What are the steps to building your own home?

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Answered by: Dave, An Expert in the Design and Build Category
Can you build your own Home?

It is a common American dream to build one's own home. Making the kitchen reflect exactly how you cook, putting a fireplace in every room, gleaming wooden floors perhaps reclaimed from some prior building, green heating and cooling all go into one's dreams for the cozy nest that you envision. But to build that dream house requires some very practical planning.

Budget and Financing

The very first step is to determine what you can afford, and work to get financing lined up. You can't go to the Safeway without money, and you probably can't build a house without a mortgage. What may be of interest to you is that many lenders offer construction/mortgage packages that allow you to purchase the land and finance the construction of your home before the final financing is turned into a 30 year mortgage.

Zoning and Such

Zoning is a bit of a chicken and egg issue when it comes to the lot where you will build your own home. The easiest way to determine what the local zoning ordinances will allow you to do is to have a specific property in mind. However, it is really somewhat easier to know what zones are most favorable for your plans before you look for the lot.

To start, the place to inquire is your local government zoning office. Sometimes it is your town or city, sometimes it is the county. A quick call or visit can answer a whole variety of questions, and you will find that there are all kinds of rules. Some places won't let you build on a hillside or have maximum height limits for the house itself. Flood plains are generally off-limits, some historical districts limit the appearance and it goes on.

The next question is how do you find what zone a specific property is in? In many localities, that can be determined on-line. Many local tax or GIS systems will tell you the zone. At worst, your local authority can answer that for you. Next, you may need to read the zoning ordinance itself to see if your plans are allowed. You will find that your construction team, or architect, will know the answers for you. What is key is that you get an approval from the local authorities.

The Lot

The actual lot is next, and is a fun part of the project. Look on-line. Local real estate listing services have some public internet access. Other sites, like realtor.com, trulia.com or zillow.com can give you an idea of what is available. A Realtor that is enlisted as your agent is a good way to obtain local knowledge and find someone looking out for your interests.

If you are buying the land without a construction loan, it is generally true that land requires a larger down payment and may be more difficult to finance than a standard home.


Water, sewer and electricity are critical elements of any home construction. If you are out in the country, away from public water and sewer, you will need to dig a well and find a drain field, or buy a place where this work has been done. Drain fields are commonly sized with a bedroom count (e.g. a 4 bedroom drain field), a surrogate for how much water will be used. Drain fields are located with a "perc" test, which evaluates that capacity of the soil to absorb water. Wells are priced by the depth that is required, and the total cost of the drilling is not usually known until after the well is completed. Wells and drain fields can cost in the $10-$20K range.

If you are in an area served by public water and sewer, there will likely be a connect fee for them, commonly called "tap" fees,

Road Access

What good is it to build your own home if you cannot get in? If your lot fronts on a public road, you may need to get approval for an entrance. Generally that access is granted by the state, county or city, depending on who controls that road. If you do not have frontage on a public road, you will need to ensure that there is an access easement across an adjacent parcel (s) that allows you to exit to the public road.


Now is the real fun. Pick a few local builders, meet with them and run local checks on their reliability. Based on your findings, select the one that works best for you. That builder will have a wide variety of house plans that you can choose from, and most will allow you to make modifications to the plans to enhance one element or another to fit your need. Many builders can show what selected finishes look like, counter tops, flooring and bathroom tiles are all elements that make your home specific to you.


This is the stage where you really build your own home. You can act as your own general contractor, but unless you are certain that you are up to the task, it is generally wiser to contract that entire process out to a reputable builder. Getting building permits, keeping the sub-contractors on their toes, making certain the there is a high level of quality throughout the construction period.

Move In

The project may have taken longer than you expected, and it may have had some frustrations, but when all is said and done, it is a very soul-satisfying experience to have completed such a major task and to look forward to years of complete enjoyment of something that you have so intimately designed.

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