Things are really starting to shape up, we finally have walls! It’s been really interesting seeing the progress over the last couple of weeks. First there was nothing, then a foundation, now walls. We’ve been a little surprised how tall the foundation was (we had to have a raised one to appease the Historic Design Review Commission) plus the fact that we are on a hill makes the house looks tall overall. Now that we see the 10′ first floor walls going up, the whole house will probably be a bit bigger than expected but we still love the design. Anyways, enough talking here are some pictures!
Here is the temporary table they are using to get a good luck at the plans as well as hold their tools.
Here is a good view of the block, to give you perspective the block is about 10″ thick. It is made out of a mixture of styrofoam (about 75%) and concrete which gives it a high insulation value. The holes in the block will have rebar and conduit added for the electric and then filled with concrete.
It’s been a long time since we updated, but a lot has been done. We had some snags in the beginning.. Needing to get the plans changed for our blocks, which required some rework for the structural engineer, plus some extra time for permitting, and being on vacation when they wanted to review the lot clearing. But we’ve finally started! The foundation form is in and they connected the drain pipes to the city yesterday. The foundation is supposed to be put in next week, which we’re very excited about.
Greenboro is our builder. We’ve been very happy with them so far. I think I’ve said before the main reason we went with them is that it felt like a partnership from the very beginning. They sat with me and went through the plans, suggesting things to help fit our budget and style. They were also accommodating with the blocks, helping identify key partners and doing a lot of research for us. They’ve also won some awards and have done some infill projects closer to the Alamodome. More to come as we go through the process with us.
As for the actual construction, that is coming a long way. We were really surprised how much was done between Thursday and today. As the builder has told us, the next month or so will seem to go really fast and then it’ll slow down as they move to the finish out inside. The overall foundation size will be about 1300 square feet, with 250 of that being a back porch.
Here you can see the waste water connection, luckily they didn’t have to tear up the sidewalk to get to it. You can also see the foundation form that they’ve put in, it’ll be ready for the pouring next week hopefully. Can’t wait!
As things start to pick up we will be posting more and include a lot of pictures 🙂
So, we have great plans and an awesome builder. Now we just have to find a way to pay for it. I’m a total finance geek, so this has been kind of fun for me and I figured I might as well share my experience in case someone else is going through this.
I actively started looking at options about 6 months ago and started narrowing it down late last year. Let me start off with a little bit of background on construction financing in general. There are really two types of residential construction loans. 1x Close and 2x Close. There are pros and cons to both, I decided to go with the 1x Close option. Here’s what I see as the pros and cons:
1x Close–you have one loan the whole time, usually you pay a higher rate, but you are locked in
- Pros: Only pay one set of closing costs, if interests rates rise during construction you are already locked, no worry about getting approved for a second loan
- Cons: Can take longer to close initially, stuck with the higher initial interest rate, less banks do this (less competition)
2x Close–you actually have two loans, one interim loan for during the construction and then a second permanent loan that pays off the first one (the second loan is really just a “normal” loan)
- Pros: More banks do this, if interest rates stay the same or get lower you get lower interest rates long term, typically shorter close times
- Cons: Pay closing costs twice, interest rates can go up during construction, could be in a bad situation if house doesn’t appraise or you have approval problems
I’m pretty worried about interest rates rising in the next year, so I was already leaning towards a 1x Close. When I started my research I also found a bank that offers a “float down” option and a 1x Close. They do this by charging a quarter point penalty if you exercise the float down. So here’s how it could work, all these numbers are theoretical. Let’s say I started the loan with a 5% interest rate. No matter what the max rate I will have over the life of the mortgage is 5%. If, by the time the house is completed the prevailing interest rate is 6%, nothing happens, I still have the 5% rate. If the rate is at 4.75%, I still would do anything because with the .25% penalty I’d still have a 5% rate. However, if the rate drops below 4.75% I could decide to float down to the current rate plus .25%. I’m pretty excited by this because I feel like it’s kind of getting the best of both worlds. The only drawback to this bank is that it takes slightly longer to close than some of the other 1 and 2x Close options.
Here’s some things I learned while going through this process:
- There aren’t that many banks that do construction financing–make sure to include looking at local banks they are more likely to do it
- The financing for construction lending is more restrictive than regular financing because it is more risky
- The lender has to approve you and the builder, so make sure you pick a builder that can get approved
- Ask for Good Faith Estimates (GFEs) when comparing the loan options, it can really help you compare the different fees and costs between builders
- Lenders are crazy different when it comes to construction financing, almost all require 20% down, which is what I was planning on doing anyway, but some require 40% down with a 10% cash contingency (wow)
- You’ll need to have a signed contract from a builder to start the application process but you will definitely want to do your research before this as usually the builder will require you to apply within a short time after the contract is signed so you don’t want to limit your research time by waiting until the contract is signed
We officially have a builder now and decided to go with the Eterna Building System! I’m really excited about both of these developments.
First, the builder.. We decided to go with Greenboro Homes who have really been great so far. Throughout the entire bidding process, Jim Leonard was great. He really helped me understand the different choices and options and put a lot of time and effort into presenting them all to me. Another great part is that he’s willing to work with us on some of the things we want to do with the project. For example, we wanted to use Ikea cabinets and Mike’s brother is going to help with the AC. The biggest selling point, though, was the fact that he really invested in understanding and working with the alternative materials. Speaking of..
