Monday, October 8, 2012

A Dollar Short

Last week I turned in my "60-day notice" to vacate my current apartment. Which means I'm expecting to be able to move into this house the first week of December, at the latest. The bank is the primary motivation for this schedule; my official closing date is October 31st. Very scary, indeed. But mercifully there is a 30-day grace period to close after this. I'll need every minute of that grace, but I think it's doable.

Unmercifully, time is not the most limiting factor in finishing this house. Over the last couple of weeks, it has become clear that the funds in my loan will run out a good while before the house is complete. The story behind this is the main subject of this post. And in the interest of sharing the latest construction progress, I'll intersperse this narrative with some recent photos and descriptions.

Finally, the temporary back door to the Great Room was replaced with the permanent
one. These are the keys for it - the first permanent set of keys I've held for this house.

Much longer than a couple of weeks ago, I knew I was a little over budget. The main reason for this is the increase of material costs from when my original estimate was done - three years ago. Contrary to what we all might have expected, during the recession costs of all kinds of materials went up instead of down. Consequently, when I got updated quotes for each portion of work I saw material cost increases of 10-15% (labor stayed about the same). Of course this put me over budget, but not by so much that a credit card and maybe a relatively small loan from a friend wouldn't cover it.

But recently I hit on an item in the original builder's estimate (which my loan is based on) that turned out to be about a third of the real cost. Instead of $5,000 for interior wood finish work, it will cost close to $15,000. That $10,000 extra puts me out of credit card and friendly loan range. My total shortfall now is about $30,000. I met with the builder and crew at the site to find out why their original number was so low. There's no question that the work is worth much more than that number. They reminded me, quite rightly, that the original estimate was adjusted in several ways to get the total cost down to the loan amount my bank was offering - with the understanding that some compromises would likely have to be made to my original design in order to build the house for so little.

The pine board finish has been installed in the skylight wells -
part of the work that ended up being way more expensive
than the original estimate. But there is no question that this work
is worth every penny of the new amount. In fact the carpenters
gave me very high craftsmanship for a very reasonable fee.

My builder told me it was something of a miracle that I've been able to keep the budget so close to the original estimate up to this point. Other builders and subcontractors that have visited this house have guessed that it must cost about $500,000. This squares with the other two original bids I got from general contractors: one was $450,000 and the other was $480,000 - and that was three years ago. But the low bid, the one I've been going by, is $276,000. Even adding to this the extra $30,000 means that I'd be completing this house - without compromising any of the original design - for just over $300,000. Yeah, that is a miracle, and not at all of my doing.

Funny story: This is the trailer my carpenter uses to transport his equipment and tools.
Naturally I was excited that he might be a church-goer and Christian. But when I asked
him about it he told me he doesn't attend this church; the church was selling the trailer
and he needed one, so he bought it and just hasn't gotten around to
painting over the sign...

But of course that doesn't change the hard reality that I'M SHORT BY 30 GRAND. My first response was to ask the bank to consider increasing my loan amount to cover this shortfall. I gave them the information of the previous paragraph, and suggested that perhaps a new appraisal would value the work higher now that the uncommon quality of materials and craftsmanship is clearly visible. The bank considered it for a week, and then declined, saying that a higher appraisal wouldn't help anyway - my debt-to-income ratio is already maxed out. And Fannie Mae has only tightened this ratio limit since I got the loan, so even if my income was higher now (ha ha!), I likely would not qualify for a larger loan.

The Great Room skylight well, with its new pine board finish.

So. The range of options I seem to have at this point span from completing only those items absolutely necessary to get a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) from the building inspector (which will require "only" about $12,000 extra), to finding enough additional funding sources to finish all of the construction by the time I move in. Of course I like the second option best. A CO doesn't even require a finished floor, so that would be one of the first items to go. The kitchen and bathroom floors would have to be installed, since plumbing fixtures sit on them. But the rest of the floors would be left as bare concrete. The intricate brick and stone flooring for the Great Room would definitely be left out - a sad prospect; that's one of the best features of the whole house. Also for a CO the only interior doors I need are the ones for private rooms - bedrooms and baths.

There's an effect here that is unintended, and lovely: the wood finish reflects the
skylight structure and makes it seem to extend indefinitely in all directions.

And so on. I would move into a rather obviously unfinished house, and with no foreseeable way to finish it in the future (although of course that would be the goal). Because I have no additional funding at the moment, I'm proceeding along the lines of Option One. Assuming I can find the extra $12 grand, I'm at peace about this, and even a little excited just about the prospect of being able to move in soon. But at the same time I'm hoping that in the ensuing weeks enough funding will come from somewhere that will allow me to completely finish the house.

This is why I decided to conclude this post with the list of work yet to be done and the cost of each - so that anyone who reads this and is inspired to contribute to a specific item may do so. This probably seems like an awkward plea; it sounds like I'm asking random people to help pay for "my" house. But remember that this project was never meant for just me. It's as much for you, whoever and wherever you are, as for me. It's a house for a group of Christians, and also a church building for public worship. I've always meant for both the architecture and the people who end up living here to be blessings to the neighborhood and the world. I just happen to be legally considered the "owner" for the moment. My first role in this project has never ultimately been to own it or even to live in it, but only to design and build it. If I never ended up living here for whatever reason, I still will have fulfilled my main calling to this house.

The brick pavers for the covered porch are now complete
and grouted.

Now to the nuts and bolts. First, here is the list of work that is either in progress or has been completed but hasn't been billed yet:

- Interior wall boards & ceiling panels: $4,000
- Aluminum windows & doors: $4,500
- Lumber milled from trees removed from site: $850
- Masonry waterproofing: $1000
- Kitchen cabinets & countertops: $3,210
TOTAL: $13,560

Then there are the remaining items that I have to complete to get the CO:

- Heating & Air Conditioning: $6,000
- Electrical labor: $2,320
- Electrical fixtures: $1,260
- Plumbing labor: $1,400
- Plumbing fixtures: $1,576
- Front door handle & threshold: $300
- Tile flooring, material & labor: $3,000
- Interior door hardware: $500
- Appliances (refrigerator & range): $1,500
TOTAL: $17,856

So the total cost of necessary work is: $31,416. The amount remaining in the construction loan is $19,034, meaning I need an additional $12,382 just to close on the loan and move in.

I thought this would be a good place to share my tile selection for kitchen and bathrooms
(including shower walls). It's a natural stone called travertine, originating in Turkey.
It makes me a bit nostalgic for my time in Italy with a study abroad program
in college. Travertine is so abundant there that they use it for parking lot curbs.
That wouldn't be very cost effective here, but I am getting such a good deal
on this that it will be less expensive than basic, unglazed ceramic tile - $2.44
per square foot. I especially like that it's from Turkey, the home country of one of
the greatest church buildings ever, Hagia Sophia.

Finally, here are the remaining items to finish everything:

- Wood flooring, labor & materials: $5,900
- Brick & stone flooring for Great Room, labor & materials: $4,500
- Dishwasher: $500
- Trim materials and labor: $4,000
- Bathroom hardware & mirrors: $500
- Sealing & Coating: $2,000
TOTAL: $17,400

Which puts the grand total at $29,782 of extra funds needed to finish everything. How's that for transparency? Y'all let me know if God pulls on you to give a little to the cause - and ONLY if He is the one pulling you. Of course I also welcome any thoughts you have about this. And especially prayer.