Monday, February 23, 2009


    Two things about this are turning out to be way more expensive than I had initially thought. The first is architecture. To have a good architect design us something that will really be a modern gem, it is going to cost in the range of 8% to 10% of the construction budget. Because of my experience in commercial development, I had 6% in mind, but those are much bigger construction budgets, so 6% goes a little further. I can see how a there is probably a lot more fine detail that goes into building a small, compact home, rather than a vanilla shell retail structure. If we wanted to go have a stock home plan converted to our site, it would cost a fraction of an architect, but if we did that, what would be the point in building a house ourselves? Might as well move to a subdivision and steal a house from a bankrupt home builder. We really will have budget constraints though, so we will have to negotiate with the architect the best we can. We feel like we perhaps are a little more prepared with knowing what we want and what is realistic than the average consumer. I have been researching this so long and my every day business does put me a little more in the know, so hopefully that will result in making the job just a little bit easier for the architect.

    The second thing that is going to cost more than I had initially thought are all the costs associated with financing. I had never really tried to put a number on it, but I had a number in my mind that was about half to two/thirds what it will actually cost. In the end, we will probably spend as much in costs associated with financing (origination fees, title insurance, escrow fees, appraisals and course of construction interest) as we will spend on architecture. Here's hoping that construction interest and origination points are something that I get to deduct on my taxes. The origination fees should at least count.

    I need to figure out a way to get some sort of tax credit or something from the stimulus package. Building a home in this market, there ought to be some sort of gold star from the government. We're just doing our best to turn the wheels of the economy ever so slightly. If we build this house the following economies will be stimulated: loan officer, title officer, appraiser, architect, engineer, general contractor, various sub-contractors, sales reps for various building material suppliers. City planners and inspectors will have something to do. The city will get to collect impact fees and permit fees. The utility companies will get to have a new customer and someone will be employed to make the utility connections. I think someone gets our first born too

    So, anyway, all I'm asking is that President Obama call us himself and tell us how grateful he is. That, and no taxes in 2009.

    Wednesday, February 18, 2009


    We've been getting a few questions from people who are curious about our plans. Here are some answers.

    Q: Is it a tear-down?

    A: No. There has never been a home on the lot that we are purchasing. (We actually looked at a couple of tear-down candidates in our property search, but financing a tear-down and new-home build proved to be even trickier than a new construction loan.)

    Q: Why build a new house?

    A: We actually went back and forth for a while about whether to purchase an older home and remodel versus the hassle of finding land and building something. We settled on the latter for a couple of reasons. The first was the money equation that I laid out above -- we would have spent a lot of money getting an older home to a place where we wanted it, and the second is that we simply wanted something that was truly ours. We want something that reflects our aesthetics, our century (i.e. not cut-up little spaces, crawl-space "basements", etc.) and our personalities. So, after we got through that debate, it made a lot of sense for us to be patient on a land hunt to get what it was that we truly wanted.

    Q: Why do you want to stay downtown? / Wouldn't it be easier to build further out?

    A: Of course, it would be easier to build further away from downtown. We know several people (including family members) who have done so and are very, very happy with their decisions. We are also happy for them. But it's not for us.

    We do our working/eating/shopping downtown. We like the personality of downtown and cities in general. We like living five minutes from our work. Plus, when I moved back to Salt Lake from New York City to marry Tai there was a deal struck — suburbs definitely were not part of that deal.

    Q: There are still lots downtown??

    A: Yes, but you have to look hard for them and be prepared for some weird dimensions.

    Q: Will it cost you more or less than just purchasing a home in your area?

    A: What we're doing will end up costing us more per square foot than just purchasing an older home in the neighborhood. We're ok with that, though, because if we were to purchase an older home in that area, we would likely end up doing expensive remodeling — major appliances, roof, plumbing, electrical, structural, reconfiguring floor plan, new kitchen, etc. — that would drastically add to the cost of a pre-built home.

    Q: How will your financing work? / How is it different from a conventional house loan?

    A: Financing lot and construction loans was always going to be different a bit trickier than a conventional house loan.

    Short answer: it takes more up-front money to build than it does to buy a pre-built house, so we sold our old condo, banked the equity from that place and are using it now to build.

    Long answer: Several years ago, we were watching a couple blogs about building modern houses in Salt Lake. Tai corresponded with those authors about the mechanics of the process, including financing. Each author recommended that we have something to bank on when we purchased a lot — to one of the authors, that meant having good equity in your current place; to another author, that meant a greater cash down payment. We did the math on refinancing our condo at the time (the original slc202), and realized that it would be too risky for us. By far the safer option would be to sell the condo, bank the equity and then look around for land. That's how slc202 was born. Since then, of course, we remodeled our current place, which we're planning on staying in throughout the building process. And since then, of course, the world economy has also entered the Great Recession/the Good Depression/Global Economy vs. Banana Peel, and financing has become, ahem, less available than it was when those other blogs were building. More than 18 months later, here we are — finally making good on that goal to build.

    It has been immensely gratifying to move forward on this process that we started two years ago. It feels so good to be working toward this goal and seeing it actually happen.

