages. I know people have said they were able to go that route, but we personally did not.

I can talk about what the welder and I have done to finance and afford our house build to this point and share with you what we are planning for the future to complete our home.

We are financing the build through a 50k personal loan.

The rest has come from savings or out of pocket.

Our first year didn’t cost us much

The first year of the build we spent moving the houses and demoing the drywall and insulation.

For us the first year of our owner-build cost us the price of moving both houses. The permits and costs associated with the paperwork needed to move and start renovation.

Owner-Builder Demo
Owner-Builder Demo 1940 house down to studs.

We did rent a dumpster for the first phase of our demo, but only trash went in the dumpster.

Like we talked about earlier we saved all the boards we could.

Every 2×4 stud that could be de-nailed and reused. WAS!

I think at one point on one day we had de-nailed and saved over 100- 2×4’s. At that time in 2021 a 2×4 cost around 8 dollars a board.

Which means we were able to salvage close to $800 that day!

Studs saved during owner-builder demo
Studs saved during owner-builder demo 1940 house.

To an owner-builder financing your own build that is winner-winner chicken dinner!

I don’t feel like a normal builder renovating a house takes the same time to de-nail and save boards, most are thrown straight into the trash.

One of the big benefits we found in our owner-build, is being in charge of what goes into the dumpster.

And that is HUGE when you are renovating and restoring an old house.

We waited till the houses were set down on the permanent foundation until taking down all the beadboard of the Craftsman house.

A lot of where we have been able to save money has come from what we are able to salvage off our bigger house.

This house is a treasure trove of old wood.

We have spent months on months saving all of it and that has taken time but saved us so much.

Owner-Build the final truth

This chapter in home building might not be for everyone, but for me, I couldn’t imagine this process going any other way.

We have had to put some plans on hold, friendships have definitely suffered, and we seem to always be hunting down salvaged materials.

But we are gaining family time, so much family time.

I get asked all the time how the welder and my marriage is handling this owner-build journey and my response hasn’t changed much.

We are growing, we are using this time to restore not only our home but our family.

So much of life is running around crazy and working on this house together as an owner-build has slowed things down for us and that has truly been restoring.

As children there are so many fond memories for both of us working with our dads on projects. The fact that our two kids- heathens are getting the same opportunity just makes my soul smile.

I love seeing my husband teach our son- the oldest heathen how to use the drill or a new way to take out old nails.

Teaching our daughter- the little heathen, valuable life lessons like not chasing your brother with a hammer, because it is frowned upon in today’s society.

Laughing, sometimes crying-mostly me, and genuinely enjoying spending time together working towards the ultimate end goal, building our forever home.

Well, that is pretty dang special to me, and I feel truly blessed we made this decision.

Are you thinking about being an owner-builder?

Is it on your bucketlist?

Do you have any tips you have learned as being an owner builder? We here at Pink Hill Pine would love to hear about it! Leave us a message and let us know what you are currently working on!

Owner-build renovation

The most beautiful house in the world is the one that you build for yourself.

– Witold Rybczynski