The Eterna Building System! From the very beginning, I’ve been very interested in green building materials. I was really excited when a local engineering company suggested we look into these. They sounded really great from the very beginning with the biggest downside being the cost, which initially came in WAY above 2×6 construction. However, we were able to negotiate that down a bit. It’s still quite a bit above with 2×6 construction costs, but it was really something I wanted to do so I’m excited to say we’re going with them. In addition to the blocks we’re planning on doing some other “green” things with the house. We’re using a mini-split AC system, prewiring for solar, using high efficiency appliances, and thinking about a rain water catchment system for the lawn.
So, what’s next? Financing. I started that process and expect it to take about two months. I’ll talk more about that process in the next installment.
Bids in and the Eterna Building System
So the bids are coming in! I asked 3 builders/general contractors to bid out the project based on architectural drawings we finalized a few weeks ago. As you probably know, I’m a bit obsessed with green building materials and really wanted to go with something other than stick construction. I was very interested in Cresco Concrete products but couldn’t find a builder and structural engineer to work with them for a reasonable amount. I did find a similar product though.. the Eterna blocks. A local engineering firm has worked with them before and has a concrete person who builds exclusively with the blocks. I’ve gotten the bid in for 2×6 R19 construction from all three builders. I’ve gotten 1 bid in for the block system and hoping for another early this week. From talking to the engineer and concrete person, the pricing is somewhat competitive so I’m interested to see what it really comes out to. None of the builders seem too interested to work with them (mostly because they are unfamiliar) but I like them for a couple of reasons.. Insulation (for heating/cooling reasons and sound), they don’t really burn, resistance to termites, and ease of applying stucco. The big downsides are cost, lack of options for people who work with it, and lack of general information available.
Hopefully there will be more news coming soon!
So yes, we’re building a house.. Of course it always takes longer than you want. The good news is we are really, really close to having the actual builder copies of the plans and are getting bids from several contractors in the area. Each of them has their own strengths and I think we’ve narrowed it down to two but we may be adding another one into the mix.
Couple of new-ish features we are thinking about adding or at least I haven’t talked about them on here yet. We went to a backyard expo class put on by the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension (WH08P!) and I started getting even more excited about Rainwater Catchment. Trying to figure out the best way to do it. I don’t really just want to add a barrel, I’m thinking something like the metal cisterns. Haven’t been able to find anything online that really strikes my fancy yet. Also we’ve been talking about solar! Unfortunately the house position doesn’t really lend itself to solar on the house, so I’m thinking about solar on the roof of the carport. Wasn’t really planning on adding that yet, but the plans might be changing a bit because I think it would be cool to add solar sooner than later.
In other news, the lot is looking great. The neighbors are all great and helping us by calling in people who shouldn’t be there and are probably picking up trash some because it’s been much cleaner lately.
More coming soon!
One of the drivers for setting up this blog is to document the process around doing new construction in a historic district in San Antonio. I haven’t been able to find any details anywhere else on the web, so I figured it would be nice for someone going through the same things in the future.
So what have I learned so far? We turned in our plans to get on the agenda for the next Historic Design Review Commission (HDRC) meeting about a week ago, we’re planning to be on the August 21st meeting agenda. HDRC actually has a pretty informative website and guidelines, which I think I’ve gone over about a 100 times so far. Here’s some basics:
- There are different guidelines for new construction and renovations
- New construction guidelines focus on not having anything that would distract too much from the historic structures but they also don’t want you to mimic them (this surprises a lot of people)
- The process consists of two approvals, conceptual (approving the idea) and final (approving the actual plans) approvals
- The staff we have worked with so far has been amazing easy to deal with, more than willing to meet to review plans and ideas before we are actually putting anything up for approval
I’ll keep posting more as I figure it out. We’re applying for conceptual approval, which basically means that we want to make sure we are on the right track before fully locking down our plans with our architect. So you’re probably wondering.. just what are the plans looking like?
Here they are! It’s still a work in progress, but it gives you the general idea. We’re trying to mix some of the elements of the neighborhood with some more modern touches. Here’s some general information. We’re going for a mix of material on the outside, mostly stucco but also clapboard siding (probably the most used material in the neighborhood. The pitched roof is standing seam metal roof, also very common. My favorite part is actually in the back. The porch and second story deck. If you go out to the lot and face south you can actually see the Tower and several other downtown high rises at ground level. So we’re very excited about the downtown views from 10-12 feet up! Overall the house is a 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath, 2 story house with a fairly open floor plan on the bottom and all 3 bedrooms upstairs. We’ll post more on the specifics of the interior and site plan at a later date.
What comes next? There are a couple of things coming up soon.
- First of all the HDRC meeting, I’m expecting some feedback even before the meeting, so we might be making some adjustments between now and then.
- We are also members of and involved in the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association. A fantastic group of people who live and/or own property in the neighborhood. We hope to present our ideas at the next meeting on the 19th of August.
- And probably the most exciting and scary part…… starting the search for a builder or contractor to run our project! If you have any suggestions, we’d love to hear them!