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when is custom really custom?

April 30th, 2010 by

So once one decides to create a ‘custom-built’ house, that’s when the fun really starts. It’s not easy to learn how to go about getting a house built. Of course, there isn’t really any shortage of information; in fact, the opposite problem exists. There is an enormous pile of uh, ‘information’ out there. The challenge is weeding through all of it and cutting out all the folks that are just trying to sell something that they already have, like “easily customizable house plans, ready to go!”, and “custom-designed homes built by our preferred builder.”

Custom tailoredLaura came up with a great analogy for describing what type of custom house we wanted. Because she hasn’t posted it yet, and because we—for the moment—live in the community property State of California, making the analogy 50% mine, I am going to go ahead and post it first. Hopefully sharing this analogy will not trigger an analimony case. (Hmm, somehow that didn’t sound quite right. Oh well, I’ll get to the bottom of that later.)

Her analogy was to the world of tailoring. In clothing, there is ‘ready to wear’ aka ‘off the rack’, which is what 99.9% of us utilize for 99.9% of our clothing. In the house building world, that equates to picking out a house with your favorite paint color in the lovely just-opened phase II of the subdivision owned by the publicly-held mega real estate developer / builder company. You know those companies; they’re the ones that are quoted in the news every month when the government decides that there either is or is not a continuing housing crisis or boom.

it would have been easier

April 27th, 2010 by

Read my sweetie’s post, below, and you’ll understand.  It would have been easier to buy a house.  That was how I started when we decided to chuck it all, retire early, and move to a place where land is measured in acres, not square feet.

After all, I said then, my needs are simple: I want lots of big windows, so the sun streams in and opens up the house.  I want openness, spaciousness, a feeling of clean, clear and easy.  At the same time, I want privacy, so everyone in the neighborhood isn’t looking in those big windows and watching what we do.  (We have a neighbor now who is a wonderful neighborhood-watch kind of person, always knows what’s going on, but on the other hand I’m not sure I want anyone to know EVERYTHING I do.)

Kevin had already begun to influence my architectural appreciation, and I agreed modern would be good.  So of course we’ll find a nice, existing, modern house with clean lines and the conveniences we want–like zoned HVAC, double-paned windows that keep the heat out in the summer and the cold in the winter, a nook in the kitchen for my espresso machine.  Of course.

Well, I love Eichler’s courtyards, and Neutra’s off-kilter sense of style, and I’m a big fan of Frank Gehry’s studied weirdness.  But they don’t have houses for sale in a warm place at a reasonable price that aren’t also in great need of …a little love… and a hammer and nails.

So we started looking into affordable ways to “build,” at first, particularly prefab.

prefab house

One of Marmol Radnizer's prefab homes, from the Skyline series.

And while they were affordable (if built near the factory), and interesting to look at, and had the windows and clean lines, we still had the land issue; building near where they are tended to mean paying through the nose (ouch) for the land on which to put the house.

Believe me, we had some animated, painful, lively, difficult discussions.  I kept insisting we should buy an existing house–that didn’t, so far as we’d seen yet, seem to exist–and Kevin kept insisting we should build.

But it’s cheaper to buy!  I’d say.  Buy what? asked Kevin.  Something we can’t stand to live in?

I hate it when he’s right.

why build? aren’t there enough houses already?

April 26th, 2010 by

The “why build?” question is one that often comes up in semi-polite company, usually delivered in conjunction with a look that says “Aren’t they cute? They think they can actually do this without killing each other.”

Invariably, our potential house building discussion partner suddenly finds that he has to help the hostess vacuum the dog or put the sushi in the oven. I suppose it’s fair that the thought of building a house sends most people running for the (already fully-developed and subdivided) hills. The thought of designing, coordinating, managing, permitting, insuring, funding, financing, acquiring, and being held liable, responsible, inspectable, culpable, and certifiable—for some reason—seems to intimidate most people.

Houses for saleTherefore, in order to find a place to live the aforementioned “most people” generally gravitate to structures where others—anonymous builders and designers—have run the gauntlet described above, and have emerged with an inventory of houses placed into an inventory of subdivisions that conform nicely with other subdivisions approved by a county and governed by a State. Sadly—in my admittedly skewed opinion—what comes out the other side is a clusterclump of simulhouse-clones that are designed and constructed to look as if they are about to encounter the late 1800s. Hence the pseudo-shutters that are nailed—open, of course— to the side of the house, and the oh-so-handy faux hay-loft door perched above the modern three-car garage complete with a genuine reproduction wrought iron rooster wind-vane on its genuine reproduction cupola.