Here's a list of items that you need to have figured out.
1. Where are you going to build?
- be careful to buy land that you can legally build on
- be careful to buy land that is above any 1000 year flood plain ... drive out after a flood before you buy
- check deed restrictions and know how far from boundaries that you can put up a structure
- check county records to be aware of any easements, pipelines, power lines, etc. running through
- before you buy, make sure you can get water service to the property or dig a well and know the cost
- before you buy, make sure you can get electric service and know the cost
- evaluate the cost of building a road to your construction site
- evaluate the soil, grade/slope, and brush cover for impact to construction costs ... rocky terrain will add cost for septic installation if blasting is required; clay soil may add foundation and septic system costs.
- talk to neighbors to find out about site specific costs they ran into
- consider property tax issues and whether or not you can have any exemptions, homestead or agriculture
- evaluate site security and decide what is needed to prevent theft of building materials
- evaluate any other risk factors like wild fire or tornado probability and plan to build accordingly
- evaluate the location and travel time into town ... sometimes, 'further from town yet just off a major highway' can be better than 'close to town but down twisted and/or busy side streets'.
- evaluate the view and imagine the orientation of your house on the lot ... can you have most of your windows face south and can you place the garage to block the north winter winds.
2. Where are you going to live while you build?
- you need a place that's close to the construction site
- renting is a good option so that you don't have an outstanding loan for your current residence
- moving a trailer onto the property might be possible in some areas, but watch the cash burn on that
- building a pole barn / garage apartment first is a way to gain practice and have a place to live during construction of your main house.
3. Where are you going to get the money?
- start saving money today (you're 10 and have about $50K in lemonade stand profits to open your first savings account with ... right?)
- always strive for a perfect credit history
- find out who you can get personal loans from
- decide if you need to break the project up into phases
- you could pour the slab and then let things sit for a year or two
- or 'dry the house in' and let it sit while you save again
- don't frame it half way and try to let that sit for 2 years
- make sure you have the money in hand to get to the next stopping point before you start another phase
- be realistic about how much you can save and borrow. Plan for everything to cost more than you expect. It's much easier to find ways to make things nicer and spend more money later than it is to figure out how to cut corners and reduce spending. Think simple, think small, think efficient.
4. What are you going to do if disaster strikes?
- make sure you can get an insurance policy for the site in case someone gets hurt and sues you
- make sure you have adequate health and life insurance in case you kill or injure yourself
- make sure you can get a construction insurance policy, but don't initiate it until you start framing.
Here's how I worked out the game plan:
The land was already there, provided by my father-in-law. We had to do some surveying and splitting and working with the county Health Department. In Texas, you must have 10 acres with at least 50' of frontage to a public road to divide out a property to build on. Luckily, my father-in-law already had a water meter out on the property to get water to his cattle. Also, luckily, he kept the agricultural property tax exemption current. We picked the site to minimize the distance that a road and utilities would have to be run, and made every decision possible to delay or reduce the amount of 'up-front' cash we had to spend.
After considering the 'mobile home' option and the 'build a garage apartment' option, we bought a very affordable house close to the construction site. It was "cozy". I had pre-fabricated many components for the frame of a garage apartment, but then we changed our plans and decided to go ahead and build the main house. I had to get creative to figure out how to use the parts I had already made.
When I started construction, I had 50K saved up. I was able to get the house "dried in" with that. Then I had to borrow another 50K to finish it out. This was for construction from 2002 to 2003, so be sure to account for inflation. The biggest driver of cost is the amount of regulation you have to deal with though. If at all possible, build in the country in a county that does not have building codes.
As for insurance, since we owned the other home close to the construction site, we were able to get a general liability policy to cover if anyone got hurt on the property. Then, after I started framing, I got a 1 year construction policy. That type of policy assumes that you will be 100% complete by the end of the term, but you can sometimes buy an extension.