Building Modern on a Budget: Ep. 1 | Budget and Design Q & A

Friday, May 8, 2020 -
How much does it cost to DIY build a modern house on a budget contemporary build a house ourselves

We have a new house! Well, sorta. We have the beginnings of a house. We are in the process of building a custom home ourselves in Mesa, Arizona. We are producing a YouTube video series, walking through the entire process of trying to build a modern style house on a budget

(SPOILER: it's not easy)

Have you been following along with the series?

We officially broke ground in January of this year and I've been sharing the progress over on my Instagram. I've received an insane amount of questions (especially about money) so I decided to kick off the series with a budget and design Q & A. So, if you ever wanted to build your own home or are just curious to see how much it costs to build a contemporary house yourself, check out the video below. To see photos, the floorplans and get more juicy details, keep scrolling.

Let's flash back to October 2018. We used every single penny we had saved, plus every ounce of equity we had in our last house to buy an acre of land.

I know it doesn't look like much, but for $120,000 in the Phoenix area, our lot is a pretty awesome score! Land is pretty expensive around here. Most houses are built on tiny building lots (usually 1/4 acre or less). If you want anything larger, you are looking to spend close to $200,000 these days.

Once the land was purchased, we had to sell our existing home and start looking for building plans. I love modern architecture and both my husband and myself wanted our home's design to be unique for the area. We tried talking to a couple local architects but weren't really getting the answers we wanted when we asked about designing a contemporary house on a budget. 

So like good millennials, we hit the internet. It took some digging, but when I found this house on a building plans clearing house, I knew we found "the one". It checked almost every box. It has a super modern look, but the overall shape is traditional enough to feel familiar. There were a few small changes we wanted to make, like switching the foundation to a slab from a crawlspace.  We noticed the website had the option to have modifications made by the original designer, so we decided to pull the trigger. 

We bought the plans for $2,515 and sent over our change requests. The modifications cost us an additional $2,150.  We found detached workshop plans that just happened to match the house perfectly on a separate architect's website for $566. We made some changes to those plans as well for an additional $250.  

So, we spent a total of $4,665 for the house, $816 for the workshop. A grand total of $5,481

*WARNING!* Don't buy building plans online unless you absolutely have to! I explain a little more in the Q&A video, but  sourcing our plans from an out of state architect ended up costing us much more than buying from someone local and ended up causing MANY headaches. We thought we were saving money buying plans off the shelf, but we probably could have had someone draw up completely new ones. 

We had to spend an additional $5,659 to hire a local draftsman and engineer to finish the plans so they would meet local building codes and we could apply for permits. 

Speaking of permits, we learned some costly lessons there as well. Maricopa county, our local jurisdiction ended up requesting a few easy modifications (like moving both the house and shop back 15 feet north) and a couple much more problematic changes (like paving the entrance to our neighborhood). Yep. That one is going to cost us big time. But we finally got approval so it was time to start building!

The most questions I've received so far have been about our budget. When I was researching, I found it almost impossible to find hard numbers from someone in our situation; a middle-class couple building a modern style, medium sized house. I decided although it's kinda scary to be so vulnerable, I want to share all our numbers with you guys so you can have a better idea of what it actually costs to build. 

Here is a quick table of what we spent out of pocket before we started building.

And here is our actual building budget. As you can see, some of those numbers are impossibly low. We know. It's going to be tight! That means bargain shopping and lots of sweat equity. 

The maximum amount we can borrow is $300,000. I talk a little bit about our construction loan and mortgage in the Q&A video, so make sure to check that out if you're curious where the money is coming from. 

We've been making lots of progress on the house up to this point and it's getting really exciting! I'm working to get the next two videos edited, so those will be coming out in the next few weeks. Feel free to ask any questions you might have in the comments section below. We're open books sharing everything we can right now. Make sure you're subscribed to my YouTube channel so you don't miss the progress! 

If you like that, you'll love these ideas:


Let's be friends! Follow along so you don't miss a thing!

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