It’s a well known fact that project managing the construction of a home will save you money while giving you more decision making control. What is less widely known is that many successful home construction project managers are women who have no construction experience at all!
My company has been selling quality cedar homes for 18 years. During that time I’ve had the opportunity to work with all kinds of home buyers with backgrounds and experiences that are as varied as the houses they build.
But I’ve noticed that the women who choose to project manage the construction of their homes share similar characteristics that uniquely qualify them for the difficult job.
What women usually lack in home construction knowledge, they more than make up for in natural curiosity and superior organizational skills, or as some prefer to say, “multi-tasking abilities.”
Anita Legaspi and her husband Ray (neither of whom had prior construction experience) built a 3,600 square foot custom cedar home near Lake Stevens, WA about 5 years ago.
At the time, Anita was a stay-at-home mom who enjoyed sewing. Ray was employed by the aircraft company Boeing. They realized early in the process that “they could get more house for their money if they did it themselves.”
Of the couple, Anita obviously had more time available to organize the home construction project and research their available options. She also realized that her experience with soliciting items for school auctions would also be very helpful in securing subcontractor bids for their home's construction.
“I wasn’t afraid to talk to people and ask questions and I had the ability to communicate effectively on the phone,” commented Anita.
With the help of a timeline that outlined tasks and deadlines, Anita acquired bids and contracted out the various pieces of work, including the foundation, shell construction, electrical, plumbing, roofing, and deck installation. Anita, Ray and their son Christian did al lot of the painting and finish work themselves.
Anita admits that the time spent building the house was difficult for their family. Ray and Anita decided to live onsite in their small trailer and a camper. She remembers the initial fun of “camping,” complete with bonfires (to get rid of the stumps) and hot dog roasts.
But the summer fun evaporated when wet weather set in. Ray and Anita realized that their trailer was becoming a bit more claustrophobic than cozy, and it wasn’t very well insulated either!
Reflecting on their home building experience, Anita offers the following advice:
Nancy and Paul Davis knew that they wanted a cedar home for their mountain retreat near Cle Elum, WA, but neither Paul nor Nancy had bought property before and the whole process of developing the property and building a home was new to them.
- Decide what’s important to you. If you really want that special kitchen, go for it!
- You will never go wrong by choosing quality.
- Create a cost breakdown sheet to help you compare bids and expenses.
- Big name companies don’t always offer the level of support you’ll need. You have to be able to communicate with a dealer, subcontractors, etc. You need to feel like you can call them any time.
In an effort to learn more about the entire process, Paul and Nancy attended a Log Home Seminar and researched companies and products on the internet. According to Nancy, “The seminar was good for us. It brought up all the things we hadn’t thought about before.”
Prior to staying home with their son Cory, Nancy had been a foundry supervisor and worked in a human resources department so she knew a few things about interviewing, hiring, and managing people.
She also knew that if she and Paul were to build the cabin themselves, “it could take years!” Their solution was to put Nancy at the helm and have her manage the construction of the cabin.
Paul and Nancy elected to do the finish work themselves, but hired separate
Drdrip subcontractors to construct the foundation, shell, electrical, plumbing, and roofing.
At one point, Nancy organized a work party with three of her girlfriends. Together they installed the wood flooring in the great room and kitchen. But Nancy noted that this was done “only after we had dinner out on Friday night to discuss our approach – and of course, a great breakfast with lots of chit chat before we actually began.”
A low point for Nancy came when she was the only person onsite and “the cabinet people dumped all our kitchen cabinets right in the middle of our driveway.” It was up to Nancy to figure out how to get them all inside by herself. Nancy called for back up and said, “I had to be really assertive, which is totally out of my personality.”
Today, the Davis’ are very proud of their 2,300 square foot cabin retreat. “We knew we could do it with the support of knowledgeable people in the building industry.” Based on her recently acquired home construction management skills, Nancy offers the following tips:
“Everybody is blown away by how beautiful my new home is,” says Diane Weibling who project managed the construction of her own 1,200 square foot cedar home in North Bend, WA.
- Find your own system to stay organized. Nancy used a notebook divided into tasks, i.e. electrical, plumbing, and roofing, etc.
- Network with other people within the construction community and seek their advice.
- It’s OK to be assertive, especially when you are trying to track down answers and make decisions.
For ten years, Diane, a family support worker for the Seattle public school system, read “how to build your own home” books at the North Bend library. The librarian finally told her she was going to have to stop reading and start building her own home. And that’s exactly what she did.
In addition to her library research, Diane attended open houses and talked with other homeowners. She says that the idea of project managing the construction her home evolved slowly. “I felt like if I wanted it done right, I’d have to do it myself.”
She obviously did a lot of things right. Her home has a panoramic view of Mt. Si which is located in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. People drive slowly past her home so that they can appreciate the unique setting and beautiful home.
Diane took time to search for bargains on cabinets and appliances for her new home. She said, “I got all my solid maple kitchen cabinets for just $1,200. Someone had ordered them and never picked them up. I went to the Sears Outlet and checked out their scratch & dent models. I bought a fridge with a broken plastic handle that I easily replaced. I bought a demo wood stove at the fair and saved $600.”
Diane's home construction project management experience has taught her a few more things, including:
Each of these women brought unique skills to their home construction projects, none of which was a background in construction.
- Try not to micromanage the subcontractors. It’ll drive everyone batty.
- Ask the builder how many projects they currently have under construction. Too many could mean they won’t have much time to dedicate to your project possibly extending your timeline.
- Ask for contractor prices.
What motivated them to manage their home construction? Money was a major factor. By project managing the construction of their own homes, each woman saved many thousands of dollars in construction costs.
The savings could result in a lower mortgage payment – or it could mean having a larger home for less money – or both! In some cases, project managing is a way for the homeowner to maintain more control over all aspects of the home’s construction.
Of course project managing home construction is not an option for everyone. The state of Washington allows homeowners to serve as their own general contractors (or project managers) – but not all states will allow this.
Also keep in mind that not all banks will finance owner-built homes. Lastly, remember that when the plumber doesn’t show up on schedule, you’re responsible for keeping the project moving forward and on budget.
Some subcontractors are aware that your home is a one-time project for them – whereas a contractor will be calling them for other jobs in the future. This may affect the quality and timeliness of their work which in turn may adversely affect your timeline and budget.
None of the women interviewed for this article had a home building background and none of them had ever project managed the construction of a home.
But all three of them had a natural curiosity about the home building process and were willing to step out of their comfort zones and try something new. Certainly, the end result for each of these project managers is a beautiful home and many thousands of dollars saved.
The most unexpected outcome has been a change within each woman. When asked, “What did you learn about yourself” all three women project managers responded, “I learned that I can do anything I set my mind to.”
About the author:
Judy Flanagan and her husband Mike were first time owner / builders of their own cedar home 26 years ago – in Snohomish, WA. She and her husband have owned Cedar Homes of Washington Inc. for 18 years and use their own home as a model. In addition to Cedar Homes of Washington, Judy also serves as an industry consultant to new dealers and conducts informational cedar home seminars for home buyers.
For more information and / or photos contact:
Cedar Homes of Washington, Inc.
23209 131st Ave. SE
Snohomish, WA 98296-5420
360 / 668-8242
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