Friday, October 30, 2009

Women are 70% of Do-It-Yourself Home Builders

Building a home yourself without swinging a hammer

written by: Jeffrey Wolf written by: Mark Koebrich

DENVER - If you've wanted a new home, but the tough economy is making that a tough proposition - there is a solution.

You should look into building it yourself. The process can save tens-of-thousands of dollars and you can do it even if you've never swung a hammer in your life.

Many people are currently giving it a try. Perhaps more surprisingly, about 70 percent of them are women. They become "general contractors" with the help of a "building coach."

A general contractor will typically take 15 to 20 percent of the cost of any project. If you do that job yourself, you can pocket a lot of cash, no matter how much of a home you want to build.

Some of the homes are breathtaking, even though the builders are largely people who previously had no experience in residential home construction.

Leslie Spees-Mcghee built her house and it's full of wonderful designer touches, such as open beamed ceilings, custom fit cabinets and cozy fireplaces. She also has a unique circular Tuscan staircase that cost her more than she anticipated.

"If you're building your own house, remember, curves are expensive," she said laughing.

Emily Brennan is currently building her dream home. It's a process she says has included a few teary breakdowns.

She discovered homebuilding is all about tight timelines, a process that can be overwhelming.

"You just want to cry and say, 'How am I going to get this all done?'" Brennan said.

It's not that either of the women ever drove a nail, or ran a saw through a sheet of particle board or lifted a section of wall into place. They acted as their own general contractor, the construction boss who organizes all of these activities.

It's a job they performed under the tutelage of Bob Hinz.

Hinz is the real deal: a true licensed general contractor who now sells his knowledge and expertise to do-it-yourselfers. He calls himself a building coach.

"By acting as a homebuilding coach, or as an assistant to the actual homebuilder, we're able to participate in an awful lot of homes at any given point in time. We've usually got 12,13 or 14 homes going at once," Hinz said.

That is how his company, HomeWrights, makes money. Hinz gets 5 percent of the construction cost.

"I love the 'creative chaos' that surrounds the building industry and this business allows us to participate in lots of projects at once, and be much closer to the owner's creative process," Hinz said.

He helps his clients every step of the way by hiring the electricians, the plumbers, the stone masons and bricklayers.

"Custom home building is a little bit science, a little bit art and a little bit magic. My industry gets pretty badly maligned sometimes, but there are a lot of great, honest, hardworking sons and daughters who work in this industry," Hinz said.

He makes sure the staircases are solid, the windows don't leak and the fireplaces are exactly what his student builder ordered.

Brennan ordered a two-sided fireplace.

"You can take a bath and have a fire," she said enthusiastically.

The savings are impressive. Brennan may pocket as much as 20 to 25 percent of her construction estimate of $840,000.

"We're totally under budget right now, which is great. We're really excited. But we have been able to get everything we wanted," Brennan said.

Spees-Mcghee's savings are comparable.

"We saved probably over $100,000 building it ourselves," she said.

Both women say they never had to worry about a complete collapse of any kind because Hinz was always there to save them.

"Thank goodness we have Bob to help us out. It's been great," Brennan said.

They all agree that it's a beautifully innovative solution in an ugly housing market.

The HomeWrights system can work with any size and value of home. They've even done some very nice, small starter homes. Hinz says the irony is that many folks who are interested in the 1,500-square-foot "starter" home want to build a true "custom" home, so they're often attracted to production homes.

Of course, production builders have a very strong cost structure, so they can deliver an 1,800-square-foot home for $100 per square foot.

The other thing that dictates a "typical" HomeWrights client is the cost of land in Colorado. Because our real estate is so expensive, most consumers who are truly interested in real custom homes are pretty well heeled.

To contact HomeWrights, you can call 303-756-8870 or visit

It is possible to have a full time job and do this. Hinz says he's had quite a few clients who've been able to juggle both.

It requires discipline and some long days; usually the first 90 days are the worst because there is so much planning and thought and shopping that must go into the project.

HomeWrights isn't the only company that does this. Another is Direct Build in Parker ( U-Build-It was also active in the industry, but has been closing their Colorado locations (

Hinz says both are very honorable and well operated businesses with good reputations. Hinz also says this is a very old fashioned way to build. Back in the 30s, Sears Roebuck sold kit homes from catalogues for anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 and they shipped to the home owner, who built his own home.

One final note: Hinz says he's starting to see some signs the bottom is behind us. Commodities like copper, aluminum, steel and cement are starting to slowly recover in price. Copper has gone up by as much as 10 percent in the last quarter. Lumber, plywood, and gypsum (sheet rock) are still soft, but starting to show signs that they are nearing bottom as well.

Hinz says for people who are waiting for the best time to jump back into the real estate market the perfect window may in fact be behind us. He says now is a very good time to build.


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