    Monday, February 16, 2009

    Goodbye, Orange

    After a little more than a year of living with it, we decided that the orange in our living room was just a bit too strong. It seemed to suck all the light out of the space while caving in on us.

    So, on a whim, we bought some paint, pulled our furniture back and in less than 24 hours did a little more home improvement.

    It took a couple of coats of primer to make sure that the orange wouldn't be peeking through.

    We decided to paint the south wall a kind of gray color, found a color chip that we liked and went to Benjamin Moore to get the paint. We used their Aura line, which is really nice, if not extremely expensive. We would have used their new Natura, no VOC line, but it didn't come in a satin sheen, which we really wanted.
    The east wall we decided to paint white, hoping that it would make the space feel more expansive and clash less with the piano.
    Paint always looks different on the wall than it does on the paint chip. The color we chose ended up looking a little more blue than we intended, but overall, we think it's a big improvement. Feels like we have a brand new room and all it took was a couple of trips to the paint store and part of a weekend.

    Thursday, February 12, 2009

    Early kitchen sketches

    Here are a few sketches Tai did of a kitchen layout:

    He drew these using Ikea dimensions and products — we have an Ikea kitchen now and are pretty pleased with the way it came together. Pleased enough, actually, that we're planning on using their cabinetry and few of their details again.

    We're still working on those contract details and trying to get as much information about the lot as possible before we go to Australia. (So, yes, we're stalling on the posting!)

    Tuesday, February 10, 2009

    The Monocle House

    This is what has affectionately come to be known as The Monocle House:

    It still has the dogtrot style with the home office hanging off the back:
    You can't really deny it, can you?

    Monday, February 9, 2009

    Dogtrot style

    We really enjoy entertaining and bemoan our lack of deck and yard every year when spring comes around. That grousing and this house:

    is what led Tai to play around with a dogtrot style. We're not totally sure that this will work in Utah, but it's been a really fun concept to consider.

    If we pursued this type of design, we would probably put a home office in the back portion of the first floor, to separate it a bit from the rest of the house.

    Friday, February 6, 2009

    Early skteches

    Time for some pictures.

    These are some illustrations that Tai has played around with in SketchUp. (This is also how he spent the considerable time alone while I was working nasty hours at Body Worlds.)

    The lot is long and narrow and oriented east-west, giving us great southern exposure. The narrow width of the lot has been the deciding factor in the designs, and the width likely would also limit flexibility in the interior floor plans.

    Here are some early sketches, playing with the lines:

    Here's a bit of color:

    We'll put up a few more in the coming days.

    Thursday, February 5, 2009


    I'm playing around with some of the pre-set blogger templates because the other format was looking a bit stale. Let me know what you like, or please point the way to any suggestions! Thanks.

    Architects, etc.

    We are in the process of contacting and meeting with architects about the feasibility of our hopes for the lot. If you have suggestions for us, please leave us a link to check out.

    We're also going to be talking to some contractors to get a sense of the building market at the moment, which we suspect will be a bit looser and easier to build than it was a year or so ago. Sometimes, there really is a silver lining to the Great Recession.

    Tuesday, February 3, 2009

    The first To Do list

    OK, now that we have stopped grinning momentarily, here is a bit more information from Tai about why we extended our contract period:

    We have until March 23rd to close on the lot. This is mostly because we are going to be in Australia right in the middle of this thing, but for now, what must happen is:

    A) we have to get some kind of written confirmation from Salt Lake City, that this lot is indeed a buildable lot. It currently doesn't conform to zoning requirements for building in the zone, but if at any time during it's existence it did comply, then it is grandfathered in. The seller says she had a building permit before, so it is likely buildable, but we want to confirm.

    B) We have to arrange for and get financing for the lot.

    C) We have to do some due diligence with an architect and a builder to make sure that what we want to do is feasible within our budget.

    Once we determine that the lot is buildable, have financing, and think we can do what we want to do, we will close on the lot.

    After we have closed we need to let the lot loan age for 90 days so that we can "refinance" it into a new loan that will cash out the previous lot loan, provide a construction loan and the permanent loan at the end of construction. This works out well because we will need those 90 days to get designs we like, get them bid, make adjustments and get a building permit.

    We will have to put 30% down on the lot, and with the refinance into a one-time construction loan, we will need to have 10% of the whole cost in equity, which the 30% would count towards and take care of. We will end up with 20% down, but if we were to try to do the one-time loan from the start, we would have to have 25% of the total, which is just slightly beyond our grasp, so this all works out fine.

    Financing has gotten a bit more difficult in the last few months, but rates are definitely good right now. Wish us luck.

    Monday, February 2, 2009

    Under contract

    Aaaaand...we JUST went under contract!

    We're going to be a bit cagey with some of the specifics for now (so as to not jinx ourselves!), but we can vaguely tell you that it is an infill lot east of Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. Our contract period is a bit longer than most because we want plenty of time to take care of financing and to determine beyond any doubt that the lot is buildable. If all goes well, we will close on the lot in the second half of March. (Rest assured that when the time is right, you won't be able to shut us up on the details, though.)

    We are quite, quite thrilled, more than a little scared, and in awe of the amount of work that this might take.