Making your house real nice!

All this time you’ve assumed that you can’t afford the home you really want: The cozy, comfortable house with all the neat features that you want to get your hands on, stuff like slate countertops; the island range with the stainless steel hood; the rustic beams on the ceiling.

Oh, and some really cool lighting fixtures and a tiled shower with two shower heads.

And you know you can’t afford that house because you’ve looked around and nobody’s building that cool house for less than a biodiesel-powered truckload of Krugerrands.

You know that the only way to hold down construction costs on a house is to strip all the niceties away. The only reasonably priced homes for sale in your area are disposable vinyl and Styrofoam junk or ugly piles of brick and drywall.

You’re half right. A typical builder’s “spec” home price gets into the stratosphere when you add all the goodies. But, the good news, you’re half right, too! The reason most houses get ridiculously expensive is that they’re pretty poorly planned.

Plan better – WAY better – and you can get what you want and keep those gold coins in your pocket.

Here are 7 ways to beat the high cost of construction and home improvement:

1. Smaller is smarter (really?)

The summit of obviousness, making a home smaller makes it less expensive. But random hacking away with a machete is the wrong approach – we need a scalpel and a surgeon. So think carefully about redundancy – why do you need a dining room AND a breakfast room AND five stools at the kitchen counter? A living room AND a study AND a family room AND a sitting area in the master suite?

Most of these uses can be combined into the same space – one nice large place to eat, for example.

Think about your furniture and how you arrange it – when you don’t know how a room is going to be used you usually make it much too big.

Carefully trim out the wasted, unused space and put the cash into that homey board-and-batten wainscot you love. Or lots and lots of chocolate.

2. Efficient use of building materials

Way back when, some really smart guys figured out that if building materials were all designed on a common module, they wouldn’t have to use or waste so much of it. So sheets of drywall and plywood are both 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide. Which works great on an 8-foot x 16-foot wall, but not so good when it’s 9.5-feet x 17 feet.

Lots of wasted material!

For the same reasons, structural lumber for floors comes from the mill in 2-foot increments. So whose idea was it to make rooms 13-feet wide? Design your house as much as possible on the established modules of building materials and stop filling the dumpster with scrap!

3. Use it where it counts, don’t use it where it doesn’t

I visited Steve Wynn’s Treasure Island Resort in Las Vegas a few years back and remember how impressed I was that the décor in the bathrooms in the furthest back corner of the casino was just as nice as the décor in the baths up front.

But Steve Wynn has a net worth of $2 billion. You probably don’t. So while I hope you become a billionaire, don’t spend like one just yet. Go ahead, put the granite countertops in the kitchen and the master bath, but not in the laundry room. (A classic “Parade of Homes” head-scratcher, that one.)

And your kids can do without solid brass faucets, crown molding, and a hand-painted tile backsplash in their bath. (Go ahead, ask them – they don’t care!)

Same with carpet. Nice stuff in the family room, cheaper everywhere else. Put the money in finishes and fixtures you’ll enjoy every day.

[Click to get quotes from multiple local home contractors now.]

P.S. – Steve Wynn still has his $2 billion AND a hundred bucks of mine.

4. Design for low maintenance

This one sounds like a paradox: Spend more here to save more later. Cheap siding, roofing, and windows will cost you way more in the long run than quality components will now. There are entire industries built around the hope that you’ll buy replacement windows and a new roof for your house someday, probably much sooner than you think.

Quality is the tortoise in this race. Do it right the first time.

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